Proper 11 A Genesis
Theme: God’s amazing grace
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we do things that sometimes leads us into feelings of guilt and shame; help us deal with these emotions, ever confident in your saving grace, through the one who died to forgive us our sins, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I think we are conditioned through culture and upbringing to not accept something freely offered. My observation is that the bigger the gift, the more we are apt to decline the gift, until the gift gets really big, then we are more apt to accept it, which explains why con artists have a bright future. Lara David shares with us her story of how hard it is to accept grace.
Lara says, “In my own Catholic upbringing, and continuing into my life as an independent Catholic adult, (guilt) was never a central theme that I particularly felt. The God who had been with me through my life was not a God who valued guilt; instead, I relied on (God’s) forgiveness and love to sustain me as I moved forward in my efforts to better myself as a person.
“I used to believe there were some acts that were just unforgivable. I thought woe be to the man or woman who could do such things and expect mercy from above.
“And then I did one of those so-called ‘unforgivable’ things: I had an affair. My whole world changed. I realized, people are people, and circumstances are often surprising and unexpected, and no one is immune to mistakes and bad decisions. Unfortunately, none of this helped me forgive myself; everyone I had hurt or betrayed or ignored forgave me, but I held on to my anger. If they wouldn’t punish me, I would do it myself.
“So I grabbed a shard of glass, knuckles white, and I pressed it to the soft flesh of my arm. One jagged line at a time, I paid for my sins. Cutting had been a part of my life on and off since high school, but never before had it seemed so necessary to my very survival. Without those cuts lining my skin, I just knew I would drown – the love, compassion, and forgiveness around me would be too much to take. I hid from my friends and quietly hated myself. But more than anything, I hid from God.
“I knew God would love me, forgive me, embrace me if I returned to (God). I had sung ‘Amazing Grace’ for years: ‘I once was lost but now am found.’ In my heart, I knew what was waiting, and I could not accept it.”
Lara continues, “It took a long time, but eventually I realized that running away and denying my mistakes wouldn’t work. I was going to have to go to God with the truth and accept the consequences, only this time, I knew there would be no yelling. This time I prepared myself for the love and understanding.
“I once heard someone refer to religion as a ‘crutch’ to be used in hard times. And I can understand how, to some, it might seem that the always-loving God of the Christian faith makes a believer’s life easy and worry-free. But what I learned was that accepting God’s love and mercy takes a greater strength and courage than I ever expected.
“Worshipping a merciful God isn’t easy when we make our biggest mistakes, but truly believing was never meant to be easy.” Lara concludes saying, “It took me 25 years to learn that one of the biggest challenges along the way would be accepting that my God will love me no matter what – even when I fear I might be at my least loveable.”
Guilt is a terrible burden for any of us to bear. Forgiveness is part of the healing. In addition to accepting the forgiveness of others, we need to also forgive ourselves. Jacob, one of the heroes of the Bible, is a truly despicable human being. God’s grace was with him anyway.
After we last left Jacob, God renews the covenant with his father, Isaac. God will give the land Isaac lives in to his descendents, who will be numerous and they will worship God and be blessed because of Abraham. Isaac, like his father, Abraham, passes Rebekah off as his sister. God again renews the covenant. Esau marries a local girl. Rebekah conspires with Jacob to steal Isaac’s blessing of Esau. They succeed. Esau is very angry.
Jacob learns that Esau seeks his life and Jacob flees to Haran, a four hundred mile journey, to seek a wife from his uncle Laban. Haran is Abraham’s hometown. Esau then marries Ishmael’s daughter, his cousin.
During Jacob’s journey to Haran, he stops to rest for the night at an ambiguous place. At this place, Abraham had already built an altar. The next thing that Jacob did was to find a fairly large stone and then he used it as a pillow! Somehow I think that the flat ground would be much more comfortable. What’s wrong with using a change of clothes for a pillow? I just find it strange that Jacob used a rock for a pillow.
Then Jacob dreamed. He saw a ladder that went up as far as the eye could see. Then he saw God’s angels ascending and descending on the ladder. (Don’t angels have wings?) In any case, heaven and earth are connected. What Jacob next sees is open to interpretation depending on what translation you read. Either God is speaking from the top of the ladder, or God is standing next to the ladder, or God is standing next to Jacob. God is self-declared as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. God is not the God of a place, but of relationship and promise.
God’s promises will happen through Jacob the fugitive. The land Jacob is sleeping on will be given to his descendants. (Jacob is currently landless and unmarried.) Jacob’s offspring will be as numerous as the dust on the earth. All families of the earth will be blessed because of Jacob’s descendants. God will protect Jacob wherever he goes and will bring him back to this land. God will never abandon Jacob until all of God’s promises are fulfilled. This is all God’s doing. This is grace.
Then Jacob woke up, realizing that he was unaware of God’s presence in that place. (Or maybe it was that rock that woke him up.) In fear, Jacob realized that his sleeping place was the house of God and a gateway to heaven.
So the first thing in the morning, Jacob took his pillow turning it into shrine and poured oil on it. He named the place Bethel, which means “House of God.” The city used to be called Luz. Then Jacob makes a vow that only Jacob could make: if God stays with Jacob, if God protects Jacob, if God keeps Jacob in clothing and food, if Jacob is able to return home in peace, then Jacob will make God his god.
Jacob will build a real house for God on the site of the shrine and Jacob will turn over one tenth of everything he has to God. God’s vision is beyond what we can immediately see. God comes in our dreams holding out the hope of transforming our reality.
“The church today may live in this confidence that through Jesus the connection between heaven and earth, between God and humanity, has been restored. We are not on our own in an evil world. God is with us on our journey. Even when the way leads through dark valleys of disease and death and down treacherous paths of opposition and persecution, God has promised to be present with us, to protect us, and to lead us safely to the ‘new earth, where righteousness is at home’ (2 Pet. 3:13). Jesus promised his church even as he sent her on a dangerous mission to all nations: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matt. 28:20; cf. Heb. 13:5–6).”
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks for your great gift of grace; may we accept your grace and in so doing, we will extend grace to those around us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Genesis 28:10-19 (NRSV)
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He 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. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladderb set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood beside himc 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; 14 and 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 blessedd in you and in your offspring. 15 Know 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.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 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.”
18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel;e but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
Van Harn, R. (2001). The lectionary commentary: Theological exegesis for Sunday's texts (55). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
b Or stairway or ramp
c Or stood above it
d Or shall bless themselves
e That is House of God
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.