This week I am not preaching on Sunday - but I will, instead be preaching on Saturday, at the induction of my friend, Rachel, to be warden of the URC's St Cuthbert's centre on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.see here for more details
My part is to reflect on the passage about Jacob's ladder:
Genesis 28: 10-17
Here is a first draft of what I'm likely to say:
“Way way back many centuries ago: not long after the Bible began,
Jacob lived in the land of Canaan, a fine example of a family man…”
Except that in the reading we just heard we catch up with Jacob long before Andrew Lloyd-Webber & Tim Rice get hold of him. This Jacob is not a fine example of anything – except perhaps a rather slimy, cheating piece of work. Jacob is the younger twin, the second-born, and not the one who is supposed to inherit the lion’s share of his father wealth and blessing. But first he tricks his brother Esau into promising him all his rights as first-born (by catching Esau when he’s hungry and offering him a bowl of stew); then, with the help of his mother, he tricks his father into giving him his blessing by cooking his dad’s favourite goat dish and using the skin to make his arms seem hairy like Esau.
So in the bit of the story we just heard he is leaving home partly to get away from his murderous brother, Esau and partly to go and find a suitable wife. This time it’s Jacob who’s hungry and alone and probably wondering whether all this conniving was really worth it.
And then God appears to him in a dream. He sees a vision of a link between heaven and earth – but not a way for him to claw his way up to a prime position in heaven as he’s tried to claw his way into prime position in the family. This link between heaven and earth is populated with angels, God’s messengers. Jacob’s ladder is the way in which God stoops to communicate with earth – it is proof that God has a love for people and a plan for their lives, and if Jacob will just stop scheming for a moment he might hear what God has to say. You see, up til now in the story Jacob hasn’t much time for God at all – in fact at one point in talking to his father he refers to ‘The Lord your God’. Jacob doesn’t see how God has any part to play in his plan for his life – until this point when God speaks to him and promises ‘I shall be with you to protect you wherever you go’. The promise to bless Abraham, his grandfather, and Isaac, his father, now becomes a promise to bless Jacob himself.
And when Jacob wakes up he realises ‘surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it’.
Now far be it for me to suggest that there are people here who until now have not realised that God is in this Holy Island of Lindisfarne: the clue here is in the title. But for Jacob it seems there is no hint of the divine presence until his dream. Yet perhaps the really surprising thing is not, in any case, the geographical place that God is found, but the fact that God is found in the life of a lying, cheating, scheming, non-religious, disrespectful no-hoper like Jacob. Even in the worst of us, even at the hardest times, God is in this place; God is at work; God is with us wherever we go.
I pray this place, this ministry into which Rachel is entering, all those who come into contact with St Cuthbert’s Centre, each one here and each one who comes may know the truth that God is in this place, so that it can be like Jacob’s ladder, joining heaven to earth, through the grace of God.
Thanks be to God.
All being well, after this we will sing no hopers, jokers and rogues - a folk song I just love and which fits this occasion wonderfully.