Sunday, July 10, 2016

“Sacred Cairns” (Genesis 28:10-18)

At what point in our lives do we acknowledge the presence of the Holy . . . the presence of God?  And, in that acknowledgement, how do we mark that occasion?

Thanks to some under-handed trickery by his mother, Jacob steals the official blessing of his father for the eldest son from his brother, Esau.  This adds fire to the smoldering hatred Esau already felt for his twin brother who had earlier swindled his birthright when he thought he was starving to death for a bowl of stew and a piece of bread.  Esau the bigger and stronger of the two sons, hated his brother . . . swore he would kill him once the old man was dead.  Hearing this plot of vengeance, their mother—Rebekah, creates a scenario to have Jacob sent away to keep his brother from killing him.

Thus we find Jacob on the run.  Going a day’s journey, he stops for the night.  While sleeping that night he has a dream . . . angels of God ascending and descending upon a heavenly staircase . . . and, standing above it all is God.  God speaks to Jacob.  God tells Jacob that a great nation will come from his descendants . . . that through him and his offspring all people will be blessed . . . and, that God would always be with him until all these promises were fulfilled. 

Upon waking up Jacob realized the gravity of his dream . . . realized that he had encountered the Holy, encountered God . . . that he was in the presence of the Holy.  “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.  How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”  Then he proceeded to erect a pillar of stones and consecrate it with oil.  In doing this he “marked” the spot as reminder of his encounter with God.  Whenever he encountered this landmark he would remember.

What Jacob did was to erect a cairn . . . a heap of stones piled up as a memorial or as a landmark.  What had happened to Jacob was something that he did not want to forget, thus he created for himself a reminder of the encounter with God.  Whenever he would see that landmark he would remember . . . he would remember how God had told him of the creation of a great nation . . . how he and his offspring would be a blessing to all people . . . and, how God would never abandon him in this journey.  In this action Jacob acknowledged his encounter with the Holy—with God, and he marked it for remembrance.

We, here in Montana, are pretty familiar with cairns.  We see them all around us in fields . . . along trails in the mountains.  They are landmarks to help us find direction—which is the other purpose of a cairn.  Probably the majority of the cairns we encounter have little more significance than giving direction; but, I contend that we are not as unfamiliar with the sacred role of cairns as we might think we are.  I contend that we erect sacred cairns in our lives all of the time, though we may not be using stones to do so.

How many of you have a pair of bronzed baby shoes sitting around your house?  That is a sacred cairn that marked the birth of a child into your life and family.  Whenever you glance upon those bronzed shoes . . . you remember.  Dana and I never bronzed any of the shoes of our children, but we have sterling silver baby cups engraved with their birthdates that sit in our china hutch.  They sit with other sacred markers in our journey together . . . there is the cake topper from our wedding . . . there special ornaments from the many places we have lived . . . there are moose that sit upon the top of the hutch that mark our moving to Joliet and the wedding of our daughter.  All serve as a mark in our lives that help us to remember.

On the desk in my study there sits a small brown stone.  That stone comes from the day that I was installed to be the pastor of Joliet Christian Church.  The Reverend Dr. Ruth Fletcher, our regional minister, spoke at that service and then offered to all who were there a stone . . . a stone to remember that moment, that promise, and that dream.  The stones were polished and donated by Reverend Don Beal, then the pastor at Billings Central Christian Church.  That stone sits upon my desk.  Every time that I glance upon that stone . . . I remember that day and how special it was in my life.  It is a cairn . . . a sacred cairn.

The truth of the matter is . . . we all mark those encounters with the Holy . . . those encounters with God in our lives.  So powerful and awesome are these encounters that we do not want to forget . . . we want to remember.  Across the years of our journeys, as we look back, we see on that path a myriad of cairns marking the way and showing us the future.  And, for each of us they are sacred.

This morning I want everyone (who wants to share) to share a story of their encounter with the Holy . . . with God.  It might be the story of that moment in your life when you gave yourself over to God through Jesus . . . a baptism story . . . or some other encounter.  I want people to share those sacred moments when they knew they were in the presence of God . . . when they knew that it was an “awesome” moment.  I want people to mark that moment in their lives so that we can all celebrate them together as something worth remembering and celebrating.  And, I want us to start a tradition . . . a tradition of marking and remembering the Holy in our lives on an annual basis . . . a “Sacred Cairn” Sunday each year.

As each individual offers a story, at its conclusion they will be given two stones.  One stone is to be kept as a reminder of this day; the other stone is to be shared during our time of offering.  During that time the individual will be asked to come forward and to place the stone upon the cairn sitting in front of the communion table.  In this way we erect a cairn as Jacob did . . . we consecrate the moment and offer not only the gift of the encounter with the sacred, but also ourselves to God.  In this way we will all remember.

Who would like to share a story? (Individual stories are shared.)

I thank all of you who shared a story this morning.  We all have stories to tell of our encounter with the presence of God who surrounds us like the air that we breathe; but, not all of us are ready to publicly share those stories.  God knows those stories . . . and, for you there are stones to keep and offer this morning.

As we journey through life we need to remember . . . we need to remember the presence of God in our lives in those times of joy and happiness . . . in those times of difficulty.  We need to remember the promise of God to never abandon us in our journeys . . . that God is always with us until we have fulfilled God’s promise in our lives . . . and, we need to mark those moments—those times, so that we will not forget.  We need to erect and continue to erect those sacred cairns that show us from where we have come and lead us to where we are going.  May the Lord bless us in the sacredness of this day . . . may we never forget.  God is good.  Amen.

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