said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and settle there. Make an altar there
to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 2So
Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign
gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your clothes; 3then
come, let us go up to Bethel, that I may make an altar there to the God who
answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have
gone.” 4So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that
they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the
oak that was near Shechem. 5As they journeyed, a terror
from God fell upon the cities all around them, so that no one pursued them.
********************************************************************************************* My daughter Jen is
writing a book about her recent weight loss (she has lost almost 30 lbs.) and
is calling the book, “After Skinny.” (That’s the sequel by the way, to my
recent book “I Have Never Been Skinny.”)
Anyway, her book is about the process of moving from the mindset one has while
losing weight, to the mindset one has to adopt after reaching one's weight loss goal. Obviously, these are
two very different things. It's not easy to maintain weight loss. She
feels like if she goes back to eating some of the foods she enjoys, people say
“Watch out- you’ll put all that weight back on!” If she continues eating carrot
sticks, people say “Oh my gosh, you are too thin!”
And it’s not just outside voices that plague her- it’s the internal monologue
that continues daily, “Should I eat that? What if I gain some weight back? Is
there anything else to do but work out?” She has found that she needs to
change her mindset and move beyond ‘struggle’ mode in order find out what life
can be “after skinny.” After all, we lose weight in order to have a
better quality of life overall- to do things that we can't do while carrying
extra weight; to live life to the fullest.
When I was reading this week’s text, I kept thinking, "This is exactly
what happened to Jacob." Jacob had spent his whole life in
survival mode- he had struggled since before he was born; first for birthright,
then for blessings, then for a wife and for love and for freedom. Finally
he struggled with God… and now that he heard to the call of God for himself,
and understood his role in the covenant, it seemed like Jacob has achieved his
But in order to really start living out the Promise of God, he now needs to
switch mindsets- he needs to learn how to operate out of struggle and
survival mode- he needs to learn how to live, 'after skinny'… Now that he has
earned the title of patriarch, how does he live as a father of a nation?
When we last saw Jacob, God had told him to go home to the land of his Father.
And on the way he met up and reconciled with, his brother. And although
they made peace, Jacob decided not to join with Esau, but to go in a different
direction. (Aside- once you reconcile with someone, it doesn't mean you
have to live with them)
Jacob built a home in
the city of Shechem- not exactly where God had told him to go, but in close
enough for jazz (or at least for Jacob) But
life in Shechem was not as rosy as Jacob had hoped. As the family settled
in to the new home and got integrated into the community, Jacob let his guard down - or perhaps he
didn’t see potential for problems- or maybe it just happened- but his daughter Dinah went out; (34:1) and was raped by
the son of the Prince of the City. When her brothers heard about it,
Jacob's sons crafted and carried out a horrid plan of revenge- and they
slaughtered every man in the city, took their wives and children, and stole
their livestock and material goods.
Through all of it, Jacob, father of a nation- is silent. We don’t know
why- maybe he didn’t know how to handle the politics, or the danger of the
situation; or maybe he was trying to figure out a way out. What we do
know is that Jacob showed lack of leadership and in fear hides from the
confrontation. Instead of learning to thrive, he was trapped in the old mindset
But when it seemed that all hope was lost … God came to Jacob (isn’t it amazing
that God continues to push us to be everything we are designed to be, even when
we royally mess things up?) and God says to Jacob… “Get up, and go home to the
land I told you to go to in the first place- where you first built the altar to
God when you were running from your brother Esau.”
And that is enough to help Jacob get it. He understands that in not
moving beyond survival mode, he has allowed his entire tribe to become
unhealthy. He has allowed things that he knew were damaging to
go on, and because of that, his family was put in jeopardy. They could
not become all God had desired for them as long as they were compromising the
way of the Lord and settling into the way of the world…
Once Jacob comes to this realization, in an act of repentance- a turning
around- calls his people together, and he says “Put away all the foreign Gods
that you have. Purify yourselves- put on clean clothes- we’re going home.
And we are going to worship the God who answered me, not just when I was in
trouble, but who has been with me ever since.”
...and the text says...
“They turned over to Jacob all the alien gods they'd been holding on to, along
with their lucky-charm earrings. Jacob buried them under the oak tree in
Now you may be thinking,if Jacob had just
listened to God fully in the first place, especially after everything God had
brought him through, and gone home like God had told him to, all of this
wouldn’t have happened. But between you and I, I’m kind of glad he
Because I know there are many times that I know I’m supposed to do something,
or go somewhere, or live out something God is calling me to, but I end up in
Shechem instead of the promised land. It’s not that I’m not sincere in my
faith… but after I start out on my journey, I sometimes get halfway there and
decide, this is far enough.
I think "This place looks ok- and I can camp out or even build a
home here for a while. It’s safe here… and staying here means I don’t have to
But here’s the thing- stopping short of what God wants
for us or has called us too, eventually leads to problems. In fact, sometimes
when we stop short of where God wants us to be, we create problems for
ourselves.We are drawn to our old
patterns,to familiar- we live out
comfortable… even when it's bad for us.We revert to old habits, or negative patterns because we know them- we
know how to survive there, even though it's not good for us. Sometimes we get
so used to operating in survival mode that we will even create problems in our lives and relationships to keep us there!
But guess what? I can’t move where the Spirit wants to lead me when I am
content to stay in a place that is less than what God wants for me. I
can’t go with God and stay where I am at the same time! I can't learn to thrive
when I am content to just survive.
The same is true for our church. “Oh, now pastor don’t start saying we
have to do anything else… we are tired, and some of us are a little burned out!
I can't hear one more thing about using my gifts and following my call! I've
joined 5 new committees this year and go to bible study, and breezeway chat and
help in the food pantry and I even went to that boring foreign film festival
you had this summer! Can't we take a break?"
And the funny thing is, all that is true. People have stepped up and stepped
out all over the place in this church.People are not just engaged- they are energized! The youth program is
building, the music department is diversifying, attendance is up, giving is
up... new faces everywhere you look... people come in during the week just to
hang out in the lounge downstairs! We are in full growth mode!And folks, these are fabulous signs of life-
and should serve as an affirmation that the Spirit of God is moving in our midst.
And make no mistake- growth came as a result
of people listening to the Spirit of God and following Gods direction- of
letting God be God in their lives... and to do what we believed God has asked
of us so far as individuals and as a community of faith!
But my friends, God has a message for us today…. “We’re not done yet.”
Because as much as I want to stop in Shecham build a home here to celebrate
where we are and where we've come from... I can't help myself from also seeing the
future potential of this church; for what God could be calling us to be
as a community of faith- I see so many possibilities that I sometimes have to
stop myself from dreaming so I can live in the right now! I believe that
we are being called to take our place as a leader in the faith community- and I
say this without bravado or ego.God has
placed before us the opportunity again and again to step forward as advocates
for justice, for peace, for love.
And while "where we are" is a great place to be, (this church has done
so much already) we have a future before us that will take energy, and
commitment, and faith.
And we are going to
have to endure some growing pains...because in order to live out what God has for his church, we have to get
by the territory wars and ownership issues about the way things have always
been, the way WE like things, what WE want, or what WE think belongs to US, and
give those things over to God. This is
And honestly... at some point, I’m hopingwe collect all of those little "foreign
gods" and take them out and bury them under a tree so we can be rid of
them once and for all. Wouldn’t that be a great theme Sunday? Bury your
saddle bag Sunday? We could give out little shovels?
Church, I believe God is saying
to us this very day, get up! Throw away your foreign gods and purify yourselves.
(Get rid of the petty things that are holding you back individually, and that
hold us back as a people of God… whatever it is in your life that is causing
you to stay in survival mode.... reconcile with one another) If you need help
burying your stuff, let others help- let me help. Lent is the perfect time to
look inside you and assess. And God’s spirit is always prodding you to
heal relationships- of that you can be sure.
And then, go back to
the text... put on clean clothing! (in other words, get a new outlook, a
fresh start) That means, open yourself up the whatever new thing God might be
telling you-even though its easier to stay in the familiar... even though what
you already have on is comfortable.... we're
not called to be comfortable!We are
called to whatever new thing God may be trying to do with the gifts God has
given us... and through us!
And if someone is approaching you, and you see that they are still wearing
yesterday’s clothes- and they have a little foreign god in their hands… take a
quick glance at that new white robe you’re wearing… and decide whether or not
you want to let it get dirty again…
Please hear me... once Jacob decided to get up, and go home, he didn't live a problem
free life...but Jacob, with faith and
with courage and with hope, lived out
everything that God had promised- the nation of Israel named for him- no longer
“Israel” associated with struggle, but now called “Israel”- God Will Prevail.
I know how far you've come... I know how much you've struggled just to get here…
but now that we have listened to the Spirit, and reached this place and
achieved so much… we need to move on “After Skinny.” There is too
much waiting for us in the Promised Land for us to stop and settle in
Shechem. Come on Jacob! Let's go home...