A congregation of the United Church of Canada
M&S Sunday ~ Genesis 28:10-22
The message this morning has been taken from the Annual Congregational Giving Program sent to all Pastoral Charges from National Office.
Today’s message is called Living Thankfully Day by Day. When I read and re-read this message I wanted to change it to make it mine but instead I re-read and asked myself what is in this message. I found Questions, Trickery, Dreaming, Refugee statis, a Promise and finally Thankfulness. I am sure you will find all of these things and maybe more as I share with you the contents of this message. It is based on Genesis 28:10-22 “Surely God is in this place – and I did not know it”. This statement, at least part of it “Surely God is in this place” is very familiar to all of us here at Faith United. It is taped all through our building. Let us examine what the write of this message has to say.
Do you ever have those sleepless nights when you just can’t get your mind to shut down? Do you have times when life gets confusing and complicated, and try as you might you just can’t get to sleep? You try counting sheep, or taking deep breaths, or repeating a mantra, or even reading a boring book, but nothing works. As soon as you close your eyes, thoughts of what you should do, or what you should have done, or what you might try next keep popping up, and any sleep that does come is restless and fleeting. I imagine that Jacob was having one of those nights when he lay his head down on that stone at Bethel.
His life at that point was certainly confused and complicated. He was fleeing for his life, according to one story. He had tricked his brother out of his inheritance—stolen the inheritance, actually. Rebekah, his mother, overheard Isaac promise to bless the elder brother Esau as soon as he got back from hunting. While he was away, Jacob dressed up as Esau and fooled his elderly, blind father into giving him the blessing. His actions were akin to the one child who manages to get power of attorney from an aging and feeble parent and then empties the bank account while the other siblings are on vacation.
When he got back and found out the trickery, Esau was furious to the point of threatening murder. So his mother, Rebekah, who had been in on the plan, sent Jacob to live with her brother for a time till Esau cooled off. She didn’t want to lose them both! A different version of the story says that Jacob went to live with his uncle in order to find himself a wife from his mother’s people. She didn’t want him marrying one of the locals. As he fled to his uncle’s, Jacob was leaving all that was familiar and going to a strange land.
We read, “He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set.” The sun sets quite quickly closer to the equator. Jacob had been walking or running all day, trying to put as much distance as he could between himself and his enraged brother. He was exhausted and alone and it was dark, so he found a stone for a pillow, tried to get comfortable, and tried to sleep.
Can you imagine the thoughts running through his head? “At least I got father’s blessing. The inheritance is mine. No one can take it away now. But that won’t help if Esau and his gang find me and kill me. I hope Uncle Laban will take me in. Mother said he would, but things could have changed since she saw him last. Is he rich enough to give me a job; can he even afford to feed me? What are the women there like? How am I supposed to find a bride for myself? I thought matchmakers did that. Do they have matchmakers there? What if uncle doesn’t take me in? Where will I find work? I’m a farmer, but I don’t have land there. Will someone there need a farmhand? How long will I have to stay? Will I ever get to go home again?” Jacob eventually fell into a restless, dream-filled sleep.
Most of us don’t pay much attention to dreams today, but in Jacob’s time dreams meant something. Coming out of that dream, a “stairway to heaven” dream, he knew the ground he was on was holy.
“Surely God is in this place—and I did not know it!” There are times in our lives and places in our lives when the presence of God comes closer. Sometimes we don’t even know it, or recognize it, or believe that such an experience is possible, but it happens. The Celtic people called such places “thin places”—places where the barrier or the difference between the human and the divine is thin, almost transparent, and when we let it, the divine presence can shine through into our lives. When we have such an experience, like Jacob we are a bit afraid, awestruck, moved, and changed. Jacob was moved to make a promise to God. “OK, God, if you are with me, as I now know you are, and if you will be with me even as I travel and live in a foreign land, I will trust you to give me food to eat and clothing to wear, and I will trust that you will one day lead me home in peace. You will be my God, and from all the gifts that you give to me, I will give you one-tenth.”
Sometimes God gets through to us during the challenges that life sends our way. Paul was born 70 years ago to a doctor and his wife in a small city in Ontario. His life promised to evolve much like that of others his age: public school, university, good job, family, successful career, and easy retirement. His siblings’ life went like that, but Paul’s did not. His father died when he was about 15, and his mother moved the family to another town. Paul never did fit in. Life after that move was not kind to Paul. Mental illness, addiction, and a stint in the U.S. army in Vietnam all took their toll. But eventually, back in Canada, Paul learned to live with his situation, managing to get by on a small government disability pension, usually taking his medication, painting for enjoyment and to fill the time, and amazingly, living with an attitude of gratitude. Every week when he arrived at Bible study he reminded the group and himself to live with an attitude of gratitude. Paul, like the apostle whose name he bears, had known good times and bad times, and he learned that life works better when you give thanks day by day.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11–13). The secret to life is thanksgiving—to live with an attitude of gratitude, knowing that God is in this place, knowing that God is with us whether we know it or not, remembering that all we have is a gift that God entrusted to us to use and to share. Jacob committed himself to share one-tenth, and so began the tradition of the tithe.
Living thankfully and sharing generously is not easy in our culture because our culture teaches us exactly the opposite. Our faith teaches us to give thanks to God for the abundance of creation. Our culture wants us to believe that we live in a time of scarcity. We don’t have time. We will never have enough money. We are exhausted. We don’t have the energy. We don’t get enough sleep. And if we do get close to the point where we think we might have enough, someone will be there to tell us that we need a bit more or that someone else has more, and we should too. So thankfulness is subversive in a culture that is grounded in scarcity.
Being thankful turns that scarcity thinking on its head. When we are thankful, we remind ourselves that indeed we do have enough, probably more than enough. We live in abundance. God has blessed us with abundance. So we give thanks. Our attitude of gratitude, expressed in our daily lives to family, friends, co-workers, and neighbours, is subversive. So let’s all be a bit subversive. Let us thank God every day. And let’s not be afraid to tell others how thankful we are. Every word, every act of thanksgiving is a challenge to the culture of greed and scarcity in which we live. It invites others into those thin places where we, like Jacob, can notice that surely God is in this place. When we pause to give thanks, we bring joy and peace and contentment not only to us but to those around us.
Thanks be to God. Amen and amen.