First United Methodist Church
July 23th, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Dreaming God's Dreams
Helen Keller was asked what would be worse than being born blind. She responded, "To have sight and no vision." One of the essential keys to success in life is a dream, or a vision, something to drive us to greater things. In our scripture reading today, we meet young Jacob, who has been chosen to continue the line of Abraham and receive God’s blessing, but is unable to accept his present circumstances. His possessive mother, Rebekah, schemes with him to take his brother's birthright away, resulting in Esau's wrath beginning to pour out. Before Esau can kill him, Jacob runs away, using the excuse that he has to find a wife in Paddam Aram, where his uncle lives. He doesn’t have a plan for his life. He has swindled Esau out of his birthright, but he still has to deal with a very angry Esau. When he looks at his options, his outlook doesn’t appear very promising. Jacob needs a dream!
When you think about it, this is the same situation most of us find ourselves in. Whether we create our own destiny through poor decision making or whether circumstances beyond our control change our life for us, we end up exactly where our life has led us, and then we are disappointed because where we stand is not where we want to be. Without vision we are only able to see what lies before us today. And so we run away. Like Jacob, we need a vision, or a dream that will lead us in the direction God wants us to go. We need to dream God’s dream.
Today’s passage establishes a covenant between God and Jacob. Jacob is the third link in God’s plan to start a nation from Abraham. But it was not enough to be Abraham’s grandson; Jacob had to establish his own personal relationship with God. He had to become part of the story himself.
And so, Jacob leaves home and heads to Paddam Aram. After running all day, Jacob finds himself alone and exhausted. Using rocks for a pillow, he camps out for the night, never expecting to dream a dream from God. In this setting, he dreams of a stairway going from earth to heaven. Angels are on the staircase and if that were not enough, the God of Abraham is just above the stairway with a message for Jacob. After identifying himself, the Lord promises Jacob that his family will multiply. They will bless other people. They will do great things. This must have been somewhat overwhelming for Jacob considering that he had not yet reached his destination or figured out who his wife was going to be.
But this dream would change Jacob’s life. Because you see, Jacob saw God in his dream, and he heard the Lord’s plan for his life. God has a big dream or plan for the entire human race. In the parable of the weeds, we hear one dream God has for the Kingdom of God. God wants everyone to experience the Kingdom without being weeded out. In other words, we are supposed to share the news of God’s grace and goodness, but we aren’t supposed to dictate who is part of the kingdom and who is not. We have to trust that God will sort out the good from the evil when it is necessary.
What that also means, though, is that we have to live in a world surrounded by both good and evil. When we try to figure out God’s specific plan for our own lives, sometimes we have to accept circumstances and situations that we may not agree or be comfortable with. God challenges us to use the innate talents and gifts we have been graced with and God also challenges us to live the portrait of the kingdom that Jesus reveals to us in the gospels.
In Jacob’s early years he relied too much on his own resources and talents rather than going to God for help. Although his scheming sometimes got him what he wanted, he also had to experience the consequences of his actions. As he grew in his relationship with God, he also grew in his ability to face and overcome the obstacles he encountered.
I would like to say that everything went better for Jacob from that night on, that his act of worship transformed him into a new man. But it wouldn’t be true to the story. He still had a lot to learn, and he frequently found himself in difficult situations.
And I think that this is where Jacob helps us to understand Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, or perhaps Jesus helps us to understand Jacob a little better. Either way, Jesus is challenging us to trust God to deal with the weeds, because can’t always tell what is a weed and what is wheat. Most of us would have tossed Jacob out, because we have trouble being fully supportive of Jacob’s actions. But Jesus tells us to wait and reminds us that we are not equipped to see the depths of anyone’s heart.
I want to point out that Jesus doesn’t say that sin is ok, or that there is no right or wrong. The householder, when told about what has happened, when told that there are weeds in his field, says “an enemy has done this.” He acknowledges evil is still at work in the world and in the minds and hearts of each of us. It is there, and its effects on us can be devastating. But he challenges us to “Let them both grow together.”
That brings us to the second point of this parable: We don’t always know what we are looking at. And the parable tells us that even when we do know, pulling out the weed can do more damage than leaving it alone.
One of the things I ran into with the landscaping at the parsonage was that both the weeds and the things that were supposed to be there were growing uncontrollably. Everything had to be cut back in order for it to look good.
The other clear message of this parable is that ultimate judgment is God’s job and not ours. Christ invites us into a very intimate and loving relationship in which we are equipped to obey God’s commandments: to love God and to love others. We don’t know enough, we can’t love enough, we won’t care enough to judge rightly. It might also be argued that trying to take over God’s job here is the ultimate in lack of faith.
Instead, Jesus calls us to trust that God is still in charge. He calls us to trust that even though it appears that goodness and righteousness and living a life of love is simply a recipe for being taken advantage of in this dog-eat-dog world, God’s way is still a better way to be. God’s way is a more whole, more sustaining, more satisfying way to live.
God’s dream for overcoming sin is that we live a life of righteousness in a public way so that those who have not yet found their way to God can see in us the power of Christ. We don’t just turn our backs on sin; we overpower it; we counteract it with love, not judgment. We transform, even as we are being transformed, through hospitality and grace, not hatred and exclusion. We heal, even as we are being healed, through acceptance and hope, not condemnation and exile. We tend, even as we are tended.
And here’s the amazing part of the story. There will come a time when we will celebrate and embrace the grace that has been poured into us and then came forth from us. Like Jacob, we will stand before that ladder, or stairway, and see God face to face, and we will be overwhelmed with joy. Compounding that joy will be the surprise of seeing who else is standing there with us. Some of whom we might have pulled up and tossed out just might be further along in the journey than we are, and they might smile at us and say, “You know, I once thought you were a weed in God’s Garden and wanted to pull you out. Thanks be to God, I didn’t.” Amen.
Invitation to Discipleship:
May you go forth filled with God’s grace that overflows in compassion and care for your neighbors as we work with God to bring about a new, life-giving reality for all creation. Amen.