August 20, 2023 Sermon: A Certain Place

Rev. Kim Nofel
First & Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
August 20, 2023
Psalm 139: 1-12, 23-24
Genesis 28:10-19a

We are going to do a quick background of Jacob and his, shall we say, “adventurous, somewhat rebellious life.”  As you remember, Jacob has a twin brother, Esau.  And even before they were born, there was strife in their relationship. While pregnant, the Lord revealed to Rebekah that her two sons would not get along.  That the younger son would rule over the older son. During delivery, Jacob grabbed his brother’s heel, so that Esau would not be born first.  It didn’t work, Esau was the first born son of Isaac and Rebekah.  Jacob was the second born.

Now, Esau was dad’s favorite, being an avid hunter.  Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite as he stayed close to home. When they were older, Jacob was cooking the noon meal when Esau came in from the field starving.  “Give me something to eat!”  he cried.  Jacob said, “I will if you give me your birthright.”  Esau agreed because he was hungry. Later, you remember, when Isaac was on his deathbed, Rebekah and Jacob fooled Isaac into giving his final blessing to Jacob instead of to his firstborn son.

So, Esau was furious and plans to kill Jacob for it, once Isaac dies. Rebekah warns him about Esau’s plan and tells him to flee to Haran where her  brother Laban lives until Esau’s wrath is cooled. Jacob flees, after his father instructs him to go as his mother told him, and to marry a woman from our clan instead of the Canaanite women that Esau had married, who were not of our clan. Esau overheard this and that made him even madder.

There is so much drama in Jacob’s life.  And as you remember, we haven’t even touched the surface.

So, now, we find the Jacob of our scripture reading for today:  Jacob is getting the heck out of Dodge.  He has betrayed his brother, not once but twice, stealing his birthright, and their father’s blessing.  But even with these blessings, Jacob is on the run.  He has no home anymore.  He must find his way.  All alone.

Listen again to those first two verses:
28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.
28:11 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.

As we talk through what Jacob is going through, I want you to think about another way God has revealed Godself in scripture:  God is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end – God’s steadfast love brackets all of our history, all of our lives: the good, the bad, the indifferent.

Jacob is on the run from his toxic family situation.  The sibling rivalry which reared its ugly head over and again.  Their parents not hiding their favoritism.  Of course, we know of Jacobs part in all of this, he is not innocent by any means and he knows it.  Of course he is heading for trouble.  When we look at our own struggles that we may face, we sometimes don’t have an answer as to what caused it.  But even when we can point to a cause, it doesn’t help much because we are still in a tough spot.

Jacob seems to be getting what he deserves. And yet, God meets him there and reminds him of the promise which has not gone away, no matter how bad things look for Jacob right now, no matter how badly Jacob has behaved, no matter how lost he may feel.  God is with him in this wilderness and reaffirms the covenant, the promise, that Jacob, this miscreant, will be a blessing.
We are looking at Jacob and thinking, “you had it coming!” God looks at Jacob and says, “I am with you.  I love you.  My promise is still with you.  I’m gonna watch over you and all people will be blessed through you.”

WOW! God says, “Everything you have ever heard about my blessings, everything you have heard about my steadfast love, is true – even when you are on the run – Even when you fear for your life – Even when you are lost without a home –I. Am. With. You. Wherever you are.”

Where you are.  Lets look at where Jacob is.  A Certain Place.  Well, that’s kind of vague.  There is no description.  There is nothing mentioned about how special this landscape was.  No physical explanation about why this place was set apart in any way. Jacob came to “a certain place,” a vague place, could have been anywhere really. But it became an extraordinary place when the presence of God was found there.

Karoline Lewis says she loves this idea of “a certain place.”  We kinda have to go to these certain places, we end up in these certain places.  And God meets us there. What is our “certain place” right now?  Where we wonder if God will meet us?  And not just as individuals, but as a congregation?  Where are the “certain places” that we don’t necessarily think of as “God places.”  But where God meets us anyway?

Joy Moore talks about the fact that Jacob’s certain place was a place that was marked.  Marked as a place where God has shown up.  The passage opens with it just being a certain, vague, ambiguous place along Jacob’s journey, but it ends being marked as a place where God showed up. She talks of the saying that “you don’t make memories.”  You can not plan ahead for great memories, no matter how special an occasion might be.  Rather, you pay attention to moments which need to be remembered.  There’s a big difference.  Because if you are only looking at the big moments, or the big events or the spectacular landscapes in order to find things to remember, you overlook the special moments that happen in between.

Just a certain place, but when God shows up, MARK IT! Remember it.  Rehearse it.  Treasure it.  And build on it. Because we will find ourselves in those transitional times again, and what’s going to keep us going each time is the reminder that the steadfast faithfulness of God has been in each of those times and will continue in and through the next.

28:16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place–and I did not know it!”

Let us pay attention to the times when God shows up.  Let us mark those times.  Those places.  Those people. Where God blesses us with seeing God’s great love for us.  Even those “certain places,” those vague places where we would not necessarily put God, but where God is already there.

Surely the Lord is in those places.
Thanks be to God.  Amen.

REV. KIM NOFEL’S BIO: Kim’s Bio: I grew up an Air Force Brat, living all across the country as well as England. I am in my 30th year of ministry, having served churches in Virginia, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa and now am part-time pastor for Granite Presbyterian Church in Woodstock, Maryland. I am in my 20th year as co-moderator of the Great Plains Small Church Connection which organizes conferences each year for small membership churches. My husband is Steve Nofel, who is your part time pastor as well as pastor up in Churchville. We have two boys (young men now, 27 & 24). We love to walk, read, watch old sit-coms, visit with friends and travel to archery tournaments. We also like watching Grand Sumo from Japan.