Genesis 28: 10-22a; Romans 8: 26-39
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
July 30, 2017
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He 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.
Then Jacob woke 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.’
So 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. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.’ - Genesis 28: 10-22a
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8: 26-39
Jacob was a man whose mind and body stayed in motion looking for the next opportunity. Last week we learned he deceived his father Isaac and stole his brother Esau’s birthright. The whole fiasco resulted in great hardship that weighed heavily upon Jacob’s family and upon his own shoulders.
Jacob followed his mother Rebekah’s instructions to leave their home until Esau’s fury had turned. He was now on the move towards Haran to stay with his uncle’s family. Jacob began to put some distance between himself and the family chaos behind him. He was all alone. He came to a certain place, rested his head on a rock, and settled in for the night.
As Jacob’s story continues to unfold, it reveals something important about God’s character. God chooses to work through unexpected people and unlikely situations to bring about God’s purposes.
As Jacob slept, God seized the opportunity to grab Jacob’s attention with a dream. Jacob was mesmerized by the stairway to heaven. It kept Jacob’s mind focused to listen to God’s plans for his life. God stood beside Jacob and claimed Jacob had a purpose in God’s plans.
God claimed Jacob with the same promise which began with his grandfather Abraham: land, countless offspring, and every generation going forward would be blessed by God through Jacob.
But then God said something amazing. God said, “I will keep you, I will bring you back, I will not leave you until I have accomplished my purposes in you” (Genesis 28:15).
God was saying that from now on, Jacob did not need to climb upon the backs of others to grab the next opportunity. Jacob was not to solely live for himself. From now on God had Jacob’s back. Jacob only needed to climb God’s steady and faithful support to overcome any obstacle, conflict, or hardship o reach God’s promises.
Jacob was completely surprised by God in the dream. More importantly he was moved to respond by the encounter. Jacob said, “If God will be with me and will provide so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God” (Genesis 28:20-21). Jacob even went as far as marking his God sighting. He anointed the stone from that very place in order to tell his story to others. Jacob’s story would be one of the many ways future generations would be blessed through him.
Jacob’s words echo another man’s response to God; the Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about God working through hardship and conflict. Half of the New Testament is filled with Paul’s writings about hardship from personal experiences and from his church flocks. “If God is for us, who is against us? We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8: 31, 28).
Cherie and Larry Steele are like family for many here and within the Van Wyck community. They have endured many ups and downs in life just like every family. Their daughter Shannon was recently asked to share her story. You see a childhood friend was inspired by Shannon’s story of enduring hardship. Her life was also impacted and changed by it.
Months turned into years as Shannon endured treatments from that young age and on into high school. The hardest part of Shannon’s journey was trying to reconcile feeling different than other kids her age. Cancer was isolating and it brought about an inner conflict that deceived Shannon to feel that she would never be enough; it stole Shannon’s self-worth.
But Shannon kept going. The love and support of her family kept her going. Her parents, Larry and Cherie, felt God’s love and provision and that kind of faith support kept their family going.
Throughout her health struggles Shannon kept climbing into the saddle to horseback ride. The family’s horse farm was like a sanctuary for her. As Shannon shared her story with me, this is the place where I see God seized the opportunity to do something amazing in her life to bring about God’s purposes.
Shannon’s horses were a tremendous source of healing. She went on to travel and ride competitively as an accomplished rider. Shannon also said, “There’s nothing more empowering for a young girl who feels less than or not enough to [sit in the saddle] and control a 1,000 pound animal. When you get down you feel like you can handle the world.”
Shannon is now in her forties. She no longer rides competitively but she trains young riders and she loves empowering her clients to discover new found strengths, talents, and self- confidence.
Shannon looks back on her life and sees there has been a greater purpose. Her experiences and struggles have shaped her to become more patient with herself and more compassionate towards others who endure hardships in life. She sees God has put certain people in her life so that she can encourage them even as God has worked through many to encouraged her.
Shannon also shared that faith has been a foundation in the face of fear. After years of silence, today Shannon lifts her voice to tell others what her personal story has taught her:
“Do not let fear be the narrator of your life story. Don’t let your struggles tell you that you are not enough. When you share your story do not apologize for who you are. The point of life is to live so if you are doing anything less than that, you are wasting time and I don't want to waste anymore time.”
Consider the place where you are standing in your life today. Our struggles can easily leave us feeling caught between a rock and a hard place. The twists and turns of life are unpredictable and we might not know how or when to take the next right step towards a place of certainty, a place of healing, a place of reconciliation and peace.
God’s greatest desire is to free us of our fears and insecurities so that we will trust that God has our back. As we grow in our trust of God, faith helps us to focus on God just as the stairway to heaven helped Jacob focus on God. Faith helps us to see hardships, distress, and conflict in a new way.
These hard places in life are not an end but become an opportunity to see God’s power at work. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and empowers us to keep climbing in the support of God’s strength. God says, “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye on you” (Psalm 32:8).
Don’t let life’s struggles deceive you to feel less than others. The truth is that our struggles are stepping stones to see God how big our God is. Every step we take is in God’s faithfulness.
When we take steps to overcome our struggles, our strength comes from Christ. We have the hope to overcome because Christ has overcome for us on the cross. This gift of faith says that we are more than conquerors. We are more than our struggles because nothing in all the world can compare to knowing the love of God in Jesus Christ.
We are embraced by a love that will never let us go. We are loved by an amazing Savior who will always be beside us. God’s Spirit will use our broken pieces and our stories to peace you and me and the world back together as the Spirit intercedes for us. God will never leave us until God has done what God has promised.
The stories of Jacob, Paul, and Shannon tell us to keep climbing.
Keep climbing because God has our back.
Keep climbing because if God is for us who can be against us?
Keep climbing because there is no experience that God cannot use to reveal his greater purposes, power, and glory.
That is the kind of support worth clinging to.
In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen.
* artwork entitled, "Jacob's Ladder," by He Qi