Genesis 28: 10-19; Psalm 139: 3-7
Where God and people meet
The lectionary readings for today are about two people who are aware of the presence of God. They have a spiritual experience that makes them see that God is there. One of is Jacob. The other is the author of the 139th Psalm. So I would like to look at some things we could learn from them about engaging with God. It turns out they all start with A; so you can remember them as Triple A (AAA). The first is awareness of place, the second is acknowledgment of God’s presence in the moment and the third is accountability for our actions.
Jacob finds himself lost. He is on his own and he has a dream. In that dream there is a ladder and in that dream he has an experience of God. When he wakes up he names the place. He names the place after God. Now Jacob is a guilty man. He had to leave his family because he had betrayed his brother and deceived his father. So this moment is incredibly important. So Jacob recognizes that the place where this happens matters. The Jewish faith is a historical faith. Places and the things that happened there matter. The land matters. Second, Jacob acknowledges God and that God is present with him at this difficult time. The moment in time matters. It is a milestone. Finally, there have to consequences. The event is not just there in the place for the event and the place’s sake. Yes, it helps him keep going, but he needs to change. This is the accountability part.
In Psalm 139 the Psalmist is not having an easy time of it. He has. There is a subtext of despair and sorrow. But the author is aware of place, of the limits of the Western sea, of the underworld. Place matters. Then comes the acknowledgement of God’s presence. The accountability part follows from this: how must the author of the Psalm respond to this presence of God in this space and time?
Friends, places matters. We all have our favorite places, places where we feel most at peace, most alive, most fulfilled. Those places change over time. We can get used to different places, although maybe not right away.
There was a program on PBS last week about the “ten towns that changed America.” I think it is relevant to what we are talking about. Towns were determined by three things (at least): the place where it was built, the time in which they were built and the way they were or were not accountable to their citizens. St. Augustine’s in Florida supposedly is the oldest town in America which is interesting because of most of Florida is so recent. It was set up according the Spanish laws of the Indies. It was a hot, muggy places on the coast with nothing around it, but central was the church and the plaza, kind of the open living room of the people. William Penn envisioned Philadelphia as a utopia according to his Quaker beliefs. The Quaker meeting house was at the center and people’s houses on a spacious grid around it with four parks. It really didn’t develop that way as people wanted to live closer to the Delaware River in small houses, because that is where the money was to be made. The inventor of the Pullman car designed a factory town outside Chicago meant as a utopia for his workers. In all of these instances space and time and accountability mattered. Levittown took us to prefab living. Did you know there is a second Levittown in Puerto Rico? Most of the towns in the end did not achieve their lofty goals of idyllic and idealistic living, because time passed them by and accountability to the people was not followed through on. But many of the people who designed them were religious people who would have known Jacob’s story and the Psalm.
Friends, what are the places in your life that really mattered? And what did they matter so much? What was it that gave them such meaning? Where they people you loved or where there people who loved you? Was it a place where you discovered your abilities or your dreams? What are the top ten places that changed your life or your trajectory, your path? Second, what are the most meaningful times in your life, a time when you changed course, when you became happier or wiser or more determined? Did you stop to acknowledge God for God’s presence there? Finally, are you accountable to God for the blessings you have and the abilities you have received? Remember Triple A. May you meet God along the way and may God give us wisdom.