Space with God

Scripture: Genesis 28:10-22

Title: Space with God


  • Introduction – S.P.I.R.I.T.
  • Jacob’s space with God
  • Our space with God
  • Conclusion


‘Wifi’ – we rely on it so much these days

–         Wifi enables us to interact with others on Facebook

–         To search a world wide database for all the answers to our questions

–         To watch TV shows and YouTube clips, to download stuff,

–         To send and receive email messages

–         To pay our bills and so on

–         I really don’t understand how Wifi works

–         I only know that Wifi gives us the capacity to interact with a whole different world – not the physical world but a virtual world of data and information


‘Spirituality’ – you sometimes hear that word (but not as much as wifi)

–         In popular culture these days it’s not cool to be religious but it’s okay to be spiritual

–         If you Google that word ‘spirituality’ it takes you down a whole lot of rabbit holes


What then does it mean to be spiritual?

–         Well, if wifi is your capacity to connect with the virtual world of the internet – to interact with others on-line

–         Then spirituality is our capacity to connect with God – to interact with His Spirit in other words


I have used the metaphor of wifi to illustrate what we mean by spirituality

–         Jesus used the metaphor of the vine and its branches. Jesus said…

–         No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches… Remain in me.  [1]


In very basic terms we could say that, for Christians, spirituality is Christ’s way of being with us as well as our way of being with Jesus


Today we begin a new sermon series which I’m calling ‘Being with God’

–         It is essentially about Christian spirituality


Now some of you may not think of yourselves as all that ‘spiritual’

–         You might think, I’m more of the down to earth or practical type

–         But being practical and down to earth doesn’t make you any less spiritual

–         In fact it probably makes you closer to God if anything

–         All human beings have the capacity to relate with God and so we are all spiritual beings whether we are aware of it or not


Rebecca Nye, who has written a book on children’s spirituality, has a wonderful acronym which I’m borrowing for this series [2]


Her acronym spells the word S.P.I.R.I.T.

–         S stands for Space

–         P stands for Process

–         I stands for Imagination

–         R is for Relationship

–         The second I stands for Intimacy

–         And the T stands for Trust

–         Space, Process, Imagination, Relationship, Intimacy & Trust


These are all crucial aspects or essential elements of Christian spirituality

–         We need these six things to connect with and interact with Jesus

–         Spirit is our equivalent of a wifi connection with God

–         Over the coming weeks I plan to unpack each of these elements, starting with Space this morning


By space we don’t mean ‘Space the final frontier…’

–         It’s not space as in Star Trek or Star Wars

–         But space as in a sacred place

–         A special place where you connect with God

–         A space that especially helps you to be more aware of God’s presence


Jacob’s space with God:

To help explore this idea of sacred space please turn with me to Genesis chapter 28 – page 32 near the beginning of your pew Bibles

–         To set the scene a little Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, is on the run from his twin brother Esau – and Jacob has an encounter with God

–         We pick up Jacob’s story from verse 10 of Genesis 28…


10 Jacob left Beersheba and started toward Haran. 11 At sunset he came to a holy place and camped there. He lay down to sleep, resting his head on a stone. 12 He dreamed that he saw a stairway reaching from earth to heaven, with angels going up and coming down on it. 13 And there was the Lord standing beside him. “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac,” he said. “I will give to you and to your descendants this land on which you are lying. 14 They will be as numerous as the specks of dust on the earth. They will extend their territory in all directions, and through you and your descendants I will bless all the nations. 15 Remember, I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done all that I have promised you.”


16 Jacob woke up and said, “The Lord is here! He is in this place, and I didn’t know it!” 17 He was afraid and said, “What a terrifying place this is! It must be the house of God; it must be the gate that opens into heaven.”


18 Jacob got up early next morning, took the stone that was under his head, and set it up as a memorial. Then he poured olive oil on it to dedicate it to God. 19 He named the place Bethel. (The town there was once known as Luz.) 20 Then Jacob made a vow to the Lord: “If you will be with me and protect me on the journey I am making and give me food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then you will be my God. 22 This memorial stone which I have set up will be the place where you are worshiped, and I will give you a tenth of everything you give me.”


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us


We were recently in the South Island and were lucky enough to travel down the West Coast

–         We had never been there before, so it was new and exciting


We stayed a couple of nights at Franz Josef and during the day we walked up the valley to where you could see the end of the glacier about 500 metres away

–         You can’t actually walk on the glacier anymore unless you go in a helicopter


We could see where the glacier used to be – how it has carved out this massive path through solid rock

–         For thousands of years the glacier ice has been slowly advancing and receding, moving mountains as it goes

–         The glacier is God’s chisel


There’s a fault line that runs down the valley to the petrol station in the township of Franz Josef and a splinter fault running at right angles to the valley

–         It is a real intersection for the forces of nature


Strangely, I felt quite peaceful in that environment

–         The largeness of that space made me conscious of how small I am

–         The oldness of the space made me think how short and insignificant my life really is

–         And the wildness made me aware that I wasn’t in charge

–         I was subject to powers far greater and far older than me


Now you may be wondering, how does all of that give you a sense of peace?

–         Well, it’s difficult to explain really – it just does

–         Perhaps it’s the peace which comes from perspective – all your problems fade into insignificance against the grandeur of that kind of background

–         Or maybe it was the understanding that God is in control here, not me

–         And because God is in control I don’t need to worry

–         My life is in his hands

–         Whatever the reason, the bigness of the environment made me feel lighter and freer – it was wonderful

–         For me those mountains and glaciers, and the valleys in between, all that ancient wide open space, was sacred


In Genesis 28 Jacob is on the run from his brother Esau

–         Jacob had tricked Esau out of his birth right and the blessing too

–         Naturally Esau was angry

–         Jacob was between a rock & a hard place – he had little choice but to run


Alone, scared, exhausted and in an unfamiliar place, Jacob lies down to sleep

–         He is so tired he uses a stone for his pillow

–         And when he dozes off the Lord God appears to him in a dream


This morning we are talking about the importance of space in our spiritual lives – that is, in our interactions with God

–         Jacob’s encounter with God takes place, not in wakeful control, but at a time when his guard is down, while he is asleep [3]

–         It also takes place when he has been forced to leave home – while he is on his way into exile


The initiative for this encounter is with God

–         Jacob hasn’t been praying or seeking God in anyway – he’s just been running for his life

–         So this interaction is unexpected from Jacob’s point of view


Jacob knows on some level that he has done wrong and, if anything, he isn’t expecting grace or encouragement – he’s probably feeling guilty and expecting punishment

–         Yet there is no word of reproach from God

–         There is no telling off, no reprisal

–         The Lord himself stands beside Jacob

–         Wow – imagine that – seeing God stand beside you

–         God isn’t up in heaven sitting on his throne looking down on Jacob

–         He is ‘down to earth’ standing alongside Jacob


The main point of Jacob’s vision of the stairway reaching from earth to heaven with angels going up & down, seems to be that heaven and earth are connected

–         Angels are heavenly messengers, running errands for God, so there is an on-going connection between heaven and earth

–         Heaven is in fact coming to earth

–         Jacob can count on the resources of heaven


In Jacob’s dream the Lord introduces himself and reiterates the promise he had made to Abraham – Jacob is now the beneficiary of that promise

–         Then the Lord basically says three things to Jacob…

–         I will be with you, I will protect you and I will bring you back to this land

–         Presence, protection and homecoming

–         That was not what Jacob was expecting to hear but it was exactly what he needed to hear


When Jacob woke up he said…

–         “The Lord is here! He is in this place and I didn’t know it. What a terrifying place this is. It must be the house of God; it must be the gate that opens into heaven.”


It was God’s presence in that place that made it sacred space

–         As a memorial to God’s presence Jacob set up a stone and poured olive oil on it to consecrate it to the Lord

–         Then he named the place “Bethel”

–         Beth means ‘house’ and El is one of the names of God

–         So Bethel means ‘House of God’

–         This is sacred space


One thing we note is that it’s not just the physical space which is in view here – Jacob’s emotional space also gets a mention

–         He says, ‘what a terrifying place this is’

–         The presence of God is often presented in the Bible as a frightening thing for human beings

–         In a paradoxical way the fear of God actually gives us a deeper sense of peace

–         When we fear God our other fears don’t seem like such a big deal

–         Like walking in the mountains – being in the presence of something far older and more powerful gives us perspective, setting us free from our petty anxieties


The point is, Jacob’s encounter with God has put Jacob in a better emotional space


God has made promises to Jacob so Jacob makes a promise to God

–         He will worship God and give the Lord 10% of everything God gives him

–         We call this 10% a tithe

–         Giving in proportion to what we receive


The obvious thing to note here is that financial giving is an act of spiritual worship

–         Jacob’s tithe is not a tax – it’s freely promised by Jacob

–         By giving this tithe Jacob is acknowledging that everything he receives actually comes from God and therefore belongs to God


Sometimes when we give our offerings in church or through AP’s we might think we are doing God a favour, giving to God out of our own resources

–         But that’s not right – that’s entitlement thinking

–         Everything we have is a gift from God including the ability to work and earn money

–         There are plenty of people in the world who work harder than us and get paid a lot less

–         When we make an offering to the church we are simply returning something to God which came from him in the first place

–         It’s not our money, it’s His


The point we shouldn’t miss here is that Jacob’s spirituality permeated the rest of his life

–         It wasn’t something abstract or out there, separate from his life

–         Jacob’s spirituality affected him emotionally and financially


Okay, so Bethel was Jacob’s sacred space with God


Our space with God:

What about our sacred space with God?

–         Where is it that you are especially aware of God’s presence?


For many people the church sanctuary is sacred space

–         After all, it is where people gather for special occasions like weddings and funerals

–         It is also where we come together to sing songs of praise to God, to hear his word, receive communion and take care of our relationships together

–         All special, all sacred and meaningful rituals which support our spiritual life


One of the things people notice about this auditorium is that it actually looks like a church

–         It has been purpose built and consecrated as a church

–         It’s not just a generic warehouse style building

–         It’s not that God can’t meet with people in a warehouse – he can

–         It’s more that there is something special about the feel of this place

–         This is more obviously a sacred space


When we look around in this auditorium we see a huge space above us

–         From a practical point of view having this massive space overhead doesn’t make sense – it’s difficult to heat, hard to change the light bulbs and doesn’t seem to serve any functional purpose – But I like it

–         It speaks to me of the largeness of God – the spaciousness of God

–         In a way it reminds me of being in the mountains


I suppose because church buildings are sacred space they can potentially be a touchy subject if we make changes to the place

–         The thing to keep in mind here is that we worship God, not the space

–         What makes a space sacred is God’s presence

–         Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” [4]

–         Where Christ is, there God is also

–         That means it’s not the architecture which makes a building sacred space, it is Christ among his people who make it sacred


While we don’t worship this space we still want to take care of it – to maintain it, keep it clean and tidy and safe for people

–         You know how it is – when you have people coming over to your house you whip round with the vacuum cleaner and make the place clean and comfortable for them.

–         How much more so when it is Christ who we are meeting with


As we’ve seen from Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel, sacred space is not limited to church buildings

–         You may have encountered God while walking up Colonial Knob and so that is sacred space for you

–         Or you may have a particular room in your house which is sacred space because that’s where you go to pray and read the Bible

–         We need to go to those spaces often to be with God in a special way


One of the things that goes hand in hand with physical space is time

–         We can’t be in a space without spending time

–         Time seems to be in short supply for most of us these days

–         Life seems to be very busy and rushed

–         Some of that is the choices we make but not all of it


Tomorrow is Labour Day when we get a day off to celebrate the introduction of the 40 hour working week

–         It is difficult to find many people in fulltime jobs who work as little as 40 hours a week these days

–         Employers demand more and more – that is one of the downsides to living in a consumerist society I suppose

–         Some people have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet


The good news is that even though we are relatively time poor God is Lord of time – he is able to make room in our busy schedules

–         And he is able to accomplish quite a lot in a short amount of time


Take Jacob for example – He was in a hurry, a hurry to get away from Esau

–         He didn’t have many discretionary daylight hours

–         So God met with Jacob while he was asleep – in a dream

–         And God accomplished a lot in Jacob’s heart & mind in that short time


Now I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t try to make time for God

–         Of course we should – we could often do with less TV and more listening to God and each other

–         But if you are a parent looking after young kids at home then it can be quite difficult sometimes to find half an hour of sacred space to be alone with God

–         God understands that – he gets it

–         He is able to meet you in your busy-ness

–         Maybe for you sacred space is when the other kids are at school or kindy and you take your baby for a walk in the pram – they go to sleep and you listen for God while you walk

–         Or if that doesn’t work then think of some other way you could connect with God as part of your normal routine

–         Or if you are in paid employment and have a demanding job maybe use the commute to listen to some sermons or something else that helps you focus on God – put your earphones in and away you go

–         The point is, be open to God’s presence in the ordinary routines of life for God can meet us anywhere


Another form of sacred space is silence

–         There is so much noise in many of our lives and silence gives us rest from the noise


Not just that though – when we are silent in order to listen to other people we create sacred space for that person to be heard and understood

–         And when they are heard and understood loneliness is kept at bay

–         Then light and warmth find their way into the soul


Stephen King wrote a book called The Body which was later made into the 80’s cult classic movie, Stand by Me


In his book Stephen King writes…

–         The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words make them smaller. When they were in your head they were limitless; but when they come out they seem to be no bigger than a normal thing.


That is very true in my experience

–         Some things are so important their meaning cannot be properly expressed by mere words

–         Silence can be the vehicle which preserves the sanctity of those pearls

–         Or it can be a way of saying something so important it can’t be put into words [5]



Talking about our spiritual lives, like we are, doesn’t really do justice to the reality of being with God

–         With this in mind I want to create the opportunity for some sacred space for you now

–         In a moment I will step down from the pulpit and we will have a minute or two of silence

–         You might want to close your eyes during this time and just be with God

–         Let go of your worry and anxiety and simply listen

–         What is it Jesus wants to say to you – what is it he wants to give you…

[1] John 15

[2] Rebecca Nye, ‘Children’s Spirituality’, page 41.

[3] Walter Brueggemann’s Interpretation commentary on Genesis.

[4] Matthew 18:20

[5] Rebecca Nye, ‘Children’s Spirituality’, page 45.