An August ago, Steve and I spent some of our anniversary time away hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains. After having enjoyed three presidential homes in Virginia, we were ready for a different day. We read about Crabtree Falls – the tallest waterfall east the Mississippi, with a 1,000-foot drop. So, we set off to see this sight. Hiking straight up, we chatted and commented on the trail. When all of the sudden, we began to see stacks of rocks all around us.
It was eerie. These piles of rocks that seem to mark the trail as we walked closer and closer to the falls – we could begin to hear the rushing water. Perhaps, you have heard a cairn or an ebenezer. These are piles or stacks of rocks intended to memorialize or denote a special place. This tradition dates back to the biblical times. This is what Jacob did as he set stone upon stone and gave thanks. His voice is recorded as giving thanks and making a vow that he will give a tithe, one tenth of what he has to God.
Let’s rewind here. You and I have met Jacob recently as the usurper of blessings. Grandson of Abraham, Jacob was delivered into the world holding the heel of his brother Esau. And he did not stop trying to keep up with his brother. Every time Esau was slotted to get the family birthright or blessing, Jacob found a way to make sure it landed on him, even if it meant dressing up like his brother.
Jacob wanted what his brother was being offered at every turn. Can you begin to imagine the riff building between the two brothers and the conflicts latent in their every interaction? Jacob heads out, on the strength of his mother, Rebekah’s urging. She sends Jacob out to find a wife, but also, so that one son will not kill the other. Jacob leaves heading for safety on the homestead of his mother’s brother, Laban. But the trek is long and he stops to rest with a stone under his head for a pillow. Even his rest is filed with dreams and the word and presence of God. Jacob’s ladder!
His dream illustrates a world connection between earth and heaven. He imagines, in his dreams, that God is moving between his life on the run and God’s ultimate plan and vision for his life. God gifts Jacob this dream. Jacob’s stairway to heaven is about grace. A fugitive on the run. A broken family. God promises to be with Jacob always! Grace abounds!
Jacob cannot help but mark the spot, the place where he met God. Jacob will tell the story for generations to come. When Jacob was on the run, God met him in his dreams and promised to be with him. God has kept that promise.
Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not even know it – Jacob says. As we are running from the brokenness in our own lives, God joins us in the same promise. As Jacob was running from his broken, he found God constant and moving in his life! His surprise is palpable. As a fellow dreamer, I can imagine the certainty with which Jacob woke from his dream ready to share his encounter with God with all. He could not help but tell others!
As we talk about stewardship in this series within a series, you might find yourself wondering how you would steward your witness. How is it that God calls you to give your witness? Where should you be shining your light in the darkness? Have you been too stingy with your witness?
Stewardship is not just financial gifts. How we talk about God, our witness is part of our stewardship. Have you invited someone to come to church? Have you invited a family member to the pancake breakfast or a family in your neighborhood to trunk or treat or a friend to see the Case for Christ? This, too, is living out our witness.
For too long, we have only imagined witness in one way. We have imagined that if you were not knocking on the door of those you never met, asking them where they were going to be when they died, they you were not witnessing. In that narrow definition, we missed that the most effective witness is day in and day out. It is every time you respond well to a hard situation and your coworker wants to know how. It is every time you keep your cool, and your cousin wants to know what changed from when you were a kid.
One does not light a lamp and put it under a bushel. One does not hope to live for Christ and pray no hard times come to pass. Our lives are meant to be lived out loud. Each time that we chose joy over disappointment, we have witnessed to the God of us all. Each time we live purpose over disengagement, we tell people what God is like.
Each hiker who came before us was testifying to future hikers that their gratitude had reached the level of no longer being able to hold it in. The cairn they built lived beyond them in gratitude and witness to how their life was changed. Changed by the beauty of the area, changed by the completion of the peak, changed by something else, all together. The witness of their life being changed could not be held in by their words to one another, it had to be raised.
We, too built an ebenezer there at Crabtree Falls. The waterfall was breathtaking and the trail was incredible. Little caves along the way and overhangs with incredible vistas call to mind great beauty. We could not help but thank God for the day and the experience. Our witness lives beyond ourselves in the cairn as well as the stories and images we tell even now.
Where in your life have you built a cairn? Where are you praising God as you have experienced God’s presence? Where can you not help but point to God’s incredible power and presence? Your witness necessarily affects others. Each time God’s goodness overflows from you, others come to know Jesus.
Our biggest surprise was how many cairns were piled everywhere around the trail. Hundreds of people took time to praise the Creator and celebration the creation. Hundreds of people witnessed to the incredible beauty. Witness was out loud and visible for all to see!
This week, I challenge you to build a cairn. Maybe for you, it is a physical structure like Jacob built, praising God where you have known God’s presence. Maybe for you, it is built of words that you share about when you went from fear to peace while waiting to hear from your loved one in the recent hurricanes. May for you, it is constructed of actions, serving those you love, while praising God in prayer.
On his fugitive journey, Jacob could not help but point to God. In the midst of pain and brokenness, God joined Jacob in dream and nature. God join us, too! Let your witness rise up. Tell everyone about what God has done for you. Show everyone where God has walked beside you. Live every day grateful for God’s goodness and faithfulness!
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 28: 1-2, 10-22
Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him,
‘You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women. Go at once to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father; and take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards 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 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; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying,
‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.’
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 14-16
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, October 8th-Saturday, October 14th
Sunday: “And Jacob 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.” Genesis 28:12. God has also found ways to talk to God’s people. Jacob hear God in a dream. Where are you hearing God and then, witnessing to God’s goodness?
Monday: “Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place— and I did not know it!’” Genesis 28:16. God has a way of surprising us. Look around!
Tuesday: “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God” Genesis 28:20-21. Where have you seen God with you? Where have you known God providing for you? Reflect on those blessings and give your witness for God!
Wednesday: “and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.’” Genesis 28:22. Our witness is our actions. Where are you building visible signs of God’s presence in your life? Where are you giving one tenth to God?
Thursday: “‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.’” Matthew 5: 14. God’s light shines in you to illuminate others. Where are you sharing your light?
Friday: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Matthew 5:15. Sometimes we are nervous or shy. Sometimes we are uncomfortable or unsure. God calls us to live out loud!
Saturday: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16. Let your actions point to Christ!