+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Genesis 28:12
Theme: Stairway From Heaven
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The patriarch Jacob “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.”1 The event is recorded by the Holy Spirit through Moses in Genesis. The interpretation comes through Jesus when speaking with Nathanael in John chapter one. “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”21
Now, that would seem to be a very strange thing to say out of the blue. But Nathanael knew the context. He had been looking, searching, waiting, expecting. Philip had just approached him saying, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”3 This Messiah now spoke to him. What does a movement of angels commuting on this Divine conduit between heaven and earth mean? How do angels traverse that threshold? They are not omnipotent. They don’t do it under their own power. They do it under the power and prudence of Christ, in whose authority they joyfully serve.
Jacob saw the preview. Nathanael would see the fulfillment. But Jacob was not thereby deprived of any of the blessings. “When Jacob wake up 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.’”4 Note that Jacob did not say, “Surely God is in this place.” For Jacob knew that the omnipresent God, the God’s whose existence permeates everything and everyone was undeniably there. But Jacob said, “Surely Yahweh is in this place.” Yahweh was the personal, covenant name God used with His people. Jacob knew that the God of salvation history was speaking to him. God’s presence everywhere prevents the universe from collapsing. Only God’s presence for you in Christ prevents the disaster of eternal separation.
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” How many come to God’s house still today and leave unaware that God is present! How many undervalue, often quite innocently, the purpose of this gathering! How many mistake it for a consultation with the nurse rather than going into theatre with the surgeon? How many believe it’s like a news briefing (say, of political events) rather than a session of Parliament? How many think it’s like going to a library to brush up on historical events, rather than going to the forum where history is being made? How many mistake it for a civic-like gathering, a support club, rather than understanding we are gathered as the family for the dispensation of the eternal inheritance? How many mistake it for viewing a commercial advertising junk food, instead of having a place at the royal banquet? The house of God is the theatre for heart surgery, the forum of Divine council, the marriage feast with heavenly food.
Dear friends, God IS in this place. But He is not here in a generic way. The Bridegroom meets His bride here. The Father embraces His children with His love here. The Holy Spirit clothes us with the armor of God here. Right here, at this altar, Christ hosts us with His body and blood. In the means of grace- the word, baptism, and holy communion- the events of redemption become and remain contemporaneous for us. As to its efficacy, time has no effect on God’s word. When we are blessed with the forgiveness of sins and the peace of God that gives comfort to our souls, it doesn’t matter if the death and resurrection of Christ happened two millennia ago or two days ago. Time is no barrier. The vibrancy and intensity of God’s compassion does not wane. His passion never diminishes.
At Bethel God made this promise to Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.”5 Yahweh would see things through to completion. The certainty that God is faithful in His promise to you is your baptism. Now, of course, the power that makes your baptism anything more than a symbolic ritual is the crucified and risen Jesus. When we doubt whether God is serious about His love for us the Holy Spirit reminds us of the full scope of the biblical witness culminating in Jesus’ sacrifice for us and our promised resurrection to life in heaven. Still, the initial point of reference is our baptism. From that point of entry, we are privy to the fulness of God’s grace.
Life wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for Jacob after he encountered God at Bethel. In fact, his life was filled with intrigue, treachery, disobedience, and drama. He was still a sinner and lived among sinners. He died in in Egypt, not in the promised land. Yet, he clung to God’s promise. He believed God was at work in the bigger picture. He knew he was only one cog in the wheel which is the communion of saints down through the ages. He prioritized his life accordingly. He still made foolish, selfish, and unwise decisions. He struggled in repentance and faith. God was still his Deliverer. He knew he was part of the inheritance.
Dear friends, nowhere does God promise our lives will go smoothly either. Nowhere are we pledged a prosperous, stress-free existence if only we obey Him. God doesn’t bless us for being obedient any more than He does unbelievers. Those who follow the law will reap the benefits the law offers. If children honour their parents according to the Fourth Commandment, or spouses cherish each other according to the Sixth Commandment, or people speak truthfully to each other according to the Eighth Commandment, they will generally benefit from these actions. Unbelievers can do this too even without recognizing the authority of God. Yet they still benefit and their ultimate motivation is to benefit themselves. God doesn’t bless us with spiritual treasures because we are faithful. He blesses us because Christ is faithful. We cling in faith to that truth, and then even the worst hardships become blessings in Christ’s name.
The Scripture says, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph.”6 The story of faith is the story of the church. The church is a remarkable, illogical, miraculous tapestry of lives of faith woven together by the Holy Spirit. It transcends time and space. Whose shoulders did Jacob stand on? His father Isaac, His grandfather Abraham, through the generations to Noah and back to Adam. Still to come were Moses, Elijah, David and Isaiah before the Messiah would make His appearance. And now we have 2000 more years and countless Christians whose lives are part of the weave. Does that mean we stand closer to God? Was Jacob grasping at shadows while we are illumed by the full light of Christ’s presence? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. The proximity of His righteousness never vacillates. But we do see more colour in the tapestry which is the church than Jacob did. Those who come after us will observe even more richness of complexity.
Christ is the stairway from heaven. We don’t need to climb up to Him. We can’t. He comes right down to our level. He stepped onto the ground so the avenue to heaven could be re-opened. He even descended to depths from which we could never return. In the incarnation Jesus descends into our humanity. He takes on flesh. The Creator visits His creation. We receive the Child of Mary in blood, bone and flesh; living, breathing, healing, and absolving. God comes down to His people as He always has. You cannot fall so far that you will not land on Christ. He is deeper than your sin. He is brighter than your darkness. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
23 July 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Genesis 28:12
2 John 1:51
3 John 1:45
4 Genesis 28:16-17
5 Genesis 28:15
6 Hebrews 11:20-11