Get ready to go into God’s world. Bring messages of hope to all. As we have been blessed, may we bring blessings to all in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN.
One of the great adventures of the Bible is found in the book of Genesis, revolving around a man named Jacob. Genesis tells us that Jacob and his older twin brother Esau struggled together in the womb, and their rivalry continued when they became youths. As in every good superhero movie, there was some intense conflict.
First, Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother to escape death from hunger. Then, Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that belonged to Esau. The name Jacob means: “he supplants.” He replaces.
Truth and justice were not big concerns to Jacob, at least at the beginning. He was not acting like a superhero.
Esau hated his brother Jacob for stealing his blessing and declared his intention to kill him. Jacob escaped Esau’s fury and went on a journey in search of a wife. Alone and powerless, he stopped and slept at a spot on the road to Haran. Picking up one of the stones along the road, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.
What happened next was a marvel: A vision that evoked astonishment, admiration and wonder.
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” (Genesis 28:12). Jacob saw a stairway, which could also be understood as a ladder or ramp. The angels were messengers from God, going up and down between earth and heaven, but, in this case, they were not carrying messages.
Instead, God stood above the stairway and offered a direct message to Jacob: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying” (v. 13). In these words, God makes clear that the bridge between earth and heaven is strong. The two are not disconnected places. “Earth is not left to its own resources,” says biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann. Heaven “is not a remote self-contained realm for the gods. Heaven has to do with earth.”
Jacob discovers a bridge between earth and heaven, as strong as the link created by Captain Marvel.
On this bridge, God makes the promise that Jacob and his descendants will have the land on which he is sleeping. These descendants “will be like the dust of the earth,” says God, “and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (vv. 14-15).
What an amazing set of promises. God does not say that Jacob will be like Captain Marvel, able to fly and shoot things out of her hands. But God gives something even more marvelous: Land, multiple descendants, the opportunity to be a blessing to others, and God’s eternal presence and protection. If you want to change the world for the better, these qualities are better than any superpower!
Jacob woke up from his sleep and realized, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (v. 16). In the middle of his escape from Esau, feeling powerless and alone, he discovered that God was present with him. This gift was not a reward for good behavior, but it came to him as a gracious gift from God. “How awesome is this place!” he said. “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” (v. 17).
At this point, Jacob discovered his superpower: His ability to sense the presence of God. This power came not from alien DNA, but from a willingness to accept what God was doing in his life. He did not wake up and say to himself, “What a crazy dream!” No, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place.”
He also responded to God’s message by picking up the stone he had used as a pillow and setting it up as a pillar. He poured oil on top of it, which was what the people of Israel did when they anointed a king, prophet or priest. Then he called the place Bethel, which means “house of God” (vv. 18-19).
In this passage, Jacob discovers a bridge between two worlds. He senses the presence of God on earth. He believes the promises that God makes to him. And he builds something — he stands a pillar on the ground — to create a lasting sign that the place is Bethel, the house of God.
We, too, can have Jacob’s superpower. We can sense the presence of God, even in times of difficulty, illness or stress. A woman named Anne DeSantis tells the story of being diagnosed with a serious heart ailment at the age of 34. “With a 2-year-old and a brand-new baby,” she says, “I was overwhelmed hearing from my doctor that I had gotten a rare disease.”
Her doctor made some suggestions for treatment, including the advice that she slow down and rest. She says, “I recall sitting outside on the porch holding my daughter and looking up at the sky. … I remember receiving the gift of solitude as my eyes gazed at the beauty of the blue sky in early spring. This memory, and as hard as that time was for me, was a gift.” She realized that God was with her, and in time she was cured. What a marvel.
Like Jacob, we can also believe the promises that God has made to us. As Christians, we can embrace the promise that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Jesus is the clearest sign that God is present and active in human life. He is the strongest possible bridge between heaven and earth. And because he has come to save us, we can believe that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that comes to us through him. Remember, one of the names for Jesus is Immanuel, a name which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And the last words that Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew are, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20).
Finally, like Jacob, we can build something on earth to show that God is alive and at work in human life. In the Bay Area of California, there is a truly desperate need for affordable housing. People living on Social Security constantly struggle to find decent places to live.
But a few years ago, All Souls Episcopal Church began to transform an unused apartment building into new low-income housing. Phil Brochard, the pastor, says that they faced pushback from neighbors, but they persevered because they wanted to serve their community. “We had a number of people who gave up thousands of hours to this project,” says Brochard: “a journalist, an attorney and a couple of architects.”
Now, the housing project called Jordan Court is being filled with new residents. The facility includes a shared garden, where residents can pick fresh vegetables for dinner. “We got mint, and we got cucumber,” says one resident. My “neighbors are great.” With the help of God, All Souls Episcopal Church has built low-income housing, and through their efforts many neighbors “will be blessed” (Genesis 28:14).
Marvelous things happen when people find bridges between earth and heaven. This was true for Jacob, and it is true for us. When we sense God’s presence and trust God’s promises, our homes and churches can become Bethels, true houses of God.