Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
The way life turns out is very interesting. When I look at a little kids and many young people, how your life will turn out will be very interesting. It’s not something that is predictable. We cannot see how life will turn out. That is what life is like. I think Jacob misunderstood life. Jacob thought that he was able to control everything that happens in his life, even the blessings from God. Last week we meditated upon that. Jacob stole the blessing from Esau, from his father, and then he stole the birthright. He thought that he was able to control everything in his life. But many unexpected things can happen in life. You will probably encounter many, many unexpected things in your life. Right now you have something that you want in your life, but maybe 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road, you will never know how your life will turn out. In that way, life is a strange thing. And also I would like to say life is a mystery. It is not a fixed concept. It is not completely drawn yet. It is yet to be drawn, it is to be unraveled. So it is a mystery to how life will turn out.
Look at Jacob. He never expected that he would end up in the wilderness all by himself. That was not why he bought the birthright and stole the blessings from his father. He thought, “If I have the birthright and if I have my father’s last blessing, my life will be okay automatically because this birthright and blessing from the father must have some kind of miraculous power that will make my life really, really good.” He never expected or thought that he would end up in the wilderness all by himself, but in the end he did.
Alone in the Wilderness
I wonder how Jacob might’ve felt in the wilderness all by himself. “Gosh, I have the birthright and I have the blessing. What am I doing here? I cannot even stay home. I’m running away from the home where I can have a good time with friends and family, my mother and everything. Now I cannot even stay home, I’m just running away to a place that I don’t even know!” His life was very, very different from what he was expecting. He wasn’t used to staying up all night in the wilderness because the wilderness was not his thing. He truly was a mama’s boy. He just stayed home all the time with this mother. To Esau, the wilderness was his place. He was always in the wilderness. He was hunting, and he is very familiar with the wilderness. As for Jacob, the wilderness was a strange place. He never went to into the wilderness.
Most of time, he was at home. He was a very domesticated guy. So the wilderness was very, very new to him. Not only it is new but it is a scary place. Think about it. He was all by himself in the wilderness. He heard wild animals crying. Everything was very new, strange and scary. The night was dark, his future was very dark. He could not foresee what was waiting for him. He could not foresee what was ahead of him. Everything was dark to him. Jacob the trickster. Jacob the liar. He used his tricks and he got what he wanted, but in the end, he got nothing but the dark night in the wilderness where he was lonely, scared, and very uncertain. He must have been really confused about God, about blessings, about birthright and everything. I think he was very, very confused. This was the first crisis he encountered in his life. This was the first dark night in his life, probably under up to this point, his life was very well controlled with his mom and around the house. His life was pretty comfortable, but now he experienced the first crisis of his life. High school students. When you encounter the first crisis in your life, remember this message.
His wakeful world was full of fear, uncertainty, and confusion. His guard was up and therefore he could not see anything but darkness. He had his guard up all around him because he was so scared. So he didn’t like his wakeful world. All he could see in his wakeful world was fear and terror. Only in his dreams, would you find his guard down, he could see what he cannot see in his wakeful world. He could see the reality of God. He could see that God was right there. This was his confession: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” The Lord was always right there, but because he was filled with fear and uncertainty and darkness, he could not see that. The Lord was always right there. Now in his dreams, he met God, he found God and said, he was right there and I did not know it. Sometimes we meet God in the most unexpected places or in the most unexpected circumstances.
Philip Yancey, who wrote a book called “Finding God in Unexpected Places”, he said this: “Jesus was a master at finding God in unexpected places.” Jesus found God in a tax collector who did not even know how to do a formal prayer. He found God in a foreigner who had failed marriage five times. Jesus found God in a man who had been sick for 38 years with no hope. In the most unexpected places, Jesus somehow always found God. We expect to find God in a sanctuary in a holy place, but Jesus found God in the most unexpected places and unexpected circumstances.
Today’s scripture tells us that we find God in a man who runs away because of his lifestyle of trickery. We don’t necessarily find God in the holy sanctuary; where you can hear beautiful choir anthems. Many times we find God in a place where people struggle, fail, hurt, mourn, get disappointed, angry. In those places, we would never expect that we will find God in those places, sometimes we find God. In our own dark times, we find God.
As you can see the stars most clearly in the darkest sky, you can see the power of God’s presence in your darkest time. I’m not sure whether or not you’re too young to experience your own darkness. Everybody goes through dark times. When I started sharing this in KSM, I saw tears and after the service, some woman came up to me and shared her story. I never expected that she would go through that difficult time. No wonder she looked so dark and gloomy, I didn’t know her story. I cannot share everything she told me, but she’s shared such a devastating experience that she’s going through and she said “What you said is true.” Sometimes during my own dark times, I find God. Last Wednesday, an elder came up to me and he said, “Reverend, when times are good, it doesn’t matter how good the sermon may be. It doesn’t really hit me, but when I go through a difficult time, every word that you say really penetrates into my heart and it hits me. Reverend, these days, I live because I have the word. Otherwise I would not have survived.”
Sometimes in our dark times, we truly find God. When the sky is dark, you can still see the stars. St. Paul expressed that in many different ways. This is what Saint Paul said: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” You would expect that when sin increases, that curses will abound more. That’s what we think, but St. Paul said when sin Increases, the grace abounds more and more. When you’re going through your own failures, whether it’s a moral failure, a personal failure, or a job failure, school performance failure; when you look at that failure very carefully there is God’s grace powerfully working underneath. You may never know but the Lord was always there. You’re only filled with guilt and disappointment, but that’s where God’s grace works within in you. Life is not always easy. Sometimes you’re thrown into the wilderness, into the darkness and you’re right there. We find holy ground. We find a holy place where we meet God face to face. Jacob called it “Bethel,” meaning “house of God.” We don’t find God in a holy place. The place you find God becomes a holy place. You don’t necessarily find God in a sanctuary, but when you are going through so many difficulties in your life, if you find God then that place becomes a holy place to you.
We celebrate life not because it is good and easy. No one always lives a good and easy life. We celebrate life though, because in all phases of our life, there is God transforming our existence. During good times, God provides joy, happiness, and abundance. During bad times, God provides his presence and the powerful work of His grace that brings about the transformation. With God, our-non place becomes a sanctuary! With God are empty time becomes a sacred moment! With God, our sinful existence becomes a holy existence! Do you want to truly find God? When you go through difficult times, look carefully at what God is doing. You will then find God powerfully working within you. When Jacob finally met God in his dream, he received these three promises. The three promises are this: I’ll be with you, I’ll protect you, and I’ll bring you home.
In that wilderness, when he was all by himself in that cold place, he got these promises. Three promises; that God will be with me, that God will protect me, and someday God will bring me back home. When you go through your own dark times, always remember these three things. God will be with you, and God will protect you, and God will bring you back home. Don’t ever forget that. In your suffering where you mourn and suffer and ache, you’re not by yourself, God is right there. You may not have recognized it yet, but God is right there. These days, the news really gets me down. The situation with Gaza and Israel. How could a human being send a missile up in the sky and sends it down to where civilians are and it kills off hundreds of people. What kind of world is this? What kind of life are we living? What kind of people have we become?
I do believe that someday, God will bring about his own justice. If you remember these three things in your life, you will have a meaningful journey of life even though we don’t know what we will face in our journey. Especially with high school students. You’re young. You’re full of life. Live a good life. When you face a crisis, don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. Don’t just sit on your problems. Remember, God will be with you. God will protect you, and bring you back home. That’s a promise that we hold on to, all of us! Let us keep those promises with us. God is with us. God will protect me and God will bring me back home.