Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 86:11-17, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
This is the third Sunday we’ve been able to open our doors and allow people to enter for worship. Yes, we’re taking significant precautions, but it is only because Independence County has been among the few counties in our state that have a low number of people who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and are considered active carriers. Unfortunately, our luck has changed and our number has increased significantly this past week. So much so, that next week we will need to return to worshipping online only via Facebook and Zoom.
Last week, Cathy showed me a cartoon with the caption, “If 2020 was an Ice Cream Flavor.” The picture was of an ice cream truck with “Liver & Onions” painted on the side of it. I do know people who enjoy eating liver and onions, but I don’t think any of them would like that flavor of ice cream. The cartoon seemed fitting to me.
As a kid, the sound of the ice cream truck could be heard for blocks, as could the sound of doors slamming as children ran in to get money from their parents to buy some ice cream. For some of us, being told our church doors were again open was like hearing an ice cream truck coming. It offered us hope that our lives were returning to normal. Oh, how I wish this were true. What we thought was about to happened, is not what is happening.
Tomorrow the state-wide mask order goes into effect and the warnings to stay safe continue. We don’t know when this pandemic will end – but we do know that it will. I want us to consider our reading today from Genesis. But first, I want to give you some background.
Jacob was on his way to his family in Haran for two reasons. The first was to escape the wrath of his twin brother Esau. Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing intended for Esau. Esau was so enraged, he threatened to kill his brother after their father’s death.
The second reason for his journey was to find a wife from among his mother’s family. The story of Jacob, whose name is later changed to Israel, is one that is full of twists and turns. It is a story that involves deceiving his father for his own gain. The blessing carries with it his inheritance. And the story includes Jacob being deceived by his uncle. The “trickster” as Jacob is known, is tricked.
Today’s story is one that is pivotal, as it marks the beginning of his transformation from being a self-serving man to a faithful one. Jacob stops for the night, falls asleep under the stars, and has a dream in which God promises him and his descendants (which will be too numerous to count) the land where he is. More important, though, is God’s promise: “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.”
The promise of the land is an important part of the story of the people of Israel, but what we need to hear is the promise that God will be with Jacob wherever he may go and that God will not leave him, but lead him back
Jacob is between two points, he has done what he should not have done, and he will do what he should. To do what we should, we need God’s help. God comes to Jacob when he is running from the mess his life has become. More often than not, it is when I’ve made a mess of my life or when things are not going well – as with this pandemic, that I slow down enough to realize I’m trying to do everything on my own. I need God, who is with me. The promise God makes to Jacob in his dream, God’s promise to be with him always, is the same promise God has made to us.
The Promised Land is more about a promise of God’s presence, than it is a promise of property. When Jacob wakes up, he says, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it.” Isn’t that the same feeling we have when we are struggling and then feel God’s presence in our life? It may come in the form of a dream, but most often it comes from someone who calls to check on us, or even a kind word from a stranger that awakens this awareness in us.
Note that Jacob is not in a temple, he is not in a home, he is outside and alone – except for God, of course. This is for me a powerful reminder that God is with me wherever I am. Whether we are here in church this morning or joining church from our homes, God is with us.
In addition to God being with us wherever we go, God promises to bring us back. Today, this promise is important for me to hear. The resurgence of this pandemic has some of us wondering now things will ever return to the way they once were. God’s does not promise things will not change, but God does promise to lead us back to the place where we found the Lord. The place in our hearts where we find peace and comfort.
So, take heart, wherever we might worship next Sunday, God will be present with us. The present limitations on our lives are temporary and the time will come when God will lead us back into this sacred space.
Let us pray.
Loving God, fill us with your Spirit that in our sorrow we might know comfort and on our journey through this life and this pandemic we might know and feel your presence and, we might draw our strength from you. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.