Readings for Proper 10(15) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 20 July 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 10A/Ordinary 15A/Pentecost +10 July 202008 Textweek

Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Genesis gives us the story of Jacob’s ladder, or the Led Zepplin version, ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It says in verse 12, ‘And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.’ It’s a story that illustrates the movement between heaven and earth, between Divinity and humanity. Verse 13: ‘And the LORD stood beside him’. It’s a Christological story, a narrative of incarnation; ‘the Lord he came down to earth from heaven’ – that reminds me of Christmas. It is a Christmas story in Genesis; it predates the Christ’s nativity. What we find in verse 13 and 14 is the divine promise that’s reiterated in the nativity, that’s reiterated through Christ. ‘And the LORD stood beside him and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.’ When the Divine is incarnate, enfleshed, standing next to us, the future, the inheritance is ensured, and abundance is promised and realised, for ‘all the families of the earth shall be blessed’. To read this story as a literal promise to one man called Jacob, naming only his offspring as a chosen race in a land that they shall forever own, is an amazingly narrow-minded distortion. It’s a distortion that is only paralleled centuries later by the reading of the nativity and the Passion of Christ as also being about one man and one group of people.

We need to come out of the dream like Jacob, in verse 16: ‘Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." For Jacob the penny drops, there is enlightenment, realised incarnation, knowing the Lord stands with me: the house of God, the divine dwelling place is here. The gate of heaven, eternal life is here. When and where will we, like Jacob, name our place ‘Beth-el’, the dwelling place of God, the gate of heaven?

In his letter to the Romans Paul is also talking of the stairway to heaven, the movement and the realization of Divinity in humanity. Paul speaks in terms of orientation, orientation to the flesh, i.e. to the small ‘s’ self, that is only in the world, and he speaks of orientation to the spirit, to the large ‘s’ Self that knows the Divine within. In verse 14, ‘all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’. Why don’t we get this? Just go to the next verse - because Paul again has wrestled with exactly the same - and what we hear in verse 15 is ‘fear’, fear is the spirit of slavery. When we fall into fear we lose sight of the spirit of adoption; we lose sight that the Divine is birthed within. Paul has the same insight of awakening that’s revealed in the Jacob story. Verses 16 and 17, ‘we are children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ’. It’s an awakening from worshipping or dreaming Christ, to realising ourselves in Christ. Paul gets that awakening; just like Jacob, Paul sees the world differently when he awakens to the calling to be children of God and knowing the Divine within. The answer to global warming is a realisation of who we are; the answer is not a technological problem to be solved, it’s actually about finding who we are, for then, as it says in verse 21, ‘the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay’. We, each of us, must find our freedom from our bondage to decay, realise ourselves as children of God.

The Gospel I think picks up exactly the same dynamic but this time in the language of parable. And it finishes with a stunning play on words that probably only happens in the English: ‘Let anyone with ears listen’. Remember the parable, is it talking about ears or ears of wheat? Let anyone with ears listen. The weeds and the wheat - it’s not an ‘us and them’ story. Weeds bear the fruit of the ground unprocessed, giving of no goodness other than to the procreation of self; wheat is the basis of bread, a symbol of divine presence, a symbol of sustenance the basis of communion and of companions, bread-sharers. It’s easy to appreciate how the early flat-earth theologians created a picture and a theology of heaven and hell; it’s easy to see how they translated it into an 'us and them' division, a distortion of texts, that perpetuates the spirit of slavery and holds us in fear. The current Lambeth Conference is conducted in that very climate, in that very paradigm. But isn’t it - after reading the texts this morning - isn’t it just as easy to appreciate the breadth and the depth that these life-giving texts have. Bring the images out of the Sunday school, into the reality of life.

The promise of tomorrow, the gift of God, the feeding that we receive in communion has an orientation, it’s an orientation towards realisation. We come not to worship Jesus, a man of the past, we come to realize ourselves as joint heirs with Christ. May we know ourselves and each other as children of God.

Peter Humphris