We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

A sermon preached on
The Sixth Sunday After Trinity (The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete,
July 12, 2020 11:00 am.

 The readings were e Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139: 1-11, 23-24, and Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Marc-Chagall-Russia-1887-France-1985-The-Dream-of-Jacob-1960-1966-Oil-on-canvas

And [Jacob] dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it . . . he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  Genesis 28:12, 17  Marc Chagall (Russia, 1887-France, 1985). The Dream of Jacob, 1960-1966. Oil on canvas, 195 x 278 cm. National Museum of the Marc Chagall Biblical Message, Nice-France. ©ADAGP, Paris, 2012

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
we are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
we are climbing Jacob’s ladder, soldier of the cross.

The Places We Meet Our Friends and Significant Others

Where do you meet your people? How do you make your friends? How did you meet your spouse? If not the same person, where did you meet your beloved?

My father-in-law is a consumer economist who spent much of his career looking at the economic dimensions of the family. He was interested in exactly this question about how couples meet – he called them marriage markets. I suppose they are a field within a larger set of friend markets.

  • Many of us made our best friends in school. It was common in the period after 1945 up until the ‘sixties for couples to get married right out of high school.
  • When I started officiating at weddings in the late ’80s I would ask couples how they met. As often as not, the answer was in the local pub, or a wine bar, or a club.
  • Some people make their best friends in university or college, and many couples meet in that context.  My parents met that way, and Frances and I met there.
  • My in-laws met on a blind date – obviously it worked!
  • Churches used to be a major marriage market, but with the decline in attendance this is not so much the case anymore.
  • I know a couple who met because of a lost wallet. A guy from Vancouver left his wallet in Bellingham, in the state of Washington. Some college kids found it, and contacted the guy. He returned with a bunch of his buddies, and the Americans and the Canadians hung out together for a weekend. A young man and a young woman liked each other, and eventually got married and had two children.
  • Some of us make our friends at work. This is increasingly not a great marriage market, as the line between starting a romance and sexual misconduct is not always as obvious as it should be.
  • Of course, nowadays, the internet is the way young people meet. They might begin chatting on Facebook, or meet through an online dating service, or they may have just swiped right on Tinder. I have reconnected with many friends through Facebook, and I have even made a few new ones.

Now, where do we meet God? How do we meet the Creator? Where is our Beth-el?

Every round goes higher, higher,
Every round goes higher, higher,
Every round goes higher, higher, soldier of the cross.

 Beth-El: The House of God 

Jacob meets God in a dream while using a rock as a pillow (I suppose if I used a stone as a pillow I might have a vision of God, too!). He names the place Beth-El, which is simply the Hebrew for “House of God.” Today it is thought to be a village north of Jerusalem about 35 minutes, in what is now the Palestine Authority of the West Bank.

1024px-Bethel,_72.Holy_land_photographed._Daniel_B._Shepp._1894-1

Bethel. From the book Holy Land photographed by Daniel B. Shepp. 1894. The ruins probably date from the late Roman (Byzantine) era.

Where do we meet God?

  • As youth, perhaps in in Church, Sunday School, church camp, or after-school program. Typically we are inspired by individual pastors or earnest camp leaders.
  • Sometimes it comes about when we meet people who seem to have that personal relationship with God, and are living their lives abundantly because of it.
  • Sometimes it happens because of marriage – and I have seen cases where the new relationship with God lasts longer than the marriage.
  • For me, it was very much as an adult in a prayer groups and in a home Bible study.
  • It can happen through friends. C. S. Lewis became a Christianlargely because of was J. R. R. Tolkien’s witness to him; Tolkien was a bit put out that Lewis became an Anglican, and did not enter the Roman Catholic church. .
  • Some of us meet God in the church. I heard one man say that he was attending some service for the sake of a friend, and during the opening hymn he saw the top of the processional cross above a sea of heads, and fell to his knees knowing he needed God in his life.
  • Some have noted that it was in reading scripture for the first time – a Letter of Paul or the Gospel of Mark – that they met God. The actor David Suchet mentions this.
  • Sometimes we meet God in prayer when we are under stress – perhaps in a foxhole, or a hospital chapel.
  • Some perceive God in creation – as the hymn goes, “This is my father’s world / he shines in all that’s fair; / in the rustling grass I hear him pass, / he speaks to me everywhere.”
  • Some of us meet God in communion. Sara Miles tells the story of getting up one Sunday morning while the rest of her family was sleeping, and deciding to go for a walk in her neighbourhood of San Francisco. She was a a journalist and was not brought up in the church, so really knew nothing about it. She was passing the Episcopal (Anglican) Church of St Gregory, and walked into their service of the Eucharist. She was given communion, and when she received it she thought, “This is what I have been looking for all my life.”

Sinner do you love my Jesus,
sinner do you love my Jesus,
sinner do you love my Jesus, soldier of the cross

Jesus is our Beth-El, Our Ladder

As Christians, Jesus is our Bethel. We meet God in the person of Jesus Christ. The old African-American spiritual “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder” knows this. It was first written down about two hundred years ago. It was sung as a call and response in churches which did not afford books and in which most of its members were not allowed to learn to read. Nevertheless, the disparate peoples who were kidnapped from Africa to be slacves in North America, and their descendants, received the good news of Jesus Christ as liberation from slavery and sin. Those who first sang it  understood climbing Jacob’s ladder as growth in faith and knowledge of Jesus. They were in bondage, forced by violence to work in camps called plantations. It was unimaginable that they could be soldiers – only free men could be soldiers – but they subversively saw themselves as soldiers in a greater battle, against sin, against the oppression of slavery. After 1865 the song became one against the tyranny of racism.  Soldiers of the cross, indeed.

Soldier of the Cross

One of them died yesterday, John Lewis. Now, those of you who are English associate the name John Lewis with a department store, but in the United States there was another John Lewis, an African American who trained to be a Baptist pastor, but became involved in the civil rights movement instead. As a young man he helped organise the March on Washington in 1963, and was one of the speakers.  In 1965, in an attempt to march from Selma Alabama to Montgomery, the state capital, he suffered beatings by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge just outside the town.

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“At a time when many of the nation’s most prominent clergy were silent, Archbishop Iakovos courageously supported our Freedom Movement and marched alongside my husband, and he continued to support the nonviolent movement against poverty, racism and violence throughout his life.” Coretta Scott King 2005

Martin Luther King came to Selma to lead an attempt to continue the march, and here is a Greek connection – he was joined by Archbishop Iakovos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas – and he was the only national church leaders who dared to join King. But of course, as a Greek from an island that became part of Turkey, he knew all about violence and oppression. John Lewis recovered from his beating, and eventually became a member of the US House of Representatives. Like his Lord and master, he was a man committed to the non-violent opposition to abusive power – he was what you might call, a soldier of the cross.

So this is another place we might encounter God – when we take up our crosses and follow Jesus, speaking truth to power, challenging the abuses of the status quo.

Meeting God in Christ in Service

If you love him, why not serve him?
If you love him, why not serve him?
If you love him, why not serve him, soldier of the cross?

As Christians our Beth-El is in service to God in Jesus Christ. We will each do it differently, of course – not many of us will be a John Lewis –  but it is there that we will meet the divine, there that we will be sanctified. It is there that we might say, ““How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

 

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece. More about me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bruce-bryant-scott-4205501a/
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1 Response to We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

  1. Sandy Buchanan says:

    I enjoyed your version of today’s sermon.

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