“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.”
In the semicontinuous reading for this week, Genesis 28:10-19a, we find Jacob running for his life after having tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright, his father’s blessing. So far this tenacious twin’s ethical track record hasn’t been so great; in fact, he’s displayed some of humankind’s less savory attributes, such as self-serving cheat and liar.
He stops for the night at a location that would later come to have great significance as a place of sanctuary, a holy place, an important place in the history of God’s people. Taking a stone for his pillow, Jacob settles in for a night of strange dreams, revelations, and promises.
It seems that this is a holy place, a thin place between the realm of God and the world of humankind. In his dream, Jacob sees angels ascending and descending. Then the Divine One stands beside him and speaks a promise of hope, a future, and redemptive purpose. He will be blessed.
Jacob is not stupid; he realizes the importance of his rather rocky pillow talk. “Surely God is in this place–and I did not know it!” he exclaims. Awe, reverence, and a healthy dose of downright fear motivate his response of building an altar to mark this holy place.
That’s where the lectionary reading stops, but it’s not the end of the story, and we should read on:
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.”
When we humans recognize God’s divine activity in our lives, when we understand God’s radical grace and mercy in the face of our sinful nature, then a response follows. Jacob’s epiphany is followed by a crash course in stewardship–everything comes from God, and a healthy portion of the blessing ought to be returned in praise and thanksgiving. Recognizing that it is God who provides his very food and clothing and who walks with him, Jacob determines to return a tenth of this blessing to its divine source.
We can take a lesson from Jacob: slow down long enough to recognize God’s movement in our lives, experience awe and reverence in the holy places and spaces we pass through, and return to God a measure of what God so graciously gives to us.
Ultimately, we must each of us decide how we will respond to God’s gracious gifts. Hopefully we won’t spend too many nights “sleeping on stone pillows” in contemplation. That sort of slumber can only lead to a stiff neck. The other option is to get up and do something. Jacob did; so can we. Yes, surely God is in this place–wherever you are, right now.
Copyright (c) 2008, The Rev. Sharron Lucas, all rights reserved. Used by permission.