On Wednesday evening when we met, those words came into my mind as we shared real sadnesses and yet found laughter quick to follow. The words are from Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel and that was our them this morning in a very rainy day in the park! After some deep silence we read the account:
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above itstood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. 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.’
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God andthis stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’ Genesis 28
The following was given as background:
Jacob was the younger of twins, losing out on the firstborn’s inheritance rights to brother Esau. He took matters into his own hands to bribe and to cheat his way into usurping those rights. Not having thought it through, he was now fleeing his home in fear for his life. He was alone and afraid and instead of having gained everything, he had now had lost it all. This dream was a gift from God to assure him that despite all his mistakes and faults, God would never abandon him. Moreover, God would bless him, protect him and provide for his future that was yet unclear and precarious. Jacob’s faith is still, potentially, limited, with his commitment to God being dependent on these things proving to be true! Is he making a wager with God here?
We are all ‘Jacobs’ at times. Many of us in ThirdSpace are currently wrestling with things beyond our control that are deeply challenging (and all of us have done and will do, if this is not our reality now). Wanting to have control over our present circumstances and futures is innate. We hate to feel powerless and vulnerable and uncertain. When things go wrong, in our own lives or in the lives of others’ that we love, we scramble to fix them as we see best in order to gain control. And sometimes, like Jacob, we are not aware of God’s presence with us in the midst of the turmoil. Yet this can be the time when we find ourselves in a thin place – where, in our weakness, God meets with us.
This morning we will take time to pray quietly and individually about the things troubling us and later for the people who we are most troubled about. Sometimes we find it easier to pray for others than ourselves. Initially, this is a time to acknowledge our own fears and concerns and to consciously engage with the presence and promise of God. We will pray together for each other and for others we are concerned for when we return to the bandstand. But, for now, take the time you need for yourself for once!
These ideas then led to the following suggestions:
Take a stone and hold it. It will be a witness to your thoughts, feelings and prayers and will be yours to keep. You can hold onto that stone when you need to hold on to those same promises made to Jacob.
Walk up towards the bridge where the river is more turbulent, talk to God about what is weighing you down – your greatest fears and anxieties. Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you (1Peter 5:7) Then hear the words Surely God is in this place (not just here but in your situation) and hear God’s promises to you I am with you… I will watch over you wherever you go… I will not leave you…
Walk down the river to where the water is calm. Remember past times when you have been rescued from previous worries, when troubles have passed. You lead me beside still waters, you restore my soul… Surely God is in this place… Hear God’s promises to you – I am with you… I will watch over you wherever you go… I will not leave you…
Return to the bandstand to pray for others and to take bread and wine when you are ready – there is no rush.
Once back at the bandstand we shared our greatest concerns for others, praying for others as we shared bread and wine using these words:
As we gather around the bread and wine, we pray for our community…
May Jesus who transforms all things, leavens all situations, heals damaged reeds, tends the broken hearted, be the bread and wine for all we have named in our hearts.
And for the world…
May Jesus who brings his Kingdom to this world, its leaders, its peoples, its problems, be the bread and wine for all we have named in our hearts.
May God the Creator, Jesus the Shepherd and the Holy rock pigeon meet with you in this bread.
May God the life -breather, Jesus the friend of the poor and the ubiquitous Holy rock pigeon meet with you in this wine.
Kingdom blessings on you…and you…and you…