“An Altar to the World” July 23, 2023
“An Altar to the World”
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Once in a faraway place and very long ago there lived a man named Jacob. In those days, you might be born into wealth or royalty, but you also could be born into poverty or slavery. Jacob was born into something completely different, however. Jacob was born into a promise. You will remember that Jacob’s father, Isaac, was the only son born to Abraham and Sarah And it was to Abraham, you’ll recall, that God had made a promise: a promise that his offspring would populate the earth like ‘the stars in the sky.’ Now, for a guy old enough to be a great grandfather, this was quite a statement, but Abraham possessed an absolute trust in the Lord and sure enough, he and Sarah, who was also quite old, were blessed with a bouncing baby boy: Jacob’s father, Isaac. This ancient story would have been worthy of a Hallmark movie if Jacob had grown up, married, and had a whole passel of kids, but Jacob had a brother, a twin brother, although these two were as different as night and day.
Jacob’s brother, Esau, was a real man’s man. He was covered with hair from head to toe and loved the great outdoors, spending much of his time hunting wild game which pleased Isaac to no end. I imagine that after a steady diet of mutton, just about anything is going to taste great.
Jacob, on the other hand, preferred to stick close to home but what he lacked in physical prowess he made-up for in chutzpah.
You’ll remember last week we learned of how he tricked his brother out of his birthright? Well, that’s what I mean by chutzpah. By the way, that is the only Yiddish word that I know, so you’re safe.
Today, due to his No Fear attitude along with a healthy fear of his brother, we find Jacob wandering down the road towards the town of Heron. When it started to get dark, he pulled up a rock for a pillow (I guess) and at that place and that time, Jacob dozed off and had a dream.
But this was no ordinary dream. I mean, have you ever had a dream that was so intense and so vivid that it took the better part of the next day to get over it?, well, imagine that times 10.
No, this was no ordinary dream. Jacob’s vision of God’s messengers climbing up and down a giant staircase that reached all the way to heaven was not a result of eating too much pepperoni. Jacob, who would later be called Israel, Was being summoned by God that he might receive a promise. (vs 13) Suddenly the Lord was standing on it and he said 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. 14 Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. 15 I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.”
“I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go,”
And so it was that Jacob, who would soon be known by the name of Israel, came face to face With the promise of a future he could never have imagined. And so it was that Jacob unwittingly found himself in the presence of God.
So what did he do about it? Did he jump up and down and scream to the heavens at the top of his voice? Did Jacob run home to tell his friends and his family? Maybe even brag it up to his brother, Esau? (vs 18) “ After Jacob got up early in the morning, he took the stone that he had put near his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on the top of it.” “The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it,” he thought to himself. “. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven.” Wow, that had to have been an incredible revelation. So what did Jacob do? What did he do once he realized that God had led him to this spot to be granted a vision that was as holy as it was magnificent? He built an altar, that’s what he did. Granted, it was nothing fancy: only the stone he had laid by his head Blessed by the pouring on of oil. It is later on in chapter 35, I believe, that the Lord commands Jacob to return to that same spot and build a proper altar. But for now, This oily rock will have to do. What did Jacob do? He built an altar, that’s what he did.
And now, I have somewhat of a confession to make. Every year about a month before the beginning of Lent, We read about and study upon the story of the transfiguration of Christ. Peter, James, and John follow Jesus to the top of a mountain where they are able to witness this transfiguration. Jesus Emanated a bright light while God granted his blessing,
But during this time two other visitors arrived and were having a conversation with the son of God. The disciples were shaking in their boots but had enough presence of mind to identify the two visitors as Moses and Elijah. And every year, I am drawn to the account in the 9th chapter of the gospel of Luke That reads: “Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” My confession to you is that every year I read this story I find myself rolling my eyes that Peter somehow felt that Christ revealed in all his glory wasn’t enough; that they needed to build something to make it real. I feared that I was mistaken because that wasn’t the case at all.
Looking ahead to the 35th chapter of genesis, we read Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God,
who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” Jacob got it right. He built an altar, that’s what he did.
While I was prepping for this morning, I got to thinking of the history of this church and of the many churches in the area; some of them still standing, and some that are not. In the process, I pulled out an old and tattered pamphlet titled “The History of Amity Methodist Church.”
It’s full of great stories and some names you might remember even though it was written in the 50s. I even took the liberty of making copies of this booklet so that anyone who might be interested could take one home.
But you know, while I was doing this I found myself reading most of it for the second time and what impressed me was the dogged determination of a people who had been touched by the love of God so deeply and so intensely that when their church burned to the ground, they always rebuilt.
Our churches, our buildings, are altars in a sense. They are the altars to the world that we cherish and love because they express and they represent all those moments that God has touched our hearts to love better and be better and to know the joy of the love of Christ. Our missions, our giving, our compassions expressed to the world and our communities, they are all altars for the world to see and with that being said, we can live in the hope that the words God spoke to Jacob might grace us as well, so that
‘Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go,’
Amen and Shalom