7 Pentecost • July 19, 2020
Genesis 28:10-19a • Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23 • Romans 8:12-25 • Matthew 13:24-30. 36-43
In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Friends, we human beings are always looking for something better. We are unlike dumb animals, who do not have the gift of language. They accept their lot without question, for without language there can be no questions. But we who have the divine gift of languaging—the ability to represent the past in words and, like our Creator, to speak the Word and create the future we would like to have.
We would like to have something better than our present circumstance, something better than our past. So Jacob, in the First Lesson, has been sent by his father Isaac to get a wife from among his relatives back East. Isaac and Jacob are living in Canaan, but Isaac does not think the women there were worthy—better to go to relatives, of whom they can be certain.
On his way, the sun seta and it seema good to stop and get some sleep. So he lies down, with a stone for a pillow, and sleeps. And a dream comes upon him of a ladder, reaching from that place up into heaven, with angels of God going up and down the ladder. And then God appears, standing beside him, and makes a commitment to him, a promise that the land on which he is sleeping will become his. God will give it to him and his descendants. And he promises to stay with him until he comes back to settle on the land he’s been given.
Now, promises are about the future. A promise puts into words something that does not yet exist, and creates it as a possibility, not yet a reality. A promise is a possibility backed up by a commitment, and you can hear God committing to the fulfillment of the promise in the dream.
Jacob’s current situation is not good. You will recall that, through deceit and cunning, he stole his brother Esau’s birthright and the blessing of his father which would make him the head of the family when the old man died. Esau was not happy with him, and threatened his life. Jacob’s current situation is not good.
Jacob needed a different future, a better one than the mess he’d so far made of his life. The dream was about that better future, the gift of a new possibility for him and for his children’s children—God promises that “the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 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 in you and in your offspring.”
Paul expresses something of the same idea when he contrasts our natural state as human beings, enslaved to our present circumstances, beset by difficulties, hounded by health issues and uncertain economic times. But here is the future that Paul sees as possible: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
Paul’s vision of the future expands beyond the personal to the Universe: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God … We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves … groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
The promise that both the Book of Genesis and St Paul hold before us is the promise of a vastly better future and, amazingly, one that will be brought forth through us. We—you and I—are the vehicles by which the new creation, the bright new future will be manifested. Both Paul and Jacob were blown away by the possibilities that God has in mind for us.
Paul counsels patience when all we have is hope, not the reality. But we need to have the hope, the possibility of the bright future.
I was listening the other day to a small group of Episcopal clergy, expressing doubt that their parishes would survive, given the economic difficulties that the shut-down has visited on them. They could see no possibility, no hope. Yet without hope, there cannot be a bright future, and hope is something that only they can create.
Good Shepherd will survive. That is my promise and my commitment. We certainly face challenges, and I certainly do not have all the answers about how we will survive and prosper. But we do not have to know how the future will happen—only that it will happen. And not only will we survive, we will prosper!