July 17, 2005
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
Genesis 28: 10-19a
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43a
And I Did Not Know It!
And a very good morning to each of you. And may we take just a moment to thank God for it.
This has been a week of competing emotions for me. On the “peace and joy” side of the spectrum, we have the birth of our new granddaughter Myah Mathilda and our visit to see her in Juneau. We also have the on-going health and well-being of other members of our extended family and friends.
On the “let’s find something to worry about side of the scale” – I’ve focused on Karl Rove, the United State Supreme Court, Iraq, radical Islam and the on-going labor strife at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
Friends have been after me for a long time to “let go of all that.” Just this week, they have invited me to participate in an Ignacian spirituality group, a Jewish Kaballah spirituality group, an evening of jazz at the museum, and, well, an evening at Mad Myrna’s lip-sych “drag show” downtown.
I couldn’t do everything. Probably should have chosen the Ignacian spirituality and the Jewish mediation group. However, I’m here to say that, instead, I went to the museum – and Mad Myrna's.
And like Jacob – after watching and listening to the angels traipsing up and down that old ladder between heaven and earth all night, I awoke this morning singing,, “Surely the Lord was in these places– and I did not know it!”
Over the years I have met and become friends with any number of people – some highly respected among the general community, and others, well, perhaps not so respected – at least at first.
As a hospital chaplain, I met both street-people and business people. I met persons injured in automobile accidents and the people who were driving the cars that caused the accidents. I’ve met pediatric intensive care nurses and child abusers and molesters.
I’ve visited churches, synagogues, prisons, insane asylums, union halls, and Chamber of Commerce luncheons. And now, Mad Myrna’s.
And what did I find there? People. People just living their lives, trying to survive, having a little fun. Struggling with their challenges, whatever their challenge may be.
Which ones of them were “God’s People”? Which were “good”, which were “bad.” Don’t ask me. Only God knows. And God is full of surprises.
This may be the message of the Jacob story this morning. I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out the ladder part of the story, before just relaxing and thinking about Jacob himself.
Jacob was basically “on the lam” – running away ‘cause he had just tricked his father, cheated his brother and stole his brother’s birthright. It’s true, Jacob was headed back to the family’s homeland to find a proper wife among his cousins. But he wasn’t doing this because he was particularly obedient. Frankly, he thought his brother was going to hunt him down and kill him.
So this is the kind of guy we find sleeping on a rock out in the desert. Tired and fearful, as Jacob went to sleep, he could feel pretty certain that NOBODY loved HIM, with the exception of his mother Rachel who had engineered the whole mess.
So Jacob falls to sleep and begins to dream of angels – ascending and descending a staircase reaching into heaven. WE are told that the angels and going back and forth to do God’s bidding, whatever that might be.
As Jacob contemplates this scene, God appears and makes the same promise to him as God made to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham and to his father Isaac so many years before.
“I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
We are not going to digress to discuss the wisdom of this promise on the part of God. Or whether or not Jacob and his descendants should have taken the promise quite so literally. The fact is that God made a promise and promised to keep it. Whether or not Jacob – or whether or not WE – fully understand the meaning of the promise is open to question.
Whether or not we understand God’s promise, God’s plan, God’s wishes for ourselves or for others really isn’t open to question. The answer is, “We don’t.” But we have to look for signs – and even wonders – along the way. And be open to grow in understanding.
Lying in the sand with a rock for a pillow, Jacob wakes up with the exclamation, “Surely God is in this place – and I did not know it!”
Have you ever been in God’s presence and not known it? Have you ever suddenly realized that God has been with you long before you knew she was there?
Have you ever wondered about someone else – and whether or not God was with he or she – based on your particularly sketchy understanding of that person’s past or present?
Have you ever had your picture of someone completely painted – all done -- only to discover that the light had shifted – that the person you thought you saw and knew, had completely changed? For the worse? Or for the better?
Have you ever painted a picture of yourself -- a picture, perhaps, all in “Picasso blue”? Totally depressed? A total failure? Totally unlovable? Only to have that picture changed because you found that somebody believed in you? Somebody loved you? Maybe someone was actually blessed because of something you said or did months or years ago?
The good news of Jacob’s story is not simply that there are links to heaven. The good news is not that God sometimes comes to us. The good news is not that heaven and earth are somehow connected. The good news isn’t even that Jacob was somehow kind of special even if he weren’t the most honest guy in the world. Frankly, the good news isn’t even that God keeps and renews his promises – that’s old news. We knew that.
No, I think the good news is hidden in that single sentence: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!”
I’d like to also add this thought from the Gospel lesson this morning: “Surely the Lord is in and among these people, and I did not know it!”
Which brings us to the wheat and the weeds. Jesus tells the parable of the man who sowed “good seed” in his field. But along came the “forces of evil” and sowed a bunch of weeds among the wheat.
The owner’s servants said, “Sir, do you want us to go pull the weeds?” And the owner said, “No, don’t do that. You may accidentally pull up the wrong plants or disturb the growth of the good plants. Have a little patience, all will be worked out at harvest time.”
In other words, “Leave the weeding to God.”
This might not be good agricultural practice today. We can ask Amberlie about that. But the parable was not about agriculture, it was about people. Human relations. You may think you know a people-weed when you see one; but maybe not. God made the fireweed and the wheat – and my sense is that He had a purpose for both. Had a love for both.
We really can’t second-guess God when it comes to people or plants. We can’t presume to understand just where God is or what God is about.
In fact, we can’t even be sure that the weeds about us – be they plants or people – will remain weeds and that the wheat – be it plant or person – will remain wheat.
Consider Moses – a murderer;
Consider King David – an adulterer;
Consider the Apostle Paul – a religious fanatic and vigilante;
Consider the Disciple Peter – a hypocrite and a coward.
Were they remembered for being murderers, adulterers, vigilantes, and cowards? God had a different purpose for each of them.
But who would have thought that God would have worked with them?
That God would be present with them?
That God would love them?
That God would make them great?
That God would grant unto them the blessings of her kingdom?
Consider me. Consider you.
What judgments could be made about us?
What judgments do we make about “them”?
Surely God is with us – and them; God is with us all in this place – this time of life -- and we did not know it.
Jacob’s realization was a joyful experience. Yet it was also an awesome, fearful experience.
God is here even when we think that God can not, should not, will not be here, here even when we are not looking for God to be here.
God is here to bless and to heal, to comfort and guide, to change and transform, to help and to reassure, maybe even to bring us up sort, on occasion.. God is here.
Surely the Lord is in this place – even this place -- and we did not know it.”
Yes, Jacob was afraid – afraid not because he had made some mistake, but afraid because he realized just how holy was the place he was in. It was a rocky, dry, difficult place – but Jacob was able to say, “How awesome is this place. This is none other than the House of God and this is the gate of heaven.”
What place are we each in? It could be an emotional place or space. Declare it Holy. How awesome is this place. The gateway to the presence of God. The gateway to heaven.
It could be a physical space – our home, the out of doors, our church, the concert hall, the stage. If it is a place where God’s people gather; a place where the people’s story is told – declare it Holy. How awesome is this place. This House of God. This gateway to heaven.
If we wait – if we let God do whatever it is that God does – if we let God move in his own mysterious ways – his wonders to perform – we will find ourselves surprised in the most wonderful of ways. We will discover that where we are – wherever we are – is the House of God for the People of God – right next to the gateway to heaven.
How awesome. And I did not even know it.