July 19, 2020

“Sacred”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Isaiah 44.6-8

Genesis 28.10-29a

July 19, 2020

Rev. Emily Heath, a minister in New Hampshire, tells a story of going out to eat with some friends at a breakfast buffet. She hadn’t seen these friends in a long time and more and more friends gathered, so they continued to push tables together. They were loud, laughing, and having a good time.

After an hour of eating and talking, they noticed the waitress clearing the table tucked in the corner next to them. The waitress asked if Heath and her friends had seen the person who had been sitting at that table, but Heath and others shook their heads. “It was Aretha Franklin,” the waitress told them.

Heath and her friends looked at each other in disbelief. As she wrote, “Surely Aretha Franklin was in this place and we did not know it!”[1]

She is quick to point out that Aretha Franklin is not God but makes the point that we are not always aware of our surroundings. If she could miss Aretha Franklin at the table next to her, surely she could miss God right in front of her, too. How often do we miss God in the places we are at?

Jacob finds God while he is sleeping on a rock in our first scripture passage. Jacob was an interesting character. He is a twin and his brother’s name was Esau. Jacob was grasping Esau’s foot when they were born, and Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of soup.

God had told Rebekah that Esau would serve Jacob. There are many ups and downs to Jacob’s journey. Jacob might not always seem like the model citizen, but he has been chosen for this work.

In the passage we read Jacob is still avoiding his brother.[2] They do eventually reconcile but at this point he is purposely staying away from Esau. Jacob is traveling along, just going until his feet cannot walk anymore.

He didn’t make a reservation at this stone motel – he just walked until exhaustion and found a place to lay down. This place wasn’t already known. There wasn’t a building there marking it as holy, and there weren’t people living in the midst of this wilderness. The space was considered holy only after Jacob’s interaction with God.[3]

Jacob lays down and dreams of this ladder to heaven. Or, maybe it was more like an escalator, continuously going up and down. You’ve probably seen a Jacob’s ladder before – a never-ending flow of rungs. (LADDER)

Some say that the angels or beings going up and down this ladder signified “communication.”[4] God could send a message down to Jacob, and Jacob sent one back to God.

This was a visual to sense how God was speaking to Jacob in the dream. When Jacob wakes up he realizes: “Surely God was in this place!” Jacob was in a simple, every day place. There was nothing there to mark it as holy – no sign pointing to it.

Jacob stacks rocks as a way to show that this was a holy site. The Gaelic term for stacking rocks is a cairn. Cairns are used as a way of keeping track when hiking on a trail – you follow the stacked stones.

It also marks burial spots and holy places. Cairns are also – typically – temporary. In our world we try to create things that last – statues, stones, signs. It marks for the next generation and beyond because we know that we are temporary – but rocks outlive us.

Yet, even the placement of stones do not last forever. We know that rocks are moved, knocked down, and kicked about.

Those of you who receive the daily devotional readings have heard this story I tell of an artist I learned about in seminary. During our senior seminar class we watched a video called Rivers and Tides, about land artist Andy Goldworthy. He would take pieces of nature – like leaves or stones or sticks – and turn it into art.

I remembered a specific instance where he was creating this egg-shaped statue out of small stones. He spent hours placing the stones, knocking them over by accident, and starting again.

He was building this egg-shaped statue on the beach, and he was trying to beat time and the tide. I don’t remember if he finished the statue or not – I remembered that even if he did complete it, the statue no longer stands.

At the time I remember thinking how odd it was that someone would create art that nobody would ever see – that might not even exist in ten minutes. Though, if art is only art because other people see it and place value on it, maybe we need to examine our definition of art.

The same could be said about Jacob’s holy place. We can guess where that space is and where those rocks are, but even if we never find it, even if no one else ever visited it, it doesn’t make that place any less holy. Jacob did not have to go back to those rocks to experience God again – Jacob could simply remember the ladder and the dream and rest assured that God was with him.

We return to church each week, because it is a holy place, because it is a common space where we can gather at the same time. Yet, as we learned during sheltering in place, we can gather at the same time in our homes and find sacred spaces. We can find sacred spaces each day of the week, everywhere we go.

What makes a space sacred? How do you determine a sacred space? When we remember those sacred spaces, we remember God’s presence and promises and are reassured not to be afraid. We remember where we have been, and where we are going.

In Isaiah the people are told not to fear. They are living in the midst of exile – a time of isolation and strangeness and fear. God tells them not to be afraid, because it will be ok. In the chaos, they are told they will find calm. The world is very strange now. While we aren’t stuck in our homes, we are still limited to where we go and what we do in many ways.

Where have you found God in this journey? Where have you carved out a sacred space? I have found a small sacred space in my backyard, amid my garden and shade and laughter. I have found a sacred space with friends virtually online. These places might always exist, but they may not always be a sacred space.

We have done this before, but I encourage you again to find some rocks this week and stack them in a space that is holy. Recognize why that place has been sacred to you, and give thanks to God. And maybe notice where others have found sacred spaces as well. There are many people right now who cannot find a safe space – a sacred space in our world, and we are called to help create that place of welcome. Amen.

 

[1] Emily Heath, “Living by the Word” in Christian Century, Vol. 137, No. 14, July 1, 2020, p.23.

[2] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: A, (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 365.

[3] Ibid., 366.

[4] RN Whybray, “Genesis” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 56.