You remember the trick, don’t you? “This is the house and this is the steeple, open the door and there’s the people.” It was shown to me first by a Sunday School teacher wanting to illustrate just how important it was to go to church. What I loved is the sheer inventiveness of this simple gesture with the hands!
But, you know, there really is something about being together in the Church, isn’t there? This is an increasingly minority idea in our country. Stories seem to be written every day about why folks aren’t attending church as much as they use to. Some say it’s because we aren’t as “religious” as we use to be. Orthers suggest that people have “grown up” past the need to be in church. Still others say that people are increasingly getting their religious information and even formation from the internet! Hmm.
The scriptures, however, give us a decidedly different perspective on the purpose and the motivation for Church. But too many of us really don’t know what that is!
In today’s scripture lesson we stay with our dear St. Jacob the Patriarch and we learn some insights about his (very flawed) life and we also hear God refer to Himself as the “God of Bethel.”
Look at Genesis 31:3-16:
Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was, and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength; yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me. In the mating season of the flock I lifted up my eyes, and saw in a dream that the he-goats which leaped upon the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that leap upon the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go forth from this land, and return to the land of your birth.'” Then Rachel and Leah answered him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. All the property which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; now then, whatever God has said to you, do.”
We have spent some time with Jacob and we know he has struggled in his life with dishonesty, and now he’s being treated badly by his father-in-law who has been dishonest with him! But now it’s time to move on and get moving toward God’s purpose for Jacob’s life and the life of his family. And it really is going to come down to being able to courageously break with the known and the “comfortable” and launch into the unknown and the challenging. It’s time to get on with Jacob’s deepest purpose!
And not on Jacob’s purpose but God’s purpose for the whole family! That’s why Jacob shares his calling with Rachel and Leah, and they prove their courage as well. What makes the difference in Jacob’s life? Why is he ready at this moment to make this break? Notice how God describes Himself to Jacob: He says “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me.” God reminds Jacob of an event in his past where God met Jacob in a dream and showed him a stairway to heaven where angels were ascending and descending. Jacob named that place “Beth-El” which means “House of God.” It was there that Jacob repented for his lying past and began the slow but steady build up to this moment when he had to make a clear break with all he had been to become what he was meant to be!
And this is why being in the “House of God” is so very important, even indispensable! Because it’s in God’s House that you get a glimpse of Who He is and who you are. You are invited to confront and commune with your Maker Who knows you best AND you are given the insights and instruction on just how to get from where you are to where you need to be!
Today, as we approach Palm Sunday when we launch into the marathon of spiritual and physical labor of Holy Week and the joys of Pascha, know beyond any shadow of a doubt that God wishes to meet you in His House. God wants to show you Who He is and who you are as well. God lavishes spiritual treasures in His Church to provide you with any and every means to break free of the inertia of mediocrity and delusion to wake you up in His House to your truest self. And He invites you to do this hard, but necessary, work of self-knowledge with others who are doing the same work so that you don’t fall into the trap of believing you can do this by yourself! We do this together as God’s Family, as Christ’s Body and Bride. Laying before you is the annual journey with Christ to the Cross, the Tomb, and the Resurrection. The temptation to see this as “just another Easter” is the trick of the evil one to keep you blind to the wonders of the moment! Don’t fall for it. Go to “Beth-El,” the House of God, and learn how to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Are you ready for Palm Sunday? Well, ready or not, here it comes. Why not invite a friend to join you in these daily devotionals and take some time each day to talk about what you’re learning as a way to shape yourself for a purposef Holy Week? Thank you for your partnership with us at Faith Encouraged Ministries. We pray this is worth your time!