Down in My Heart. July 19

Down in My Heart

Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church, and online; July 19, 2020


Jacob is our hero this morning, but he’s not much of a hero.  He’s a selfish cheat who’s now running away from his home and family because he’s afraid of his brother’s righteous wrath.  He has cheated his twin brother, who is older by just a moment, out of his birthright and his blessing from their father.  When today’s reading begins, Jacob is on his way from Canaan, the land promised to his grandfather Abraham, back to his mother’s home in Haran.  He’s getting away from Esau’s anger, and he’s looking for a wife, to build a life and settle down.  He runs as far as he can, and when he’s too tired to keep going, he stops to rest.  He finds a stone to lift his head off the ground and he falls asleep, exhausted. 


As he sleeps, he dreams, of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven, with angels traveling up and down.  A neat image.  But then the dream gets really good.

And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; … all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that 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.” 


For Jacob, this was new news.  Yes, he'd heard it all his life, probably.  He had known about this God since he was tiny.  The God who spoke to his grandfather Abraham and called him to go from Haran to Canaan, to a new land where Abraham would become the father of a great nation.  He'd heard that story so often he could recite it word for word as his father told it.  And his mother had told him many, many times of the word she received from this God when she was pregnant with him and his twin brother Esau.  “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”  Jacob was that younger brother, especially loved by his mother because of this word she had heard, determined since birth to win whatever there was to win.  But this God of Abraham and Isaac was something far away, a character in stories he'd heard, but not part of his life, except in a 'hope for the future' sort of way.  It is here at Bethel, with a rock for a pillow, on the run for his life, that Jacob really meets God.  The Lord stood beside him, the text says.  The Lord spoke to him directly – Know that I am with you and will go with you wherever you go.  It's a different thing to meet someone – even God, especially God – face to face.  It's that personal connection that changes Jacob on this journey. 


Jacob chooses from this point on to claim the presence of God with him.  His struggles aren't over; his life isn't smooth sailing, but he is claimed and loved and connected to God, wherever he goes.  And it makes a difference.


The words of the Psalm declare the same certitude of the presence of the Lord wherever any of us may go – If I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand will hold me.  The Lord our God will not leave us, wherever we go.  Nor will God leave us when we can’t go anywhere. Jesus assures his disciples of the same thing when he sends them out after his resurrection – Go and make disciples, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.  Wherever, whenever, whether we travel regularly or stay at home all our lives, the Lord our God is with us, stays with us, and offers to guide our steps in all that we do. 


Maybe that doesn’t sound all that excellent when we can’t go anywhere.  Taking the wings of the morning and traveling to the uttermost parts of the sea isn’t much of an option when the corona virus is keeping us right here at home.  Our passports aren’t very useful until we manage to keep our fellow Americans from getting sick, and our evangelism efforts are curtailed when we aren’t meeting friends or neighbors or co-workers for much more than a wave and a smile behind a mask these days.  Listen deeper.  Listen again.  The psalmist says, “If I say, surely the darkness will cover me and the light around me be night.” Even there, the Lord will not leave you or forsake you.  If you find yourself hiding from the world because you can’t face it, because of your own sin, or because of deep sadness or despair, in the midst of the deep darkness of depression, even there, God will hold you and keep you close.  This promise is not only for you at your best, but at your worst. Not only for days of sunshine, but for nights of pain and anxiety and trouble. Look at Jacob, recipient of God’s promise of constant accompaniment.  Jacob was troubled, and he was guilty of great sin, too; he certainly didn’t earn God’s love through his actions.  He’s a cheat, a scoundrel.  And he is beloved.  God stays by Jacob’s side, through his best and his worst.  That promise is what the psalmist celebrates, and what we are offered as well.


Such a promise would be enough, to know that we are never alone in this world, no matter where we go, no matter what happens.  But it’s not the end of the matter.  With that promise comes the capacity to change.  Because we are loved to our core, we needn’t hold on to anything about us that’s broken.  Because we can trust God’s love, we can dare to be honest with ourselves about those parts of our lives that still need work.  The Psalm ends with powerful words of invitation to God.  Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Try me and know my thoughts.  See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.


Perhaps such a request seems excessive, unnecessary.  We know our sin, and we offer it to God regularly in confession.  But the psalmist points to something more, to another truth about us.  There are ways that we sin that we don’t always see.  I need to hear from you how I’ve hurt you, and I need to listen.  This is the truth at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement.  I live in a society that is suffused with racism in ways I have never experienced and can’t even see unless I’m willing to listen to my sisters and brothers who are black.  They experience this society differently from the way I do.  When I pray this psalm, search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts, I am inviting God to speak to me of sin that I haven’t yet seen.  Our shared participation in the racism of this society, this town, this community, is part of the sin that we bear responsibility for in this world.  The prophet Isaiah said, O Lord, I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips.  We are responsible for one another, for our shared successes and for our shared sin.


We lost a bright light in our world yesterday.  John Lewis spoke at the March on Washington before I was born, he marched for justice across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma before I was a year old, and he spoke up loud and clear for justice and equality day after day, year after year.  He was a brother in Christ, and I learned from his witness and from his writings that we have come a long way, and we still have a long way to go to eradicate racism in this country.  John Lewis died yesterday after serving as a witness for justice and a voice of hope for this nation for 80 years. Hear his words of encouragement.


“Do not get lost in a sea of despair.  Do not become bitter or hostile.  Be hopeful, be optimistic.  Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.  We will find a way to make a way out of no way.”


Search me, O God, and know my heart.  See if there be any wicked way in me.  Open my eyes, Lord, to the ways that I have missed the mark of love and grace, justice and peace, and teach me, Lord.  Teach me, through the witness of my brothers and sisters, of my sin and of the hope that together we’ll find a way through.  Lead us, Lord, on the way everlasting, to the everlasting life that is in you, to that Beloved Community you have created us for.  Amen.



Genesis 28:10-19


10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the 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. 12And he 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. 13And the Lord stood beside him 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; 14and 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 all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that 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.”

16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17And 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.” 18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19He called that place Bethel.


Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24


O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

     you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

     and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord,

     you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

     and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

     it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?

     Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

     and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

     and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

     and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

     for darkness is as light to you.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

     test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.


Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43


24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”


36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!


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