Sermon - Brad Brookins
Genesis 28. 16-17
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of Jacob’s story.
Jacob and Esau were twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah after 20 years of trying to start a family. Esau is born first but Jacob emerges right after him, holding on to his heel, like Clay Matthews making a shoe string tackle. Jacob will spend his life tripping up his older brother.
Esau grows up wild and reckless—but a good hunter who brings home the game Isaac desires. Jacob is a much quieter man, a home body. Isaac loved Esau, the text tells us, while Rebekah loved Jacob.
That last line is your clue to what follows.
The day comes when Isaac is old and blind and feeling acutely mortal. He calls Esau and says to him, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons…go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”
Eavesdropping Rebekah overhears Isaac’s instructions. Knowing how important this blessing is, she launches a scheme to make sure it falls on Jacob.
She spices up a goat stew to taste like wild game. She ties goat skins on her son’s neck and arms—because Esau was hairy while Jacob had smooth skin. She puts Esau’s clothing on Jacob so he will even smell like his brother. Then she sends him into the blind old man’s tent.
“So Jacob went in to his father, and said, ‘My father’; and he said, ‘Here I am. Who are you?’
Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.’”
Isaac is doubtful; the voice is not right. But when he feels the hair on Jacob’s arms and smells the wild fields on his clothing, he believes the lie and gives the blessing of the firstborn to his deceiving second son.
“As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of his father, his brother Esau came in from his hunting…’Let my father sit up and eat…, so that you may bless me.’ (he says) “His father Isaac said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He answered, ‘I am your firstborn son, Esau.’
“Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, ‘Who was it then (who came in) before you came? I have blessed him—yes, and blessed he shall be!”
Esau wails, “Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!”
But there is no blessing for him.
Now Esau is breathing fire. He swears revenge against his brother. Rebekah overhears this, too. She doesn’t miss much.
“Flee to my brother, Laban”, she says to Jacob, ”and stay with him till your brother’s anger passes”. I’m sure she knew that in her culture, anger passed very slowly, if at all.
Jacob runs. He comes to a place that not yet, but soon will become Beth-el—the House of God.
He is alone in the darkness.
He sleeps, with nothing but a stone for a pillow.
And so it goes.
We know things don’t always work out. Sometimes this is not our fault. Sometimes it is a little bit our fault. Sometimes—and this is one example, we manage to mess up everything; and it is entirely our fault.
Who knows why. We make stupid decisions and we do stupid things. We hurt ourselves. We hurt the people we love. We litter our past with regret and our future with uncertainty.
Why do we do this? I don’t know. But I know I have; and I suspect you have too.
This is where Jacob stands the night after he has fled his father’s house at his mother’s urging to escape his brother’s revenge.
Things have not worked out. He has lied and cheated and stolen. He has ruined everything.
And now he is alone; with nothing but a stone for a pillow.
He sleeps. He dreams. He sees a stairway reaching from earth to heaven and the angels of God are ascending and descending on it. God has not abandoned the Creation. He sees that now.
“And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am…the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring… all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you… Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…’
“Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! This is none other than Beth-el, the house of God’”
God has not abandoned him.
God came to that place, you see—that desolate, lonely place, to that man—the liar, the cheat.
Because God knows that when we fall—when we fall hard, the Spirit can gain entrance through our thick skulls and into our hard hearts.
You might say God sort of relishes our failure—welcomes it. Weakness is the doorway to our soul.
This is what St Paul meant in the passage Barbara read earlier: (II Cor. 12.7-10) “a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me…(This was a weakness, some character flaw that he couldn’t kick) Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, (my) power is made perfect in weakness.”
God can’t work with Paul’s strength, you see. God can only work with Paul’s weakness.
Some people have called this the “mystery of the gospel”. I call it the weirdness of the gospel. God chooses us—the weak, the foolish, the screw-ups—because we may be ready to listen.
Or to change the metaphor a bit, next time you fall, and fall hard, finding yourself face down in the mud, lift your head. From there you can see Jacob’s stairway to heaven. Turn your head and you will see God sitting beside you in the mud—getting ready to shape you again into something new, something very good.
To use Richard Rohr’s catchy phrase here, “Everything Belongs”. Everything about us belongs—the right and the wrong, our successes and our failures, things we do well and the things we royally mess up. Everything that is God has used to make us what we are. And everything we are God is using to make us into what we will become. Everything belongs.
And even more remarkably—if Jacob’s story is as true as I believe it is, everything belongs without judgment or condemnation.
Look as this. God comes to Jacob at the end of this “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” and there is no wagging of the divine finger, no “Tut tut, Jacob. You really shouldn’t have done that!”
God doesn’t come with judgment, God comes to this broken man with unbreakable promises. God comes with love. With those strong, creative hands—and working with Jacob as he is, God begins re-building his life.
This is how God works. You couldn’t become who you are becoming if you weren’t already who you already are. God is shaping the people we already are into the people God wants us to be.
Because everything belongs now—our good side and our not so good side, “everything is holy now” in God’s skilled hands.
At Jacob’s weakest moment, after he has done a lifetime’s worth of damage to the people he ought to have loved the most, God finds him and without judgment shows him the stairway to heaven. “We are connected” God assures him.
And without qualifying, God promises to be with Jacob always; promises that Jacob will yet become a blessing to the whole world.
All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, God will have God’s way with Jacob. God is not finished with him yet.
And God will have God’s way with us. Sooner than later, if we open our eyes to what God has already done and stop getting in the way. Sooner or later, God will make of us the blessing God seeks for the world.
 Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr 2003
 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst
The text for this week is found below the questions for this week. It is only a small part of the Jacob story, and it is all we will be addressing this year. If you want the rest of the story (and who wouldn’t) read Genesis 25.19 through chapter 37 and, then chapters 42-49.
Consider these questions:
Meditate on this saying from Julian of Norwich (1342-1416): "First there is the fall, then there is the recovery from the fall, but both are the mercy of God”.
Do you see God’s mercy in your mistakes—not in God’s response to your mistakes but in the mistakes themselves? What do you think Julian meant?
Yes or no only—no details, please: Have you ever practiced or experienced betrayal on the scale of Jacob and Rebekah? How did that feel? Was there mercy there then? Is there mercy there now?
Why did Rebekah betray her husband? Why did Jacob betray his father?
God blesses Jacob after the betrayal and before Jacob has either admitted or shown remorse for his actions. Why does God do this? What does this tell you about the nature of God’s mercy and forgiveness?
Should Jacob feel remorse for what he did? Why or why not?
Is it important to do the right thing in your interactions with other people? Why or why not?
Genesis 27.1-4, 15-23; 28.10-17
1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.’ 2He said, ‘See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. 4Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.’
15Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; 16and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.
18 So he went in to his father, and said, ‘My father’; and he said, ‘Here I am; who are you, my son?’ 19Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.’ 20But Isaac said to his son, ‘How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?’ He answered, ‘Because the Lord your God granted me success.’ 21Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.’ 22So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ 23He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
13And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ 17And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’