God’s Dreams for Us
Genesis 28: 10-19, Ephesians 2:14-21
Watonga Indian Baptist Church
Have you ever found yourself in a position where you were confused, without direction or without prospects on the horizon for a better future?
Maybe such was a time in your life when you lost a job, fell into a conflict with a family member, or even didn’t know where your next meal came from?
Maybe it was a time when a beloved family member died? Or when one of your children was terribly sick?
Or maybe even when someone sought to speak authoritatively to you without any concern for your best interest?
I bet we could all say yes to this question—that sometime in our life, if not right now we’ve reached moments when all we wanted to do was sit in the floor and cry or just run away from everything familiar to us or even drown our sorrows in too much sleep or alcohol—because life has just felt that bad.
God, it has seemed has not been present in our lives in a way that speaks to our heart. We feel alone, abandoned, and are wandering aimlessly through our days.
So with all of this true, I tell you, you’ll like the main character in our Old Testament story today: Jacob. Jacob as we meet him in Genesis 28, is not the exalted son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, the great patriarchs of the people of Israel. He’s not in a place of greatness simply because of who his family is or because he got a huge inheritance of wealth.
No, rather, we find Jacob down and out. We find that he’s was forced to leave his land, his home, his family and we find him as verse 11 tells us in “no particular place.”
We find that Jacob is no the run without real plans for the future, alone, and without any creature comfort for protection.
In fact, if we read earlier in the story, we know that Jacob is on the hit list of his brother Esau. After Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, tricked her husband into giving Jacob, her younger son the blessing usually reserved for the oldest son, Jacob’s brother Esau is angry.
Esau says he wants Jacob dead. Rebekah, being the smart woman that she is (I know like so many of the women in this room this morning) creates a plan whereby Jacob’s father thinks it is in the best interest of Jacob to send him away for a while. (The excuse being that he needed to find a wife in the region of the country where Rebekah’s people are from).
So, with father Isaac on board with the “go find a wife in another region” plan, Jacob is sent away. No one asked Jacob if he wanted to go. He was told to go.
But, while some young adults might have loved this plan, we don’t get the idea from Jacob that he’s too excited about it. For, we know he’s never been away from home before. He’s never been on a route to the destination of Hebron before. This journey out into the great unknown was full of a lot of firsts.
But, even though from the outside this just seems like a secular story about a family drama—God is still present.
God had not forgotten the promise He’d made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham.
God had not forgotten about Jacob.
God had not forgotten his love for Jacob.
So, as Jacob takes shelter for the night in what I can imagine was an open field (not much shelter really at all) laying his head on a rock for a pillow, scripture tells us that God speaks to him.
Not as God had done before through a voice or through the presence of messengers, but through a dream.
And in this dream, scripture tells us that Jacob sees a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching toward heaven.
As an aside it’s this juncture in scripture is where the song, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder” comes from. Anyone ever sang or heard of this song before? I had to look up the words—all I knew was the first line. But if you look them us too, beware: it really has nothing to do with this story.
But it wasn’t really a ladder Jacob sees. More like a ramp. For a popular part of the religious culture of Jacob’s time was the idea of ziggurats—artificial mountains built as shrines, shrines that connected things of on the earth to higher things of heaven.
We aren’t told that Jacob gets access to heaven on this ramp. Instead it serves as a sign that God comes to dwell with Jacob—to be with him where he was. Right there in the middle of nowhere.
It was an image of God saying to Jacob—“Look, you are not alone. I am with you, even here in this remote place.”
But even more than this, I believe, God is inviting Jacob to see the world as God views it, to dream alongside God.
In verse 13, my Bible reads—“there above it (meaning the ladder) stood the Lord” but many translations of this verse actually read, “There beside him.” I really want to lean into the second interpretation—that as God begins to speak directly to Jacob he is not standing over him, but standing beside him—coming close to his heart.
And saying these words: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out like the west and the east, to the north and to the south. All people on earth will be blessed.”
What powerful words! Not only was God saying to Jacob in his moment of crisis: “I see you!” but God was also making unconditional promises to him about the future of his people.
“I’m going to bless you,” God says, “No matter what. No matter how much you screw up. No matter how far you stray from me. No matter how people treat you. Or how lost you feel. I’m going to bless you.”
It was an invitation for Jacob to come and see the world as God already saw it—full of possibility, full of promise, full of hope, even when the circumstances of Jacob’s life seemed like nothing good could possibility come from them.
This past week, Kevin, my husband and I spent several days meeting with, assisting with feeding programs and shoe distributions for children in Guatemala. All of this was part of Kevin’s work for an organization based out of Oklahoma City called Feed The Children and I was just along for the ride.
One of my favorite communities we visited was in the region of Guatemala known as San Antonio Polopa among a traditional Mayan culture. Though the community struggles with having enough provisions of food and clean water and proper supplies for their children to go to school with and had every reason to shun us as “outsiders” Kevin and I, along with the rest of the team from Feed The Children were overwhelmed by the kind welcome we received. I even got a Mayan makeover while I was there, with traditional dress given to me and put on me (I can show you pictures after the service if you are interested).
But, as Kevin spoke to this group before we all ate together, as he had done many times before with different groups, he said something that struck me (especially as I had this passage of scripture on my mind). Kevin told the group of mothers and children gathered around us: “We are here today to stand in solidarity with you. Though we come from a different country, a different culture and from a different background, there is one thing we hold in common. And that is all parents want the same thing for their children. All parents want a better life for their children than they had themselves.”
And the Mayan mothers seemed to agree, as maybe the mothers in this room here in Watonga agree too. It’s only natural as Parents to dream big for your children.
You want your children to grow up and succeed at whatever they do—having better days than you ever experienced, making more money than you ever did, and living in a more comfortable living space than you. It’s part of what makes us human, to have this desire.
But, what about God, have you ever thought about what God dreams for you?
If we say that God is our Heavenly Father or Heavenly Mother . . . if we believe that God in heaven is the great Parent of us all, then what are God’s dreams for us? When God thinks about our future, what comes to God’s mind?
Taking our cues from Jacob this morning, we see that there are no limits to what God has planned for our future.
Consider again with me the language of verse 14 of Genesis chapter 28.
The LORD said to Jacob, “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth.”
Being called “dust” doesn’t sound too bad does it? Dust is everywhere. Dust is a part of all places. Dust is the very essence of life.
But, there’s more. One Biblical commentator on this passage calls our attention to the fact that the original Hebrew word for dust was not just an generic word for dust, rather it was more like the English word “topsoil.”
Topsoil, as we know from our gardening is the best kind of soil. It’s the soil that is full of the nutrients. It’s the soil that ensures the crops’ success. It’s the soil full of the rich ingredients that the plants need within them to help them grow strong and tall. And with out the topsoil our hopes of a rich harvest are ruined.
Thus, God is telling Jacob in speaking of topsoil: “I have a dream for you. My dream is not just that you’ll have a good home. Or, that you’ll have kids one day of your own. Or that happiness will find you more than sadness does. But, rather, my dream is that you’ll be a life-restoring, life-giving pillar wherever you go. That your community will be blessed because of YOU bringing MY presence to it., the riches gift of all.”
I believe this is exactly what the apostle Paul is talking about when he writes to the church at Ephesus about God’s dreams for their lives. Saying that he prays regularly for the Ephesians, “That Christ may dwell in [their] hearts through faith. And [Paul] prays that [they] being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with the saints, to grasp how wide and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ.”
Paul wants them to know that God’s dreams for the people of this world are in fact so big that we could not even wrap our minds around them if we tried. Why? Because we serve a God, as Paul writes that is “able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask for or imagine.”
Unimaginable dreams—that’s bigger than any of us know how to speak about!
I tell you today that is hard to keep dreaming like this. It’s hard to dream at all sometimes. It’s hard to dream the more that life has beaten us down, shredded our attempted contributions to pieces. It’s hard to dream when all we want to do is throw up our hands in disbelief of the suffering that has found us in this life.
But we are called to keep dreaming, nonetheless.
The poet Langston Hughes that I like very much says this about dreams: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is broken winged bird that can’t fly.”
As people of faith, as people who are in relationship with the God of all living things, we can’t give up hope. We can’t give up dreaming. We have to allow room in our hearts to received God’s unexpected surprises of dreams in our sleep, of visions in the daytime, of words of instruction from wise ones in our community.
I am so glad I serve a God who has a plan for me, along with every living creature on this earth.
I’m so glad I serve a God who wants a brighter future not only for the children but for all of us older ones as well.
I’m so glad I serve a God who helps give me vision when I feel lost, alone or without the courage to keep dreaming anew.
I’m so glad God’s dream for all of us flow out of great love-- love that is wider and longer and higher and deeper than I could ever conceive on my own.
Let’s us pledge together again on this day to invite the power of the Holy to teach us to dream anew.
Let’s dream together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us dream together as children of father Jacob.
Let us on this special day of family celebration thank God that God’s dream for us our families are not over. But with God with us, the best is yet to be!