1 Church Street
East Harwich, MA 02645
Jacob’s Dream at Bethel
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He 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. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder[a] set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood beside him[b] 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; 14 and 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[c] in you and in your offspring. 15 Know 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.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 And 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. 19 He called that place Bethel;
EVERY RUNG GOES HIGHER
Genesis 28:10-19a [Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43]
19 July 2020
The Rev. Dr. Dianne ES Carpenter
You know the way it is in small towns… One day a teenager rushed into the drugstore. “The preacher slipped from a ladder and he’s hanging by his pants!” He gasped. “My goodness!” said the druggist. “What can I do?” The teen said “Hurry and put some film in my camera! He won’t hang on for long!”
The story of Jacob is the story of a ladder and its significance on a journey. A physical journey from Beersheba to Haran and a spiritual journey from fear to awe.
To tell the story of Jacob is to begin by seeing him in a particularly human condition. Jacob had Ambition. Jacob had fear and Jacob had guilt. Jacob is fleeing the wrath of his brother because he has stolen his brother’s birthright [recap the story].
The good news is that God intervenes in Jacob’s human condition and proposes that Jacob’s journey, which Jacob experiences on the human plane, has a cosmic reality that Jacob can appropriate. God proposes that Jacob’s journey need not continue on the horizontal plane of limited human existence. God proposes that Jacob’s journey can become an ascension experience symbolized by the ladder which connects heaven and earth.
I. The Journey
I realize I have been on a physical journey as I begin my appointment here at Harwich that began when I was born in Pittsfield while my father served Williamstown UMC. In my life time I have lived in many Massachusetts towns Paxton, Norton, West Bridgewater, Wayland, Waltham, Milford, Bellingham, Natick, Newton, Natick, Spencer, Belmont, Hamilton, Dennis, Centerville, Franklin, and back to Cape Cod. Sometimes I moved on my own initiative and more often within the vision of parents or spouse or the Bishop. I am aware that I am on a life journey as a child and student, a wife and mother, a teacher and performer, a single parent and pastor and once again as a wife and mother and finally a senior citizen. I am poignantly aware that I have been afraid and I have been ambitious and I have been guilty – sometimes – and I am aware that my journey becomes arduous when I perceive that I am involved in “the great escape” or that I live with my nose to the grind stone and my head filled with strategic planning.
I am Jacob, and in various times and various ways – I know you are Jacob too, for Jacob was human, very human. Jacob was afraid of the potentially disastrous consequences of his human journey.
II. The stars and separation
Since what I fear most is disaster – I would like to think about the word Disaster for a moment. “Dis” means separation “aster“ means star
( from A Stone for a Pillow by Madeleine l’Engle)
So disaster is separation from the stars. One of the great Fears on our human journey is the fear of the disastrous consequences of human journeying as we experience our separation from God’s Creation – especially the creation of lights for the sky – STARS by which navigators and explorers have always gotten their bearings.
In those thousands of years when our ancestors lived in the desert of an unpopulated and largely unexplored planet the stars stood out. [stars in our flag and stars on the ceiling!] In Genesis, God took Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, out into the desert night to show him the stars and to make incredible promises. How glorious those stars must have been all those centuries ago when the planet was not circled by a corona of light from all our cities and by smog from our internal combustion engines. Jacob lying on the ground, the stone under his head, would have seen the stars as we cannot see them today. [I always felt that on the porch at my home on Cape Cod – there were more stars than where I had lived before!] He could focus on God’s stars and connect with them. Perhaps we have thrown up a smoke screen between ourselves and the very points of light by which we could remove the fear of separation from God! Jacob was a member of that far away time who had managed to become disconnected from the stars as he plotted to gain his brother’s birthright.
Such separation is disaster indeed. When we are separated from the stars, the sea, each other, we are in danger of being separated from God. When we are separated from each other we cannot function as children of God, members of one holy family. Sometimes the very walls of our churches separate us from God and each other. In our various naves and sanctuaries we are safely separated from those outside, from other denominations, other religions, separated from the poor, the ugly, the dying. Separation from one another makes family life fade from the high value we have traditionally placed on the family unit. Today we need a religious community – a holy family – as we face choices too hard to meet while we are separated from one another. We ought to be distressed at being separated from the stars. It is a symptom of separation from creation and ultimately from community, family, each other and our Creator.
Do you feel close to your family and your friends? I tell you – you are separated from many people by the social caste system in which we live, people who have importance in God’s eyes and who contribute to the wonderful world in which you and I live. The separation of economic resources between the 1% and the rest of the world is nowhere greater than in this country. Separation from Creation is the issue of plastic waste in our oceans and mercury in our seafood and the devastating effects of the industrial era on our atmosphere. We need to dream bigger more vivid dreams of connection once again to each other and our Creator – God.
Those of us who live in fear of the disastrous consequences of our human journeying feel disconnected from God’s plan and God’s purpose for our lives and we need to take a moment to see Jacob’s vision… God wants to be connected to us! Wherever we are on the journey of life we need to hear the words God proclaims from the top of the ladder:
I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…Behold 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 that of which I have spoken to You.
God intervenes with Good News  that God plans for our journey’s success and  that God will not leave us. God calls us to live on a vertical plane, even when we don’t know or feel secure in our knowledge of who God is. Presenting us with a vision of the upward call, God gives us a call to reconnect – reconcile our relationship with God’s Self and with God’s creation, before the final separation which shall be the Judgement day.
God calls out to us to reconnect with our creator… drawing us away from the human rat race toward relationship with him and in the process GOD CHANGES US FOREVER. The ladder that God adorns with angel choirs cannot be ascended without leaving behind that which is earth bound. Life on the horizontal plane, life where we are obsessed with possessions and power and success and the needs (real needs) of the moment – has a great deal of gravity (pull). The teenager was right: when we start up the spiritual ladder toward God and a Kingdom life style, we are continually in danger of being pulled back to earth by gravity.
Moving toward God means personal and ultimately social change AT A PROFOUND AND ESSENTIAL LEVEL OF OUR LIFE. God’s ladder, as we ascend it, means change that can only be described as TRANSFORMATION. Perhaps we are not overly burdened with fear on the human plane or even fear of God but I am certain that as much as we call for Change – we do harbor, ultimately, fear of the unknown. Change we rationalize, may be for the better or for the worst. Do we truly embrace the concept of Kingdom living? At the top of the ladder is the establishment of the Kingdom of God – no party system or loyalty or kickback or prestige but a true and essential equality of persons regardless of sexual preference or race or age and an equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
Knowing the power- the gravity- of ideologies and traditions to drag us down off the ladder I don’t know how any of us manage to hang on UNLESS WE DO WHAT JACOB DID: set up an altar at the site of the vision of a ladder that led to God. Jacob set up an altar because AT THAT SPOT GOD PROMISED TO HELP HIM HANG ON AND MORE THAN THAT – TO CLIMB HIGHER TOWARD THE KINGDOM.
JACOB WAS ON THE RUN… WHAT ARE YOU FLEEING?
Health issues, change, etc…
Do you expect to meet God?
When we are driven by ambition, fear or guilt, when we are faced with Change and being changed toward the Kingdom – I expect God will be there saying “I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to You.”
Change is movement, an opportunity to go higher together with all creation – to let go of what binds us. Tomorrow I am scheduled to meet with the DS for my annual One on One … he will ask what my plans for the church and myself are for the coming year. I expect we will be going higher rung by rung together!