By Rev. Doug Gray
“Where were you when…” These words define our generations and how we understand the world. Can you think of some of the moments when everything has changed for us all? I’ll give you an example: for some people, they can tell you where they were when they heard that World War II was over. For others, they know exactly where they were when they heard about Sandy Hook Elementary School. What are the events that people might say, “Where were you when…”
[Take responses from the congregation.]
The thing about all of these events is that they stick in our minds with great vividness. We can recall with great detail when our worlds began to shift. While we have some shared experiences about times the world seemed to change, we each have times in our personal lives when everything seems to change. Some call this a “moment of clarity.” An alcoholic—I’ll call her Janet—said, “A moment of clarity is often described as a sudden, and deep acceptance of some truth that has been impossible for us to see.” Can you think of a time when your own world changed? They can be positive or negative experiences.
[Take responses from the congregation.]
When that happens, what is it God is calling us to? How do we live into these moments that change everything? In our passage for today, Jacob has one of those moments that changes everything for him. What can we learn from him?
The first thing is to recognize that something extraordinary has happened. What is the truth or truths we see clearly? Jacob wakes up after having an amazing dream, and says, “Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!” Janet wrote of her moment of clarity, “I remember it vividly. I awoke from a drunken stupor weekend spent in a blackout, lying flat, face down on my kitchen floor, I could not move. I remember my thoughts running something like this: Is there any wine left? What am I doing on the floor? I need more wine. What day is it? What time is it? OMG! What happened? How much did I drink. This is crazy. I am scared. I cannot move. What happened? I cannot move. This is horrible. OMG! I am going to die. This is crazy. I cannot do this any longer. There is nothing else left to do – I will either die a drunk or I have to get sober!” For this alcoholic, the moment of clarity brought clear understanding of the paths and a choice of which one to take. For Jacob, it was meeting God directly in a whole new way—God is not away out there, but God cares and God has promised him a future. We have to recognize this moment of clarity for the truth we can see from it.
The second thing is to immediately do something about this truth. Janet writes, “With this realization, I felt a sense of surrender, and peace, something that is tough to explain; I felt lite and relieved. I had never felt like this before, it was an absolute stillness internally; I was not angry, I was not sad, and I was no longer afraid. It did not matter. Whatever was on the other side of this life, just had to be better. I picked up the phone, and for the first time in my life, I asked for help.” When Jacob wakes up, he immediately stood up the stone that had been his pillow and poured oil on it. Jacob marked that stone and that moment, locking it into his memory acting immediately.
The final thing is to carry that moment into the next moment, the next choice. For Janet, making that first call to get help was only the beginning. “The moment of clarity was vital to my transformation… Many of us struggle for years to get out of the devastating cycle of addiction, because often recovery starts only when the truth finally breaks through our deep denial. For some it happens in this moment of clarity, for others the defining moment is actually the result of a progression of traumatic experiences caused by our addiction. Nevertheless, the moment of clarity has happened to virtually all of us, and it has singlehandedly propelled us into recovery.” For Jacob, the promises God made to him, the relationship they truly started that night—these make him a different person as he starts back on his journey to find his future far away. If we are wise, we carry these moments of clarity into all of the rest of our lives.
Jacob has out-cheated and out-competed his brother, and now he has to get out—leaving his home and family. And in this critical moment, God speaks with clarity. Christopher Kennedy Lawford, in his book, Moments of Clarity: Voices from the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery, writes, “[Moments of clarity] are rare. Nevertheless, everybody has them. Those unanticipated seconds in time when the whirlwind of life ceases and a virgin oasis of awareness suddenly opens the mind to a thought or a vision that resonates beyond that moment, even when the moment goes away. For addicts and alcoholics, such experiences are usually the catalysts that turn despair into hope and the helplessness of addiction into the promise of recovery.” The ironic part is that we all share in the challenges of addiction in one way or another. In the end, like Jacob and Janet, we often come face-to-face with our flaws and failures and realize that we are hopeless to escape them. And then something miraculous happens—we receive a promise from God that we have a future, and it is not through what we have been. Janet says, “Whatever was on the other side of this life, just had to be better.” Jacob, not really sure about this God-thing, says, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God…” And Jesus makes it even clearer as He struggles with the cross that is to come, and prays “Yet, not what I want, but what You want.” In that moment of clarity comes clarity of purpose…and amazingly God raises Jesus to this new life. And that’s the promise to us today. Maybe this is a moment of clarity for you, a time when heaven and earth are joined, and all of a sudden you understand things more clearly, know God’s purpose more clearly. Won’t you recognize that something extraordinary has happened? Won’t you do something in this moment to lock in the truth you have been shown? Won’t you take this moment and through it, let God change all the rest of your life for the better? The promise Jacob received is also our promise: “…and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, … for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”