Toorak Uniting Church

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Jacob and the ladder - Up and down with God

Genesis 28: 10 – 22   John 1: 20 – 34
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10:15am, 17 July 2005

This morning we started with a picture of hands reaching up towards the light. A picture making visible what we do when we come together in worship: We come and we reach out towards the light, towards God and stretch ourselves toward a different reality, towards "higher" things.

It’s not at all what Jacob is doing in the story. He has just cheated his old father and appropriated the blessing that was originally meant for his brother. He is on the run, expecting his brother to want to kill him. He has left his heartbroken father behind and his mother who helped him cheat on his father and brother. She must have loved him very much. When the sun sets, after his first day on the road, Jacob lays down his head on a piece of rock and falls asleep. Probably too tired to care, too anxious to worry he invites sleep to take over and provide some merciful oblivion.

And then he has a dream. As one does.

Emotional trauma, fear and exhaustion create a fertile environment for the mind to go wandering and wondering in the night.

Jacob sees a ladder. And on the ladder there are angels, ascending and descending, going up and down, between heaven and earth. Is it an image perhaps of how Jacob’s thoughts travel up looking for comfort and affirmation with God’s view on things coming down? Is it Jacob tossing and turning that is at the root of this dream, wondering if he’s done the right thing, fighting the fistful of panic that must have settled in his stomach fearing for his life? Although he sleeps his head was probably still spinning with the impact of what he had done: Deception, betrayal, theft. And somehow he makes a connection. Where his thoughts go up and up and up searching for some light on the matter, some guidance for his anguished soul, messengers of light and truth come down from heaven to meet his thoughts, and an interaction starts happening between what is below and what is above. Between heaven and earth.

Suddenly God himself is standing next to Jacob in his dream and confirms the good words his father has spoken to him: The land on which you lie I will give to you, and your offspring, and your offspring will be like the dust of the earth…… Words of blessing that were first spoken to Abraham now inherited by this lying cheat of a man who is on the run for his brother for whom these words were originally meant to be.

A miracle of communication takes place here, between Jacob and God, between a lost and sinful human being and the light and truth of heaven. Something happens, somehow words are spoken and connections made. Angels run back and forth and somehow or other Jacob and his God find each other somewhere in between.

Communication is a miracle when it happens. Communication with God an even bigger miracle: heavenly messengers travelling up and down taking up what is off the earth and bringing down what is of God and making the connection possible.

Have you ever connected with God like that? Either unexpectedly, caught unawares like Jacob, suddenly experiencing a reality beyond the here and now and day to day, or after long and diligent prayer and preparation finally finding the way?
If you have you will know what an awesome experience that is. To feel the back and forth between heaven and earth and become part of it. To find God standing next to you and speaking good words of blessing and comfort. To see that the heavens are open and a connection established between our existence and what is beyond. It doesn’t happen that often and one usually doesn’t forget when it does.

Jacob sets the stone he has slept on up as a pillar and pours oil over it to signify the divine gift he has received that night. A memorial to recognise something awesome has happened to him in that place on that day. As some of us have put up memorials in this Church as a testimony to the goodness of God. The heavens opened upon this sinner, and poured mercy and grace upon him without even mentioning what has gone before. As the mercy and grace have been poured upon us, God’s people.

Centuries later the heavens open again. This time it is not a sinner like Jacob who finds himself bathing in the light of eternal truth. It is Jesus Christ who finds the Spirit of God descending upon him. The Spirit descends and remain indicating that the arduous exercise of the angels we find with Jacob is not necessary with this man. He is the light in the middle of the picture, the place where communication somehow, miraculously happens. He is God and God is in him in such a way that it is impossible to tell where one begins and the other finishes. Here, communication between heaven and earth grows into unison. The mystery of the trinity of God is happening where heaven and earth meet in Jesus Christ. Where God and the Spirit become bound together as one, generating light and life from the middle of their unity.

Jacob was a sinner. Nevertheless God finds him and he, in his sleep, finds grace. With God keeping the communication open between heaven and earth, between himself and the sinner who fell down exhausted by the side of the road. In awe Jacob sets up a pillar and pours some oil and makes a promise: if you look after me you can be my God. Jacob is not the most pious of men, he is a liar, a cheat, a slippery, complicated individual that engages in all sorts of doubtful activity. Nevertheless does he receive blessing and is it God who keeps the connection open for him.
Jesus is God’s beloved and quite a contrast to Jacob. God is where he is, the heavens open and stay open where he appears. He is the light, his relationship with God pure and imminent. He opens the connection for others, for us, and keeps it open, even after death has taken him.

We come together around the table called to be the body of Christ in this world. To be what he was: a place where heaven connects to earth and the Spirit finds a place to remain. Where God is in us and we are in God, communicating the mystery of light and life between us. Reaching out towards God, opening our hands to each other and to God to give and to receive, to reach up towards the light and draw what is good and of God into our lives. To bless and to receive blessing, to communicate Gods love to each other and have that love communicated to us. To receive the Spirit and give it out and give shape to that connection between heaven and earth that is in Jesus Christ.

Most of us will come to that communion, that communication with God, more like Jacob than like Jesus. Most of us need a lot of back and forth before the communication channels open up. For most of us it is more a question of up and down with God than of the Spirit remaining on us all the time like it did with Jesus. The Bible tells us that God will seek to interact with both. Sinner or no sinner. Open to the Spirit and ready to stay with it, or on the run with a mind full of other stuff. He invites us all to his table, with an open hand, an open mind, and an open heart, to give us from his grace, to draw us as near to him as we will go.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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