Finding a Way to Heaven on Earth, or, Raising up the House of God (Sermon for 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, 2017)

The first part of the sermon for today didn’t record, it was:

The reading for today from the Hebrew Bible, the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis, is a reading that sort of begs artistic imagination. We are told in this reading that the patriarch Jacob lays down and has a vision. “And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” What must that ladder have looked like? Countless artists have sought to imagine the possibilities.

But, if we truly want to imagine this structure reaching up to heaven, the first thing we must do is to get rid of that word ladder. The Hebrew word is sullam, is what’s known as a “hapax legomenon”—that is, this is the only time the word appears in the Hebrew Bible. These are words that exist in Scripture, often with a footnote that says, “meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.” This means, quite literally, we’re not sure at all what in the world this word actually means. Sullam is derived from a word that refers to lifting something up and though our translation translates it as ladder, it can also be translated as stairway (hence Led Zeppelin’s song, which was apparently an exercise in Hebrew translation). It can also mean a raised mound. Some scholars have suggested it refers to the steps that were on ziggurats, those pyramid like structures you’ve seen perhaps in Mesopotamia or in Aztec ruins, steps upon which people would ascend to holy places.

I remember when I was doing archeology work in Israel, both in college and in graduate school, and we walked one particular site that was a series of rooms going from one place to another down a long row. My professor noted this was one ancient near eastern ritual form, as the worshippers would go through successive rooms, not ascending up to a physical height, but rather ascending spiritually as they came closer to the place where the divine dwelt. This could be a sullam.

The audio for the rest of today’s sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter, Year A, is available below:


The video of the rest of the sermon is available below as well:

E-Newsletter for Sunday, July 9

Our Teens Need YOU, Uganda Summer Fun, Upcoming Conference, and More in the E-Newsletter for Sunday, July 9

From the Rector
The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, SCP

Dear *|FNAME|*,

Were you to spend some time looking at the mission and vision statements of Episcopal Churches, you’d notice a common thread. Among the many shared callings every Episcopal Church has is a desire to cultivate young families.

However, this part of Christian ministry is often easier said than done. It requires a commitment of time, talent, and treasure to the work of providing resources for spiritual growth in family life.

At St. John’s, you took a great step in that direction with the calling of Reyna Masko to be our new Coordinator of Children and Youth Ministry. The generosity of the Prinzi family in establishing the Hill Family Children Christian Education Fund, established in memory of Creighton, Ruth, Robert, and Dorothy Hill, provided the resources Reyna needed for the curriculum purchase that will enable us to begin Godly Play this fall. We have had a great response to that new children’s program, with six people prepared to serve on a rotation and be trained as Godly Play Storytellers. Four more have signed up to be second adult helpers. That’s almost an entirely full roster! (If you want to help, you can still sign up online here.)

But that is only one half of the equation. The other half is our youth ministry. If you don’t already know, we have some AMAZING teenagers at St. John’s. Three of them gave over a week of their summer to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic (see some pictures of their work online here). One of those three, a strong Latina who previously served as a youth vestry member, will be going to this year’s Episcopal Youth Event. And there are others, teens who show up for youth group on Sunday and events throughout the year.

We are working on rolling out a new program for them as well, a program called Journey 2 Adulthood (read more about it online here). We have two adults signed up to be trained as J2A leaders—we would really like at least two more to keep the rotation strong. We also have one person signed up as a second adult for youth group and would really like to have several more being willing to rotate in and help out on Sundays with this program.

Please, take some time this weekend to consider this important ministry. Pray about God’s calling in your life. Ask how God is calling you to help form the faith of children and teens at St. John’s. Then, click here to see the options for children and youth ministry and sign up where you most feel called to serve.

I hope that this fall, when our children and teens come back to 11:30am Sunday School, they see a strong number of adults who have stepped up to support them, a clear and visible sign of how much children and teens are valued by this congregation.

Whether or not they see that this fall, though, will be up to you.

Through Grace,

Read more in the E-Newsletter for Sunday, July 9

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