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Surely God is in This Place

By the Rev. Eric O. Ledermann July 17, 2011 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time First Presbyterian Church, San Bernardino, CA

Genesis 28.10-19a
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the Lord stood beside him and said, I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father

and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know 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.

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it! 17And he was afraid, and said, How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19He called that place Bethel.

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from? 28He answered, An enemy has done this. The slaves said to him, Then do you want us to go and gather them? 29But he replied,

No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn. 36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field. 37He answered, The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,

and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Jacob was a cheat, plain and simple. His very name means he who takes the heel, as he grabbed onto the heel of his slightly older brother, Essau,
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2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

even in the womb. He grows up to be a swindler, manipulating Essau, the first born of Isaac, out of his birth right. Now, in Genesis 28 we find Jacob alone in the wilderness. The heel grabber finds his brother on his heels after him to kill him. The swindler is swindled into marrying someone other than the object of his desire. It is poetic justice, really. And yet, this scoundrel, this cheat, becomes the carrier of Gods promise? This guy who would sell his own family to make a buck, this is who God chooses to become one of the great fathers of Israel in line with Abraham and Isaac. Throughout the rest of scripture, God is identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob? How is this possible?

Like the weeds in Jesus parable that are scattered among the wheat, Jacob is the epitome of a human weed: literally sucking the goodness out of everything he sees to feed his own selfish ambition. Yet, God is blessing this cheater? It is easy to hate Jacob. It is easy to read about him and wonder what God saw. And, yet, God did see something.

We all know that God often uses the most unlikely of heroes. But this guy? Its just unfair! Its unfair to Essau, the hard working older brother. Its unfair to anyone who has been manipulated by someone with less than
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2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

righteous intent. But God saw something of worth in Jacob, who, in the wilderness, becomes Israel (which in Hebrew literally means Prince of God, or May God prevail). Did God prevail in subduing this weed and somehow miraculously transforming him into a good plant, food for an entire nation and for an entire world?

My pastor when I was in college once told us about a way of reading scripture that can help us get into the text in order to understand it better. He told us to imagine we were one of the people being written about, whether it was one of the main people in the text or even someone in the crowd watching what is happening. Imagine you are Jacob. Imagine you have done all the evil things Jacob has done. I did this and I began to wonder if we all have a little bit of Jacob in us: a desire to get what we want, a desire to get ahead in life, a desire to have the best we can have. And sometimes, maybe sometimes, our ambitions get the better of us and we dont even realize who we might be walking over and hurting in our quest for the best. I bet we all have at least a little bit of Jacob in us.

And if we all have a little bit of Jacob in us, dont we then also have at least a little bit of potential to be changed? I think most of us try to walk the
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2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

good path. We try to live according to how God would have us live. We try to be good. But, there are times in all of our lives when our ambitions make us blind and we can see nothing else but what we want. And maybe somewhere along the way we have a dream and we hear a barely audible voice from deep within our souls, I AM the Lord...Know that I am with you...[and] will not leave you. The moment may be brief, it may be a miraculous wilderness experience that we feel compelled to mark in some way like Jacob did in building that pillar of rocks and pouring oil on it; it may be a moment of solitude when we can rest and reflect on what is happening; it may even be a moment of clarity that happens in the middle of hearing a sermon that cuts straight to the core of our very being and convicts us right where were sitting. Or, it may be in a moment hours later, after the words of the scripture and the language of what was said has had time to settle on our hearts. At some point we begin a shift. We begin to maybe act a little differently; it might even be barely noticeable. We begin to think differently about those people we once saw merely as obstacles in our way to some goal.

You see, God is always with us planting seeds of truth and grace in us, just as God was planting seeds of mercy in Jacob. Even before our birth God is
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2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

planting seeds of purpose and calling on our hearts, seeds of love and hope. But as we grow older and begin to experience the world, the weeds of greed, the weeds of fear, the weeds of anxiety and anger can creep in and choke Gods seeds of love. We can grow bitter with weeds of contempt and mistrust. Weeds had grown in Gods messenger, Jacob. There he was in the wilderness, alone with his selfish manipulations to keep him company. And for the first time he was finally finding himself face to face with how he had been living his life. The ladder was an image of Gods constant and very intentional presence in his life. It was a moment of clarity for Jacob. Probably for the first time in his life he realized that God had a different plan for this heel grabber. And for the first time, there was hope. Gods transformative power had begun to break through and was slowly beginning to change Jacob from the inside out.

While Jesus parable in the Gospel of Matthew is more about good people versus evil people, the good wheat and the evil weeds, I wonder if we are capable of being both. I wonder if the good seed is planted in us by God, but the weeds, which look just like wheat and we cant really tell the difference until theyre both almost completely grown, slowly begin to infest our hearts with our own selfish ambitions. I wonder if really we have
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2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

the potential to be both fruitful, nourishing and even life-giving, and also have the potential to be caustic and life-destroying, sometimes at the same time, sometimes alternating even within the same day. Some of it is intentional. But I wonder if a lot of it is unintentional and is born from our fears leading to unconscious attempts to simply protect ourselves. And all the while God is saying from within us, I AM the Lord...Know that I am with you...[and] will not leave you. And there is hope as we realize that the place, Beth-el, the house of God, is us. It was not only in that rock upon which Jacob poured oil. It was not only in that place or in that ground. The house of God, the place God exists, is also within us. Sometimes it takes a rock to knock us off our feet so we can finally step outside of ourselves and recognize the weeds that have infested our hearts and minds, and finally witness the presence of the Great I-AM. Sometimes we need to just get out of the way, period, so that God can redeem us and transform us by the power of Gods own grace.

Donald Nicholl, a British historian and theologian who died in 1997 just shy of 74 years, once wrote: When you had been thinking you were the hunter, it is scary suddenly to discover that all the time you have actually been the

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2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

hunted one: when you imagined that you had taken the initiative in pursuit of the Holy One and then realize that in truth it was the Holy One who initiated the pursuit. How awesome is this place, declared Jacob when he woke at Bethel; this is the house of God. Yet Jacob had been attracted to that very spot; he had been drawn to it, fascinated by the dream of holy angels. The Holy One is both attractive and terrifying.1 Surely God is in this place, this place inside of us, this place in which we worship, the places in which we work and live, the places in which we connect in relationships with one another, even the places we so often hide from other people. Surely, God is in these places. So stop running. Find a place to rest, and find rest in the immediate presence of the Holy One, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer...of you and of me.

From Holiness by David Nicholls (Seabury Press, 1981), as quoted in The Spiritual Formation Bible (Zondervan Publishing, 1999), p. 36.

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2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.