The Gate of Heaven…or dreams of a stairway

The following message was used on Sunday, July 20, at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka, SD. The scripture was Genesis 28:10-19a and

Matthew 13:24-30. The title in the bulletin was The Gate of Heaven.

This past week James and I took some time to get into the garden to do some weeding. We had three things to clean: the corn, the cabbage and the carrots. James took the first two; well the two rows of corn was just a weed here or there, so it was more like he had one and a half. We have two types of carrots, so technically we each had two long rows to go through. Believe me I understand the story in Matthew about not pulling out the weeds until harvest time because you end up pulling the plants with the weeds most of the time.

In my case, I decided to pull just the tallest and easiest of the weeds. I was after a couple of broadleaf things that I have no idea what they are, but one kind we call pig weed. As I was going along, I kept thinking that I could also pull all of the grass, or as we say crab or quack grass. That worked for a few inches, and then I realized that carrots were also coming out, so I had to drop that plan. For now they are just getting bigger and bigger together, and we are adding water to keep them both going. Hopefully when the carrots are stronger, I can get some of that grass out, but I won’t be holding my breath.

On Friday morning, I spent a few hours selling produce at the local Farmers Market. It wasn’t much, I pulled a few onions, picked a little dill and had some lettuce cleaned up and in bags. I tell myself that it isn’t about the money, and if you saw my prices it isn’t. I keep thinking that I do it because I have the time, and if I get rid of anything, well that is better than having it spoil at home because we don’t use it all.

James tells me not to plant certain items, or at least not so much, but I won’t listen. I love to plant and I love to watch it grow. We don’t eat onions in our house. They make me sick, but this year, I just couldn’t resist buying onion sets. I love how they come up so fast and they are easy to weed and they just look so nice growing in the garden. Well this year, I didn’t buy just one set of onions. I bought one white, one yellow, and one red. We have 300 onions growing in our garden, but we don’t eat them. I took 10 to the sale, and got rid of all of them; we now have 290 to go. Believe me come fall, I will be sharing.

Anyway, there are normally three of us out selling, but on this Friday there were only two. The one missing used to be an extension agent and is pretty savvy on all things of the garden. I and most of the people in town that garden enjoy asking him questions about why this or that happens. In fact on Friday morning, one of my neighbors stopped to see him to ask about why her beets keep having this particular weed problem. She brought some sample with her. It seems that for two years she has not been able to get beets to grow. She plants them, but when they come up, another plant comes with them and wraps around her beets and chokes them. She has rotated her garden and it doesn’t help. She has watched carefully and this weed doesn’t bother any other plant. It was a mystery to those of us there, but made me think that if it is only bothering the beets; somehow it might be in the seed. Hopefully next week the ex-extension agent will be back with some answers.

As this conversation about the beets was playing out, the scripture for today was going through my head. I began to think about the words of Jesus to the disciples. When he explains the parable of the wheat and the weeds, he suggested that someone had planted the weeds in with the wheat. It was a deliberate act. The evil was not random, but on purpose. When you look at the scripture in terms of human believers instead of as a simple garden, you see that it was an act of vandalism in the worst sense of the word. It is an intentional infestation of a group of believers by the powers of evil in order to pull them astray. We could talk all day about the various things, events, concerns of the world that pull us away from the love of God, but the bottom line is that we need to be constant in our walk with God in order to gain the strength we need to withstand the pull of those weeds on our spiritual lives.

Even before the days of the New Testament and the life of Jesus who taught us with parables, Isaac understood the business of weeds and wheat. Isaac understood what pull a non-God fearing wife would have on his sons. And some of that understanding probably came from him knowing the Hittite women that Esau had already married. Although if we read the passage carefully, it is Rebekah who tells Isaac she can’t handle it if another of her sons marries a woman like the ones Esau married. We know that Isaac like his father must have realized what would happen to this people, this great nation that God has promised Abraham and Isaac and now Jacob to be the Fathers of if there is a female who does not believe in the one true God.

We read so many times in the Old Testament where God or one of the Patriarchal fathers tells his sons not to marry one of the idol worshiping women of the area. It wasn’t just a rule for the sake of having a rule; it was a protection to keep them from being led astray. It is a rule like not planting weeds in your field of wheat.

So with all of this in mind and Rebekah’s push behind them both, Isaac gives Jacob his final blessing and tells Jacob he must return to the place where his mother grew up to find himself a wife. Isaac, unlike his father Abraham, did not send a servant to find the woman, Isaac sends Jacob on his own journey to find his own wife. And this is probably for his own protection and related to the part about Esau being really upset, which we did not read between last week and this week.

It is the story about the deception that Jacob and Rebekah pulled, that good, obedient Rebekah, who we talked about two weeks ago. Well she grew up, and she helped Jacob deceive his father Isaac into giving Jacob the blessings of the birthright that belonged to oldest brother Esau, but was sold to Jacob in the passage we read last week. If we had only read the part that was skipped, we might want to judge Jacob and Rebekah, but since we only read the selling of the birthright and today’s passage, I guess, we might have to use my youngest sister’s favorite saying and just go with, “It is what it is.”

And now our story in Genesis finds Jacob all alone on a journey to the country where his mother grew up. To her brother’s family to find himself a wife. It doesn’t mention anything about him being accompanied by servants or a group of travelers like the servant that was sent by Abraham to find a wife for Isaac. No, just the opposite, it tells us that Jacob is all alone basically in the middle of nowhere without any form of shelter or bedding or anything, and he finds a rock and lays down to sleep.

Biblical scholars have researched and found this was the same place where Abraham built an alter to God years earlier.  Jacob after the dream he has, calls it “an awesome” place. It is where God came to Jacob and stood beside him and spoke to him about his future, and the future of generations to come, and not just the people that would be his descendants, but us, too. Yet if we would look at the spot geographically in the times of Jacob, we would realize it is in the middle of nowhere. It is a spot out in the open. It is a place that is really no place. And Jacob except for the blessing received from his father is sort of a no one. He has cheated his brother and is essentially running away from home. He is in a place between here and there, but God comes to him. God lets Jacob know that he is important and necessary and that there is a place for him, an important place for him in the grand scheme of things.

God came to Jacob in an unexpected place, in an unexpected time. Jacob was at the gate of heaven, asleep, dreaming of the angels going up and down a ladder or stairway as it were, but God was talking to him, calling to him about what his future would be. God didn’t come because Jacob had been perfect; God came in spite of the fact that he wasn’t perfect. God came because he had a task for Jacob. And that is how God also comes to us. God needs us to do his work in the place where we are. He doesn’t ask us to be perfect in order to fulfill his duties, he just asks us to do them. He knows that the garden isn’t weed free, but he still is looking for the good harvest.

May we allow ourselves to be that harvest and to assist with that harvest in whatever way we can. Amen!

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