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This Week's Sermon !

July 23, 2017, -

Genesis 28: 10-19a
Psalm 139
Matthew 13: 24-30,

“You Can’t Run Away”

I remember a TV commercial from a few years ago in which a small child was preparing to run away from home. In the end, all he could fit into his suitcase was his teddy bear - we finally saw him walking down the street, lugging an enormous suitcase, too big for him, really, with the head and feet of the bear protruding from barely closed suitcase.

There are very few TRUE heart-warming tales about run-away teenagers. The streets of our cities are filled with run-aways! Some run away because of abuse at home; some because they want “freedom”; some because their parents wont accept a gay child, or a pregnant one; some because of bullying at school; some because of that proverbial “greener grass”. Without the appropriate support, many end up in trouble with the law, addicted to drugs and resorting to pan-handling or prostitution to feed their habit and survive - and some don’t!.

I recall very vividly the trip I took to Toronto for church business one year. For some reason, this particular year, there seemed to ne many more people sleeping in the doorways of businesses than there usually were! This particular year, a cold drizzle had settled over the city and these folks were in sleeping bags, surrounded by a few possessions, protected only by thin plastic sheets. I also noticed that restaurant bathrooms were “for customers only”; they were locked, you had to ask your waitress for a key. I thought of my own hotel room, warm and dry but, of course, could not help even one of those sleeping strangers.

Once, I told Vince Alfano, the head of the department that raised and managed the Mission and Service Fund, that many of my people in my rural New Brunswick churches did not feel much connection with street ministries in Toronto (where some of the mission and Service monies end up). Her replied, “Tell them that a lot of teenagers from the Maritimes end up living on the streets of Toronto!``

As Canadians, one of the “things” we have become more aware of in the last few years is the stone structure called the “Inuksuk” - or more properly, the “ inunguaq” which is what the ones that resemble humans are more properly called. I have one in my china cabinet; its about 1 1/2 inches tall; my neighbour has one on her doorstep, about a foot tall. I think I have even seen one at the entrance to a subdivision somewhere around here!

Yet they are not meant to be decorations! Inuksuk can be found from Alaska to Greenland and can be navigational aids, temporarily point to dangerous conditions or food caches or serve various other purposes. Some are erected seasonally. They were essential to human survival in that beautiful, but harsh, land.

Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham was, in essence, a runaway - and he had good reason to run. The story of Jacob and Esau is a tale of “sibling rivalry” in the extreme! Esau was his Dad’s favourite and Jacob, his mother’s. That’s always a recipe for disaster. According to their mother, each had been in competition since their conception - and in the latest escapade, Rebecca helped her favourite win his father’s blessing - by tricking the old man! This “blessing for the eldest son” was very important. It could not be retracted, even if it was bestowed in error. Esau was furious; the “I’m going to kill you”, kind of furious and Jacob knew it.

So, with the help of his mother once again, on a cooked up errand to go “wife hunting”, Jacob takes off and spends the night in the wilderness with a rock for a pillow! In case we missed it’ I’ll say it another way, “Jacob, who liked to hang around home, near the tents and the good food, ends up sleeping on a rock in the wilderness. No contour pillow made of memory-foam. No goose-down duvet (it does get very cold in the desert at night). No Sealy Perfect Sleeper. No “balled up t-shirt on top of his hiking boots” under his head. Just a rock! Perhaps, for the first time in his life he does not have the protection of his extended family and the servants in tents all around him- he was in peril!

And on this night he has a dream. It was not a nightmare of Esau catching up with him or of being eaten my wild animals but a dream of angels and of good news from God. When he awakens he turns that rock into some kind of ‘marker’ or “Palestinian inuksuk” and names the place, Bethel - which literally means “house of God.”

The dream is probably better known to us in the African-American Spiritual, “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” However, the song takes a few liberties with the story! In the story, in his dream, Jacob remains “earth- bound”. It’s the angels that do the climbing, and God comes and stands beside him to give his a message.

Now, if you want to take on a challenge, and climb “Jacob’s Ladder” yourself, go to Victoria Park in Truro. This staircase has 175 steps. I’ve climbed it; ONCE!

So, in THIS biblical story, THIS was the place where heaven and earth connected, THIS was the place where God came to him and despite his life of jealousy and deceit, re-affirmed the promise of “becoming a great nation”, to him. Like the promise given to his own grandfather, this one was given to someone with no children! Clearly more than human actions would have to be in play in order for the promise to come to pass.

At the end of the day, this story, like all biblical stories, has to become our story! The place was Beth-el! It means, literally, “House of God. The question is, “Where is our Bethel? Have we ever sat down to realize that God is with us, here and now and not in some past or future time or place?

The Very Rev Stan MacKay, a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation served the United Church as Moderator from 1992 to 1994. One of the things I remember him saying is that the “holy Land” is not that place over there where Jesus used to live, but this place, this land, where we live and move and have our being. This is a place blessed by the Creator.

Fisher River Manitoba is the “holy land.” Hantsport Nova Scotia is the “holy land” - its not just PEI, Cape Breton and Pictou Co.; (all places whose residents unabashedly claim to the holy land, if not the centre of the universe!) And God’s call does not come when we “have the time”, when “its convenient” or “later”; its not something we can get away from.

Another question is: What are we trying to run away from and why?

Once we realize that this promise is twofold - to be blessed and TO BE A BLESSING, we have to ask if we are running from God’s call to greatness.

We have to ask if we are we running from God`s call to make a difference.

Or are we just doing a good job of procrastinating - I`ll follow and recognize God`s presence, call and promise when I have more time!

Jacob was a downright scoundrel - a man from a highly dysfunctional family who became the ancestor of a great nation - even though he was a liar and a cheat so let none of us say that we are “not blessed”. Let none of us say that we are “not good enough”. Let none of us say that we can do nothing to be a blessing to others.

May this building and we who worship here be a sign, an inuksuk, to God’s presence in our lives and call to be a blessing to others. May others look at this place and us and say “surely God is in this place and with these people.”


1995- 2017 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!

Links to My Other Pages at this Site

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  • An Anniversary/Memorial Service Sermon
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  • Sermon on Teenage Suicide
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