This week was less scripted than usual, so there is no transcript available for this sermon. However, I wanted to put up an outline for those who missed it and are trying to follow the series on Origin Stories. Hopefully soon we will have online access to our sound files so sermons like this one can be heard if they cannot be read.
Celtic Christians borrowed a concept from their ancient pagan ancestors of “thin space.” Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, they say, but in thin spaces the distance is even shorter. They used the term to describe places like the island of Iona, or the peak of Croagh Patrick. They may be spaces that are beautiful, although not all beautiful spaces are thin, and not all thin spaces are beautiful; Cancun is stunning in its own way but usually doesn’t offer much of a window to heaven, and one of the thinnest spaces I’ve ever encountered was a hospice ward in South Africa. Thin spaces may be tranquil – Iona in its windswept isolation certainly is that – but it’s equally likely that a thin space will not relax you at all, that it will disorient you and knock you out of your normal path into something entirely new.
That’s the thing about thin spaces. They’re not just pleasant spaces. They’re spaces that transform us, that let us in on realities that are usually hidden. They are places where we become more essentially ourselves.
(Share stories of thin spaces in groups of 3-5)
Jacob on the run wanders into a thin space, and it changes his life – the heir of God’s promise actually shifts from being a trickster and basically self-interested person to living like someone who is the heir of God’s promise.
What does Jacob’s story have to do with us?
- We often bumble into thin space, not when we’re at our best, but when we’re at our worst. Jacob was not having his finest moment. In fact, his life up to this point was a series of not finest moments.
If he was expecting God to show up, it was probably to give him hell for what he had done to his brother and his father. But Frederick Beuchner in Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who describes Jacob’s dream. He notes, “the words God spoke in the dream were not the chewing-out you might have expected, but something altogether different … It wasn’t Holy Hell that God gave him … but Holy Heaven, not to mention the marvelous lesson thrown in for good measure. The lesson was, needless to say, that even for a dyed-in-the-wool, double-barreled con artist like Jacob there are a few things in this world that you can’t get but only can be given, and one of these things is love in general, and another is the love of God in particular.”
Nothing separates us from God, even ourselves.
- Jacob’s dream is not about the dream, it’s about the reality.
It would have been really easy for him to become fixated on how God spoke to him in this dream, and to believe that was the totality of the experience. But the point of the dream is not the dream. The point of the dream is the window it gives him into reality. That picture of the angels going up and down on the stairway, delivering messages between heaven and earth, and that vision of God standing beside him – it’s telling him something important about the reality of how close the sacred and the secular really are. They are right there together.
When Jacob wakes up, he realizes that God has been there all along, in the dust and the stones all around him. He realizes that it’s God who provides for him every day. And for someone who has been trying so hard his whole life to trick and plot his way into security, this is a serious epiphany.
- Thin space only matters if it changes us. It changes Jacob; he leaves the pillar in memory of his experience, but also begins to give a tenth of all he has.
The reality of God’s presence changes how he sees the world, and it changes what he does.
Will it change us? Will our thin places transform us, and make us more ourselves? Or will we simply leave them there, a remembrance of something we glimpsed once, long ago?
(After a time of silence we shared something we carry with us from our “thin spaces,” or hope that we will.)