Anda di halaman 1dari 7

Unexpected Places

Our Scripture Lesson for this morning is found in the book of Genesis, chapter 28,
verses 10 through 17.
Let us hear what God is saying to us today.
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 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 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 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 placeand 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. 1
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Prayer for Illumination
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the
Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you
say to us today. Amen.

1 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989),
Ge 28:1017.
1

Jacob had a bullseye on his back, a warrant out for his arrest, dead or alive;
preferably dead. His dirty deeds had finally caught up with him, and it wasnt a
stranger that was after his hide. It wasnt the police, drug lord, Sally Mae. It was
his own brother, Esau. Jacob was a dead man.
It was a heist, like the ones you see in the movies. He was going to take what he
wanted, and he wasnt going to let anything stop him. His actions arent that
unexpected though.
To give you a little context, his family was a mess. Deceitful. Fighting. Thieving.
His parents played favorites. The In-laws didnt get along. They hated one another
to the point that Isaac and Rebekah said Esaus wives made their life bitter. Im
sure everybody here loves their In-laws.
The two fraternal twins, Jacob and Esau were very different. Esau was strong,
hairy, a woodsman and a skilled hunter. A manly man if you could ever find one.
And his father, Isaac, absolutely loved him. Esau was a chip off of the ol block. He
was the kind of son that Isaac would proudly tell his other shepherd buddies about.
That wasnt Jacob. He was quiet, always living in the shadow of his brother. He
dwelled in the towns, not out in the field. He was a domestic man. He wasnt a
manly man, but a savvy, smart, cunning man; sly enough to take advantage of any
opportunity he saw. He was a mommas boy too. She favored him. You could tell.
Whenever Isaac became old, blind, and was about to die, he was ready to give
Esau, the older brother, almost all of his wealth. He told Esau, Go out into the
field and hunt game for me. Then prepare it the way that I love and bring it to me
so I can eat. When you have done this, I will bless you and 2/3rds of everything
that is mine will be yours. You can bet that Esau went skipping out of the tent
that day! A big grin on his face.
Rebekah, standing back in the shadows, heard Isaac say all of this to Esau, and
remember, she liked Jacob more than Esau. Jacob was her baby. So she came up
with a plan! She dressed her youngest son, Jacob, up in a goat suit. You know,
because Esau was hairy and Jacob wasnt. While Jacob was getting dressed up in
his Esau, goat suit, Rebekah prepared the food that Isaac loved. Their plan was to
2

trick Isaac into believing that Jacob was actually Esau, so that Jacob could steal
Esaus birthright and inheritance. The plan worked.
Thats how Jacob became a dead man, a man with a bullseye on his back. Esau
was out for blood, to take back what was his. Jacob found himself in an
unexpected place: out in the wilderness, fleeing for his life, scared, and alone. He
fled to a region that was in the middle of nowhere. The text first tells us that it was
a certain place or non-place. A place unnamed. A place that was empty. Dead,
like him. It was here that he settled down to sleep with only a rock under his head.
***
A different set of circumstances brought Greg Thomas to a similar place, a place of
nothingness, a non-place. A much unexpected place. A life that felt like it no longer
had meaning. Life seems to have a way of taking you places that you never really
want to go. The kind of places youd always hoped to avoid. The kind of places
that we like to avoid.
Three years ago, Greg Thomas of Montgomery, Minnesota, was diagnosed with
stage 4 cancer in his head and neck. He told the news reporters, When I found out
that I had cancer, they told my family to go ahead and start planning my funeral.
Greg was considered terminal.
At the age of 57, weakened by the medication, and unable to really work anymore,
he was let go from his job of delivering propane. The days grew long and lonely.
In those lonely, sad, and frightening days he found himself and his dog walking
down the gravel roads of the rural, Minnesotan countryside. At the end of a certain
gravel road there sat an abandoned church and cemetery in the middle of a bean
field. Built in 1868, it was a small, one room church. A small steeple kept watch
over the cemetery and a few stone steps welcomed those who wished to enter, but
now they only welcomed Greg as he sat to pray each day.
As Greg looked closer at the church, the foundation was crumbling, the paint was
peeling off of the dried out board siding, and the double doors had been locked
long ago. The church was crumbling. He could relate to that. It was in this place
that Greg came to ponder his fate.
Gregs story is a story of graveyards. He was a dying man, sitting upon the steps
of a dying church, surrounded by plot after plot of dead people. A part of him
3

came there to stare death in the face, to see his own fate. Im quite sure of that. He
was a dead man. Thats what the doctors said.
Like Jacob, the thought of death had brought him to an unexpected place. That
unexpected place was the middle of a bean field.
***
A few months ago, I went to a place that many conservative, evangelicals would
avoid like a plague. Even my home pastors life goal was never to attend the
General Synod of the United Church of Christ, but that fell through. He hates it. I
went willingly, so Im not sure what that says about me. Ill let you ponder that,
but please dont share those thoughts with me at the end of service!
As I attended the 30th General Synod of the United Church of Christ, I found
myself in a workshop entitled: Why Young People are Leaving the Church: As
Told by Young People. As I walked into the room, I almost walked back out.
These young people looked like they were 15, 16 tops! I thought to myself, Oh
Lord! What have you done? This is going to be another teen whining fest. We
were all teens once. You know what Im talking about. It turns out that some of
them were older than me. That was scary. And made me feel a little better about
this youthful, ginger-bearded face of mine.
I think most of my perception was altered by the noticeably older age group that
sat all around me in the crowd. Its a trend that now marks many of our churches.
A trend that I noticed just a few weeks ago in a church nearby here. How should I
say this? Our churches are full of finely aged people, like a good wine. The truth
is that most of our churches are old in population, and many of them are in decline.
It may be true that this church upsets that trend, we are the exception and not the
norm, which means a huge amount of responsibility lies upon our shoulders to
preach the gospel with those of our generations.
Older generations call my generation millennials. The generation that never
shows up for anything. Ive heard an anthem cry from one blog after another, from
major names such as the PEW Research Center, that the American church is dying.
They keep saying it. We're dead. Its a fear that sits heavy on the hearts of many
seminarians. Many of us have started to believe it too. Even one of my professors
commented last week that we were crazy for wanting to enter ministry. This is a
4

difficult time. There is no doubt that churches are closing their doors. Budgets are
getting tight. Money is slim. Yes. That is all true, just as true as the cancer that
Greg Thomas felt in his body every day. Just as true as the fear that Jacob felt as
he fled from Esau. Death is real, but it has never been the end of our story.
***
They said he died upon a cross. That was easy to believe. But then a group of his
followers started to say that he rose from the dead. That was difficult to believe,
but thats our story. Or have we forgotten it? Our reformed tradition tells us that
God is always the one who acts first, the creator of every sacred and ordinary
moment. I believe that. Im afraid many of us dont though.
If we do, then why is there so much fear that the church will die and be gone
forever? Have we lost faith? Have we forgotten that we sit in this room because
of something called resurrection? Have we forgotten that God has taken death,
usurped its power, and set the cosmos free from the powerful grip of sin and death?
We believe in, worship, and love the God who has the power to raise the dead. We
profess that our God has the ability to take the bones and ashes of those just
outside our window and bring them back to life. Our God gives life to all who call
upon his name. The Creator God is the God who gives life to the dead and calls
into being things that were not (Romans 4:17).
Our worry about budgets, attendance, programs, and building expenses are all
earthly worries. The true church doesnt need any of those things to exist, it exists
purely by the sustaining power and will of God. Im talking about the church, not a
building. This church should know what Im talking about. It hasnt been that
long since it met in a conference room, a cafetorium, and even to this day, this
building does not belong to us.
Rachel Held Evans writes this, Death is something that empires worry about, not
something that resurrection people worry about. Not when our God is in the
business of making all things new."
It just may be that in this unexpected place that our churches find themselves, the
place that we dont want to be, the place we avoid openly talking about from the
pulpit, the honest and open discussion we avoid at meetings, is exactly where God
wants us to be because it is in these kinds of places that God appears to us in
5

profound ways. It is here that God makes us vulnerable enough to remold us, to
make something new. Those places that we seek to avoid, are the places in which
God dwells. Perhaps thats why we avoid them.
Even our Lord, in his humanity He knelt down and began to pray, saying, "Father,
if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done."
His ministry led him to the place of dereliction, upon which he cried out, My
God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? These are the kinds of places to
which we are called. The places where we consider death to reign, but our God
reigns.
****
Sometimes those unexpected places can be in the middle of a Minnesotan bean
field.
Greg Thomas thought that he was visiting his own graveyard at that little church in
Minnesota. But despite all popular belief, graveyards are not places of death. They
are places of hope. If you have ever noticed, most burial plots are facing east.
Why? Because they anticipate the resurrection. In Matthew 24:27 Jesus talks
about upon his return, he will come from the east. Our tradition, rich in its
symbols, used to burying people facing east in expectation of Christs return. They
want to see their resurrected Lord as they are resurrected. Graveyards are places of
unexpected hope.
Greg Thomas went on to repaint that little church in the middle of a bean field,
fixed the foundation, took the lock off of that door, and with the little help of a
crew that filmed a part of the 2012 movie Memorial Day they restored that
church and its doors are now open. There is now a new kind of life in that place
which was once dead. Greg Thomas, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, is
now in remission. That crumbling man and church, which everybody marked off as
dead, are fully alive, and now a new place is ready for people to encounter God in
in new ways.
***
Sometimes those unexpected places can be in a dream.

Our text says that as Jacob came to that non-place, a place with no name, with only
fear, fear that he was going to die, he took one of the stones from that place and put
it under his head and lay down in that place.
He had a magnificent dream of angels going up and down a large staircase that
extended from earth to heaven. As he stood there watching the angels do their
work, God appeared next to him. God gave Jacob three promises that he could hold
onto because he knew his future held a lot of uncertainty. He said, Know that I
am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this
place; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Gen
28:15). How powerful are those words whenever we are in a place of fear, an
unexpected place? And what has God promised us? Nothing less than the renewal
of creation!
Friends, if we can hold onto the promises that God gave Jacob, we will be fine in
the unexpected places that we find in our lives, and even in the life of our church.
God is with us, we call him Emmanuel. The incarnation, the claim that God
dwelled among us, is the very reason we exist. He gave us the Holy Spirit, our
comforter and guide, his very presence with us.
Secondly, God will keep us. God will not forsake even one lost sheep. He is so
captivated by us that he died on a cross in our place. It may be difficult to see how
this is being done, but it is the promise of God.
And lastly, He will bring us back to this place, a place of life. By this, it means he
will bring back to life those things which we consider to be dead, but they will look
new. They will not look the same. He will bring us back to a place of renewal and
restoration. A place that is life and that is community.
My hope is that the generations to come will be able to share in Jacobs joy. That
the many children we have here are be able to say, Surely the Lord is in in this
placeand we did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is none other
than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. Thats what the invisible
church is and always will be. Like Jacob and Greg, we have been marked off as
dead, but we arent. We have been given the unbelievable promise of a future
beyond our greatest dreams.
Let us Pray,
7