July 19, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Faithful God, most merciful judge, you care for your children with firmness and compassion. By your Spirit nurture us who live in your kingdom, that we may be rooted in the way of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Genesis 28: 10-19a

10Jacob 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.” 16Then 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. 19aHe called that place Bethel.

From a 14th century Hebrew Manuscript

Psalm 139

1Lord, you have searched me out; O Lord, you have known me.

2You know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

 3You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.

4Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

 5You encompass me, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

 7Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

8If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,”

12darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. 

13For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

15My body was not hidden from you,while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; my days were fashioned before they came to be.

17How deep I find your thoughts, O God! How great is the sum of them!

18If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

19Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God! You that thirst for blood, depart from me.

20They speak despitefully against you; your enemies take your name in vain.

21Do I not hate those, O Lord, who hate you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

22I hate them with a perfect hatred; they have become my own enemies.

 23Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts.

24Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

 Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

24[Jesus] put before [the crowds] 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.’ ”  36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Sermon by Pastor Meggan

Jacob, always a trickster, has stolen the birthright and the blessing belonging to Esau, Isaac’s firstborn.  Esau’s rage over the stolen blessing forced Jacob to abandon his quiet ways among the tents.  To escape with his life, Jacob had to leave forever his mother Rebekah, who had schemed with him to secure his father’s blessing.  Where is God in the midst of this?

It is in God’s nature to meet us, to not leave us alone with fear and anger and loneliness.  That is simply not God’s way.  What is true for all of us was certainly true for Jacob.  Amid the fervent activity of a man on the run, is a dream that mirrors the flurry of activity of his waking life.  The dream interrupts Jacob’s sleep.

He dreams of a ladder that reaches to heaven with angels of God going up and down on it.  Think not of a ladder like the ones we use to change light bulbs but something like ancient ziggurats: those ramp-like structure that served as a divine sanctuary.  The stairway connected heaven and earth. This stairway does not give Jacob access to heaven.  Instead, God speaks to Jacob where he is.  God is fully present, not far away and calling from a distance.  It is even God who initiates the encounter.  It is God who breaks into Jacob’s state of sleep.

God repeats the promises that God made to Jacob’s ancestors, Abraham and Isaac.  With this gesture, God emphasizes that God is not only the God of the first and second generations.  God is also the God of Jacob.  God also promises that God will be with Jacob, even as Jacob travels into the unknown future and unknown land—an unknown time and place.

Jacob’s dream is at the same time majestic and personal. In another translation, God stands “beside him” as Jacob lies on the ground, promising to be with him wherever he goes: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  God’s words there at Bethel initiate a covenant with Jacob. This covenant will be an enduring relationship committed to his well-being and future.

This biblical story got me thinking a lot about my own sleep patterns. I am no expert on the psychology of dreams. All I do know is that for much of my adult life, on occasion I will wake myself up because I am sobbing. This used to frighten me. Who does that? Was I going crazy? The more I have learned about how the mind and body are connected, in particular the way the body processes memories and feelings, I recognize now that this is my body healing itself.

Occasionally I will wake up crying and have to remind myself where I am and that I am okay, not unlike the time my car spun out on the ice in rural Iowa and I ended up in the ditch. The first thing I did was check my limbs and talk to myself, “I am alive. I am okay. I am safe.” When I wake up from a dream in which I am working out some struggle, my self-talk is, “I am okay. I am safe. I am a beloved child of God.” My home becomes a sacred space in those moments.

Jacob dreams somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  But his dream permits him to imagine an alternative way of being in the world.  Jacob is encompassed by God’s presence. Further, God’s presence has a transformative effect in the waking world.

After a night of dreaming, Jacob rose early in the morning and took the stone that he had put under his head.  He doesn’t throw the stone aside.  Instead, he sets it up for a pillar and pours oil on it.  In a later verse, Jacob declares that the place shall be God’s house. In his actions and words, Jacob signals how important it is to recognize places where we encounter God most fully.

In a matter of weeks, we all were encouraged to create sacred places in our homes—setting up home altars. In the past week, as a few of our members have taken our Holy Communion liturgy to homes, new sacred spaces have been created in driveways or lawns. We hold the sacrament of the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, in high esteem, because Jesus promised to be present in the gathering of people around that particular meal. But tradition and scripture and lived experience has taught most of us that that is not the only place God shows up.

I invite you to offer words of thanksgiving, either in the silence of your heart, or you can use the Facebook chat, for the very ordinary places in your lives where you have experienced God in the past few months. Sometimes we call these God sightings. But please do not limit it to sight—it could be smells or sounds or intuition. It could be that in hindsight you recognized God’s presence in your life. Celebrate those experiences and sacred places.

I absolutely love that Psalm 139 is paired with this reading about Jacob’s dream at Bethel. I can imagine Jacob praying this Psalm before he laid down for his rest. Often when this Psalm is read, we sanitize it a bit. In fact, our assigned reading was just selected verses, but I believe it is valuable to hear it as a whole.

The first time I really heard the words of this psalm was my first summer on a church camp staff. Psalm 139 was part of a daily devotion that we read individually out in the large mountain meadow. My 19-year-old-self felt that this psalm was written for me at that moment. Over twenty years later, I still often feel that way about this psalm. One scholar claims that “Psalm 139 is the most personal expression in Scripture of the Old Testament’s radical monotheism…. The psalm is even more a devotional classic, because used as prayer it bestows and nurtures an awareness of the Lord as the total environment of life.” (Mays) These are just some of the reasons I can imagine trickster Jacob praying this psalm and why I offer it has a gift and tool for members and friends of Trinity during this pandemic chapter of our lives.

The psalm begins with eighteen verses of praise. And if we and Jacob forgot all of the reasons to praise God while we are experiencing fear, anger, frustration, the psalmist reminds us why God is to be praised: O Lord, you have searched me and known me…If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me…I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” The praise ends with a wondering summation and awed declaration; no inventory of life can outrun the truth that at its end “I am still with you.”

For Jacob, waking up from his dream at Bethel, for you, no matter what hardships you are facing, for each one of us grappling with new realities, the psalmist’s good news is ours as well, “God is still with you.” God is with you even when you cannot come to the house of worship at the corner of Midland and Lone Star. God is with you recovering alone in a hospital room. God is with you alone in your house. God is with you working in your garden. God is with you working from whatever workstation you have created in your home. God is with you as you ponder what the classroom, cafeteria, and locker room will be like in the fall. God is with you in grief, joy, denial, anger, and hopefulness. We might ponder, from the safety of our homes, who in the world needs to hear these words of comfort today—assurance that they are fearfully and wonderfully made?

The psalmist begins with the declaration, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” The psalmist never strays far from that theme. The entire psalm is addressed to a God who knows us. The prayer ends with a plea that God would not only know us but lead us.

There is a shift in the psalm at v. 19, “O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—those who speak of you maliciously; and lift themselves against you for evil.” But in the world of the psalms, these verses are not incoherent. In the world of the psalms, the wicked and their dangerous threats to those who base life on God are an important part of the reality.

These particular wicked foes do not seem to pose any personal threat to the psalmist. They are described instead as the enemies of God. That is their danger. To be willfully an enemy of God is unthinkable to the psalmist. But there the wicked are they embody another way than the psalmist’s fear of the Lord. I do not know about you, but I always want to identify myself with God in the matter of the wicked.

The beauty of our order of worship is that we begin with the Confession and Forgiveness. We begin worship, facing our human condition, recognizing that the wicked can raise itself in each one of us.  We all have the capacity for great goodness and wickedness.

We finally read an actual prayer petition in v. 23 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” The petition asks God to do now and in the future what God has done in the past, to examine and test the psalmist’s heart and mind to uncover any way that troubles the relationship with God. Why? So that God may lead the psalmist in another way, the way everlasting. The psalmist is not protesting innocence or admitting guilt. God gets to be the judge. God is also the shepherd. This God knows us either way.

The vision of God to whom every aspect of one’s life is known can be terrifying. Psalm 139 shows us that the vision inspires wisdom and trust for those who want nothing else than to be led in the way everlasting. The psalmist may not know everything, but it is quite a lot to know that you are fully known by God, whether you are in a worship sanctuary, the wilderness, a bedroom—waking up from a dream, school, the workplace or any other number of places we find ourselves these days. Like Jacob, we can exclaim, “Surely God is in this place… and I did not know it.”

Prayers of Intercession

Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

God of the harvest, you sow the good seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ into your field. Help your church throughout the world to be both diligent and patient, full of resolve and gentleness, that our witness may be faithful to your intentions. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of all space and time, your whole creation groans in labor pains, awaiting the gift of new birth. Renew the earth, sky, and sea, so that all your creation experiences freedom from the bondage of decay. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of the nations, teach us your ways, that we may walk in your truth. Mend the fabric of the human family, now torn apart by our fearful and warring ways (regions and nations in conflict may be named). Guide us by your mercy, grace, and steadfast love. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of hope, you accompany those who suffer and are near to the brokenhearted. Open our hearts to your children who are lonely and abandoned, who feel trapped by despair, and all who suffer in any way (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of the seasons, in the midst of summer, give us refreshment, renewal, and new opportunities. We pray for the safety of those who travel. We pray for those who cannot take the rest they need. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of life, those who have died in you shine like the sun in your endless kingdom. We remember with thanksgiving the saints of all times and places and saints close to us (especially). Gather us with them on the day of salvation. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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