Sunday, July 19, 2020
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
"Where Is My Bethel?"
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
The song which you just heard, “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place,” so beautifully sung by Leihuanani Bissen, prompts me to begin my meditation today in a more experiential manner. I invite you to imagine yourself walking with me, in silence, as we experience both beauty and memory of various locations on our church grounds. The connection may get a little weak from time-to-time as I move about, but don’t let that get in the way of seeing what you need to see in your mind’s eye. Walk with me. I will say very little on our little journey. Simply notice what comes up for you as we move from place to place.
[Walk to the seawall – overlooking the ocean – pause for a moment of silent reflection.] “Surely the Lord is in this place.”
[Walk through the graveyard/columbarium – pause for a moment of silent reflections.] “Surely the Lord is in this place.”
[Walk into the sanctuary – chancel, piano, pews – pause for a moment of silent reflections.] “Surely the Lord is in this place.”
[Walk out to the landing – look up at Haleakalā – pause for a moment of silent reflection.] “Surely the Lord is in this place.”
[Return to the pavilion – pause for a moment of silent reflection.] “Surely the Lord is in this place.”
Our story today from the book of Genesis reveals the continuing saga of Jacob. You will remember in last week’s “cliff-hanger,” he cheated his brother out of his birthright by appealing to his weakness of being famished after working outside all day. But, more than just his birthright, this “trickster” hoodwinked his brother out of his father’s blessing by disguising himself, once again, deceiving the nearly blind Isaac into giving Jacob almost everything while his elder brother Esau is left with next to nothing.
Esau was furious. Jacob had to run for his life. He fled – birthright and blessing in hand – now a fugitive in search of a wife and a purpose for living. Heading toward his Uncle Laban’s house for protection, he fell, exhausted in the wilderness, taking a stone for a pillow as he slept. It was there – in that “in-between place” – estranged from that which he previously called home and heading toward an unknown destination – God choose to reveal God Self to him in a dream.
The dream was of a ladder with angels (God’s messengers) ascending and descending on this place that spanned the distance between heaven and earth. In the dream Jacob experienced the presence of God – an experience so profound that when he awoke he exclaimed what many of us have sensed from time to time right here at Keawala`i, “Surely the of the Lord is in this place.” But he continued – and admitted something I would like us to ponder for our own lives. Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it.”
As the story continues, we are told, he was afraid and exclaimed, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” And he called the place Bethel – which means “house of God.” [Pause]
I know how hard these past 4 months have been for many of us because of our inability to gather together in our sacred space of worship. You probably NEVER imagined yourself worshipping at home, in front of your computers, tablets, or phones. And, I venture to guess, most had never heard of a Zoom meeting before Covid arrived, but here we are. We long to gather. We long to hug. We long to sing hymns and break bread together. We long to do so much that science tells us now is downright dangerous. It may feel a little like we have been robbed of our birthright – our blessing – and, like Esau, we want to get rid or kill that which has stolen it from us. Perhaps, we surmise, if we just get rid of this darn virus we will get back that which is rightfully ours.
But, I invite you today to look at all this just a little differently. Let’s hit pause for a moment. Still your hearts and minds and take a deep breath. I don’t like where things are at present either – BUT – I wonder what God might be longing for us to notice in this challenging moment? Perhaps God’s presence where we least expect it.
It’s pretty hard to miss the presence of God in THIS place. Our surroundings are, indeed, awesome – filled with the overwhelming grace of natural beauty that can only be found here – AND – a sanctuary that has become our spiritual home – chocked full of wonderful memories. But what about God’s presence in the more mundane spaces and places in your life?
Recall, once again, where Jacob was at this point in HIS life. He was scared. He was running for his life. He had no one – no place to call home – and no family or ‘ohana to give him support. He had done something despicable in lying to his father and cheating his brother out of that which rightfully belonged to him – and yet – and yet – God still met him – right there in his moment of utter despair – in the wilderness! God revealed God’s Self to him in a dream which reassured him that he was not alone. In fact, he was in a thin place – and it became a sacred place – where the veil between heaven and earth was so transparent all you needed was a good extension ladder to receive God’s blessing.
The point being, while beautiful spaces like the ones that surround me right here at Keawala`i, offer incredible means to sense Holy Presence – I believe God can work with anything – any situation – any circumstance. All God needs is a vulnerable spirit – an open presence – a yielding on our part. God’s invitation to us is simply to notice God desperately trying to get our attention and longing to bless us wherever we are on the journey of life. God wants to meet you at your “Bethel” no matter where that might be. And God wants to do that today.
You can walk the grounds of this beautiful church any day – or in your imagination – but your Bethel – your gateway to heaven can be anywhere. I encourage you – this week – to deepen your awareness of the God’s presence that is all around you – sometimes appearing in the most surprising places.
Where is God revealing God’s Self to you? Where is your Bethel? It can be anywhere. You don’t want to miss it.