|photo by Jay Gavin / flickr|
And so our sermon today is about ladders and angels. Angels ascending and descending because, you see, they tell us a great deal about how God works in our world today.
In our Genesis scripture Jacob was in a terrible state. He had made life miserable for his brother Esau. They were as different as two brothers could be. Jacob had lied and cheated and stolen the blessing that was rightfully his brother’s. And when his brother—naive, trusting man, loving his little brother—when he discovered the trickery of Jacob he couldn’t believe it. He kept saying, “Jacob wouldn’t do that.” And when it finally sank in what his brother had done—stolen his birthright which was a big deal—Esau's anger knew no bounds. “I guess I’m just going to have kill him. I don’t know what else to do. I’m going to kill him if it is the last thing I do!”” Trust betrayed is a terrible thing. And when Jacob heard how Esau felt he got scared and ran away. He ran and ran and did not look back.
And so this is background for the scene we find in Genesis 28. Here was a man on the run. It’s an all-too-human-story. It’s a story of how God works in a world filled with sin and failure and sometimes deceit and treachery.
What do we learn here? Well, we first learn that God comes to Jacob in an unlikely place. The place really had no name. Some though called it Luz. Isn’t that a wonderful name? Luz. How would you like to have come from Luz? It was a no-name kind of a place. The kind of a place that has an ugly sound one that we don’t talk about very often. We know about those kinds of places, don’t we? Sometimes we call it loneliness. Sometimes we call it fear or anxiety. Sometimes we call it numbness and other times we call it sickness. This place could be called cancer or heart attack or doubt or anger or even the death of someone we love. Where Jacob found himself was an awful place.
All the landmarks were gone. Nothing was familiar. Genesis says it was night. And he was afraid--it should be translated scared out of his wits--because he was. The interesting thing about this story is that it says that God came to this unlikely place.
Don’t you sometimes feel a little bit like Jacob? Life may not have turned out as you wished. There may be some things in your life that you just can’t fix—and you hate it. Maybe it’s the middle years of marriage and there’s more blah than anything else. Maybe you have lost somebody that mattered. And you sit here this morning hanging on but the landmarks are mostly gone. And some nights you wake up afraid. And I would say remember Jacob’s Ladder. Out there in the darkness where the wind blew and sand was in his mouth and it was cold and the animals howled just over the hill. And this story says that God came to this unlikely place.
What happened? The Scriptures say that God spoke to Jacob in a dream there in the darkness. Later Jacob would tell others: “There was this ladder and these angels ascending and descending”. His friends would listen and you could see them holding their lips together so they wouldn’t laugh. A ladder? Angels? Up and down from heaven to earth? This poor man must have lost his mind!
What does it mean? You always have to ask what it means because unless you understand the meaning you don’t get the meaning of the text. What does it mean? What does God want us to hear in this passage. It means there is a connection between up there and down here—between heaven and earth. That’s what it means. Between the man who was afraid and who had cheated and lied and done terrible things to his brother. God come all the way down. Jacob was in a deep sleep and suddenly he realized he was not alone. He was not left to his own pitiful resources. Heaven touched earth. His earth. And he was not cut off, even after all he had done. Paul Scherer one of my favorite preachers used to say, ”On that night of nights (Christmas) God came down the stairs of heaven with a child in his arms.”
But there’s more. You see God spoke that night. Not in a booming voice of stereophonic sound accompanied by the Hallelujah Chorus. No. God speaks and he might sound like a young Billy Graham or old distinguished Walter Cronkite but I hope not like Rush Limbaugh or Howard Coselle or Donald you-know-who. No. God spoke differently. He came in a dream. Jacob remembered most of what he had heard the next day. God said the strangest thing. “Lo, 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 to you.”
Later Jacob would tell the story. And he would say, “You know, it was weird. God said I would not be abandoned. He said, ‘I will be there.’ He said he loved me and he cared for me. Me—the loser and the louse. He said, “You do not have to be afraid.”’ He said something I think I will always remember. He said, ‘I will keep you. Keep!’ “Stand by me’—that’s what the word keep means. “I will protect you like a shepherd protects his sheep. I will watch out after you.”
Out of the silence and the night or the loneliness or the fear or even the nightmares—we are to listen closely to what God has to say. Listen this morning to your life. Listen not to the outer sounds but to the inner sounds. For you see, God speaks to us just as surely as he spoke to Jacob. Underneath the confusion, there is that promise, “Behold, I will be with you. I will keep you. I will be in it All.” Whether it’s a lousy job or a hospital room or a nursing home—“I will be with you. I will keep you.” Remember the ladder. And remember the words God speaks.
|photo by Garrett Coakley / flickr|
|photo by cheng / flickr|
Jacob made a vow. He said, “I will love you. I will serve you. I will follow you all my days. I will even give you a tenth of all I have.” And isn’t this a proper response for us all? To make a vow. Or to renew some vow we made long ago. Our promise is as personal as the gospel is personal. It could be, like Jacob, to mend a broken relationship. It could mean knowing that despite all the hardships of our lives God really is with us. It could mean that it is time for us to do something for someone else.
I hope that you will remember that at the middle of it all there is this ladder—Jacob’s Ladder. It means that God really does come to unlikely places—as unlikely as where you might find yourself today. He comes all the way down. Just like the cross—it’s rooted in the earth. This time...this place.
And God speaks. What God says is that we don’t have to be afraid. Even after all the dumb and stupid things we have done. God has promised to be with us all the way. And let’s not forget that the ladder reminds us that we can be changed. Maybe we’ll never be an angel but we can be changed and made different. Not once, but again and again. And so, as hard as it is, let us remember there is this ladder. And it comes all the way down to where we are. And that, my friends is enough.
|photo by Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet / flickr|
(This sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC, June 26, 2016)
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com