Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob is on the run for his life after he tricked Esau out of his birthright, and he arrives somewhere. It’s not anywhere he’d expect to be special – we know it’s holy, but he doesn’t. Then he lays down and has a dream in which God renews the promise Abraham and Isaac had received. He realizes that God’s presence is there. This must be one of those unique “thin places” where God’s encompassing reality shines through the veil.

This story reminds me of our spiritual ancestors, who were also sojourning (for reasons that weren’t always all that holy) in what seemed like to them a “godless wilderness.” They came to rest in these places and recognized God in unique ways here. Like Jacob, they set up monuments to God who is present here in nature, community, and worship. They poured out gifts on these sanctuaries and dedicated them to God’s service.

Now, there’s a religious rule embedded in Jacob’s story: notice that he doesn’t “build” an altar. Instead, he sets up a local stone as a monument to God. The idea is that it’s not within our power to create a location for God. That’s true even in terms of this sacred building. Yes, our ancestors made it of bricks, mortar, and wood. All the same, God is not here because we built a sanctuary, we built the sanctuary because God chooses to be present in this community.

God chooses a community, reveals Godself, and invites our response and sharing. We build a church building, Jacob pours oil, and we worship in a place our spiritual ancestors gave us. We already know this as a holy place, but we’re called to invest our devotion in it, to share God’s presence by working as we will today. And we’re invited to share this space with others, welcoming others into God’s presence as we find it here, and seeing the God they find here too. May our work be a blessing, a form of worship, and an invitation for all to know God’s love for the created world.