top of page

Genesis 28:10-19a

This is one of those ancient texts that is rich with meaning. It has sparked the imagination of poets, artists, and preachers for a millennia. Our passage today is about Jacob, the swindling twin of Esau and son to Isaac and Rebekah. We pick up on his story after Rebekah discovers that Esau is only remaining calm after Jacob stole his blessing by consoling himself that he would kill Jacob after Isaac’s death. So, Rebekah tells Jacob to flee for his life. He was on his flight away from Esau, when he had this unusual experience with God in a dream. Afterward Jacob names the place Bethel, meaning “House of God.”

Somehow this idea of the house of God begs more questions today than ever. This is brought to light during the Covid-19 pandemic. It seems as if church leaders everywhere are wrestling with the question of “What does the house of God look like when the people can’t gather?” For some congregations this is an easier transition into more digital gatherings for a time, yet for many this has been a lonely period. This period stretches our minds, our will, our theology, and our endurance. And this pulling and straining is always most difficult when we weren’t expecting it.

Yet, as the stay-at-home mandate lines begin to blur some church doors are more than ready to swing open, while others even now remain closed. Every faith community exists in its own unique context and hopefully make their own decisions with wisdom. Yet behind much of this dialogue surrounding whether to open the buildings or not lies the age old question, “Where is the house of God?” Thousands of years after Jesus walked the earth might we have created a kind of church body that is perhaps too dependent on four walls with an address? Could a season that has lead us to also “run for our lives” and quarantined us for a time in the wilderness, become exactly the moment we’ve needed to dream new dreams for the church? How might this text invite us to imagine, with fresh eyes, where and what is the house of God? Just as Jacob and Esau reconciled and forged a new future, how might our sufferings become invitations to new life and new visions for the church, rather than an enemy to defeat?

In the story of Jacob’s ladder we learn what sort of places we can rightly call the house of God. Places that are as ordinary as the stone underneath our head. Places where we dream with God. Places where heaven is connected with earth… thin places. Places where God reminds us that He is with us and will keep us wherever we go. Places where God reminds us of His promises and where we are reminded that we are to be a blessing to all the earth.

In John 1 Jesus speaks with Nathanael who was in awe of the Messiah. Similar to Jacob, he had already been with God under the fig tree and not known it. Jesus declares to him, “You will see greater things than that… Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”[1] Jesus associates himself with the ladder that connects heaven to earth. The gate of heaven occurs as Jesus the Christ bridges the divide. It is through Jesus that we ourselves participate in this bringing heaven to earth, in these greater things, and thereby further understand what it means to be the church, the house of God.

The truth is that every place that heaven comes to earth is the place where Christ is. This is the place of God. The church, the hands and feet of Jesus, holds a particular calling to embody that place in all places. We are called to be the active participants in this “laddering.” We pray and participate in the coming of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Perhaps in this global moment of societal displacement the church is afforded a fresh opportunity to claim the places where God had been present the entire time, though the world did not know it. The world will come to see this through the faithful activity of the church.

Surely God is with us in all places, whether we know it or not. How awesome must be all places and every bit of creation as our Holy God is present there.


[1] John 1:50-51 New Revised Standard Version