Is this your “Beth-El Moment”?
Most, if not all of us, may have experienced a special, unique and even glorious event in our lives where we would have said to ourselves, “This is almost heaven!” It may have been a moment in a relationship, a beautiful landscape, a heart-rending melody or moving poetry, or even a spiritual moment. It does not matter if one is rich or poor, or what are the circumstances on one’s life. In a large or small way, we all had such an exceptional experience that we may have come to appreciate like nothing else in our lives.
In our Old Testament lesson, we read about Jacob’s trek to his brother Laban’s place, running away from a raging Esau, from whom Jacob had stolen his father’s blessing. Like many, Jacob was an overly complex character – underscoring character! He was crafty and devious. Even into his old age, after his life-changing fight with an angel, he still was controlling, playing favorites with his sons and causing all sorts of problems in his family.
On his way to Laban’s, Jacob had one of those special moments. One night, as he slept in the cold desert’s night, he had a dream in which God re-affirmed the promises to his grand-father Abraham and his father Isaac – There, where he was standing, one day would be his own land. His future would be not that of an unimportant herder, but he would prosper to be a blessing for all nations. In other words, God was gently telling Jacob that there would not be a need to cheat someone from his blessings but, rather, God’s blessings would be so abundant that all nations would be blessed.
After waking up and sizing the view from were he had been sleeping, Jacob called the place “Beth-El,” the house of God. Like Moses watching the burning bush, it was Jacob’s “Aha!” moment, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”
As I said earlier, many of us had inspiring moments, where we felt closer to heaven. Such moments are often marked by an awareness of God’s presence. I wish I could say that such moments could only be experienced in church but, perhaps to keep us all humble, God sometimes chooses the vast infinite of a starry night, a burning bush or, as in our story, a hard pillow!
Psalm 86, on the other hand, appears to be the prayer of an individual, David, who is in the opposite end of a mountain-top experience. In his plea, one can easily notice that David was deep in a dark valley. Once again, David’s enemies are after him, intent in dealing with him for good. And so, he pleads for God’s assistance to deliver him.
In our human experience when we are in the pits, we seldom have time to ponder at the beauty and marvels of creation or expecting to be captivated in a mystical experience. We need help. And “pronto!” Being in the pits is a time for lament, despair, prayer. “Once I get out of this, then I’ll sing, wonder, and praise,” we may say. For the time being, “Help!”
Right now, many individuals in our nation, perhaps some of you, dear readers, may feel the full weight of our current predicament – Sickness, loneliness, financial strains, family and relationship burdens. Other may look at the social circumstances and may feel despondent or incensed but, for sure, uneasy.
For the most part, we did not bring Covid-19 on ourselves and some of the decades-long ingrained social problems are beyond of what we can solve with a check or an embrace – even if we were allowed to do it! Like David, one may feel as if one has been thrown between a rock and a hard place.
And, to compound matters, now when we need it the more, the familiar worship gatherings, the Lord’s Supper, the music, prayers, laughs and, yes, the coffee hour fellowship has been either taken away from us or reduced to a new “distance worship” at best or, at worst, limited to a phone screen.
It is interesting that the fugitive Jacob found God’s reassuring presence laying down on the hard-parched desert ground with his head resting on a rock. When he least expected it, God gave him a vision to instill hope, to stir up faith, and yes, to help him see beyond his selfishness the abundant blessedness of God’s mercy, love, and grace.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recently told the story of the late Cardinal Van Thuan. When Saigon, South Vietnam, fell in 1974, Bishop Van Thuan “was arrested, stripped of his clothes, his name, everything, a number put on his arm, and thrown into the hold of a ship, and taken north for [13 years of prison,] nine years of solitary confinement (…) I remember him saying ‘as I lay in the hold of the ship, the Holy Spirit said to me, now you have only me.’” (Address to the “Virtual” General Synod of the Church of England, July 2020)
Now, when everything that we considered solid, rational, acceptable, and unshakeable is being turned upside down, now when we have been left “only” with God’s reassuring and loving presence – now, this is also the moment when God will show up to instill hope in us, to stir up faith in us, and yes, to help us to realize the abundant blessedness of His mercy, love, and grace.
In Psalm 86:11 David prays, “Knit my heart to You that I may be in awe of your Name.” Let us make David’s prayer ours. May our hearts be tightly knit to God’s with the cords of His everlasting love. May our hearts be so tuned to God’s will, that we may rise and worship the Lord in a new and transforming way. May be our hearts be so united to God that our present circumstances turn to be our own “Beth-El Moment,” a time and a gateway to a new future by the hand of God.