Saturday, July 16, 2011
This is an important part of faith development for us all. Education is an important part of our faith. For any of us who have ever taught Sunday school or an adult forum, we can give all kinds of information to people but until this “Jacob’s Ladder” experience happens, this personal encounter with the Divine, Christian education just doesn’t take root. It takes that personal experience of God’s presence to make God real for us.
Various religious traditions try to symbolize this encounter. Around here we have what is called a “believer’s baptism” where people often get ‘re-baptized’ to sign this event. Other traditions including Judaism mark this event as Bar or Bat Mitzvah noting that often this event of coming to know God often happens in our youth. Our own Episcopal tradition provides Confirmation as a sign of our entering into an adult covenant with God. But it is usually symbolized by an accumulation of knowledge rather than that soul-event that changes our lives forever.
When Jacob wakes from his dream he knows that “ Surely God is in this place and I did not even know it.” We recognize the presence of God in our lives and can claim it. It is pure gift. It is not anything we can manufacture. And we cannot make it happen.
I liken this experience to being gifted with a precious gift that we don’t even know how to use at first. It is sort of like being presented with a new baseball glove. For those who have never played ball, a glove is absolutely worthless until you make it your own. You must oil it and practice with it; molding it to your hand until it becomes a part of you so that you can play the game. So it is with the grace of faith.
Faith is a gift. No matter what we do we cannot be faithful by our own will. We cannot be ‘saved’ by our own efforts. Faith is relying on what God has gifted us with—trusting that God’s presence in our lives is all that we need.
What we hear in this story about Jacob is how the gift of God in the dream changes his whole life—changes his perspective and even his desires. In the rest of the stories of Jacob we will see how he becomes the father of the 12 tribes that will go down to Egypt and then be brought out by Moses. We will hear how Jacob and his brother will be reunited and forgiveness mark their return. The stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob inform our faith and remind us of those moments when our lives have been transformed by the Holy presence of God. Jacob does not have to fear because in this event at Bethel Jacob knows that God is always present to him and his people.
The story is such that a Master sees his field of wheat growing up and there seems to be lots of weeds growing up in the midst of his wheat. The story tells us that an enemy has sown darnel, a weed among the wheat. The servants of the Master ask if they are to weed the darnel from the good plants. But the Master says no. It is at the harvest when the weeds will be separated from the wheat.
Jesus is telling a story that points out that trying to exclude the good from the bad early in the growing of the wheat will only hurt the harvest. I am sure that it was easy to tell which were the good wheat and the bad.
Today we think we can tell the good from the bad by just looking. There are those who would like to exclude certain folk from the body of Christ for all kinds of reasons: conservatives or liberals, depending upon your point of view, those who look different, the tattooed, the multi-pierced, those that do not dress the way we do, the weird-acting, the gay or lesbian, the cross-dresser or transsexual-- Or for that matter, women who ‘think above their station in life.’ We think that we can weed out these people or their ideas from the Body of Christ so that we will all be the same. But over the past 2 years we have found that by weeding them out, we are not any better than when we were together.
In some ways we here at St. Martin’s have been a bit insulated from the diocesan issues, but not completely. Some of us have come from parishes that split from the Episcopal Church. Some of us have gone to Episcopal schools, camps or events where the split has been made an issue. Some of us are from other dioceses in the Episcopal Church.
Splitting or excluding is not the answer for Christians. We are all different. We all have a ‘bit of the weed’ about us. But it is God who makes us worthy. It isn’t bad seed that we must contend with. It is about whether we, like Jacob, can find God in this place. If we can find Christ at this altar, God is in this place. Period. Full stop!
It is not about ridding ourselves of those we might deem unworthy because it is not us who confer worthiness. It is God who decides our worthiness. It is God who decides if we have accepted responsibility for the gift of faith we have been given. It is God who grants the salvation. It isn’t what we do. It isn’t what we can make of ourselves. It is God who gifts us with the ability to recognize God’s presence in this place and we must be willing to name that presence and call attention to it.
The life of faith is one that is called from us. We need but be willing to recognize God is in charge. We might even find that those with whom we are uncomfortable just might be able to proclaim Christ’s presence too and our faith journey will be strengthened by their presence. AMEN