The great thing about preaching to different audiences within the same congregation is that I can reuse material.  I recycled the historical information about Isaac’s family experience and applied it to Jacob’s dream for this Sunday’s lectionary text.  Then I applied a very good point that Parker J. Palmer makes about a Chuang Tzu/Taoism story called “The Woodcarver” to Jacob’s situation.  Simply put, Jacob has a rocky start and must have a boat load of mixed feelings.  God redirects him in a dream.  Can we rise our head out of a naval to see God’s movement?  And if we did and heard God calling, would we have a change of heart?  Despite all the crud, God uses Jacob.  I stand amazed that the same could be said for me.

Now on to Jacob’s dream ladder

My the stories Jacob must have heard……

Abraham, fathered at least 8 sons by three women. Of course, we know of Isaac and his mother Sarah and Ishmael and his mother Hagar. But scripture reveals that after Sarah’s death, Abraham marries Keturah and produces 6 sons. Of these sons, the book of Genesis only speaks of two, and at that the boys were barely mentioned.

Genesis 25:5 reveals a family secret of sorts. Abraham gave a few trinkets to the “sons of concubines”. The only significant, unifying factor in the birth of these sons is that Abraham sent them all away. He excluded Isaac from any extended family. Then, in a second strike at disfranchisement, Abraham leaves 100% of his great wealth to only Isaac. If Sarah and Hagar bickered when their boys were small, could you imagine this upset when the will was read?

Akedah – from Isaac’s point of view

And the dirtiest family secret casts such a shadow on the whole family, our Jewish brothers and sisters gave the happening a name – Akedah; the binding of Isaac. Ancient Rabbis believe that this event it so traumatic it forever changes family life for the trio and it’s ripple effects rattle through sequential generations. Akedah is the sacrifice of Isaac God calls Abraham to make. At the last minute, God’s angel stops the blade from piercing Isaac’s chest and a lamb is provided. Following the incident, the scriptures tell us in Genesis 22:19 that Abraham then resided in Beersheba. Chapter 23 opens with Sarah’s death in Hebron. The two locations are miles apart. The most faithful man of the Bible separated from his wife because of something God had called him to do. Even modern Rabbis believe the stress of Isaac’s near death experience at the hands of his own father was experienced by Sarah as betrayal. This great heartbreak causes her death for there are zero verses between Genesis 22:19 and Genesis 23:1.

What kind of God is this? So far this God has separated Abraham from his family of origin then given his an assignment so gruesome it separates him from his wife, who dies because of the heinous act (leaving Isaac motherless). Isaac’s happy home is destroyed and his trust in his own father has melted away. These are the stories Jacob heard. Just as confusing as the family God was on his father’s side, the maternal side offered no redemption.

Scriptural background

Now Jacob is pulled aside by his mother and schooled in the dysfunctional family system of deceit and betrayal. (Later we will see that it is a ‘family thing’ when we meet the scheming Uncle Laban, Rebekah’s brother.) The paternal blessing, which was believed to denote power and prestige, that Isaac was reserving for his favored first born, Esau is stolen when Rebekah dresses her favored son, Jacob, as Esau. Jacob receives the blessing intended for this brother. Not only can be blessing not be reneged it cannot be reduplicated. Esau considers murdering his brother. Rebekah sends him to her brother Laban for his own safety.

Jacob Now in our text

Jacob, on the run, is about 50 miles away from home. Who knows what Jacob thought about during those 50 miles? Did he regret taking what was not his? Did he worry about his mother? If she was found out, what fate awaited her? Would he ever see his parents again? And what did he run away with anyway? The blessing forever joined him with this God who demands so much….and what evidence of the blessing had materialized so far? True to this form, this God had done nothing but stir up trouble.

Maybe he thought of walking away from this family God, which felt more like a family curse. Maybe he thought of returning, hoping his brother’s anger would subside. Even if this blessing from Isaac and promise from God was to work out – what a rotten way to start! Maybe Jacob wished for a do-over.

In our scripture text today, God speaks about the grand plan for the first time to someone other than Abraham:

Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob awakes feeling shocked. And we, the common readers of his story, are shocked too. In the most unlikely place and through the most unlikely person, God informs Jacob that the promise shall be continued through him.

The sermon’s big idea

Whatever Jacob’s motives were before the dream, they are less than admirable. He reminds me of me. There was a short time in my career when I had lost my God-spark and I was a minister for the sole purpose of a paycheck. And I’m sure, even this morning; there are those of you who are hear under false pretenses. Maybe you came to please a parent, maybe you came to bargain with God, maybe you came because you thought the sermon may be good. False pretenses and undesirable motives are everywhere, within us and outside of us. But they are not the end all and be all.

Jacob’s dream gives us hope that our less than Christian motives can be a starting place. Parker J. Palmer writes in The Active Life: “But a launching pad is only temporary; once launched, the rocket is free of the pad’s constraints. We must launch our actions from motives and circumstances that are less than ideal.”

The direction of your path may come at the wrong time, for the wrong reason at the wrong place. That does not mean it is the wrong direction. God still gives us dreams at the most unlikely times and places.

For Jacob the dream allows him to put aside all the broken relationships and the thievery that broke them. Something new and amazing has come along – the direction is now clear.

The question for us today is this: Can lift our heads out of our guilt to hear God’s call and experience the dream that set us on a new direction?