The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - July 23, 2017
Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a   
Sermon Title: Jacob's Ladder

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Quick orientation to this week’s scripture.  Several weeks ago we were reading in Genesis about Abraham and Sarah.  Both were of old age, and had a son named Isaac.  Isaac got married to a woman named Rebekah and they had twins, Esau and Jacob.  This is long before Jesus, we don’t really know how long before Jesus, but these are the some of the earliest stories when we start to see historical figures in the Bible.  Adam and Eve, Noah, these are doubted by most historians as factual stories, still important parts of our faith, but probably not historically accurate.  As we get into this portion of the Bible we start to get some names that we can start to call historical.  But, a word of caution, even though this stories maybe more historical, just think about trying to write about your great, great, great grandparents.  You may have their names, and hear stories handed down, but still have to realize, as with all of the Bible, there was not someone sitting down writing each thing that happens as it happened.  Sometime later, perhaps generations later, someone wrote down what they heard. 

     But we think that Isaac and Rebekah had these two sons, first twins mentioned in the Bible.  Esau was born first, probably just by a few minutes, but as the firstborn male had more power than Jacob as the second.  Esau was a great hunter, and was probably his father’s favorite son.  Jacob stayed around the tent more, not really a great hunter, but helpful, and was his mother’s favorite son.  One day Esau came in from hunting and Jacob was making some lentil stew.  Somehow Jacob convinced Esau to give him his birthright in exchange for some of this stew.  This birthright basically allowed the one who held this the right to a double portion of his inheritance.  So when Isaac died, the one holding the birthright would get 2/3 of all that Isaac had, the other would get 1/3rd.  And then as Isaac was getting old, could not see very well, and knew that he was probably going to die soon.  A father also would give a blessing to one child.  Esau, being the first born, and Isaac’s favorite was going to get this blessing.  Rebekah, Esau and Jacob’s mother, however, wanted Jacob, her favorite to have it.  So Esau went out hunting for a special feast for his father, Rebekah told Jacob to go and get a few fat calves, she would cook it up, Jacob could give it to his father, pretend to be his brother, and get the blessing.  So Jacob puts on Esau’s clothes, puts the fir on his face and hands, and fools his father into blessing him, rather than Esau.  Esau was pretty ticked off, birthright and blessing both gone, he is going to kill his brother.  Now in those days, when you say you are going to kill someone, it is not an empty threat, he was going to kill his brother.  So Rebekah, in order to save her son’s life tells Jacob to get out of town, that is my paraphrase for that conversation.

     So as we get into this story, Jacob is running for his life.  Imagine, as a young person, you have just deceived your father and your brother, and the only way to save your life is to go.  Now he was probably headed to his Uncle’s house, so he had a destination in mind, but it was not like his mother called and asked if Jacob could come live with them for a few years, got into a little fight with his brother, needs some time for his brother to cool off.  No, Rebekah just told Jacob to go, and maybe I will see you again once your brother cools off. 

     It is getting toward nighttime, Jacob is alone, getting tired, and decides to lay down for the night.  He finds a rock to use as a pillow.   Even in some clearer stories in the Bible, there are things that sometimes don’t make a lot of sense.  I think I would have chosen to roll up some clothes if I had any extra, or just go without. 

     Last week I went camping with my family for a few days.  Now sometimes when I camp, I camp.  Tent, maybe a little sleeping pad on the ground, maybe a cook stove, maybe just a campfire to cook over.  But often we camp in our trailer, this is really more like bringing a cabin with us.  We have heat and air conditioning, a fridge, a stove and sink, toilet and shower, and beds for all of us.  In the front of the trailer where Keri and I sleep, and there is what is commonly called a “short queen” bed.  A normal queen mattress is 80 inches long, a short queen is 74-75 inches long.  I am almost 74 inches long myself, and if you add a pillow, your head can not get quite to the top of a bed, so in the trailer I hang off the end.  After a few nights I sleep OK, but the first few nights I never sleep well.  Last week I spent one night rolling.  I would fall sleep on my back, 10-15 minutes later, I would wake up and roll to my side, 10-15 minutes later, again I would be awake and roll onto my stomach, then my other side, then my back.  Not back and forth, but always clockwise for some reason, so normally would roll then push back from the edge of the bed.  And in those brief moments of sleep I had some crazy dreams.  Today we don’t really think much about our dreams, and after that night, I am glad we don’t try to read too much into them. 

     In the recent Pixar movie “Inside Out” there is a character that the main character created in her brain when she was 3 years old.  Bing Bong is made out of cotton candy, part cat, part elephant, part dolphin and cries candy.  Compared to some of the dreams I had last week, Bing Bong is normal.

     But Jacob, with is head on rock pillow, running from his brother, sleeping fitfully, probably rolling around much like I did, also had a dream.  He sees a ladder, and climbing up and down this ladder are angles, or some creatures doing the will of God, and there is God at the bottom of the ladder.  A covenant is made, Jacob will have nations of decedents, as many as dust.  Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham was promised decedents as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach, or stars in the sky.  If you look really closely at sand, or put it under a microscope, it is little tiny grains.  As numerous as grains of sand or stars is a lot, but it is countable.  In theory, someone, or someones could physically count each grain of sand.  But dust is much harder.  Perhaps under a microscope dust does have some kind of structure, many of us have seen the pictures of dust mites, those little things that live in your mattress and eat dead skin cells.  If you think about that when you lay down to go to sleep tonight, I am guessing you may have some crazy dreams yourself. But dust gets everywhere.  Jacob’s decedents will be everywhere, uncountable.

     Jacob does end up having 12 sons, who become the 12 tribes of Israel. 

     This last week I was thinking of place in which we encounter God.  Native Americans often call these places thin places, where the distance between us and God seems thinner than normal.  Jacob, when he wakes up, takes the rock, pours oil on it, and names this place Bethel, which means a Holy place. 

     Last summer, just about a year ago, I was packing to go to National Youth Event with Evie and Zoey, and a bunch of other kids from New Hampshire.  Now I love Disney world.  Micky, the rides, the shows, they do an amazing job at making this place magical, but magical and Holy are not the same.  When we arrived in Orlando, I noticed that the line for the bus going to our hotel was long, and lots of people wearing UCC shirts.  The first night we sent two of our group to be our banner carriers, and I went in with them.  I was going to save some seats so we could all sit together.  So, in typical UCC fashioned, about halfway down on the right side.  I think there were about 4,000 seats set up, so half way down was both really far from the back, but also really far from the front.  When everyone came in, they all wanted to move up toward the front.  We worshipped, all those voices.  We prayed, all those voices.  We sang, all those voices.  Disney, on that night, became a holy place.

     There are other holy places in our lives.  Have most of you been in the parsonage?  There is a back deck and a sliding glass door that leads out to it.  One of two pieces of the church’s furniture in the parsonage is a huge dining room table.  Often, I will wake up for church pretty early.  I don’t have many curtains, so the shades do keep a bit of sun out, but still pretty bright once the sun comes up.  I will get a cup of coffee and sit at the table.  In the warmer months, there are trees, and flowers, and it is really pretty.  In the winter, the leaves are gone, which gives you a great view down toward 101.  You can see the flashing traffic light, you can see white hills off in the distance, maybe some houses with smoke coming out of their chimneys.  I will often say a prayer on those mornings.  Just thank God for the opportunity to sit quietly, with a cup of hot coffee, and prepare myself for the day.  I also give thanks for the opportunity to serve in Marlborough for this time.  That table, for those moments becomes a holy place, a thin place for me. 

     And then I get to enter another thin place in my life, right here.  Every week we gather, we ask God to join us in this time, we read scripture, we pray, we sing, we share, and then we go back out into the world.  This is, in very real way for me, and hopefully for others, a Bethel, a holy place, a thin place. 

     I am not sure how seriously we should take our dreams, but in both dreaming and non-dreaming, there are times in which we encounter God, or God encounters us.  And while some of those encounters are wonderful, occur when we are in a situation where we are especially tuned to God,  sometimes they occur when we are running for our lives, running away from our problems, sleeping with a rock for a pillow.  But even in those most uncomfortable times, we know that God can create a holy place for us.  In a wonderful place like Disney, or a normal place like the kitchen table in the parsonage, God creates those thin places to be close to us. 

     You may have your own thin places.  A cabin, or a lake, or a place in the woods.  Maybe it is an activity that you do that creates that thin space, reading a book, listening to music, praying.  This week I hope you will continue to look for more thin places, places where you may encounter God even when you least expect it.