Thursday, October 22, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 19

 House of God, Gate of Heaven

Genesis 28:10-17 (ESV) Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
In the verses leading up to the Old Testament reading for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, Jacob had just finished stealing Isaac’s birthright from Esau, and he was on his way out of Canaan back to his mother’s land in order to find a wife among his kinfolk, not among the pagan Canaanites. It was a long journey, and the last person he expected to meet was the LORD. As sundown drew near, he knew he had to find a place to spend the night, since travel in the dark was impossible. So in an unnamed place, he laid down to sleep and started to dream.
Clearly this dream was a special revelation from the LORD to Jacob; it does not set up a pattern that we should look for the LORD to come to us in dreams, since this was a unique event God performed for one of the patriarchs. In his dream, Jacob saw a ladder—or the Hebrew could also be translated as “stairway”—going from earth up to heaven. God’s angels were ascending and descending on the steps. Then the LORD appeared to Jacob, and the Hebrew could be translated either that he was at the top of the stairway or right beside Jacob. I think it makes more sense and is more comforting to read that the LORD had come down the stairs and was right next to Jacob, since after the fact, Jacob says that the LORD was in that very place on earth.
Either way, the most important things is that the LORD comes down to speak to Jacob, affirming that the LORD, the God of Abraham and Isaac will keep His promises to them by continuing the Messianic line through Jacob. Six times the LORD says that He will perform blessings on Jacob, and not once does the LORD command Jacob to do anything. To put it another way, the LORD comes to preach all Gospel and no Law to Jacob. Then after the dream Jacob awoke from sleep and realized, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” That is, Jacob didn’t know that the LORD was there until He came in the dream and started speaking promises to him. At this point, Jacob was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
This is a grand realization that Jacob and we Lutherans share: while God is indeed everywhere, the only place we have access to Him is when He seeks us out and comes to us. While God is truly omnipresent, He doesn’t want us to find Him in our emotions or inside ourselves or in any sort of personal experience, but He wants us to find Him in His Word, where He speaks to us about how He feels about us and where we can find Him and have access to His grace, mercy, and peace.
The LORD came down the stairs there to be with Jacob and share with him the same promise that He had made to Abraham and Isaac before: that their Offspring, their Seed, the Messiah or Christ, would be a blessing to all people of the earth, and that in the meantime the LORD would give His people the Promised Land as a place where He would dwell with them and continue to speak.
In the verses after this reading, Jacob renames the place of his dream “Bethel,” which means “House of God.” (No surprise that many churches have named themselves “Bethel Lutheran Church,” is it?). There at Bethel, the House of God, the gate of heaven, Jacob promises to build an altar to the LORD. This event points forward to the LORD coming to Israel to dwell above the altar in His houses in Israel, first in the tabernacle and later at the Jerusalem Temple, and then eventually in the flesh of Christ, which is the New Testament Tabernacle and Temple of God.
Prayer (LSB 916):
1. Only-begotten, Word of God eternal,
Lord of creation, merciful and mighty:
Hear us, Your servants, as our tuneful voices
    Rise in Your presence.
2. Holy this temple where our Lord is dwelling;
This is none other than the gate of heaven.
Ever Your children, year by year rejoicing,
    Chant in Your temple.
 3. Hear us, O Father, as we throng Your temple.
By Your past blessings, by Your present bounty,
Smile on Your children, and in grace and mercy
    Hear our petition.
4. God in three persons, Father everlasting,
Son coeternal, ever blessèd Spirit:
To You be praises, thanks, and adoration,
    Glory forever. Amen.

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