Rev. Ha Na Park Sermon
Today’s Bible story of Jacob’s dream is one of my favourites, for I am a dreamer, too. When I identify myself as a dreamer, I am not only saying that I am an idealist, holding a big vision in my heart. I am a literal dreamer; I dream a lot through the night, and remember the dreams that are particularly vivid and clear. They give me insight to help understand myself, the present emotional and spiritual status of my soul; they even give me direction for the future.
Jacob, in today’s story, is on a journey toward Haran, hoping to find a wife there. He travels to the east, and ‘encounters’ a certain place, and stays there, for the sun has set. It sounds like a random encounter, but it is actually a planned rendezvous.Jacob has been led to this place. The story tells us, “He took one of the stones of that place, put it under his head, and slept in that particular place.” (28:11) In other words, he was doing some backcountry camping under the open, starry sky, which is definitely on my ‘to do’ list. In that particular place, Jacob begins to dream. He dreams of a stone stairway resting upon the earth, its top stretching to the sky, and messengers of God ascending and descending on it.
We often use ‘space’ and ‘place’ interchangeably; we don’t often recognize the difference in meaning in these two words, but place is less abstract than ‘space.’ Place has a connotation of being known, of being a distinct location. In today’s story, when Jacob awakes from his sleep, he is aware that “Certainly the Lord is in this particular place and I did not know it.”
He is afraid: “How awesome is this particular place! Why, it is none other than the house of God, the gateway to the sky!” (28:17) With this awareness, with this attained particular sense of place, this place is no longer a void, anonymous “space”, which has no relation with him. It has become a ‘place’, charged with the presence of God.
This week, one of our church members, John, gave my family a special tour. The tour was planned as soon as my family arrived on the first week of this month, on the very first day I began my ministry here! The church threw me and Gordon a ‘welcome’ tea, and right there, John offered to give me and my family a tour of the ‘mission spots’: the impoverished areas around us which are often hidden from us. Later, we renamed the tour as ‘Finding the Margins’ after I gave my first sermon, asserting that we need to be an intentional community that extends invitations and builds relationships with those who find themselves at the margins, and was subsequently challenged and inspired by John’s suggestion that poverty is a pressing issue which marginalizes and isolates many people in our city. Last Wednesday, at 4:30 pm, we gathered from three directions; John from his home, me from my office, my boys and my husband Min Goo from somewhere in Winnipeg after a busy day of exploration. From our different directions, we all hopped into my family’s car, and we went along.
As my knowledge of the neighbourhoods and roads of Winnipeg is still quite sketchy, my memory is augmented with the aid of John’s notes: Our tour began on Novavista, which turned into River Road. That took us past St. Amant Centre. Then we went back on Bishop Grandin, turning up St. Mary’s to Beliveau. We drove down Beliveau to St. Anne’s, although there are more low-income units east of St. Ann’s. Then we went south on St. Anne’s, turning into the large housing estate south of Meadowood. We noted, but did not turn into some low-income housing just west of St. Anne’s and just north of the shopping mall at the intersection of Southglen. (I think that’s it; You may want to retrace this as your own mission tour of our neighbourhoods.)
While I was on the tour, I didn’t recognize all the names and places, but one place that caught my attention was a neighbourhood on Beliveau Road. When my family was driving down Beliveau Road, passing by Victor Mager School and some apartment complexes, which are not social housing, but do have a lot of low-income families as well as immigrants and refugees, I recognized that place – it was actually where we were seriously considering renting an apartment. The “MOVE HERE, NOW LEASING” banner that was hung on the newly-built apartment building caught my eye a few weeks ago, and the very reasonable rent, including all utilities, was a very attractive offer. We explored the neighbourhood, and did some research. We asked the people we met about how they liked living there, what the schools were like, whether the neighbourhood was child-friendly. The playgrounds always had kids in them, some speaking Spanish, some speaking languages I couldn’t recognize, some enjoying riding scooters with their friends, with the freedom I remembered from my own childhood. We liked it. Some people suggested we should check the crime rate, and whether the place was safe, but we liked it. The schools: no one spoke very favourably about the schools, but one immigration settlement staff person told my husband that she sent all of her children to Victor Mager School, and they all liked it, and the school took good care of them.
So when we were touring Beliveau Road, I thought, ‘We could be one of them! Didn’t we think this was a perfect place for us when we first visited here? A long bike path, along the shallow river, and a playground right in front of the apartment with lots of kids playing?’ After the tour, Min-Goo and I talked, and agreed, “if we could go back and choose again, we would have chosen to live on Beliveau, where we really could have lived our mission.”
In today’s story, Jacob says, with his new-found awareness, as he experiences the place he names “Bethel” in a new way, “Certainly the Lord is in this particular place and I did not know it.”
In our lives and journey of faith, when we encounter any place by seeing it and personalizing it through the lens of mission, God’s purpose, or simple appreciation for the energy and spirit of a place and its inhabitants, we pronounce that this particular place is charged with God’s activity and God’s purpose. After the “Margins” tour, having visited some places that are near to us in Meadowood, but hidden, and whose major populations are low-income families and others who live in poverty, we all reflected on the question, “Isn’t it interesting that we as a church in Meadowood have so little contact with those who live here?”
The truth is, you don’t need a lens of mission to see the need, to see the energy and vibrancy, potential and challenges of living out Jesus’s commandments in this neighbourhood, this place…
‘Place’ is, again, very interesting to me, as I am still finding my place here, still working on navigating my way around the city. We see the places we dream for, and we inhabit the places we dream from. Like the arc of a rainbow, the dream starts in one location and ends in another; like a rainbow, the beginning and end of dreaming depends entirely on the viewpoint of the individual. To dream of innovating and creating new circumstances, we cannot truly engage with the visioning process until we have encountered and engaged with people and their places and have come to truly know their struggles and hopes, joys and challenges.
Today’s story tells us “In that particular place, Jacob begins to dream.” He dreams of a stone stairway resting upon the earth, its top stretching for the sky, and messengers of God ascending and descending on it. We may be more familiar with the version of the story which describes ‘angels’ going up and down the ladder. But, in the original intent of the story, the function of these beings are ‘messengers’ – possessing a spiritual gift of prophecy, delivering messages that motivate people to create, recreate, and innovate how we are to live, how we are to create space as a place that promotes visions. I dream and pray that our space as the United Church in Meadowood becomes a place that fosters our values for social innovation, inclusion and spiritual growth – that we become the messengers who engage with people and places, and encourage them to live up to God’s purpose for all. Amen.