September 26, 2021
Story of Jacob
Acknowledging the Territory
When we take time to recognize, that the land upon which we live, work and worship does not, in the deepest sense, belong to us, we are acknowledging more than the past history of our relationship with the indigenous people of this land, in our case the Mi’kmaq people. We are also acknowledging our damaged and broken relationships with both the people and the land and we acknowledge our need to work to restore these relationships and to continue to move forward with respect, humility and the commitment to care for and share this land wisely.
Lighting the Christ Candle
We light our Christ candle to remind us that we are called to live in and to share the light of Christ with all people in everything that we do.
Call to Worship
When Jacob woke up from his dream he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place … and I did not know it!”
We gather here today in the place we call the house of God.
But Jacob was not in church. He was on the run, travelling through unfamiliar territory.
Do we always recognize, that God is with us in both the ordinary and the unfamiliar places of our lives?
Despite everything he had done, God promise to protect and bless Jacob.
God promises to protect and bless us.
And so today, we gather to worship knowing that “Surely the Lord is in this place.”
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Ever Present God, there are times we forget that you are with us at all times and in all places. There are times when we run away and try to avoid the consequences of things we have done or things we have failed to do. There are times when we feel like you cannot possibly still care for us. Yet as we remember the stories of the past, the stories of our faith ancestors, we are reminded that you have blessed and you continue to bless undeserving people throughout history. You continue to love, care for and bless us. And so, as we come together to worship this day, we offer you our thanks and praise. Amen
Gift of Music God of All Places #4
Scripture Readings Genesis 27:1-5, 15-19, 25-29 Genesis 28:10-17
Although Isaac is on of the three main patriarchs of the Hebrew faith, there is actually very little about him in the scriptures. We read of his birth and how his father attempted to sacrifice him. We read of his marriage to Rebekah, and the birth of his twin sons Esau and Jacob. There are a few other stories that involve Isaac but from the moment Jacob is born, the focus seems to switch to him. Today we hear the beginning of Jacob’s story, including the portion we often refer to as Jacob’s ladder.
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”
Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.
So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” Then he said, “Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 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. 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. 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; 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. 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.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 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.”
So 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. He called that place Bethel. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.
It is amazing how many times in both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures, God is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the three patriarchs of not just the Hebrew faith, but of Christianity as well. These three are the foundation upon which our church stands. They are the original founders and to be perfectly honest, they are not exactly what we would usually consider shinning examples of ‘godliness’! Why on earth would God choose these three, to be the foundation of our faith?
There are so many things about each of these three and the way they behaved that, today, we would find reprehensible. We know that Abraham tried his best to do what he believed God was calling him to do and although we don’t have nearly as many stories about him, we assume that Isaac did the same, but when it comes to Jacob, the story is a little different.
When Isaac asks Jacob how he was so quickly able to catch and prepare the food he offers him, Jacob answers, “The Lord your God helped me”. Your God. Jacob refuses to claim this God as his own. He refers to The Lord as Isaac’s God. At other times he talks of the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham, but he does not claim this God for himself.
We are told that Jacob, although a twin, was the second-born son, and as such it was his brother Esau who stood to inherit not only the majority of their father’s wealth, but also the blessing that had been passed from Abraham to Isaac; the promise that God will make a great nation from their descendants.
And the two brothers couldn’t have been more different. Esau was a hunter and rugged outdoors man. Jacob was a shepherd and far less rugged in appearance or temperament. Isaac, like his father Abraham before him did not treat his sons equally. Abraham loved Isaac but dismissed Ishmael. Isaac loved Esau had little concern for Jacob. Perhaps this is why their mother Rebekah preferred Jacob.
For whatever reason, when the time came for Isaac to pass his blessing to his eldest son, it was Rebekah who convinces Jacob to disguise himself as his brother in order to obtain their father’s blessing for himself. The plan works and Isaac inadvertently blesses the younger son rather than the first born.
Needless to say, Esau didn’t take it terribly well so Rebekah convinced Isaac to send Jacob far away to her brother Laban who lived in Haran. She convinced him that Jacob must not marry a Canaanite woman but that he should marry one of Laban’s daughters, his cousins, to ensure that his children would be raised in the faith of Abraham.
So, Jacob set out, leaving everything behind, and when he stopped for the night Jacob had an incredible dream in which he saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. The voice of God confirmed the blessing that has been passed down through Abraham and Isaac and now rested on Jacob.
When he woke up, Jacob was terrified and in awe and amazement, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” Yet even here Jacob does not claim this God, the Lord, as his own. In fact, even after this amazing vision, Jacob puts conditions on his acceptance of God. “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.”
It is clear that Jacob is not exactly the kind of person that we would ever consider deserving of God’s blessing. He has lied and cheated, he has ruthlessly tricked his blind and aging father and he has continually refused to take responsibility for his own actions. And yet, this is the same man who would eventually take the name of Israel and would become the father of the 12 tribes. So why would God choose such a man?
Well before we completely dismiss Jacob there are few things we need to remember. God has already promised that the descendants of Abraham, through his son Isaac would become a great nation through whom all the world would be blessed. And the truth is that neither Abraham nor Isaac could ever be described as an ideal example for Jacob to follow.
If we were describing it today, we would likely say that Jacob came from a very dysfunctional family. The patterns of lies and deceit, as well as the well-established pattern of one son being favored at the expense of all other children, were passed down to Jacob through his own life experience. It is these patterns that we see repeated in the life of Jacob, not only in his rebellious youth, but throughout his life even after he finally accepted the Lord as his own God. So why didn’t God just give up on the whole family and start fresh?
This is probably the most amazing thing about our God. God never gives up on anyone. Even where we see nothing but selfishness, blind ambition, lies and deceit, God sees possibilities. And so, to a man that we would consider totally undeserving, God offers a vision of Divine connection and a promise of incredible blessings.
Unfortunately, Jacob does not respond as we might hope. He acknowledges that, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” He builds an altar and renamed the place Bethel which means, house of God. Yet still, Jacob refuses to accept this God as his own. He put conditions on his faith. “If God will be with me, and will keep me … and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.”
Although we know that Jacob did eventually accept the Lord as his God, we also know that many of the personality traits that cause us to question his worthiness as a patriarch of our faith still persist. But perhaps it is because of, rather than in spite of, these flaws, that the story of Jacob still has so much to teach us today. If Jacob, or Abraham or Isaac for that matter, had been perfect paragons of faith, always doing the right thing and never being selfish or spiteful or indecisive, they would certain be a lot harder for us to relate to.
We are reminded through these patriarchs of our faith, that we don’t have to be perfect to be able to live a faithful life. We don’t have to always know exactly what we are supposed to do or how we are supposed to behave. Sometimes we can even be extremely selfish and rebellious. But we are also reminded that our past does not have to determine our future.
When Jacob said, “Surly the Lord is in this place” he had no idea where that simple statement of faith would lead. Whatever he might have believed before, he could not deny the existence of this God who had spoken to him. He was not ready to risk following yet, he wasn’t ready to commit himself, but he knew that there was indeed a God who wanted a personal relationship with him.
You need to remember, that when he said these words, Jacob was not listening to the scriptures being read in a great synagogue or kneeling in some fine cathedral, he was lying on the bare ground with only a stone for a pillow, and yet there, with nothing at all, he encountered God.
So where are the places in your life when you have been so overcome by an experience of feeling that you have cried out in wonder and awe, “Surly the Lord is in this place”? Where have you felt a Divine Presence supporting, guiding, encouraging, comforting you or even challenging you? Chances are that it has not been a physical place. Chances are it has been a time in your life when you were most in need of that reassuring presence; a time of struggle and uncertainty, a time of fear or suffering, a time when everything just seems to be going wrong, or a time when you are feeling like you’ve done something you regret and don’t know how to make things better.
God shows up where there is nothing but a stone for a pillow. But how we respond is up to us. Do we cry out in wonder and awe, “Surly the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” Do we trust that feeling and turn to God or do we put conditions on our acceptance? Do we embrace the wonder and uncertainty or do we demand proof?
The good news is that even though Jacob put conditions on his acceptance of God and even thought he argued and later even wrestled with God, God didn’t give up on him. Eventually even a rebel like Jacob was able to come to a point where he could accept and learn to depend on God.
And if God was willing and able to guide, protect, feed and cloth, and lead Jacob to a place of peace and comfort, surly we can trust that the same is true for us. And then maybe we can appreciate the full impact of the realization, that surly the Lord is in every place even when we so not know it.” Amen
Gift of Music God Says MV#172
We Offer Our Gifts
Part of our regular worship always includes the gifts we offer. We may offer financial gifts though our offering plates, through PAR or through other ways of making donations. But we always remember that our financial contributions are only one of the many things that we have to offer. We offer our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitments and our prayers. And so, whatever it is we offer today, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, through the stories of the past we learn of your care and blessing for your people. Today we ask your blessing upon us and upon the gifts that we offer in your name. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now, let us take a moment to remember all those named in our prayer jar, in our hearts and our thoughts this day … Amen.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
The Government of Canada recently passed legislation making September 30th a federal statutory holiday called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Bill responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action number 80 which calls on the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish the holiday to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools and honour the survivors, their families, and communities. The idea is really to set aside a day that we honour all the children who survived residential schools, as well as honour and recognize those who did not return.
The General Secretary of The United Church of Canada, Michael Blair, has made the decision that the General and regional council offices will be closed on September 30 this year, while conversations with the National Indigenous Council and the National Indigenous Elders Council take place to determine future practice. As a result, the Region 15 regional council offices in Sackville and St. John’s will be closed on September 30, 2021.
Communities of Faith are encouraged to mark September 30th as a designated paid holiday for their ministry personnel and employees at the discretion of their governing body and the guidance of their regional council.
This is an opportunity for our communities of faith to take a stand and mark this very important day and to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools. The summer of 2021 was a time of great challenge as Indigenous communities across the country shared the truth they have always known: that many of the children who never returned from residential schools remain on the grounds of those institutions in unmarked burial sites. These communities are now seeking to honour the missing children.
And so on September 30th everyone is encouraged to wear an orange shirt and to take some time during the day to spend some time in quiet reflection or participation in a community or online event. You can take a picture of yourself wearing orange and send it to Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice Animator Sara Stratton (SStratton@united-church.ca) or you can join Indigenous Ministries and Justice Executive Minister Murray Pruden for a candlelight vigil at 8:00 p.m. on the Indigenous Ministries Facebook page.
Prayers of the People
Divine Presence, as we gather here today, we are reminded that we do not have to earn your love for us or find ways to persuade a distant and aloof God to listen to our prayers and accompany us through life. We are reminded that the same promise that you offered to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is offered to us, the promise to be our God and walk with us through life.
And so, we offer our thanks that you are with us through all the trials, the suffering and sorrow, the challenges, the struggles, the empty times and the dark places of our lives. We offer our thanks that you never give up on us or ask us to face things alone.
We thank you also that in the times of ease and comfort, times of peace and contentment, times of happiness and fulfillment you are also with us. We thank you for the assurance you are there to celebrate with us and cheer us on, making our joy complete.
But even as we offer our thanks, we remember those who continue to struggle, often feeling alone and isolated. And so, we pray for all those who are most in need of our prayers:
We pray for those who are ill, or anxious; those who are lonely or sad; those who are feeling desperate or defeated; those who are hungry or homeless; those who are struggling in relationships that are breaking apart; those who are bullied or abused; those who cannot find work and those who are over-worked; those living in conditions of war, conflict, poverty and starvation, those who are simply struggling to survive…
Today we offer a special prayer for all the first nations children who were taken from their homes and forced into residential schools. We pray for those who survived and we mourn those who died. We pray for those who have inherited the pain and trauma even though they never actually attended these schools. We pray that, as a country, we will learn to come together and to move forward in mutual respect and understanding, truly learning to love each other following your example of inclusive and unconditional love…
And so we gather all our prayers together as we offer them in the name of the one whose example of love lived out in action we stive to follow, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Closing Hymn There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy #271
And now we go out from here with the promise that God made to our ancestor Jacob ringing in our ears. “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac … I am with you and will keep you wherever you go … I will not leave you”. So let us go out with the assurance that this same promise is given to us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen