God’s Home Address 11-2-14

Genesis 28:10-22  Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he passed the night there.  He took a rock and used it for a headrest and lay down to sleep there. During the night he had a dream:  there was a ladder, standing on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; and messengers of God were going up and coming down the ladder. YHWH was there, standing over him, saying “I am YHWH, the God of Sarah and Abraham, and the God of Rebecca and Isaac. Your descendants will be like the specks of dust on the ground,; you will spread to the east and to the west, to the north and to the south, and all the tribes of the earth will bless themselves by you and your descendants. Know that I am with you,  I will keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this land; I will not desert you before I have done all that I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke and said, “Truly, YHWH is in this place, and I never knew it!” He was filled with trembling and said, “How awe-inspiring this place is!  This is nothing less than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!” Jacob rose early the next morning, and took the stone he had used as a headrest and set it up as a monument, and anointed it with oil. Jacob named the place Bethel—“House of God” –though before that, the town was called Luz. Jacob then made this vow:  “If you go with me and keep me safe on this journey which I am making, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear. and if I return home safely to my parents’ house, you will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a memorial pillar will be a place of worship, and I promise to give back to you one tenth of everything you give me.”

This month we’re talking about God’s Home Address. There are a number of reasons we might be interested in God’s home address. Today, we might be particularly interested in God’s home address because we would like to know that our loved ones are with God at that home address. Our assigned reading today is from the first letter of John. John has particular insight a home address we’ll talk about later this month. Listen for the word of God for you from I John 3.

I John 3:1-3 See what love Abba God has lavished on us in letting us be called God’s children!  Yet that in fact is what we are. The reason the world does not recognize us is that it never recognized God. My dear friends, now we are God’s children, but it has not been revealed what we are to become in the future. We know that when it comes to light we will be like God, for we will see God as God really is. All who keep this hope keep themselves pure, just as Christ is pure.

November 2, 2014        

God’s Home Address

A letter written in a childish scrawl came to the post office addressed to “God”. A postal employee, not knowing exactly what to do with the letter, opened it and read: “Dear God, my name is Jimmy. I am 6 years old. My father is dead and my Mom is having a hard time raising me and my sister. Would you please send us $500?” The postal employee was touched. He showed the letter to his fellow workers and all decided to kick in a few dollars each and send it to the family. They were able to raise $300. A couple of weeks later the same post office received a second letter addressed to God. The boy thanked God for the recent infusion of cash, but ended with this request: “Next time would you send the money directly to us? If you send it through the post office they deduct $200.”
So much for trying to do a good deed. This month at St. Luke, as I say, we’re going to talk about God’s home address. If you write a letter to God, how do you address it? Where have you encountered God? Where have you known God to be?
The place Jacob found God was in the wilderness at Bethel. He had fled from his home after tricking his father into giving him the blessing that rightfully belonged to his older (by a minute) brother, Esau. He ran for just about as far as he could go that day before looking for a stone for a pillow in the middle of the wilderness. He lay down to sleep and he had some vivid dreams. We remember them in the story of Jacob’s ladder. He dreamed about a ladder with angels going up and down. And all of a sudden God was there with a promise to Jacob, “saying I am YHWH, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Rebecca and Isaac.”
And God promised that Jacob would have descendants, as many as the specks of dust for miles around this dusty wilderness. I will keep you safe, you and all your descendants.” Jacob woke up with God’s whispers still in his ears, but he could hardly believe what he had heard. “Surely, God is in this place, and I sure didn’t know it.” He built an ebenezer there, put a few other stones on top of his stone pillow, to show that this rocky outpost in the middle of nowhere was nothing less the gateway to the house of God. He called it “Bethel, the House of God.” For Jacob, God’s home address was Bethel, the House of God, middle of the wilderness.
Later, King David proposed to God to build a home address, a temple, but God said no. It seemed like God was used to living in a tent, and moving in a cloud of presence. It was not until Solomon became king that the big temple got built as a home address, but grand as it was that didn’t last very long. For a few generations, people thought that was God’s home address. People still worship at the wall that was left when the temple was destroyed.
We have been enjoying our newly renovated house of God now for 2 months. We have dedicated the wood in the altar, pews and piano, and the forests of God from which that wood comes. We have dedicated the stone in the cement floor and built our own Ebenezers like Jacob did to recognize God’s presence.
We dedicated the plants as part of God’s wilderness, and the river flowing through the middle of the city of God, recognizing God’s presence in the waters of all of creation. Today, before the service, we asked Dr. Powell, our district superintendent to do a special house blessing of this house of God – just like I do when I go to one of your houses.
Connecting our sanctuary with the river, the wilderness, the forest, and the land symbolizes God’s home address in all those places as well as ours. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “God can drop a ladder absolutely anywhere.” There are many, many gateways to God’s home address. God is at home in all of them.
When we think about where we have encountered the living God, many of us would name churches. But, we make a mistake if we restrict our search for God only to those formal houses of God at certain times of the week. God is in our homes. God is at our work. God is in our schools, our cars, our theaters, our parks, and our communities, known by many names.
Today, especially, we remember that God is with our ancestors. So many cultures recognize this fact in worship and in their cultural traditions. Our ancestors are with us and God is with them in us. A great cloud of witnesses surrounds us whenever we worship, wherever we pray, and that is God’s home address. We can hardly imagine this address. There is certainly mystery to it.
We feel it today as we name their names and celebrate their lives. We know that none of them were 100% saint, just as none of us are and yet God is with them and God is with us. We are not alone.
This is God’s good news. For our communion hymn this morning, we’re going to sing a song that I will forever associate with Stephanie Carter of blessed memory. We sang it with her and for her in the healing services we had here this year. As we sing, we will receive our offering for the morning.
Our communion offering this morning goes to the Central District project for this year – the building of a new home for God in North Philadelphia, Midtown Parish UMC.

Communion hymn 3108 Tradin’ My Sorrows