Saturday, August 29, 2015

Seeing Greater Things

Seeing Greater Things                              8/30/15

Genesis 28:10-21, John 1:43-51

Seeing Greater Things:  This is a phrase Jesus uses with one of his disciples, after they are impressed by something Jesus considers a smaller detail.    Jesus tells Nathanael, ‘you believe because I saw you under a fig tree, you’ll see greater things than that!”.

Today, we lift up two very different people from the Bible.  The first is one of the famous patriarchs, who had a reputation for guile and deceit.  His name was Jacob, later to be called Israel.  The second man is, to use Jesus’ terminology, “a true Israelite in who is no guile”.  He is the disciple Nathanael.  Both of these men, upon encountering the Lord, are transformed, and further their dedication and devotion because of their encounters with the Living God.

After we look at these stories, we’ll connect our 2015 stories to the same Lord, relying on the same promise, and same invitation.

First, let us travel back some thirty five hundred years to the life of Jacob.  Despite the time difference, the same drama and familiar dysfunction exists that might exist in our favorite reality show today, or in our household, or a household with whom we are familiar.

Jacob is on his way to Haran, the land of his Uncle Laban.  But this is not a vacation, nor by a desire for a family reunion.  It is a journey spurred by competition, conflict, dysfunction, murderous thoughts and deceit, along with the family blessing to go…away.

It is a story of running away, and along the way, encountering a dream and the Lord’s promise, along with transformation.

It is a story about the unexpected places you might meet God. 

Jacob doesn’t meet God in a temple.  He doesn’t meet God after much soul searching and desire for prayer.  He meets God through a dream, while on the run.

Walter Brueggemann, in his Intepretation Commentary on Genesis (John Knox Press, 1982), writes:

          On the one hand we may be tempted to imagine that this is a primitive religious report that has no pertinence to modern reality, for we have ‘outgrown’ such matters.  Or on the other hand, we may wish to explain it psychologically and deny its objective reality.  But neither of these will do.  The narrative shatters our presuppositions.  It insists the world is a place of such meetings” (with God).         242

Jacob is running from his brother Esau, who had vowed to murder him after Jacob steals the family blessing.  He did this by dressing up as Esau before his blind and dying father, even to the point, of putting game scent on him so that Isaac might smell the fields.  Jacob’s mother, upon hearing that her one son was going to murder her other son, comes up with a scheme herself, to get Jacob out of town.  Everyone decides that life might be easier if Jacob isn’t around.

And so Jacob is cast off.  He is sent out into this big world, all alone.  He must travel without caravan to a land several hundred miles away.  And during that first night, he stops to rest.  Alone.  Scared.  Anxious.  Uncertain.  He places his head upon a stone and falls asleep.


Jacob starts to dream.  In his dream, he meets God.

Brueggemann comments;

“The meeting happens in a dream.  The wakeful world of Jacob was a world of fear, terror, loneliness (and, we may imagine, unresolved guilt).  Those were parameters of his existence.  The dream permits the entry of an alternative into his life.  The dream is not a morbid review of a shameful past.  It is rather the presentation of an alternative future with God…The vision shatters the presumed world of Jacob.  He had assumed he traveled alone with his only purpose being survival.    (243)

The dream is of angels traveling up and down between heaven and earth.  The Lord stands on top of the staircase these messengers use.  The LORD speaks in this dream, and his words become a promise to Jacob.  This promise is of land, and heritage, and blessing and the LORD’s presence and care.  The LORD even says that he will not leave Jacob until ‘I have done what I have promised you.’

Jacob awakes.  He responds to this dream with the words:  Surely the LORD was in this place, and I was not aware of it.  Afraid, Jacob exclaims, “How awesome is this place:  this is the house of God!”

Jacob places the stone as a tribute and remembrance to his encounter with God.  He names the place, Bethel, the House of God.  Jacob then declares his allegiance to the Lord.  The Lord will be my God, and this stone will be God’s house, and I will give a tenth of all that is given me to preserve this house.

Unfortunately, Jacob’s response to the Lord’s promise is conditional.  He will do these things, “IF”.  If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking…If God will give me food to eat and clothes to wear….if I return safely to my father’s house…then

Breuggemann makes a fascinating comparison between Jacob’s demands, and the Lord’s promises we find in Psalm 23.

Jacob:  If God will be with me:
Psalm 23: I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.  (vs4)

Jacob:  If God will watch over me on this journey:
Psalm 23:  He makes me life down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he guides me in paths of righteousness for his names sake. (vss 2-3)

Jacob:  If God will give me bread to eat
Psalm 23:  He prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies  (vs 5)

Jacob:  If I return safely to my Father’s House:
Psalm 23:  I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  (vs 6)

The LORD fulfills his promise.  God descends into a scary, lonely world and transforms it with his promise.

A millennium and a half later, at just the right time, God sends his son Jesus Christ into this hurting, scary, lonely world, a bright light upon a dark night.  God’s promise of Jesus transforms.  Jesus chooses twelve to start the message of good news for all humankind.

Philip knows the blessing of following.  Jesus came up to him and said ‘follow me’.  And Phillip did!  He invited his friend to know the Messiah had come!  The one we’ve been waiting for is here!  When Nathanael, a devout man himself, questions Philip, his new found confidence invites Nathanael:  Come and see!

Nathanael is truly a man without guile.  Upon hearing the Messiah comes from Nazareth, Nathanael’s straightforward answer is:  Can anything good come from there?  When Jesus declares to those around him that Nathanael is a true Israelite, a man without guile, Nathanael doesn’t argue:  How do you know me?, he questions the Lord.

Before meeting Jesus, Nathanael had been alone, resting from the heat of the day under the shade of a fig tree.  It apparently was his personal hideout spot, not known to his friends.  To this fig tree Nathanael would go, to restore his spirit with quiet and meditation upon the Scripture.  Perhaps that day he was reading the story of Jacob’s travels to Haran interrupted by his dream.

When Nathanael asks Jesus, how do you know me?, Jesus references Nathanael’s secret hideout.  I saw you.  I saw you when you thought no one was watching.  I knew your thoughts and your dreams, what you run from, and what you run after!  I knew you.  I saw you.

This information from the Christ is enough for Nathanael to call himself a believer.  You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!

Jesus response seems to be:  Really, that’s all it took?  You believe because I said I saw you under the fig tree?  Nathanael, you’ll see greater things than these.  I am the stairway, by which the messengers travel to heaven and back.  Those angels you read of in Jacob’s dream…they traveled by me.

And so we have a man of guile on the run, who is transformed by a dream, and a good man running after God, who is transformed by the story of the dream.  Both were invited to see great things, because they saw the Lord.  The Lord is great, and greatly to be praised.

In our day, we are invited to see all types of things, and to participate in all types of endeavors.  But the things that are the greatest, and the endeavors that are the most important are those which allow us to see:  to see the greatness of God, to behold the majesty of the Lord, to envision the beauty of the Lord.

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