Sunday, July 17, 2005

Sermon for Salem First UMC: I Did Not Know It

Here it is: the last sermon for awhile. Maybe I'll have something interesting to write again now.

I Did Not Know It

Sermon given by
Br. David D. M. King, OSL
at Salem First United Methodist Church; Salem, Oregon
Sunday 17 July 2005
Year A, 9th Sunday After Pentecost

Genesis 28:10-19a

10 Jacob 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.’

16 Then 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.’ 18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19He called that place Bethel;

Matthew 13:24-30

24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’

Sermon Text

Organ Interlude on UMH 563 ALBRIGHT

We have two texts this morning. The first is a rather familiar story known as Jacob's Ladder. Well, maybe the story isn't all that familiar, but the song is familiar. And the second, is a very unfamiliar parable (although it is one of my personal favorites): the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Two texts, seemingly not related, but one message all the same. Let's start with the story of Jacob's ladder:

Jacob is in bad shape. Do you remember the story? He has managed to cheat his brother Esau out of both his birthright and his father's blessing. But Esau, rightful upset at this unfortunate turn of events, is plotting to kill Jacob. When their mother, Rebekah, overhears Esau's plan, she warns Jacob to flee for his life and to find a wife among the daughters of her brother, Laban, back in her hometown of Haran.

So off Jacob runs. He doesn't take the main roads. No, he runs up into the hill country, either because he's only concerned with running or because he is trying to avoid detection by his murderous brother. And he finds himself up in the hills in a place called Luz. He is homeless – alone. He's left everything that he knows – on his way to seek refuge from relatives that he's never met. Mind is racing. What good was it to trick his brother if he can never return home again? He has instructions to go off and marry one of his cousins, which I guess might not be that weird when your own parents are cousins and your grandparents are siblings, but still seems a bit frightening to our modern ears. So he's there, exhausted from running, up in the mountains, alone, and the only pillow he can find is a big rock on the ground. It's there that he falls asleep.

And it is there that he dreams a magnificent dream. He sees a ladder ascending to heaven, with angels going up and down. God appears before him and assures him that he will be blessed, that God is with him, and that he will return to his homeland someday. God reveals Godself to be with Jacob always and in every place, even when he is in a strange land – God is with him everywhere.

And how does Jacob respond? He gets it all wrong. Rather than recognizing that God is present everywhere, Jacob assumes that he must have stumbled into some special place, the Gate of Heaven, where God's presence is especially strong. He names the place Bethel, which means House of God, and says, "Surely God is in this place and I did not know it." Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.

Verse 1: UMH 563 Father, We Thank You

But, you know, Jacob didn't need to be in that special place in order to be in God's presence. God's promise was to be with Jacob all of the time, wherever he might be.

But don't we make the same mistake that Jacob made? Don't we seek to confine God to the places where we think God should be, places where God belongs? And don't we work very hard to separate what is sacred from what is secular? When we do, we are missing the point.

Now, sometimes it can be good to separate out special places for God. We set aside this building for God. We set aside this hour in our week for God. We set aside a certain amount of our money for God. We set aside special prayer and devotional times just for God.

But, we should not be fooled into thinking that God ends at the border of what we call sacred. If we think that God will leave us alone once we spend an hour in church each week, then we are sorely mistaken. If we think that God's territory ends at the door of this building, we will be disappointed. If we think that once we give our share to the church and charity that God doesn't care how we use the rest of our money, then we will be surprised. God has a knack for showing up in the places where we least expect. Over and over God shows us that if there is any place where we think that God does not exist, that is precisely where God can be found. God will be in that place, even if we do not know it.

Verse 2: UMH 563 Father, We Thank You

Two thousand years after Jacob, a man from Galilee whose name is Jesus tells a story. It's a rather interesting tale about a farmer and his field. He has his servants plant the field with good seed. But, in the night, while no one is watching, one of his enemies comes and plants the whole field with weed seeds. That is quite a dirty trick, isn't it. Imagine you had spent all this time on your garden, planting each seed in its proper place, and in the night your neighbor jumped the fence and blew dandelions and thistles and all sorts of other nasty things all over your freshly tilled soil. Not very nice.

So, when the field started to sprout, the whole thing was an awful tangle on brambles and briers throughout the crop of wheat. The wheat and the weeds were all mixed up together – and there was no way to pull the weeds without destroying the whole crop. So, confounding his servants, the farmer let the weeds grow right along with the wheat. The farmer knew that there was still good in that field – a good that could not be quashed by the mere presence of a few weeds.

Verse 3: UMH 563 Father, We Thank You

When we look at the world, do we fail to see the wheat through the weeds? Do we see only the evil, only the pain, only the trouble, and assume that no good could be there? Do we think that God could not possibly exist in a place so filled with turmoil?

I think we do. We look out at the world and call it Godless. We see acts of terrorism and violence around the world and we call it Godless. We look at the state of political polarization and contention and we call it Godless. We see conflict in the church, even, and we call it Godless. We get discouraged because no matter where we look, we can't find anything that is wholly pure, completely good. We can't find anything that is unblemished. When we look for the fruit of God's kingdom, all we see is a field full of weeds. And we wonder what that means. Some of us are so concerned that we think the end of all things must be coming soon, because we can't tolerate the imperfection that we see around us. We can't find God in the broken and Godless world around us.

Jesus invites us to look more closely. Jesus invites us to look out on the world with new eyes. God is doing a new thing… do you not perceive it?

Jacob did not expect to find God in the godforsaken hill country of Canaan. And the servants did not expect to find good fruit in a field full of weeds. In just the same way, we don't expect to find God in our broken world.

But God is there to be found. In the peace of silence, or in the raucous shouts of praise; in the green fields, or the rugged mountains, or the parched deserts, or the city streets: God is there. In the patience of a teacher, or the diligence of an accountant, or the toil of a laborer, or the passion of an advocate; in sighs of the aging, in the questions of the middle-aged, or in the cries of the newborn: God is there. In the wide eyes of the innocent, the might of the powerful, or the struggle of the oppressed; in singing, speaking, listening, or screaming out in pain: God is there. In learning, welcoming, smiling, or suffering; in waking, working, or resting: God is there. In friends or enemies, loved ones or strangers; in the strong, the weak, or the disabled, the beautiful or the ugly: God is there. In Genesis, in Origin of Species, or even in Harry Potter: God is there. In black, brown, and white; in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, or Arabic; in straight or gay, old or young, woman or man, rich or poor: God is most certainly there.

All we need do is open our eyes and ears and mouths and noses and hands in order to find God. All we need do is open our hearts, our minds, and our doors. For when we truly seek God, and when we are not afraid to see God in the most unexpected places, we will certainly not fail to find God. Right here, right now, and all around us, the kingdom of God is at work, sprouting forth in all its glory, in new and amazing ways, if we only have the eyes to see it. And perhaps we will be brought like Jacob to say, "Surely God is in this place… and I did not know it."

Verse 4: UMH 563 Father, We Thank You


Blogger Rochelle said...

Don't you just love how God works? Strangely (or not so strangely, depending on one's perspective), I have been reflecting on BOTH of those Scriptures within the last week.

Backing up a little, within the last few years I have been in the middle of a church split (horribly painful. I was like Rodney King...'Can't we all just get along?' It was not to be.), a political upheaval in my community in which leaders I respected and admired were shown to be less than honest and forthright, and a situation at my husband's work in which people were undermining him and really seeking his ruin. I have been very, very discouraged.The church split was especially hard. I cared about people on both sides and could not understand why everyone did not desire reconciliation. Maybe I am naive.

I experienced a minor meltdown late last summer and received some really good counseling, got plugged in to a wonderful and healthy church, but still have found myself struggling with an attitude of negativity. I realized that my spiritual disciplines have suffered in all of this, so this week, I started making spending time with God more of a priority. How totally perfect that he would lead me to those verses and then lead me to your sermon to put it all in perspective.

And it seems that, perhaps, I was already on my way there. Today I e-mailed some friends the following:

"When you see too much of the dark side of man, it's easy to forget that there is plenty of good in life as well. It makes me think of this quote from my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln: The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

So thank you for being open to the Holy Spirit and for helping me see God, right here, right now, today.

7:51 PM  
Blogger david said...

I'm glad that it was of some help to you. You're right, God does work in strange and wonderful ways. I'm so glad that you are sensing God's presence with you. And thank you.

11:39 PM  

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