Promises on the Journey by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

In Genesis Chapter 28, verses 10-20, Jacob is on his way from Beersheba to Haran. Jacob did not know what he would find in Haran but was willing to make the journey. In Jacob’s dream, we overhear God making an ancestral promise saying, “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac, the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. And your descendants will be as the dust of the earth; in your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

God promises to journey with Jacob, to be with him, wherever he goes, and to bring him back to that land. God also promised him that he would not leave him until he had accomplished what he had spoken to him. Jacob stumbles upon this place and encounters God. In this place, Jacob has access to God and the presence of God. He had God’s assurance that he would not be alone.

When he awakened from the dream, Jacob said, “surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “how awesome is this place. This is the house of God.” Jacob was on his way somewhere. He did not recognize that he was already in the place where God wanted him to be at that moment.

God promises to take him to a place that holds the awesome wonder of God’s grace at home, in community. He recognized that place where he was – was right where God needed him to be at that moment. As human beings, we are bound by time and place. We encounter God, who is boundless in time and place. So even when we are in one place, God has already been there.

Jacob recognized that he had learned something new. He knows something he did not know before, that God would be faithful to him on the journey. On our journey, we are called to be open to learning something that we never learned before.

Jacob made that place a pillar, an altar, a memorial of remembrance because of the promise God made to him. He named the place Bethel, or house of God. This would be a place, where humanity would be assured of God’s divine presence. This place became the hope for the future of a worshipping community. One day, it would eventually be called home. God promised to bring him back to this place – a spiritual place where he would always be at home.

The church is always headed in a certain direction. Our choices determine where we are going and what we will become. If we choose to cling to the old, we will become old. If we choose to die, we will die. If we choose to remain separate and divided, we will remain separate and divided, and the world will pass us by. In dealing with the question of change, we acknowledge that whatever we decide is going to contribute to where we are going. If we decide to remain the same, we will stay the same.

We are challenged to live in uncomfortable places, embracing new behaviors, sharing, and hearing stories, hearing our neighbor’s story, encouraging transformation through a vision for ministry. Whether lay or ordained, we are the body of Christ together in community on this journey. n ordinary journey becomes extraordinary as God initiates the invitation to imagine a new place, a new focus on community within the wider church, to become a new witness, having faith that takes us into unchartered waters.

I love Mom and Pop Staples classic in the African American rhythm and blues genre recorded during the 1970s. “I know a place, ain’t no body crying, ain’t nobody worried, I’ll take you there. Ain’t no smiling faces, lying to the races. Somebody help me now, I’ll take you there.” There is a place on this side of eternity where God’s people are invited to come. This place is a safe haven. This is a place where humanity can be assured of the divine presence. God can use this place as the means for transforming us, God can break through our darkness in this place. This is a place where God’s presence is with us to transform us along the journey. Martin Luther King called it the beloved community. Jesus called this place home when we decide to make our home in him.

I know the journey is tiring but we can get there. Surrounded by fear, we can get there. Frustrated, but we will get there. Inequalities and injustices around us, with uncertainty in our churches, we can still get there. It will be in this new place where we will say, “surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. We travel along this road called church because we know God is with us. When we encounter God on this journey, we travel filled with expectations, not knowing what we will find when we get there but knowing that all will be well.

“Happy Laity Week to all of our lay leaders, volunteers, donors, and members who make this journey possible.”