Picture this. The day was July 20, 1969. With the nation focused on their televisions, breaking news was announced by the astronaut Neil Armstrong saying, ‘The Eagle has landed.’ Around 2PM on that day, the Apollo 11 spacecraft narrowly avoided landing in a crater, and safely piloted to land on the moon for the first time…ever. After an anxiety filled six more hours, Armstrong would step out onto the moon’s surface; the first human ever to do so, and utter the now famous phrase, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
And just like that, human history was made.
History that began with humans looking into the night sky and telling stories of God creating the universe and separating light and dark.
History that organized the stars in the sky into constellations, and learned the cycles of the moon.
History that inspired us to fly like the birds of the air in the 1920s. History that included names like ‘Sputnik’ and the former Soviet Union.
And now, in 1969, Americans would lead the way in exploration of the great, and for the most part unknown, galaxies of the universe.
Here at Valley Community Presbyterian Church in 1969, things were busy! Does anyone remember the pastor of this church back then? (Dr. Bob Davis). The church was busting at the seams with children, youth, and families of all sorts seeking out this church and coming to worship. The sanctuary was expanded in 1967, and eventually the youth group would outgrow its surroundings, and move into what is now the Youth House. The ‘If you build it, they will come’ mantra was alive and well for the Mainline Protestant churches of the 1960s, with membership reaching over 1600 members during that decade.
Today’s world is not very different than it was back in 1969. Yes, of course there are some very vast technological differences. For example, the computers on the Apollo 11 had less computing ability than today’s average cell phone! But as the saying goes, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.
Each day we wake up to breaking news about not the Soviet Union now, but about Russia.
Each day we read articles about rockets and spacecraft. Today’s stories may not be about the moon or even NASA, but we read about the International Space Station, Mars expeditions, and companies like SpaceX.
And I assume that there are some of us who may be sitting in the same pews that our families have sat in since 1969!
With all kidding aside, humans haven’t really changed. Humans have been around for a long time, at least in our perspective. I venture to guess that the Aborigines of Australia that looked to the sky some 60,000 years ago experienced the same sense of awe that you and I do today. People of all different time periods sought what was best for their families. People of all different ages and generations contemplated the bigness of the universe. People laughed, cried, and dreamed dreams.
You and I are not very different than the human beings who roamed the earth thousands of years ago. As crazy as it may sound, we drank the same water. We walked along the same dirt. And we looked up to the same moon.
Today’s Bible story is about a man who is very much like you and I. Although this story is quite old, perhaps nearly 2500 years old, we can still learn quite a bit from it.
Jacob has some baggage in his life. He comes from a somewhat dysfunctional family. Jacob has a history of conflict from his birth in his relationship with his brother Esau, of whom he stole his father Isaac’s blessing.
And now we read that Jacob is on the run of sorts…away from his brother whom he expects is trying to kill him for stealing his life’s identity.
As Jacob sleeps in the wilderness, really in the middle of nowhere, he has a dream of a ladder that connects heaven and earth.
We know that this is a holy ladder of sorts because of the presence of angels.
And amazingly in verse 13 we read that God appears!
God is clear in telling Jacob that this is the same God of his ancestors, and God promises Jacob land just like that of his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham, before him.
In verse 14 we read that not only will Jacob and his family maintain land, but God promises to bless his family,
14and 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 all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.
In verse 15 we hear God’s promise of a continued relationship between God and God’s people:
15Know that 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.”
Jacob recognizes this holy experience upon waking, and ceremonially anoints the rock that he rest his head upon and calls the place Bethel, which means, ‘house of God’
So what are we to make of this amazing story of Jacob’s ladder? How would you respond if you were in Jacob’s shoes…or sandals? How do we respond, in the busyness of our daily lives, to God entering into the scene?
This week the children of Vacation Bible School explored what it means to experience God’s love as part of being ‘Galactic Starveyors’. The children learned just how connected the spiritual life is connected with the life of science through worship, music, games, crafts, and even experiments. If one thing comes from this past week’s VBS, perhaps it is this: each time we look up to the night sky and see the moon and stars that surround us, may we be reminded of God’s love for each and every one of us as God’s children. How amazing it is that a God who could create what we see as the cosmos uniquely cares and loves each and every one of us!
Friends, the Good News: God’s covenant (promise) is not only of the past; God promises a bright future! God, who created the cosmos, loves each and every one of us uniquely, and has a plan for us!
Just as we look to the same heavens, and drink of the same waters, and walk on the same dust of the earth, it is the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Yes, today’s congregation may look a little different than it did back in 1969. Our membership is not as large as it once was. Some of the faces are a little older. People moving into the neighborhood are not necessarily looking to the church as the center of the community the way churches once were perceived fifty years ago.
But friends, let’s not be mistaken. The God who this congregation worshiped back in 1969 is the same God we worship today.
It is the same God who was at the beginning of Creation and put the stars in the sky.
It is the same God who appeared with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob.
It is the same God who raised Jesus from the dead.
It is the same God who moved within the Apostle Paul to share the Good News.
It is the same God who was with those who gave their lives in the name of Christ as martyrs.
It is the same God who John Calvin called upon when going back to Scripture with the Reformation.
It is the same God who the Presbytery prayed to as Valley Community Presbyterian Church was formed.
It is the same God who led this congregation for the past 75 years.
And it is the same God who is with us today, and will be with us in the days to come!
Today we do not celebrate a god of the past. We don’t celebrate a god of ‘the good old days.’
Today we celebrate the God of the galaxies! Today we remind ourselves of the one God who was with us from the beginning. And today, we celebrate God who will lead us in the next chapter of this congregation’s and this community’s history. From the very same dust of the earth that our ancestors walked. From dust of Brentwood Street to Moon dust, God is here.
And God calls us forward into the future as we remember the words that were spoken to Jacob on that ladder to the heavens: ‘Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…’
May we be courageous enough to listen for God in our thoughts, our daily lives, and our nightly dreams and be reminded of these words. And may we dream together what God has in store for this community, this church, and each and every one of our lives in the days to come.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.