"Spiritual Makeovers"
Scripture - Genesis 28:10-22
Sermon Preached by Jill Getty
Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ross and I enjoy walking around our neighborhood during the warmer months. There is one route where we walk past a particular home where an old hound dog comes barreling out of the garage barking for all he is worth. Now I like dogs, but I do not trust them if they are not with their owner because I don't know whether they will be friendly or not.

So the first time we passed this hound dog's home a couple of years ago, I said to Ross, "Okay, speed it up; I'm walking on the other side of the road past this house." Ross assured me that it was just an old hound dog making noise and there was nothing to fear. I was not so sure about that. But, the more we walked passed that house, the more comfortable I became and I actually came to love seeing that dog. He was so funny running out of the garage, barking, then running down the driveway and then running the length of his yard beside us barking the entire way with his tail wagging. When we got to the end of his yard, he would stop and we kept going. We always got a laugh out of this dog.

Lately, the dog does not come out much anymore, the last time he came out, he was older and grayer and could only run the length of the driveway. But his bark was just as loud and his tail wagged in earnest. Now, when we pass his house and he does not come out, I just look at Ross and say "wof, wof, wof, wof..." and we both laugh and say we missed seeing him. I was transformed in my thinking about that dog from fear to real enjoyment.

Extreme Weight Loss is a television show that tells the story of one person who has transformed his or her weight in one year. David was the man featured on one of the episodes. He weighed 413 pounds. Chris Powell, the coach and host of the show, chose David to go on a year-long weight loss journey.

During that year, David had to confront the reason he had gained so much weight. When he was a senior in high school, he was supposed to babysit his two younger brothers and his younger sister while his parents were at work. On one particular day, he decided to leave the house and go spend time with his friends. While David was out, one of his younger brothers broke into his Dad's gun cabinet; retrieved one of the guns, and shot the other brother while they were playing cops and robbers. Only six weeks later, David fell asleep before he gave his younger sister her epilepsy medication that she took every night to reduce her seizures. She died during the night. David blamed himself for 12 years for the deaths of his younger siblings and ate himself to 413 pounds.

During one of David's first workout sessions, his coach challenged him to take 3 large bags of weights up a literal mountain of stairs. David took each weight bag up the stairs where he deposited the weight at the top of the mountain. He symbolically left the shame and guilt he had been carrying with him ever since the accidents that killed his siblings as he had felt that his whole life had been a fight, dealing with those deaths.

David went through a year-long process of confronting his guilt and shame; talking things through with his parents; learning to balance all of life's work, activities, and relationships, all the while changing his habits of eating and exercise. By the end of the year, David had lost 201 pounds. David said that it felt like his life had been saved; that his relationships had been transformed; that he was no longer in the prison of his own body watching life pass by. However, he said that the weight loss process had become so much more than weight loss - it had become a transformation for him mentally, emotionally and spiritually - that he felt like a different person inside as well as outside.1

Transformation is something that we all long for deep in our souls. We desire to be more than we are; to achieve more than we have done; to help more people; to make more out of our lives before it is too late. The scripture today teaches us about what it means to be transformed in the hands of the living God. Jacob was on the run because he had stolen his brother's blessing and birthright in a deceitful way. He had deceived his brother into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. Then Jacob lied to, deceived and tricked his sick and aging father who was basically on his death bed into giving him the blessing of the first son which belonged to his brother, Esau.

After his last deception, Jacob set out running from the anger of his brother Esau. And that is where our scripture lesson picks up. You might think that God would have a lightning bolt waiting to strike Jacob, but instead God gives Jacob a dream and a vision. While on the run, Jacob stopped for a night's rest - not at a lodge but somewhere out in the open. He went to sleep and had a dream in which God promised Jacob several things including:

  1. The land he was sleeping on.
  2. That Jacob's descendants would be numerous like the dust of the earth.
  3. That all the families of the earth would be blessed by Jacob's family.
  4. That God himself would be with Jacob wherever he went.

Now that is a lot of promises for the Holy One - God Almighty to be making to this trickster and deceiver - especially since Jacob had just committed this terrible sin against his family. At this point, we might think Jacob deserves a sermon like Jonathon Edward's sermon called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But instead, Jacob received a lovely dream of angels coming and going in and out of heaven and a message of incredible promises from God. Instead of being crushed, Jacob is transformed in the hands of the living God. For we see in this passage that God's grace is all encompassing even in a situation where Jacob was clearly in the wrong. God did not even say to Jacob, as Jesus once said to the adulterous woman, "...go and sin no more."

For some reason, the grace that God extends in this story is absolutely unconditional. God chose to use Jacob for positive transformation in his world in spite of himself. He gave Jacob an unexpected spiritual makeover. When Jacob awakes from his dream - he proclaims that surely God is in this place - for he has had an extreme encounter with the Holy One. He recognizes that God is giving him a life-altering moment. That God is going to fulfill promises through him in spite of his misdeeds. That is truly grace. This passage shows us what it means to be in the hands of the living God - it means that God never gives up on us even when we have made bad choices and decisions - that God is always with us - to give us grace and a new direction to walk towards. Even so, it seems that God's dreams for Jacob are far bigger than Jacob can imagine. In his vow, Jacob only hopes for food and clothes and to one day be able to return to his family in peace - implying his hope for forgiveness and reconciliation.

Sometimes we are like Jacob. We believe that God can do something in our lives, but we have limited vision and a bit of doubt about how big we can think. God indeed did fulfill all the promises made by God as well as, providing for Jacob's basic needs, including a reconciliation many years later with his twin brother Esau. Later, Jacob is renamed Israel - denoting the very beginnings of the entire nation that would eventually develop. That is not to say that Jacob did not have more struggles with God and his family. Did you know the very name Israel means "the one who strives with God." Some of us know what it means to strive with God over decisions, circumstances, and family drama. The real ticket - is that God wants us to prevail; to live; to change in positive ways. God wants spiritual makeovers for us and these usually happen when we are striving. God moves in our lives to bring spiritual makeovers not just to us, but for our families and for our world.

Christi Boyd is a Presbyterian Church (USA) mission worker in the Congo. She and her husband Jeff moved to the Congo last year after serving in several other African countries. Recently, she wrote, "In some African communities, women who are still grieving the deaths of their husbands find themselves without a house to live in or land to farm. A husband's family can force a widow and her children from the home she shared with her husband...creating great difficulty for the widow as without the land and her husband's income she will have difficulty feeding her children and will not be able to afford to send them to school." This is a practice that is widespread in African societies, and it stems from superstitions that tragic loss, such as premature death, is caused by someone through mystic powers. So widows are often blamed for their husbands' deaths. This is one of the issues that the Presbyterian Church of the Congo and other African churches have asked Christi to help them address."

Here's a story from Mubji Mayi in the Congo: "My husband died at the Congo border. When I received word about his death, I dropped what I was doing and traveled there. But upon my return home two weeks later, I found that my in-laws had taken all that my husband had left me. I was stripped of everything; we didn't even have a stool to sit on. They started to harass me and wanted to chase me out of our house, but thanks to mediation efforts by the church, I was allowed to stay and raise my children." Widows have Congolese law on their side if their marriages are registered with the government. The problem is that many marriages in Congo are sealed in traditional ceremonies without a license from the state. Particularly in rural churches, many couples don't know to look beyond what culture prescribes, and those who do know, don't see the advantages of having their marriages registered with the government."

"So the Women's Department of the Presbyterian Church in Congo is holding seminars throughout the region it serves, telling people about the protection widows have if their marriages are registered and how to get a license. Christi says the efforts are gaining traction. One barrier to getting a marriage license has been the cost, a sum equivalent to $10. This is a significant burden for people who live on less than $1 per day. Christi says, in some communities, thanks to lobbying by the Church, the fee has been reduced to $2. Like other Presbyterian mission workers, Christi seeks to help partners change the systems that cause poverty and violence rather than simply address the symptoms."2

That is what it means for the church universal to be in the hands of the living God. For God knows that these injustices exist for our sisters and brothers living in the Congo and elsewhere. God also knows that the best way to change people is to give them a vision of a better situation and help them to work towards that goal. Imagine how the living God would like to transform the entire world. God has this living organism called the church - the body of Christ - to work through to bring great healing, mercy, grace and transformation to oppressive and difficult situations. Jesus told the disciples in John 3:17 - that he was not sent into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jesus came to save - reform, and give spiritual makeovers to each of us and through us - the world.

The last few years, I have called the General Manager at the Zebulon Country Club in my hometown of Zebulon, North Carolina to buy a gift certificate for my Dad's birthday. My dad loves to play golf. Just yesterday, I called again to purchase a gift certificate for my dad. I grew up with the man who is now the general manager; he is married and has a 14 year old son and he and his family go to the United Methodist Church in town. We usually enjoy a little small talk when I call, but this time, he said hold on for a minute and let me go to my office. He told me how two weeks ago he was out with his family on the boat. He was driving the boat and pulling his son on water skis. He said that he accidently misjudged the depth and area and that caused him to pull his son into a pier. He said he was a basket case as he held his son, praying that he would live and be all right. He said his wife turned into the rock and new exactly what to do - calling 911 - when he could not even think straight he was so upset.

His son was diagnosed with a concussion which has thankfully cleared up since his stay in the hospital. And his son also had a broken arm that has a bit of a complexity to its healing process, but other than that, the son is doing really well. He said over and over in the conversation, God has blessed me. He said "I have always loved my family, but work has been getting most of my time and attention for a long time especially when the economy got bad and I had to work extra hard to make the country club thrive - most weeks working 80 hours."

He said, "Since that accident two weeks ago, I can't stop hugging my wife and my son and I am taking more time away from work." He said, "I know what is priceless - that is my family and work is second. The Lord has blessed me and I am not going to take that for granted any more - I am going to spend more time with my family." He said, "Sugar plum, (that's normal southern talk), I am so glad you called and when I heard your voice, I just felt like God wanted me to share this story with you." I said, "I happen to be preaching tomorrow and the sermon title is €˜Spiritual Makeovers'." He said, "Well God sure did a spiritual makeover on me - that's for sure." So I asked him if I could share his story with you today. And he said, "Honey, sugar plum, you can share my story with the whole world. Because I am so grateful to have my family. Now when you see your family, you make sure you give them a big hug." And that is what spiritual makeovers are all about. We get the opportunity to change. Praise the Lord.

Maybe you are at a place in your life where you have been running from something like Jacob did. Or, maybe you just feel the need for a spiritual makeover. Are you ready to stop and rest and let God do some personal transforming work in your life - to give you a spiritual makeover; to bring forgiveness; to reshape your thinking; to lift you over the hurdle of failure; or to give you the desire for positive change?

God is waiting and promising to work through us to transform us personally and to help us be God's agents of reformation in the world.


  1. Abc.go.com/shows/extreme-weight-loss/episode-guide/season-04/406-david; accessed episode July 16, 2014.
  2. Letter from Presbyterian World Mission, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY, written on July 7, 2014 by Hunter Farrell, about mission co-worker Christi Boyd in Congo