God Shows Up

Text: Genesis 28:10-19a

I recently had the opportunity to go see one of my favorite pastors, Rob Bell, speak live—
He’s a former mega-church pastor who is now a world-famous writer and speaker.
Some of you might be familiar with him
If not, I have every single book he has ever written— in hardback, lovingly stored and cared for in my office.
Not that I’m a superfan or anything…
But his most recent book is called, “What Is the Bible?”
It’s a terrific book, really.
If you want to borrow it, let me know

And it’s premise or rather, it’s perspective—is looking at the Bible through the human lens, asking the questions:

What did these stories mean to the original audience?
What does this tell us about how these people or this person in this particular place and time view or experience God?
Why are these details important?
Why did whoever wrote this down feel the need to do so?

When you read Scripture through this lens, it really does seem to open it up, so to speak, and bring these ancients texts to life
Making them interesting from a historical sense
And all the more incredible in the present tense
in them we are offered illustrations of incredible ways in which God was at work then and perhaps how God is at work now.

So as I was thinking about the texts for this week, preparing for today’s sermon,
I began asking some of these questions,
and in doing so, the story of Jacob’s Dream in Genesis, really stood out in a unique way.

So let’s visit that story

We have Jacob here who I never knew until I started really reading the Bible wasn’t always the most stand-up guy
but more on that later
so he’s running from his brother Esau because he’s stolen his blessing
-remember that story- where he dresses up like his brother to trick his nearly-blind father into getting his blessing?
Now this might seem quirky
Because in our contemporary minds and in our contemporary world-
we could easily make the legal case that this blessing was secured under false pretenses and thus should be rendered null and void!
But that’s not how things worked in the ancient world
In the ancient world, a blessing was something that was real and almost tangible.
it afforded you all the legal benefits of inheritance
And once offered could not be rescinded.

So Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance and Esau- Jacob’s brother – is willing to kill him for it
In fact, he has stated that he intends to do so
So Jacob’s mother
He was quite the mama’s boy (not that I know anything about that!)
sent him off to her brother Laban’s house in Haran to hopefully wait out Esau’s rage

And that’s where we find Jacob
He’s on the run
He’s probably scared and stressed
Experiencing great shame
He seems to have made a mess of his life
And his only option was to flee for safety

So it’s gotten dark and he’s decided to stop for the night to camp and get some sleep

And here is where the story really gets interesting—
He uses a rock for a pillow
a rock!
and somehow falls asleep and dreams

And in this dream he has a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven
And then God appears to Jacob
and reminds him of who He is
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac!”
and he proceeds to inform him that where he is standing is holy ground and reminds him of his future
that he will be a blessing to all the families of the earth
that his offspring will be numerous
and that God will never leave him

And at once Jacob awakes from his dream and proclaims
“Surely the Lord is in this place— and I did not know it!”

The Lord comes to us
sometimes in the most surprisingly of instances
But God is always present—
in this place
working for our benefit
Behind the scenes.
Earlier we celebrated a holy baptism
In this experience, as Lutherans, we know and confess that God promises to show up in the water
But it doesn’t mean God wasn’t already there
But in there waters
and in the meal of holy communion
we are assured of God’s presence
in that place

Now let’s revisit this story through the lens i mentioned earlier

Jacob lays down to sleep and uses a rock for a pillow

Now why would the writers feel the need to mention that?
Why would he be described as using a rock for a pillow?

We can never know for sure
But how many of you have laid down to sleep
with the world so heavy
your burden so great
that your pillow was like a rock

That your circumstances seemed so great that nothing could offer you comfort
nothing could offer you rest
not even your pillow
that your pillow might as well have been a rock

But in spite of this
In spite of whatever you have done
wherever you are
whatever demons you are fleeing
or whatever past you are escaping
Whatever guilt you are trying to free yourself of


So the vision Jacob has in the dream is one of angels at work and not only that, God actually shows up
in this place

So in the midst of the suffering Jacob is enduring
in the midst of the weight for which he lays his head
Jacob is offered a glimpse into the working of God

God not only has shown up
but is at work

Jacob is offered a vision of he kingdom of God
actively at work in the place of his struggle
It’s almost as if God has lifted this veil and to show the holy work going on behind the curtain

even in the midst of this confusing time of fear, doubt, and shame
God shows up
is at work

Jacob awakes
acknowledges this reality
and what does he do?

He takes that stone that has been his pillow
that weight
and he what?
he makes an altar with it.

He offers up to God that struggle for which God has transformed
-acknowledging that God has redeemed it
-honoring that God is at work

that even in the struggle
you are not alone.

Has this ever happened to you?
Have you ever had something in your life that at the time seemed so removed from anything holy
so painful
So discouraging
So scary

But later
only later
did you look back and see God at work
redeeming this pain?
transforming it to something for God’s glory?

So today, friends
I invite you to reflect on this
look back on your life
and see where
even during the worst of times
the most difficult of times
when your pillow even felt like a rock


and in doing so, God actualized the promise St. Paul speaks of in Romans 8:28 when he says,
“we know that all things work together for good”
That God can and does redeem all things

We might not know why
and we might still be awaiting for this to happen

Like Jacob we might be in the midst of it
where we are fleeing something
we are running from the pain that maybe we caused
Jacob made his bed for sure
perhaps that’s why his pillow feels like a rock
But we must never forget that
But after this meaningful revelation
after Jacob proclaims “Surely God is in this place—and I did not know it!”
What’s the next line?

And he was afraid.

Because sometimes God shows up
sometimes God redeems the pain in our life
giving it new meaning
new purpose
and it’s scary
Sometimes we aren’t sure what to do with this new life

Maybe we are newly sober and we aren’t sure how we are going to ever be fun again
or make new friends
or keep the old friends
without drinking again

Maybe God has shown up but we have to answer for some big mistakes we’ve made—
in a relationship
or work
or at home
we have to handle the consequences to get through it
to get to the other side
And it’s scary

or maybe God has shown up
freeing you from a painful situation
and setting your path on a better one
but the next steps are terrifying and you’re not quite sure you have what it takes

Remember, friends
that God is with you
God has shown up
and God always keeps God’s promises

I think the writers of this passage wanted its original readers or listeners to know this
and I think God wants us to hear this today
that even in the midst of a frightening situation
even a situation that is of your own doing
God is with you
the entire way
God is at work in the situation
and will keep God’s promises

Even in your darkest hour
You’re not alone



One Comment

So you know I want to borrow this book, right?? I love this take on Jacob’s story, especially the idea that the rock/pillow represents the burden of Jacob knowing that he screwed everything up himself — and then God transforms the situation and Jacob literally gives that burden up to God by making it into an altar. I never thought of it that way before.


Leave a Reply

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> 

%d bloggers like this: