Old Testament: Genesis (28:10-19a)
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 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. 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. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.
The Response: Psalm (139:1-11, 22-23)
1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
6 Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
where can I flee from your presence?
7 If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8 If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9 Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.
10 If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, *
and the light around me turn to night,”
11 Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day; *
darkness and light to you are both alike.
22 Search me out, O God, and know my heart; *
try me and know my restless thoughts.
23 Look well whether there be any wickedness in me *
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
The Epistle: Romans (8:12-25)
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
The Gospel: Matthew (13:24-30, 36-43)
Another parable Jesus put before the crowds saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
According to the distinguished American philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Having a destination, having a goal, knowing, at least in a general way, what is critical for you and where you want to go in life is important. It brings a sense of purpose to daily living, and it keeps you from wasting priceless time and effort in pursuit of things that can never bring happiness and fulfilment. To paraphrase Thomas’ question to Jesus, “If we don’t know where we are going, how can we know the way?”
Knowing where we want to go is important, and so is knowing where we’ve been, where we started. We need to have a realistic sense both of where we have come from and of where we someday hope to be.
But sometimes we can get so focused on beginnings and endings that we miss out on the 99% of life that comes in between the two. We miss out on the journey itself.
Some people seem always to be looking to the past: to what used to be, or at least to an idealized version of what used to be. For them nothing will ever be as good as what they hold in their memory or imagination. But, as the old definition warns us, “Nostalgia is a longing to return to a time that never was.”
Others are always looking to the future: to what might be some day, or at least to what they imagine might be. What they visualize might well be just as unrealistic as the imaginings of those who live in the past. Their approach, like the first, provides them with a means to escape reality and to live in a fantasy world of their own making.
What both groups share in common is an avoidance of living in the present, of appreciating and treasuring and enjoying life as it is now. They rob themselves of the opportunity to see the gift that today, and each day, can be to us, because they are always looking somewhere else. But “somewhere else” is not where God meets us and touches our lives, and so it is not where we can find genuine happiness and fulfillment and life. God is present in the journey itself.
In today’s first reading, we continue the saga of Jacob; only, this time, he is a fugitive. Because of his despicable behavior and his betrayal of his father’s and brother’s trust, he finds himself alone, far from home, somewhere between what was and what might be. He’s somewhere out in a barren wilderness, with no one and nothing in sight. The place where he stops to spend a lonely and frightening night isn’t even named until the end of the story. He is literally and figuratively in the middle of nowhere. He is, as the expression puts it, in a “God-forsaken place.” Yet it is there that he has the first of his two dramatic encounters with God. To use Walter
Brueggemann’s expression (Genesis, page 242), “a ‘non-place’ is transformed by the coming of God into a crucial place.”
During the course of Jacob’s long journey, internal as well as external, he would come face to face with God and face to face with himself and with what he had done. And that awakening would come at unexpected times and in unexpected places. At the end of today’s narrative, he names the place where he had experienced God’s presence and promise “Bethel”: a name that means “House of God.” But notice that, according to the story, this was not any sort of shrine or sacred place; that would have provided a convenient explanation of why God had appeared to him there. Just the opposite: this was no-place. But Jacob discovered that God was present even there, and God’s presence made that no-place a sacred place.
Where are the ordinary, not-terribly special, “no-places” in our lives? Are they the places that we take for granted: those where we work, in school, at the grocery, walking around our neighborhoods, or in times that we spend in our homes, talking on the phone with someone who can no longer easily leave his or her home? Could these be places where we might just encounter God, if we allow ourselves to be open to recognizing the experience? Is God there, waiting to touch our lives in some positive way through these ordinary experiences and in these ordinary places, maybe through something that a friend or a complete stranger does or says to us?
But of course we are called to be much more than just the recipients of God’s healing and life-giving presence. We are called also to be a people through whom God touches and brings new life and hope into the lives of others. Where are the opportunities that are available to us to touch people’s lives in a positive way, not in some imaginary act of heroism or in some fantasy missionary effort, but in those ordinary times and places in our lives: at work, in school, in our neighborhoods, in our wider community?
There are obviously many people who, whether they recognize it or not, whether they are willing to admit it or not, are hungering for someone to listen, someone to accept them, someone to take the time to share seemingly ordinary human kindness and understanding with them. Ultimately, they are longing for God. Some of them are innocent victims of their circumstances in life. But some of them have brought their problems on themselves. They clearly are responsible for the situation in which they find themselves. But then, so was Jacob; and that didn’t stop God from reaching out to him in that no-place, making it a crucial-place, a sacred place. And it can’t stop us either.
Yes, we certainly need to be aware of where we have come from in life and, at least in a general way, where we want to go. But the most important place for us to come to recognize and experience the power of God working in our lives is today. And the most important places for us to bring God’s presence and power and love into the lives of others are the ordinary places in which they and we spend our lives. And if we are willing to open ourselves up to that presence and to those possibilities, we might well be amazed to find along with Jacob that “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” And even a seemingly ordinary place in our lives might just turn out to be Bethel: a house of God.