‘I have a dream, a song to sing to help me cope with anything. If you see the wonder of a fairy tale you can take the future even if you fail. I believe in angels something good in everything I see. I believe in angels when I know the time is right for me. I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream.’
This morning I want us to look at the next stage of the story we looked at before I went on holiday. We are staying in the book of Genesis with Jacob and remembering him cheating his way into an inheritance that should have belonged to Esau. We have moved on a couple of chapters and with the help of his mother, Rebekah, Jacob is now in possession of that birthright. Esau has sworn to gain revenge over his brother and therefore Jacob is on the run to his uncle Laban, the brother of his mother. With those earlier chapters portraying him as a cunning cheat. It is on this journey that we re-engage with the story. Jacob was a fugitive from his tribe and family. He is out in the hill country north of Beer-Sheba, tired, his nerves are frazzled and he is without a home, a shelter or the protection of his friends.
He pulls a rock as a pillow and lies down in an attempt to rest his weary body. I don’t think I have ever been that tired that I could settle down on the hard ground and use a rock as a pillow. I know my friend’s mother used to say about him that he could sleep on a knife’s edge but I am assured that was just a figure of speech and she never actually tucked him in on the edge of a Russell Hobb’s breadknife (other brands are available). I may not have experienced the depth of tiredness Jacob has but I can imagine meeting God was most probably not in his thoughts at this time. If you could pardon the pun, ‘not in his wildest dreams’ did he expect what came next. And then it all happens. Jacob dreams that a ladder reaches from heaven to earth. Angels ascending and descending on it and God is speaking to him. ‘I will be with you and protect you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land.’
Jesus uses this imagery in John’s Gospel when he says, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ Who would have thought it could happen to Jacob at this time in his life? But happen it most certainly did. If you read further on in the book of Genesis you will discover that Jacob continues to allow his old nature to rule his life. It will take more encounters to turn Jacob’s life around.
For the moment however he does know that he has come face-to-face with God. He knows he has experienced a significant moment in his life. As he rises he builds a stone monument to God. He names the place Bethel, which means in Hebrew house of God. And he proclaims, ‘it must be the house of God; it must be the gate that opens into heaven.’ Bethel became a place of worship, a constant reminder to the people of Israel of God’s presence in their midst. Jacob is certain that he has had an encounter with God. Many people have had an encounter with God at one time or another. For many it happens within places like a church building or a sacred shrine or possibly with an awe-inspiring experience of God’s world of beauty and fascination. But for some, God appears at the most unexpected times and the most unexpected places. The Bible is full of these unexpected encounters.
Last week Moses and that burning bush experience, this week Jacob in a dream lying on the ground with a stone for a pillow. Although it may not seem like it right now there are things in life that we are certain about. I suppose one thing we can be sure about is that God will break into our lives when he is ready, even if we are not.
As we reflect on this whole story, and that of the Exodus story that we touched on last week, we are reminded once more of this whole journey theme that is faith. We are reminded once more that the voice and word of God is indeed the Alpha and Omega for it is God’s word that carries the day in all things.
As we reflect on all of this we are reminded of the continual willingness of this God of ours to forgive and to restore.
We are reminded that however far we stray on the journey God always has a way open to us that allows us to return.
As we reflect on all of this we marry it up to our journey whether it be a time of wilderness that is leaving our spiritual side dry and dusty, whether it be a time of loneliness that is leaving our emotional side devoid of feeling, or whether it be a time of trying to run away, God is ready to meet with us just as he did with Jacob. Jacob was changed through this encounter at Bethel even if he did not become perfect he did commit to God and later on in the story he does indeed return to this spot and rededicates it to God. I mentioned last week that we too could have a burning bush experience just as Moses had. The same is true today regarding this Bethel experience of Jacob’s.
What would ours look like, I wonder?
How and where do we commit ourselves to God?
What happens when we wander away?
Do we look again for the road that leads us to where we need to be?
When will we say to God, ‘I have a dream to help me cope with anything
You can take my future even when I fail
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream.’