First Congregational Church of Hartland, United Church of Christ
An Open and Affirming Congregation in Hartland, Vermont
Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost July 19th, 2020
Gathering time – You are welcome to start gathering at 9:00 to talk and check in.
Welcome and Announcements
We are collecting for Back to School (for HES and for local children in the foster care system) – new Back Packs and school supplies (notebooks, pens, pencils, markers, folders, erasers, crayons, binders, pencil boxes) (NO trappers / keepers) – you can donate by dropping off at the church during outside office hours on Tues mornings (9:00-11:00) or Wed evenings (6:00 – 8:00) or by leaving at the church side door or by contacting Ginny White. Donations due by Aug 9th for blessing in worship.
Office Hours are Tuesday 9 – 11 and Wed 6 – 8. Outside at a safe social distance!
Gathering Music “Morning has Broken”
Lighting our Candles Let us light our candles together to remind ourselves that there is light in the darkness and that we can share that light with one another in our own times of darkness and we can share that light of love with the world. Please light your candles as we enter into our time of worship.
Let us pray: We come to this place to be fed by God’s word, to be nurtured by God’s grace, and to be strengthened by the power of God’s Spirit. Speak to us in this time of Worship, O God, that we might recognize the abundance of your goodness, and find in your presence things that sustain us. Amen.
Call to Worship Let us create new songs of praise to our God.
Let us discover new ways of proclaiming God’s greatness and glory.
Wherever one turns, God’s power is manifested, God’s presence is made apparent.
Let us celebrate God’s presence in our world today.
Prayer of Invocation
God, you meet us on the beach, on the road, in the garden, at the kitchen table,
in stunning visions and mountain top experiences, in mundane living and everyday moments.
In this time of worship may we meet you again and recognize you. May we know and be known, inspired to serve you and your people, re-energized by your Spirit. Amen.
A Hymn “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”
Listening for and Responding to the Word
A Scripture Reading from the Book of Genesis 28
Today we will hear the story of Jacob and Esau and of Jacob’s ladder. It is a story of Jacob discovering sacred ground. Genesis stories are some of the most ancient in the oral tradition – they are the stories of Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs. Jacob’s story goes on for several chapters and in great detail – I encourage you to read it for he is indeed an interesting character! There isn’t much about Jacob that I like. So far, he has swapped (swindled) birthrights with his older brother for a bowl of soup, and in the part of the story that we won’t hear today in our reading, Jacob later tricked his now blind elderly father Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. He tricked Isaac – with Rebecca’s plotting help and encouragement – by pretending to be Esau! He took advantage of his father’s infirmaties to steal Esau’s blessing. As a result, neither Jacob’s brother, nor his father are very pleased with him and as you might imagine, tempers flare at the old homestead. But mom, Rebecca, through this whole episode, has never lost her cool, she has happily schemed right along with her favorite son. And by the way, to mom Rebecca – who is beginning to sound a bit like one of those helicopter parents we are always hearing about – no Hittite women are good enough for her fair haired boy Jacob. Rebecca is determined that Jacob will have a Canaanite- a woman from the Promised Land. And what better place to find a wife for the heir of the family fortune than at Rebecca’s former home, now run by her brother Laban. So with the blessing of his parents – Isaac’s blessing being the handing down of the promise to the next generation & Rebecca’s blessing being that he find himself a nice girl to produce lots of heirs to the promise, though no blessing from twin brother Esau who is off plotting his revenge somewhere – Jacob sets out to his Uncle’s house to find a wife.
Listen for the word as inspired by God in Genesis 28:10-19a
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 of 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; Here ends the reading – thanks be to God
A Reflection “Surely God is in this place!” Rev. Lucia Anne Jackson
~ Prayer ~
As night falls Jacob finds himself in the middle of the desert without shelter. So he takes some stones, places them around his head, lays down to sleep, and has a dream. He dreams of a ladder, or a ramp, or stairway, something connects earth to heaven. And on it, there are some type of heavenly beings cascading up and down; and in the midst of all the’ glory hallelujah!’ music that is surely playing in the background, … GOD appears! God is present… and God is in control. Now, an important aside to note here is that up to this point in the narrative, rebel Jacob hasn’t really bought in to all of this “God stuff”- he even called God, “Your God.” when he had spoken with Isaac earlier… Does that sound like anybody’s adult children – “your God” – so in the dream, it’s interesting that God starts speaking to Jacob with an introduction: “I am the Lord” because you know, God always has great opening lines!
In a StillSpeaking Daily Devotional, Rev. Vicki Klemper tells a wonderful story about the powerful words of promise that God spoke to Jacob. Rev. Klemper writes: “Kids. You never know what will work and what won’t, what will sink in and what will provoke the dreaded eye-roll. All you can really do is put your love out there and hope for the best.
We were coming to the end of our annual youth and family retreat at a lovely beachside retreat center. In an effort to keep things simple for the children and multi-layered for the adults, we had focused on the story of Joseph at Bethel, all angels and awesomeness and a pretty spectacular promise from God. On Sunday morning we gathered on the beach for worship. Kids, worship, beach—what had I been thinking? The sun was shining. The waves were rolling in. The distractions were legion. Almost half my congregation was busy with shovels and buckets. Brendon, who sat with his back to me, was clearly not paying attention.
But, being a preacher, I just kept talking. I told again the story of Jacob and his pillow and his dream. The ladder and the stone pillar. And when I got to the part where God stands beside Jacob and speaks to him, I said, “And what did God tell Jacob?” Which was the whole point, after all.
Sunshine diamonds danced across the water. Seagulls squawked overhead. And eight-year-old Brendon, who was still facing the opposite direction and playing in the sand, did not miss a beat. In a voice clear and strong and sure, he spoke the words of scripture, almost verbatim: “I am with you and I will be with you wherever you go. I will bring you back home and I will stay with you until I keep all my promises.” Kids. You just never know.”
Isn’t that a lovely story? The promises of God heard by a child and more importantly known by a child. I would call that place, that beach where 8 year old Brendan with his strong sure voice spoke the promises of God, I would call that place a sacred place. “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it! How awesome is this place!”
Now back to our schemer Jacob who wakes up from his dream with a revelation! “God is real and in this place… And I had no idea!” The ‘Ah Ha’ moment of a lifetime! Naturally, he was afraid, (or the Hebrew says, he was ‘overawed’… I love that word) and Jacob said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. . . . And he called that place Bethel” He called that place “Bethel” which means “house of God”.
Which brings me to us. We are now four months of not having gathered worship in the sanctuary – in our sacred space. We think of church as the house of God, of the sanctuary as the place where we meet God. What does it mean when we can not gather in that sacred space? Because the reality is that we aren’t going to be able to gather in our sacred space for a while. So, you and I have to find God in other spaces and places. Perhaps as we have gathered each week via zoom, you are starting to discover a sacred time and space outside of the church building. And perhaps you are starting to mark that space with a candle or a bible, marking that space as a place where you recognize that God is surely in this place – in this sacred place that is outside the church walls.
“You can’t find holy ground with your GPS. You won’t even find it at famous holy places, though you might. Ordinary places become holy ground only because we meet God there.” writes Rev. Richard Floyd. Churches call our worship spaces the “sanctuary,” which means “a container for the holy.” And we do love our sanctuary and we miss being in it together. It is a lovely space, but it is not intrinsically holy. Our sanctuary is sacred space because of the intention with which we have entered it, because of the lives that have been honored there in memorial services. Our sanctuary is sacred space because of the shared rituals – of worship and weddings and confirmation and the celebration of sacraments in communion and baptism. Our sanctuary is sacred space because of the community gathered in prayer and the sharing of joys and concerns. We do love our shared sacred space and we miss being in it together. BUT here’s the thing. Church is NOT the only sacred space.
Yes, God is in the place and you have met God in this place. BUT this is not the only place to meet God. As this pandemic goes on and we continue to gather for worship as we are this morning – each in own physical spaces, we need to recognize that there are many sacred places. Holy ground is found where we meet God. There are so many stories in scripture of Holy ground, of meeting God – Jacob running away from Esau, Moses on Mt Horeb, Paul rushing to Damascus to persecute the church. Without the presence of God, Jacob’s pillow is just another rock, Horeb just another hill, the way to Damascus just another road. But anywhere can be holy ground if we meet God there. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God . . .” and it is true, but too often we miss it because we are preoccupied with the cares of the world. (based on Still speaking devotional by Richard Floyd)
My hope for you is that you are finding sacred spaces and places even now, and remember, when you find your holy ground, that it does not replace our sanctuary. Your holy ground becomes another place to meet God, your holy ground becomes your Bethel. Where might your Bethel be? Another word for “Bethel” is a thin place where the veil between the earthly world and the spiritual world shimmers, a place set apart, a place imbued with the sacred. Do you have a favorite place to walk under the canopy of trees? A mountain that reaches to the stars? A beach where you’ve walked countless times and listened to the waves rolling onto the sand in a familiar way, a place of reunion where God seems always close by and all’s right with the world, a quiet pond, a hillside, a family cemetery, your deck, the window where you watch for wildlife, your garden, Garvin Hill perhaps? For me, it is my kitchen table – which is familiar and ordinary – a place made extraordinary by the conversations held there, by the nurturing experienced there, by the love shared there and by centrality of it in our lives – all making the kitchen table – worn and cluttered with daily life – holy ground. Do you have a place where you can go and feel especially close to God? Have you marked a spot as your Bethel? Or perhaps you can recall a place in time which you can remember and re-visit as a source of spiritual awakening, where you felt particularly connected to God.
While places can bind us to our beliefs, so can memory, a piece of music, a special story, a word spoken at just the right time – my guess is, if we think about it, most of us have experienced a “thin place” in which we can remember God seeming very close and very real. A time beyond time.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God . . .” May each of us find and know our Holy Ground. May you each recognize a sacred place and like Brendan on the beach, find a place where you can honor the promises of God, a space where you know the promise of God: “I am with you and I will be with you wherever you go. I will bring you back home and I will stay with you until I keep all my promises.”
“Surely God is in the place and I did not know it. How awesome is this place!”
In the greatest of hope, thanks be to God. Amen.
Sermon Talk Back: In this time of separation from our church building, where are you finding unexpected sacred ground?
Special Music “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” Virginia Dow, Organist
The Prayers of the People Sharing our Joys and Concerns (please share via the “Chat” Feature on Zoom)
Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and power and glory forever and ever Amen.
A Hymn “God’s Eye is on the Sparrow” written by Civilla Martin, tune by Charles Gabriel
Why should I feel discouraged, Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely and long for heaven and home, When God is ever my portion? My constant friend will be:
Refrain: God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know God watches over me.
God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know God watches me.
I sing because I’m happy (I’m happy) I sing because I’m free (I’m free)
God’s eye is on the sparrow and I know God watches me (God watches me)
Let not your heart be troubled, Christ’s tender word I hear, And resting on God’s goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path . . . God leads me but one step I can see: ~Refrain~
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise, When song gives place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I then draw close to my Savior, from care I am set free: ~Refrain~
Music for Going Forth A Song of Hope” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkbDJda24xI
Pastor: The Rev. Lucia Anne Jackson Telephone: 802-436-2224 (church)
Church Facebook page: www.facebook.com/HartlandCongregationalChurch
Organist: Virginia Dow Director of Christian Education: MaryJo Ramsey
Choir Director: Rebecca Wood Church Members: Ministers to the World