Surely the Lord is In This Place

Ladder of Divine Ascent, 12th cen, Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai

Scripture Passage:  Genesis 28: 10-17

10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He 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. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the Lord stood beside him 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; 14and 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 in you and in your offspring. 15Know 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.”   16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17And 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.”

Jacob came to a certain place, a certain place in the wilderness. I don’t think it was a particularly holy place. It was just an ordinary place with an ordinary stone. But then Jacob dreamed. And what a wild dream that was! Now, remember the “back story” of this. Jacob is not just wandering through the wilderness to get a little exercise. He is fleeing from his family and from the hatred of his brother Esau (you know that one that Jacob tricked into giving up his birthright.) Jacob is also fleeing from himself, from his own trickery and his duplicity. Perhaps he has had enough of himself. He is at the lowest point of his life. He is afraid, afraid of what will come next, afraid of Esau, probably a little afraid of God. The wilderness was nothing compared to the fear that Jacob felt.

And then a dream, a remarkable dream, probably the world’s most famous dream, fills his night.  He dreams that a ladder or, more likely, a stairway or a ramp extends from earth to heaven.  (Although, that really messes up that song!)  And on this ladder (or stairway or ramp or ziggurat or whatever it was), there were divine beings traversing up and down.  In this dream, we on earth were not left, as we sometimes think, to our own devices, to wander in the wilderness alone, and the place of the Divine, the Sacred, Heaven, or whatever you want to call this realm, is no longer off-limits to us.  In the wilderness, the two are intertwined, a part of one another.

The point is that, when the dream had ended, God was there.  The Hebrew is a little ambiguous.  It is not clear if God was “before” Jacob or “beside” him.  I think maybe the ambiguity is the point.  No matter where we are, God is there.  And then, Jacob, this one who is always looking out for himself, is given the promise that those before him had been given—land, prosperity, presence, and homecoming.  God promises to bring Jacob home.  Jacob realizes that he has encountered God and he claims God’s promises as part of who God calls him to be.

We are like Jacob.  Sometimes we, too, are wandering in fear—fear of being found out, fear of our past and what we’ve done, fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear that it will not go as planned.  Perhaps we are afraid of what it means to encounter God, to follow Jesus, to come near to the Cross (not the cleaned-up one…the Golgotha one).  Perhaps we are afraid that our lives will change beyond our control.  We want to encounter God, but we want to do it on our terms. We don’t dare to even imagine that we could possibly do what God is calling us to do. And so, we stay here, afraid of who we are, feet firmly planted in what we know. Maybe “fear not” is calling us to encounter the God who walks with us.  For surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!  I was so wrapped up in fear that I did not realize that God was holding it.

To live with the conscious knowledge of the shadow of uncertainty, with the knowledge that disaster or tragedy could strike at any time; to be afraid and to know and acknowledge your fear, and still to live creatively and with unstinting love: that is to live with grace. (Peter Abrahams)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

One thought on “Surely the Lord is In This Place

  1. The African-American spiritual ” We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder ” (#418 in The United Methodist Hymnal) labels Jesus’ followers as ” soldiers of the cross.” These are ones trying to win the world for Jesus. Verse 1 starts us off climbing Jacob’s ladder. Verse 2 has every round carrying us higher and higher. Verse 3 challenges us by asking ” if you love my Jesus, why not serve him.” The final verse 4 has the ” soldiers of the cross climbing higher and higher.” I think we start climbing when we commit our lives to Christ in our baptism and continue until we meet him face to face in Heaven.
    Yours in Christ
    Larry

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