Jacob’s Dream, for us – The Rev. Michelle Meech
July 23, 2023
As most of you know, I have become a gardener over the past couple of years. At first, it was a few pots because I couldn’t get to all the weeds. Then, when Ana and I were married, we managed to get the weeding under control and we introduced new flowers, medicinal plants, and herbs. Then, vegetables. This is our fourth year having a vegetable garden.
So, I can personally attest to how difficult it is to tell the difference between the so-called weeds and desired plants. Especially when they first start to appear above ground in the spring. If you’re unfamiliar with the garden, you have no choice but to let the plant grow until you can see what is where. And, if you’re unfamiliar with the plant, you have to wait to see what it does and how it interacts with the rest of the garden.
In other words, it takes a trained eye. Without that, it is hard to discern what is damaging and what is nourishing. Even then, what is damaging in our garden, might be a desired plant in another. I’m thinking of American Pokeweed. I was shocked when we saw a show where a British gardener planted it on purpose. I mean, it is a beautiful plant. But, along the lines of the Rose of Sharon, they can propagate beyond your wildest dreams.
Even when we know the plants, we may not know the garden or the climate or the soil very well. We may let things grow that shouldn’t or we pull things that would be a great help. So we must observe, we must listen to learn what needs to happen.
This is, essentially, what Jesus is telling us in today’s parable. When it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven, when it comes to Love, when it comes to the spiritual task of unbinding our souls… we are usually not as well-trained as we think we are. Jesus tells us to let God do the sifting out. You see, as we continue to walk with God and deepen our prayer life, we start to realize that God knows us better than we know ourselves. And what we think is a weed, because it’s not what we would prefer, may really be life-giving fruit.
This is, perhaps, one of the hardest things for us to learn as humans, that the things we think are wrong with us are the very things that are our gifts to offer. In other words, one of the hardest things for us to learn is that we are beloved and whole.
Because we compare our lives to the lives of others all the time. And we do this earnestly enough – to learn, to mimic, to discern how to get along in the world, to figure out who we want to have in our lives. But this becomes a dangerous activity when we start comparing ourselves, when we start judging ourselves and others.
When we start needing the people in our lives to show up in a perfect way is exactly the moment we realize that we are holding ourselves to an impossible standard too. It’s the moment we realize that we have stepped in for God, become our own God and have lost our connection to our own beloved nature.
This is so human, this judgment of self and others. This is such a normal human activity that it becomes the very air we breathe. We actually think it’s normal to think so little of ourselves.
The Christian theologian Augustine is best known for his notion of original sin – a belief that humanity is born into sin. But the only “sin” that all of humanity seems to participate in, is the belief that there is something wrong with us to begin with. It creates in us, all the other patterns of addiction and indulgence. To think that there is something inherently wrong with us creates more anxiety, more pain, more hatred… than anything else.
When we do lose our connection to our own beloved nature, it becomes hard to see the difference between the weeds and the wheat. We think we may be pulling weeds, but we’re actually killing the wheat before it’s had a chance to mature.
So, what is our help in this? What is our salvation?
The life of Jacob is a significant story in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jacob is the grandson of Abraham and Sarah. Jacob is the son of Isaac and Rebekah. These are considered to be the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac and Rebekah. So, of course Jacob’s story is a significant one. It tells us how Israel came to be.
The backstory to today’s reading is that Jacob and his brother Esau have a contentious and competitive relationship. This is not helped by their father’s favoritism of Esau. Jacob’s home, his upbringing, all that he knows, tells him that he is not worthy, something is wrong with him. So Jacob learns deceit as a way of moving in the world, tricking his father into blessing him and angering his brother to the point of wanting retribution. Jacob is lost, not knowing how beloved he is.
It’s only because his mother intervenes that he is sent away from the anger of his brother, away from home and all that he knows, into the safety of an alien land. So, in today’s reading, Jacob finds himself an alien in a land called Haran, an unsettled place. When he stops to make camp for the night, he lays his head on a rock to sleep.
And, in his dream, God tells Jacob that he is no longer an alien in this land, that the land is a gift to him. And then God promises him that his offspring shall be like the dust of the earth. And God says, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go… I will not leave you.”
When Jacob awakens, he proclaims, “Surely God is in this place – and I did not know it!” Then he anoints the stone, the place of this epiphany, and he calls it Beth-el, which means “The House of God.”
Jacob’s epiphany, his realization: that he belongs. God says, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go… I will not leave you.”
And Jacob is only able to come to this because he left behind what he knew. He came to a new place, an alien land, and came to hear another voice – the voice of love, the voice of God. Who teaches him about himself so that he comes to know himself. And he knows what home is because he knows, finally, God’s voice. Jacob eventually takes the name Israel – a name which means the one who wrestles with God. A name which has become for us a synonym for the People of God.
The help, you see, that we are looking for… the salvation that we seek is found in learning new stories about ourselves, dreaming new dreams about who we are and what God’s purpose is for us.
We get stuck all the time, us humans. We get stuck in only believing one thing about ourselves and we believe that it’s the thing that sustains us. We believe it’s the wheat. We believe we need to have it. But if we’re stuck, if we have no sense of inner freedom, no sense of inner peace, it’s usually because we have mistaken a weed as something nourishing.
What beliefs about yourself are you limited by? What beliefs about yourself do you swear you could never, ever give up because believing them ensures that you are safe and protected? And what would happen if you believed something else?
Because Jacob’s dream belongs to all of us. We are the descendants of this dream. This dream is for each of us. We do belong. We do have gifts. We are complete and whole and beloved. God is with us. And God will never leave us.
This knowledge, this belief is more important now than, perhaps, ever in your life because of all that is happening around us. It is now that we are called to believe deeply in the truth of God’s love because the world we know is opening up and changing dramatically. For some, this is terrifying. But we are the inheritors of Jacob’s dream. So we must practice this love for ourselves so that we can take this knowledge of God’s love into the world with us and we anoint the world with God’s blessing.
Steven Charleston is a Bishop in the Episcopal Church, and a few days after George Floyd’s murder, knowing full well just how deeply torn the fabric of our lives had become, he wrote this:
Now is the moment for which a lifetime of faith has prepared you. All of those years of prayer and study, all of the worship services, all of the time devoted to a community of faith: it all comes down to this, this sorrowful moment when life seems chaotic and the anarchy of fear haunts the thin borders of reason. Your faith has prepared you for this. It has given you the tools you need to respond: to proclaim justice while standing for peace. Long ago the Spirit called you to commit your life to faith. Now you know why.
You are a source of strength for those who have lost hope. You are a voice of calm in the midst of chaos.
You are a steady light in days of darkness. The time has come to be what you believe.
May we all know our belovedness and believe in it so we may be the church that is needed in this world.