May 1st 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

I grew up in a family that went to church every single Sunday.  While I wouldn’t say I was a begrudging participant, I definitely didn’t have a faith in Jesus in the way the Scriptures describe that.  My parents were very involved (in the church), but my interest in church, for the first number of years in my life, up to the age of 10, revolved around a man by the name of Randy.  Randy had a mental disability.  He took the bus to church and sat in the very front row.  He had a backpack with him in the front row.  About ten minutes into a sermon one time, he unzips his backpack, takes out two cans of aerosol deodorant, shakes them vigorously, crosses his arms, puts his hands under his shirt and starts to deodorize himself in the front row!!  As a ten-year-old kid, I’m like praise Jesus, right?  I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen!  That was the pinnacle for me!  We had reached the mountain top when Randy double-barreled deodorized himself on a Sunday during the sermon.

Needless to say, I heard the stories but they never really sunk in.  I don’t know if you ever had that experience. Maybe you had the pleasure of growing up in a family that came to church…..for 18 years I’ve been around the story, but the story never was my story.  I’d heard about who God was.  I’d seen people that genuinely believed in God and had a strong faith, but I’ve got to be honest with you, some Sundays it just sort of felt like we just went through the motions.  It just sort of felt like we played church.  It felt like we came to a place, not all that dissimilar from here, where we did what we did the Sunday before and it was what the tradition that we stepped into did. There wasn’t a whole lot for me that was genuinely encountering the God of the universe.

I would argue that Jacob would fall into that same category.  If you’ve been with us over the past few weeks, we’ve been studying the life of Jacob, one of the great patriarchs of the faith.  And yet, there’s this poignant part when he’s receiving the blessing from his father where he turns back to his dad, Isaac, and says, “YOUR God…that YOUR God might bless me,” as if to say, “Dad, this is sort of your deal, but it’s not mine.  It’s not mine on a HEART-level type of way.”  Maybe like you, Jacob had heard the stories.  Maybe like you, Jacob had been around communities of faith.  He’d heard about the faithfulness and the goodness of God.  He’d heard about the promises of God and yet…..the promises weren’t something he’d held onto personally.  THE story he’d been told was not yet hisstory.   Until this day.  Until the day we’re going to read about this morning.  This is the day where religion turns into, for Jacob, relationship.

If you have a Bible, turn with me to Genesis 28:10-16. We’re going to see this beautiful story start to unfold.  It’s a story that’s both mystical and engaging.  Josh Billings, our executive pastor, did a great job last week of introducing us to Jacob’s crazy uncle Laban.  Jacob has stolen the blessing from his brother.  He pretended to be his brother; his father spoke a good word over him, a word of blessing over him.  His brother found out and, as you can imagine, wasn’t all that excited to hear that he had had the wool pulled over his eyes.  Jacob was on the run for his very life because his brother wanted to kill him because of what he’d done.  Starting in verse 10: Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And he came to a certain place and stayed there that 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 to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.  And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  And behold, the Lord stood above it 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.  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 in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, 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 awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 

What a statement.  What a terrible reality.  That it’s possible for you and I to walk through life and to live in a world that’s permeated with the presence of God and, in the same way of Jacob, to say, “I didn’t know Him. I didn’t see Him.  My eyes weren’t open, my ears weren’t attentive, my heart wasn’t soft.  I didn’t know, God, that you were present and that you were in this place.”  Let’s just take a moment and think about how insane that is!!  If the President of the United States walked into this room, we’d know it!  We’d know it and we’d probably acknowledge it in some way, shape or form.  If John Elway walked into this room, we’d all know it.  Paxton Lynch has been a Bronco for three days and if he walked in, we would know it.  And yet, he misses it.  Jacob missed it for years.  The tragedy is that he grew up around the story.  He grew up hearing about God.  He grew up knowing the faithfulness of God to his grandfather Abraham.  Abraham had to have taken him around a fire and told him about God speaking to him and saying through our family, Jacob, all the nations of the earth are going to be blessed.  You better believe that his father Isaac, in some way, shape or form, passed down that story saying, “I’m the chosen seed that God is going to redeem humanity through.”  He grew up around it and he missed it.

As I started to study this week, I just had this question that permeated my soul and it may strike you, too:  How much do I miss, God?  How much of THIS do we just attribute to sort of playing church?  We attribute to just going through the motions?  We do THIS on a Sunday because this is what we’ve always done on a Sunday.  But do we really expect to encounter the God of the universe?  Do we expect to see Him?  Do we expect to interact with Him?  This is the day for Jacob that changes everything!  It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ paragraph in his book Miracles, where he says this:  “An ‘impersonal God’ — well and good.  A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads — better still.  A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap into — best of all.  But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, the king, the husband —that is quite another matter.  There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly:  was that a real footstep in the hall?  There comes a moment when people who have dabbling in religion (or playing church or pursuing ‘man’s search for God’) suddenly draw back.  Supposing we really found Him?  We never meant it to come to that?  Worse still, supposing He had found us?”

That’s Jacob’s experience.  He is on his merry way, playing church, going through the motions.  It’s his father’s faith, it’s not his faith and he has this encounter that just opens up his eyes and radically, dramatically changes his life.  Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.  I have.  Ironically, just like Jacob, mine was on a backpack trail.  I’d grown up in church and gone through the motions.  I thought I understood what this whole “religious” thing was all about.  After my senior year in high school, a friend invited me to go on a backpacking trip with Young Life.  We were on day two of a seven day backpacking trip in the San Juan Mountains and if we were to go back there today, I think I could find the very rock where I was sitting.  I opened my Bible and was still for one of the first times in my life.  The only way I can describe it is that it felt like I was wearing 3-D glasses and the words of Matthew 5 were flying off the page and hooking into my heart in a way that I knew would make me different. When I got home and sat down at the breakfast table during that next week, my mom said to me, “Ryan, you seem different.  What happened to you out on the trail?”  I responded, “I think I became a Christian.” She responded, “I thought you already were.”  And I said, “Me, too!!”  But this was different.  This was an experience of God that shaped my life.  It happened to Jacob.  It’s happened to many of you and when it happens our eyes are opened in a way that just completely, dramatically revolutionizes the way we live.  Open eyes to the presence of God, to the activity of God, to the power of God lead to a vibrant life.  That’s where Jacob starts to walk and that’s my prayer for us today — that we wouldn’t just play around with religion, but that we would pursue the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  That there would be some sort of expectation when we walk in here, not just that we’re going to go through the motions and not just that we’re going to step into the stream of 2000 years of beautiful tradition.  We’re doing that.  But we’re meeting with the God who is alive and well.  Paul writes to the church at Rome and says (Romans 13:11):  Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  It’s time to wake up.  It’s time for our eyes to be open, for a revolution in our soul to occur that we would see that God is not just something that we play around with and that we tinker with and that we have a mental assent to try to understand.   But that He is present and real and personal and when our eyes our open to his presence our lives are changed to his purposes.

That’s what starts to happen in Jacob’s life.  I want to walk back through this with you.  There’s three things that I want to point out in Jacob’s life that happen when his eyes are opened.  There’s three distinct ways that his life is changed and it becomes more vibrant.  It’s like in the Wizard of Oz when the screen goes from black-and-white to color.  That’s Jacob’s experience in Genesis 28.  Look at verses 10-12.    Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And he came to a certain place {I love that it’s not named yet.} and stayed there that 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 to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.  And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  Most scholars will point out that what Jacob most likely saw wasn’t a ladder (like today).  It was probably what was called a ziggurat.  A ziggurat was a huge, massive structure that was used for worship in the ancient world.  But it wasn’t necessarily a place that people went to give worship, it was a place that the people built for the gods to dwell in.  Jacob gets this image of God….these angels ascending and descending and God definitively declares to Jacob, “The entire world is my footstool!  There’s not a corner of the globe, Jacob, where I am not!  There’s no place that I don’t exist.  In all of my vast and beautiful creation, the entire earth is my footstool.”  As the great Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, puts it:  “Earth is not left to its own resources and heaven is not a remote self-contained realm for the gods.  Heaven has to do with earth.  And earth finally may count on the resources of heaven.”  We often think of heaven up there, out there, somewhere and God dwells there and then we have earth down here.  It’s a dualistic understanding of the world we live in.  Jacob’s dream points out a more beautiful, deeper reality — that heaven and earth are not distinct and different.  They are beautifully, powerfully intertwined.  There’s a crossover.  You and I live under an open heaven.  An open heaven where God is present at every place.

In Christianity, we have this picture of a ladder.  But in every religion you go to there’s a ladder.  There’s a way that we are instructed to get to God.  The fascinating part about the ladder in Christianity is the direction of the flow.  In every other religion, the ladder is there for you to climb up.  The ladder’s there for you to do enough good in order to get to God.  The ladder’s there so that you can jump through enough hoops.  The ladder is there in order that you who are separated from God might be able to pull up your own bootstraps and do enough in order to get God to look down on you and go, “You know what?  That Paulson guy’s not all that bad.” But in Christianity, the ladder’s there for a definitively different purpose.  The ladder, in Christianity, is not there for Jacob to climb UP.  The ladder is there for God to come DOWN.  The point of the story is not do enough good, perform enough religious duty, jump through enough hoops…..if that’s what you think Christianity is I have great news for you — you’re WRONG!!!  This is a picture of grace.  This is a picture of God entering into the story of humanity with His presence and His goodness that permeates it all.  It’s as though the psalmist writing in Psalm 40:1-2, echoes this picture that we see in Genesis 28 — that when I was stuck dead and deep in the muck and the mire in the pit, God dropped the ladder down for me not to climb up, but for Him to meet me and pull me up!  That’s the gospel!  He put a new song in our mouth to sing.

The miracle of this passage is that God definitively binds himself to a treacherous fugitive and Jacob’s eyes are opened!  When our eyes are opened, we start to become conscious of the presence of God all around us.  The theological term is omnipresence.  There isn’t a place that God doesn’t exist, that His goodness and glory does not permeate.   As the psalmist writes in Psalm 139:7-10 — Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence? {It’s a rhetorical question and the answer is….nowhere!} If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  {Look up at me for a second.}  You have never had an experience, you’ve never had a day, you’ve never gone to a place where there wasn’t a ladder!  EVER!  Every single day you wake up, his goodness and grace is present. In the deepest, darkest, most painful experiences of life…..I want to assure you….I want to declare….I want to PREACH to you this morning….there’s a ladder.

How do I know that?  Look at Jacob’s life.  This first passage is beautifully poetic and real.  It says:  Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And he came to a certain place….  We don’t know the place.  Why? Because it doesn’t matter!  The beautiful part about this place is it’s not a place.  That’s the powerful part of this story.  It’s not some place that many people of God have been before and they go you’ve got to get to fill-in-the-blank if you want to meet with God.  No.  He meets with God in a certain place which is really no place at all.  Probably the last place you met God, too.  Not only that but it points out that he’s on a journey from Beersheba to Haran.  In case you were wondering how far that is… foot, it’s about 700 miles.  He’s pretty early into this journey when he sees the ladder, when he encounters the God of the universe.  Isn’t it funny how God works?  We often think we’ll encounter God when we get to a certain place and do a certain thing.  And God often meets us in the in-between.  In between the promise and the healing, that’s where He meets us.  In between the pain and the resolution, that’s where He meets us.  Waiting for an appointment, waiting for a job, waiting for a relationship, waiting in traffic!  Isn’t it great that God can meet us even there?!  In the in-between times in life.

…..and stayed there that night, because the sun had set.  What the narrator of Genesis wants you to feel is that not only is the sun setting in the physical sense, the day is coming to a close, but Jacob’s life feels the same way.  The sun is setting.  The promises that he’d been given that he was trying his best to hold onto….there’s no way they could be good still today in light of where he is and in light of what’s going on in his life.  He’s at his lowest point.  How do I know that?  He’s so low that the narrator of Genesis says:  Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  You have got to be pretty close to the end of your rope if you’re using this (holds up large rock) as a pillow.  He’s early on in his adventure to go see Uncle Laban.  Can you imagine him being a few days in and going I didn’t even bring a pillow!  Oh, man!  What’s wrong with me?!  He’s at his lowest point!  And that’s where he meets God.  That’s where religion turns into relationship.  That’s where THE stories become HIS story.  That’s where God starts to wreck and transform in the most beautiful of ways Jacob’s life.  Here’s the beautiful thing about the story, friends, is that pain can be a portal to His presence.  Hopelessness can be a catalyst for healing.  Disappointment can help us distinguish and clarify our priorities in a new way.  Confusion can actually lead to a place of clarified vision. How do I know that?  Jacob’s life points to it.   It declares it all around.  When our eyes are opened to His presence everywhere, we begin to believe that there is not a place or an experience, regardless of how painful it is, that God is not present.  I love the way C.S. Lewis puts it:  “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.  The world is crowded with him.  He walks everywhere incognito.”  That’s awesome!

The story goes on in Genesis 28:13 and this is what God says to Jacob when He climbs down the ladder and has a conversation with Jacob, the fugitive:  And behold, the Lord stood above it 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. 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 in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. {That is what we’d call the “Patriarchal Promises.”  They were the same promises that had been given to his grandfather, Abraham, to his father, Isaac, and now what Jacob hears from God is, “You are in the lineage of promise.  My hand will not leave you.  I’m going to be good to you and everything I told to your Grandfather Abraham, I will be good to you on, also.”  If you’re Jacob, you’re going, “Praise the Lord.  Give me some of that.”}  {Verse 15 – These are promises that are personal to Jacob.  Patriarchal promises came first.  The personal promises come second.}  Behold, 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 awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Listen to what God says to him — I am with you.  That is the intent for Jacob to see in every season of life, in every pain and every sorrow and every regret, there’s a ladder in the story somewhere.  You think about these promises that Jacob has.  You think about the promises and then what he’s going to go and live through.  He spends twenty years with his crazy Uncle Laban.  Much of that time he’s taken advantage of, much of that time he’s manipulated.  Then he runs from Uncle Laban and he tries to go home and he’s met by his brother, who twenty years earlier he betrayed, and I don’t think that’s exactly a bro-hug coming, right?  Neither does Jacob. Isn’t it true that so much of the time we read the Scriptures and we read the promises of God and we go, “Come on!  All I want you to do, God, is tell me how it really is, because my reality seems so far removed from your promise.”  And Jacob’s story is not a story about how he receives the promises of God and then his life is awesome.  Which I love, because if it were, wouldn’t you and I read it and go, “Pbhhhh! We know that’s not true!”  It’s not that he goes, “Well, isn’t this great.  I’m skipping through fields, eating strawberries, sipping lemonade. Oh, promises of God are awesome….”  NO!  It’s in the deepest, darkest moments of life that I will hold onto You because I’m convinced that You’re holding onto me.  That’s what the promises are — that in the storms of life, we have a solid place for our feet to stand.  It’s not that life is always awesome, it’s that He NEVER lets us go!  That’s what the promises tell us.  That He is good in every single season.  So God tells him, “I’ll be with you.  I will keep you.  I will assure your homecoming.  You will return home.”

I just want to pause to recognize that He gives us the same promises, friends.  I’m with you.  I’ll keep you.  I’ll carry you safely home.  It doesn’t always look like what we thought it looked like, but He is always good on his promises. Because that’s true, I want to give you three pieces of encouragement.  One, know what his promises are for you.  Times in life are coming where you will need to hold onto them.  If you’re going, “Alright, Paulson, where do I start?” I’m glad you asked that great question.  Let me give you two passages of Scripture.  Start here.  Ephesians 1:1-30 and just get it into your soul.  After you do that, go to Romans 8 and here’s what you’ll be reminded of.  You’ll be reminded that you are a child of God, that you are blameless before Him.  You’ll be reminded that you have been forgiven all of your sins:  past, present and future.  You’ll be reminded that before you were ever born, God had a beautifully, masterful, wonderful plan for you.  You’ll be reminded that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  You’ll be reminded that the Spirit of God lives inside of you. You’ll be reminded that God is in the process of renewing, restoring and redeeming ALL things.  You’ll be reminded that He’s working everything together for good in your life because you love Him and are called according to His purposes.  You’ll be reminded that NOTHING can separate you from the love of God — not height or depth or angels or principalities or anything else in all of creation can separate you from the presence of God.  So, friends, stand confident in those promises over you!  Jacob is first conscious of God’s presence — that’s what opens his eyes.  Then he’s confident in His promises — that starts to open his eyes even more, it leads to a vibrant life.

This week, I’ve been wrestling with this question: What do we do with “religious experience?”  What do we do with the wonderful reality that there are times when God breaks through the natural way that He set the world up and He goes against the flow.  What do we do with the fact that there’s ladders and that sometimes we encounter the God of the universe in a very mystical, but real, way.  You do know that this is happening all over the globe, do you not?  In Muslim countries all over the Middle East, there are people who, just like Jacob, had a dream about God.  There are people who are waking up from a night’s sleep and going, “Oh, I didn’t see that one coming!”  Meeting Jesus in dreams.  I wondered as I was reading this Scripture this week and trying to get it into my heart and into my soul, why a dream?  Why come in a dream?  Why not come in the every day?  I just sensed God saying, “Ryan, I came in a dream because there’s no way Jacob would have recognized me, his life was too painful and there was too much fear.  I came in a dream because it was the only way that I would actually get through to him.”  And He’s doing it all over the globe.  What do we do when God shows up in our life in an ecstatic, spiritual, yet very real, way?  Here’s the tendency of humanity, because we long for that.  We love that.  Our tendency is if God shows up in a very real, very powerful way, here’s what we want to do: we want to build a way to reproduce the experience.  We want to try to get that over again because it just resonates so deeply in our soul.  Peter, when he’s on the Mount of Transfiguration, sees Jesus in glorious white and he’s like, “Duh, let’s build a house.”  His friends look at him and go, “You’re an idiot!”  But he just wants to preserve the experience.  He wants to relive the experience, but the ladder experiences of life, friends, the mountaintop experiences of life were not meant to be relived and re-experienced.  They’re designed to shape us, to change us, to chisel our character more into the imagine of our Creator.

In verse 18, Jacob teaches us what to do with this type of experience.  So early in the morning Jacob 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 the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.   {What’s happening is he’s taking a place that was set up for another god and stealing it back and redeeming it for Yahweh, the King of Heaven.} Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.  And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”   This is a beautiful picture of how we respond when God breaks through and changes our world dramatically.  Here’s what Jacob does.  He doesn’t build a house to come back to.  He doesn’t say, “I’ve got to try to relive this experience over and over and over again.”  He says this, “God, if you are….if you are…then my life is yours.  If you ARE.  If you exist and this is your world, then my life is yours.”   This is awesome.  The promises that he’s been given turn into the pathways that he walks.  The promises that he’s given in verses 13-17 become the pathways that he walks.  That’s God’s design for all of us, friends.  {Look up at me for just a second.}  The promises of God aren’t something we’re suppose to just hold onto and cuddle and think, “Isn’t that really, really nice?”  They’re suppose to inform the way that we walk and live and be on a daily basis.  He turns promises into pathways, Jacob does.  He makes a vow of commitment saying, “God, because you are, if you ask it of me, I will obey.”  No footnote!  That’s how gospel movements start all over the world.  By group by groups of people, no larger than this, saying, “If God asks it of me, my answer is yes.  I’m not asking any questions, I’m just going to go.  I’m going to trust.”

It’s also the way that God starts to shape our life.  Jacob says he’ll remember this and set up a pillar here.  Isn’t it wonderful that a pillow that represented his pain turns into a pillar that reminds him of His presence.  The narrator wants you to know that it’s the same rock he used as a pillow for his head that he sets up for a pillar of remembrance.  What a beautiful picture, friends, of the hard things that we walk through, the pain that we walk through……that God often transforms those things that are most painful in our life to remind us of His presence and his goodness and his faithfulness….that He is with us through it all.  That’s why we’ve got to be willing to tell our stories, we’ve got to be willing to share our scars, because our scars often are the things that remind us it’s HIS story, not ours.  The pain is the thing He turns into the pillars that remind us that God, you’re at work.  Don’t you love that Jacob knows, “I’ve gotta set up a way—a physical way—-of remembering God’s faithfulness and God’s goodness.”  You and I would look at him and go, “How would you forget THAT?”  And yet… often do we forget the things that God’s done in our life that are transformative?  I’d encourage you to be a person that sets up pillars, Ebenezers…..  “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.” Stones of remembrances.  God loves to turn our pain into his pillars.

Finally, Jacob just goes, “Hey, if you are, I’m yours.”  That means that everything I have is yours, also.  God, I’m submitting me life, I’m surrendering my life.  My life is yours.  “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!” (Charles Wesley)  It’s interesting that this isn’t the only ladder in Scripture.  This isn’t the only time we read about this sort of obscure, interesting story of Jacob.  When Jesus comes on the scene and is gathering people to follow Him, to be His disciples, people who live in the same way He lives, He calls Philip to him and Philip becomes a follower of Jesus and together they reach out to Nathaniel.  Jesus walks up to Nathaniel and says, “Nathaniel, I saw you yesterday under that tree.”  Nathaniel’s like, “WHAT??”  Because Jesus wasn’t there.  Nathaniel was by himself. Jesus looks at Nathaniel and says, “THAT amazes you?  Wow! You’re in for a ride!  You’re in for a treat!  There’s way better things coming than just me knowing what you were doing yesterday without having seen you there.” In John 1:51, Jesus makes this transformative statement:  And he said to him (Nathaniel), “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”   Here’s what Jesus is saying:  I AM THE LADDER.  I am the connection point, the intersection, between heaven and earth and it’s on my body given and on my blood shed that the Father makes a way for you and I to be with God forever, throughout all of eternity.  Jesus is the ladder!  He is the stairway.  He’s the connection point.  And for 2,000 years, followers of Jesus have been gathering around the table to remind themselves.  They’ve been gathering around “pillows,” if you will.  Things that started out painful that God transformed into pillars. They’ve been gathering around a story about Jesus the Messiah who was beaten, was broken, whose body was nailed to a Roman cross and who died for the sin of humanity.  It’s a story that looks a lot like a stone—it’s pretty painful, it’s pretty normal.  It was normal back then and it doesn’t exactly look like something you’d want to remember. But God, in His divine sovereignty, as His son gives his life, atones for the sins of humanity so THAT pain becomes our pillar, so for 2,000 years, followers of Jesus have been gathering around the table to remember. To remember….that there’s not a corner of His globe that His presence does not touch.  To remember that because of His body given and His blood shed your life is covered in promise.  And to remember….that we have been invited to walk in His pathway.  As you come this morning, come remembering He is the ladder.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and He longs to meet you even in the in-between and even in the pain and even in the sorrow.  He longs to meet with you.  As you come, anticipate meeting with Him.

The table’s open to any who would say they are followers of the way of Jesus, who have put their faith in Him. If that’s you, you are welcome here this morning at these tables.  If that’s NOT you, I would invite you this morning to put your faith in this “ladder.”  His name is Jesus.  He made a way for you to be completely forgiven of your sin and to have relationship with Him, Most Holy God.  Surrender to Him then come celebrate with us. Let’s pray.

So Lord, as we come to your table, would you remind us of your presence with us.  Lord, for the person who’s in the in-between, Lord, they’re waiting and they’re wondering where you’re at.  Lord, would you meet them in this place, I pray.  Remind them that there’s a ladder in every story.  Lord, would you remind us of the good promises that you have purchased over our lives and as we receive those may our eyes be opened, our lives be made vibrant to walk with you, King of kings, Lord of lords.  We love you.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.