Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sermon: Meeting Your Maker

Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob comes from a religious family. His grandfather is Abraham, the one who makes the first covenant with God. Abraham is often recognized as the father of Judaism and Islam. His grandmother is Sarah, who is visited by angels and told that she will give birth to a miracle baby at age 90. So Jacob’s grandparents are pretty well respected by a lot of religious people.

But that isn’t all. Jacob’s father, Isaac, is the miracle baby who was promised by the angels, and then he is nearly sacrificed to God as a child, but is saved by a timely appearance of a ram. Isaac is very careful to go out of his way to find a wife that also follows God. He doesn’t want to marry one of the women in the area where he lives that worship a different god. So he travels a long way to find and marry Rebekah, a holy and God-loving woman. So religion is important to Jacob’s family.

But Jacob has always been a problem child. He steals from his brother, cheats his way through relationships, sneakily obtains his father’s blessing, and uses people for his own gain. So religion, whatever it may have meant to his family, doesn’t seem to mean a lot to him. He was like the boy who when asked by the Sunday School teacher why he believed in God said, “I don’t know, unless it is something that runs in the family.”[1] If he believes in God, he certainly doesn’t act like that belief should change his behavior. The impression that we get is that religion for Jacob is something that is a tool for getting what he wants, that he doesn’t really care if God is real or not, but if he can find gain from this religion thing, then he will milk it for all it is worth.

And then one night God comes to Jacob in a dream. Now, what would you expect God to do when meeting with a person like Jacob?

Yell at him about his past? Tell him to get in line or he will be punished? Strike him with an illness or have him kidnapped and enslaved by foreigners? Something like that perhaps? Certainly we would expect some words from God that tell him to clean up his act.

Amazingly as God meets with him, God doesn’t do any of that. There is no yelling, or threats, or punishment. Instead God promises to be with him in the future and bless him and his descendants. God says every family of earth will be blessed because of him and his descendants. Those are pretty big promises and kind words for a liar and a cheat.

But here is the funny thing -- Jacob’s reaction to this meeting is being terrified. The words God uses aren’t terrifying, they are quite comforting.

So why is Jacob terrified? Probably because he realizes for the first time that God is very real. Not just abstractly real, not just a nice idea, but really real – able to touch you real. He says in verse 16 “The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it.” That disturbs him, because he now knows that God is standing beside him, and the life he has been living isn’t really the one he wants to live with God looking over his shoulder. God has seen what he has been doing, and although God didn’t yell at him, the thought that God saw his actions terrifies him.

Such a change of thinking can happen to any of us. We may have come from a religious family, we may be able to name the people who are pastors, or church leaders in our ancestry, but we may have never quite taken it seriously. Perhaps we have even been the problem children, the ones who acted out, who did everything that our family hated. But I have news for you. God still wants very much to meet with you, to be part of your dreams and visions for the future. God won’t dwell on your past, but will forgive it and move on, because what God really wants is to be with you in the future and bless you and your descendants.

For example: Soon after Bill admitted himself to the Towns Hospital for what would be the last time, he cried out: “If there be a God, let Him show Himself!”

His hospital room was filled with a white light. He was seized with an “ecstasy beyond description.” In his mind’s eye, he stood on the summit of a mountain, where a great wind of spirit blew right threw him. “Then came the blazing thought: ‘You are a free man.’” He became aware of a Presence, like a sea of living spirit. “This,” he thought, “must be the Great Reality. The God of the preachers.” Bill Wilson never took another drink. He had started down the path to become one of the cofounders of Alcoholic Anonymous.

When God becomes very real to us, as opposed to just a nice idea, when we become convinced that God is present, as opposed to far away in heaven, it changes our attitudes and the very way we approach our everyday lives. That change in how we live can become the basis for blessing not just for ourselves but for people all around us, people who will never directly meet us.

Yet that meeting, that moment of deeply real connection with God may end up terrifying you, as you realize that God is standing beside you when you are at your best and when you are at your worst.

Even though we know that God loves us. Even though the words that God speaks are comforting and calming. We end up being terrified, because (I think) that simply is the reality of meeting the one that is much more powerful than we are. I don’t think that God is trying to scare us, I just think that when we as humans stand before the greatness of God, we are so awed that it can be frightening.

I certainly have had my share of experiences of this. There are times and places where I know that I have been in the presence of the Holy, like a sea of living spirit, and in that moment God is very real. And even though the message that God has given me is one of comfort, yet the actual meeting with God can be disconcerting and even terrifying. It has changed how I think about those places where I have met with God. Like Jacob, they become places that I remember as sacred and especially spiritual. I almost desire to build a little shrine there, a reminder of what has happened as God emerged into our world so vibrantly for me. And perhaps you have had experiences like this as well. Where God is near and it is both comforting and terrifying, where you stand in awe, and feel the sea of living spirit around you.

The good news is that despite our feelings of terror, God works with us lovingly and patiently to craft us into a new creation. God wants us to be that blessing to the world.

God wants us to live into our full potential. So if it takes God erupting into our world, disturbing our dreams at night, or suddenly bursting through to us while we are in the hospital, God will do it. All so that the world can receive the blessings that God wants to pour upon it through us. Yes, you are an agent of God’s blessings. Maybe that thought terrifies you a little, because you have a great responsibility. But through it all God reminds you, I will be with you always, I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.

[1] Humor form ChristianGlobe

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