Lord God Almighty – El Shaddai

(Genesis 17: 1-5 and Luke 1: 26-38)

Introduction:

During the summer months we’ve been following a short series focussed on the ‘Names of God – Glimpses of His Character’.  

Through the Bible, we find a whole range of names that are given to God.  And each one reveals something about God – what he is like – his character.

As we begin to understand God’s names it helps us to understand what God is like, and what he can do in our lives.  

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So far, we’ve considered God as our Creator, the one who creates and sustains all things, bringing new life and creativity to our lives today.  We’ve looked at Jehovah Jireh – the God who provides in all sorts of amazing, significant ways.  We’ve seen that God is a Holy God and a God of glory – a God who is present with us today by His Spirit.  And we’ve seen that God alone can save us and rescue, through his Son Jesus Christ.  

Genesis 17:1-5

Today, we return to Genesis, to a name that is used for God in chapter 17.   We see it in the first verse – it appears in our modern translations as God Almighty, but in the original Hebrew language this would read El Shaddai.  El Shaddai.

Now let’s get a little bit of the context here behind the introduction of this name.

The story begins several chapters earlier, in chapter 12, when God first speaks to Abram.  God tells Abram to pack up all his things, and to take his wife Sarai and travel to a far-off land. This was a place Abram had never been before. He was supposed to leave the security of all that he knew – home, business, family friends, everything – so that God could make a great nation of him. His descendants would multiply from generation to generation to generation until all the world would be blessed because of his people. 

And we’re told Abram believed God and stepped out in faith to follow Him.  In chapter 13 God tells Abram to get up and walk around the land of Canaan. He promises that everything Abram sees will soon belong to him. 

But by chapter 15, nearly 10 years have passed since God first called Abram.  Abram still does not have a child, and he begins to doubt and question God.  Surely God has got this wrong, he must need our help, thinks Abram.  

By chapter 16, Abram is now 86 years old! Abram and Sarai are convinced that God has got it wrong… and so they come up with their own plan to bail God out of his predicament.  Abram sleeps with Hagar, a slave-girl of Sarai’s and she conceives and has a son Ishmael.  Hurrah – a son.  But no, this is no good – this is not God’s plan.  

Well time moves on, and by chapter 17 we are told that Abram is now 99 years old and Sarai older still.   They still have no child together.    

But God again appears to Abram, he reiterates the promise – (you see God never breaks his promises) and he tells Abram ‘I am God Almighty… or rather, I am El Shaddai.’  

‘Walk before me’, say God to Abram, ‘and be blameless.  And I will make my covenant between me and you and will make you exceedingly numerous.’  

Abram falls to his face, and again God speaks, this time changing Abram’s name to Abraham – which means ancestor of a multitude.

El Shaddai

Now this name El Shaddai is significant.  It is in two parts.

The first part El is taken from God’s personal name – and it means power and strength – great might.

However it not used on its own, it’s always combined with a second part… we saw it used as Elohim – the creator God.  It is also used as El Gibhor – the God who is strong and mighty.  Or El Tzur – God our Rock.

Here El is combined with Shaddai – now Shaddai can also mean mighty – like a mountain, full of grandeur, strength and stability…  so, on one level El Shaddai could mean mighty, mighty… or perhaps powerful and mighty… there is certainly a stress on God’s great, mighty, awesome power… his grandeur.  

But Shaddai can also mean ‘breast’.  As in a mother who patiently and lovingly nourishes, provides and satisfies a young, suckling, infant child.  

You see a parent is the source of everything of their child needs. A parent comforts a child when it cries, cares for an infant when it is sick, provides sustenance when they are hungry and protection when the child is in danger.   

So here, in Chapter 17 when God speaks to Abram and says look I am El Shaddai – the name is loaded with meaning…

  • God is saying look I am powerful, mighty, strong and awesome.
  • And I am God – the one who will nourish you, provide for you, sustain you, care for you, protect you, comfort you, do whatever is needed, provide whatever resource is required.  

I am El Shaddai.  I am the God who can do the impossible.

Even now, says God to Abram, I can provide you with an heir… even though the situation seems impossible, I can do it.  

You will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.  

Now all the way through scripture we can see that God is the God of the impossible… That time and time again God works in the most amazing of ways to nourish his people, to provide for their needs and to make the impossible, possible!

Luke 1: 26-38

Our second reading today – a reading which we tend to read only in Advent and around Christmas tells us the remarkable, extraordinary story of Jesus’ miraculous conception, and of John the Baptist’s natural conception even though Elizabeth was considered well past child-bearing age.  

Here in no un-certain terms we are reminded that nothing is impossible for God.  That God is God Almighty – El Shaddai. 

And in this declaration to Mary we told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, the power of the Most High overshadow, and a child will be born – the Son of God – the One who will reveal in more depth, power and majesty the glory of God himself.  

God Almighty – El Shaddai.

And so, this name El – Shaddai reveals a God is powerful and mighty yes, but it also reveals a God whose heart is to nourish, provide and satisfy his children.  

A God whose stores are inexhaustible, whose power is irrepressible and who has immeasurable resources and blessing to share through history, and with us today.  

What an awesome God we have… Able to overcome any obstacle, to supply for any deficiency. 

This is wonderful news for us frail humans who often struggle along and find roadblock after roadblock bleak and insurmountable. 

But sometimes, this knowledge is dangerous. 

Sometimes, there is a risk that we can think of El Shaddai as a kind of cosmic Santa. He watches all year, and if I am not too bad of a person, I can ask him for whatever I want. 

But God did not come to Abraham and say, ‘I am El Shaddai, look what I can do for you.’  

Rather God said, ‘I am the mighty One to provide and nourish, come and follow me’.

You see El Shaddai is the truly all-sufficient one, ready to pour out His blessing on women and men. 

But there are some conditions:

El Shaddai desires that we live in his presence, that we walk before Him.  That we live our lives in his sight.  This is just what he says to Abram…come walk with me…be in a covenantal relationship with me…I will be with you, and you with me.

Then we need to recognise God for who He is… not as our benefactor, not as a genie in a bottle, but as YHWH, El-Shaddai, God Almighty.

And as El Shaddai God loves us, he wants to bless us, yes, yes, yes – but he will not be slighted.  There is a call to be sincere in our faith… to walk blamelessly.  

Now we know we cannot be perfect, but we are called to walk with God, to aim for holiness, to strive for all that is good, pleasing and true.  To walk with integrity – not lurking in the shadows.  To trust God completely – no half-hearted measures – no turning back.   

Abram – now Abraham got it – he bowed – in fact he fell to the floor – he surrendered to God Almighty – El Shaddai.

And returning once more to the story of Mary and the miraculous conception of Jesus, I think she got the conditions also….

In Mary’s response, we see her humble attitude… ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.’

Conclusion

So, for us today, may we be like Abraham – like Mary – may we learn to be happy, content, and satisfied ready to allow God Almighty, El Shaddai to do his thing…  that we would rely on Him alone for peace, hope, joy, comfort, security, strength and salvation.  

That we might trust in Him as El Shaddai – that we might know He can, and will, satisfy our needs – He can do the impossible – but we must walk with Him in honesty, trust, obedience and truth.  

Amen.

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Names of God – God the Redeemer and Saviour

(Ruth 4 and Luke 4: 16-19)

During the summer months we’re following a short sermon series entitled ‘Names of God – Glimpses of His Character’. The Bible provides a whole range of names for God; each name, title or label revealing a different view of the nature and character of God. As we begin to understand the meaning of his names and to see him more clearly, we discover what God can do in our lives and what we, made in his image, might be called to do in response to this. Today we are thinking about God the Redeemer and Saviour.

So, how long have you lived in your present home? Moya and I bought our house in 1985; before that, we had a house in Eastleigh. My parents had owned their final home for about 43 years, before I sold it, after my mother died. Do you think of your home as something permanent in your life, as something of value, to use as you (and your landlord, if you have one) see fit and to keep or to sell as you (or the landlord) choose? 

In ancient Israel, at the time of the Judges and before the Kings, which is when today’s scripture story of Ruth is set, property was thought of not as being owned by individuals but as belonging to God and, by God’s will, coming under the stewardship of families, who can farm the land and use or sell what they grow; the land can’t be bought and sold as we understand those terms today and would be handed down to the eldest son on the death of the male head of the family, but rights in the land might be transferred in some circumstances.

In the relatively poor agricultural environment of the near Middle East at that time, the people and the land were mutually dependent. If the area of land became diminished in some way it might not then be able to support the feeding of the people; if the number of people reduced, they might not be able to work the land to its full production. There were customary laws to deal with such critical situations.

For example, an independent man working on his land might become forced by circumstance into debt and have to sell himself to pay that debt, giving up his right to the proceeds from working the land. Alternatively, a man might die, through disease, war, accident, or a moment of uncontrolled madness, without having fathered a family to succeed him, causing the family land to lapse into unproductivity. In these cases the law provided that there should lie a burden of responsibility upon the nearest male next-of-kin to keep the land within the family by paying off the debt and by taking over the working of the land himself. This man was known as the Kinsman-Redeemer; he had a duty to redeem the land for the family.

In the story of Ruth, the man Elimelech was forced off his land in Bethlehem by famine and the family moved to the country of Moab; then, although Elimelech does provide a family before he dies, both of his sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who had taken Moabite wives, also then die, so that Elimelech’s widow, Naomi, and her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, are left without the security of any male protection. Naomi is fearful and somewhat bitter at their misfortune.

The famine in Judah ends and Naomi decides to return to her family home in Bethlehem. Orpah returns to her Moabite family, but Ruth is determined to remain steadfastly loyal and faithful to Naomi, to her family and to her God. So, Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem together and Naomi plans to find the necessary Kinsman-Redeemer to buy back her family’s rights in their land, which has been in a sort of limbo since Elimelech surrendered it or leased it to whoever made a loan to him at the time of the famine.

As often it may happen, God provides. Naomi knows Boaz, who is a close relative but not close enough to act as Kinsman-Redeemer, and arranges for Ruth to follow the workers on Boaz’s land, to glean for grain to provide food. Boaz, however, is aware of the identity of that closer relative, though it is not revealed to us in the story, he being simply referred to as Mr So-and-so, and, having taken a shine to Ruth, schemes to persuade him to give up his rights and duties in respect of redeeming Elimelech’s land in favour of Boaz, who is next in line as Kinsman-Redeemer.

For, although Mr So-and-so is happy at first to acquire Elimelech’s land to add to his own holding; when he learns that he will, by this transaction, also acquire the widow of Elimelech’s son Mahlon, that is, Ruth, and have to marry her and father a son through her to continue Elimelech’s and Mahlon’s family line, a son who will then inherit the land, rather than it passing to his own existing family, Mr So-and-so is not so keen on the idea, which will be costly to him and will not add anything of value to his own close family. He willingly concedes right of redemption to the, as yet, unmarried Boaz, who is prepared to accept the cost of this duty and who has arranged for this conversation to be witnessed by the necessary ten city elders, together with the curious custom of handing over a sandal, which makes the deal legally binding.

The sealing of the deal is followed by a remarkable blessing from the people, who express the hope that Ruth, her future now secured, will follow the example of Rachel and Leah, who (together with their slave girls) provided Jacob with their twelve sons who founded the twelve tribes of Israel, in producing a noteworthy family. And so, the story has a happy ending; Elimelech’s family inheritance is saved, and Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son, Obed, who will in turn go on to have a son, Jesse, the future father of the great future king, David; a truly noteworthy family indeed.

Also worthy of note is the words spoken by the women of Bethlehem to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age.”

It is, of course, God who has, all along, been at work here. The story is a lovely folk tale of ordinary people’s ordinary lives, of family values and social care, steadfast loyalty, faithfulness, commitment, trust, love, personal sacrifice, providence, redemption, restoration, blessing and salvation, both amongst Jews and, sometimes, between Jews and Gentiles. But the people only display these qualities because they, being made in his image, are reflecting what is, and always has been, part of the very essence of God himself.

Time and again, throughout the entire bible we read stories which, on close examination, express and reveal this truth, showing how stories about ordinary people’s lives relate to God’s wider and greater purposes. The story of Ruth itself has references and allusions to passages relating to the duty of redemption in the books of Genesis, Leviticus and Deuteronomy and there are other references to the person of the Redeemer in the books of Exodus, Chronicles, Samuel, Nehemiah, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Hosea, Micah and Zechariah.

The people of Israel took the figure of the Kinsman-Redeemer, and his actions as a restorer, as an image for God. The Kinsman-Redeemer’s responsibility was to accept an obligation to care for members of his wider family by putting his time, energy and resources into rebuilding the lives of those family members whenever that became necessary. That was what God did for Israel, treating the Israelites as family members and, even when they thoroughly deserved to be in the desperate circumstances in which they found themselves, graciously and lovingly putting his time, energy and resources into rebuilding their lives whenever that became necessary.

These images appear most often in the book of Isaiah, in the context of the exile, when Israel most needs such restoring. And it is the person of God’s servant, the Messiah, who will bring about that redemption. It is no surprise then to find that Jesus, speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth, quotes from Isaiah in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Though there will be moments when we may not see this, or feel it, God continues his work of redemption today. Delivering good news, release, recovery, freedom and favour for those most in need; these are the actions of the true Kinsman-Redeemer, and, in quoting these words, Jesus associates himself directly with that role. For he is our Deliverer, Redeemer and Saviour; setting us free by his costly self-sacrifice to share in the abundant, fruitful, joyful and hopeful life of God’s family, taking away our bitterness, fear and pain, forgiving our sins and leading us into the warmth and security of the way of truth and love.

And how are we to respond to God’s redeeming and saving grace?

Well, humble and grateful thanks of course, expressions of praise and glory to God and a deepening of our trust in him; but more than that too. We may not have given much thought before to the idea of ourselves as having a share in the responsibility of redemption but, as Christians, we are called, both individually and collectively, as the church, to show solidarity with and to care for our brothers and sisters; not only those closest to us but all who are in need in our wider family. And how wide does that family extend? …… Worldwide is the answer. Remember the words of Jesus, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Which leaves plenty of opportunity for redeeming ahead of us; with the guidance of God, the Great Redeemer.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Names of God – The God of Glory

(Psalm 29 and John 8: 52-56)

Introduction:

During the summer months we’re following a short series entitled ‘Names of God – Glimpses of His Character’.  

The Bible provides a whole range of names that refer to God.  Each name or title gives us a window into his character.  

As we begin to understand his names it helps us to understand what God can do in our lives.  

This week we’re thinking about the God of Glory.

Prayer

Father God, we thank you for your word the Bible.  Thank you for all it teaches us and reveals to us about your character and ways.  Help us to understand more, not just in our heads but in our hearts, that we might trust in you, and follow you in all we are and do.  Amen

Psalm 29  

I love thunderstorms… When the thunder starts rumbling at night, I’ll often get up to watch the lightening out of the window and listen to the wind blowing.  

I can remember one very heavy thunderstorm I experienced while I was in Nigeria twenty years ago; it was absolutely electrifying… so powerful, so majestic, so glorious.  The whole sky looked like one superb firework display.  

Thunderstorms are among nature’s most awesome displays.  Thunder is caused by lightening.  The intense heat from lightening causes the surrounding air to rapidly expand; and create a sonic wave that we hear as thunder.  The huge electrical discharge is spectacular –  the sights and sounds for me demonstrate the power and majesty of God.

I wonder what natural events reveal God’s power and glory most dramatically to you?  

Have a think, and a chat with your neighbour for a minute.

Now our first reading today Psalm 29 was written by David.  

The shepherd boy turned King…and without a doubt, as a young boy David would have experienced many a storm, out in the countryside caring for the sheep,  David knew what storms were like, and we see that reflected in this Psalm which illustrates God’s power, and glory.  

We also see that David was not fearful, but rather faithful and trusting.   

So, you may want to open a Bible close to you, as we look now at this Psalm in a little more detail.  You’ll find it on page…??

This Psalm is in 3 sections, a brief introduction, a main section and a short conclusion.  It also contains a lot of repetition…

The word ‘ascribe’ is used three times in verses 1-2, ‘the LORD,’ four times in verses 10-11, and the ‘voice of the LORD’ seven times in verses 3-9.  

Now repetition does not mean boring.  Far form making the poetry mark time, these reiterated phrases drive it vigorously forward.

The movement of verses 3-9 is that of a thunderstorm which rolls in form the Mediterranean to the cedar-clad slopes of Lebanon and Mount Sirion in the north, turns to travel the whole length down the length of Israel, and sweeps away into the southern desert of Kadesh.  

Lightning, like the axe of a heavenly woodsman, hews out flames, wind, as it twists and strips the trees, making the hills themselves seem to heave and sway, though even the treeless desert is shaken by it.  

There is also a movement in the psalm as a whole… from heaven in verses 1-2 where praise is given to God by his angels, to earth in verses 10-11 where peace and strength is given by God to all his peoples.  

The temple is verse 9 is not a building, but simply refers to ‘where God dwells’  – now at the outset it seems that that is heaven.  There the mighty ones, the heavenly beings, praise him, declaring what they know him to be and bowing in obedience to him.  They recognise and acknowledge that God is holy, that God is glorious, that God is powerful and strong, that God is worthy of all praise.  And of course, that is what ascribe and worship mean, and that is where true praise begins, when mind and will are engaged, heart and emotion will surely follow.

Yet God is just as really present here on earth.  Here, where he presided over the flood – and David is almost certainly thinking of Noah’s flood, he presides still, and earth is as much his temple – his dwelling place – as heaven is.

This Psalm also points forward to the Lord Jesus, at whose coming the angels sang, ‘Glory, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.’  

John 8: 52-56

And so quickly just let me turn our attention to our Gospel reading.  Here we find people questioning, doubting Jesus… They want to know ‘who are you…are you greater than Abraham, and the prophets?’ they jeer.  

And Jesus’ response, is clear, straight to the point… ‘God glorifies me…  I know my Father, I do his word…and he glorifies me.  Before Abraham was, I AM.’  

Here Jesus is referring to the name that is revealed to Moses at the burning bush, where God says to Moses, ‘yes I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,  but further still I AM WHO I AM – this is my name – my title for all generations.’ 

Now this name was considered so special, so holy to the people, the Jews, they dared not utter the name, and so in Hebrew is was recorded as YAHWEH – which we see recorded in our modern translations as the LORD – all in capital letters.  

So, in our gospel passage Jesus directly identifies with this name, this GOD – I also am the I AM.   Jesus is clear that yes, he is glorified, for he is God himself… and that through him, his life, his teaching, his death and resurrection God’s glory will be seen, salvation for all the world.  

So, returning back to our Psalm – right from the very start, in heaven, God is recognised as a God of glory… the one who is due all praise and worship.  And the angels worship his holy splendour.  And then, as the Psalm progresses this God of glory, is a God who by his very voice commands and directs nature – his power and majesty seen in all their glory.  Just as in creation, where God spoke… and atom by atom, bit by bit, order was created… beauty formed, new life given, and identity and purpose sculpted.  This God is a glorious, indescribable, uncontainable, incomparable, unchangeable, an awesome and amazing God.  

By the end of the Psalm the earth and the people have been shaken up.  It has been traumatic on earth; all around is the evidence of that in the aftermath of storm damage.

But in contrast to earth – heaven is calm!   God has not been shaken up, he has not been fearful or panicking.

So, David draws our attention to a God who is enthroned.  He is the one in total control; nature is his tool and not his master.

The psalmist knows that God has more enough power to control the elements;  Note: 18 times in these 11 verses, the title used for God is “Lord”; again linking back that this God is the I AM, YAHWEH – And that means he is Lord of heaven and earth, Lord of all!

So, this psalm concludes with God blessing his people:

It is a twofold blessing:  

God gives to us “strength” and he gives to us “peace”.

Strength to cope in the storms of life;

His peace is our legacy – when after the storm the calm appears.

Let me share this story with you….

A competition was held to determine who could represent ‘peace ‘through painting.

Three finalists were determined and a crowd of art enthusiasts, were used to declare the winner.

The first painting was unveiled to reveal a portrait of a peace valley, with a quiet sunset in the background.

Applause ran through the room.

The second painting was unveiled to show a portrait of tranquil waters of a seashore, with the soft glow of a lighthouse.

Applause, once again.

When the final entry was unveiled, there was a collective gasp in the room, 

because this painting was of a dark, threatening sky.  

Rain poured down upon a sharp, cold cliff with one straggly old tree jutting out.  

However, from an elbow on the branch of that tree, could be seen a mother bird sitting atop her nest, 

sheltering her baby birds from the storm.

Once the audience realize this detail in the picture, 

a winner was chosen: this third painting.

Peace, strength in the midst of the storm!

Conclusion

And all this reminds me of a quote that I often see floating around on Facebook… it goes like this:

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… 

It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Now this quote isn’t biblical – but there is a truth within it….

All too often in our lives, oceans rise and thunders roar, 

storms appear, often when least expected, 

and for all sorts of reasons.  

Times when life feels messy, hopeless, tragic even.  

And it is in those storms we’re not meant to sit around passive, waiting for the storm to pass and leave us, 

rather we are called to join with the angles, 

to give God the glory, to worship Him, to ascribe greatness to Him, and we will find that ultimately, He is Lord of all, that He is King over the flood, and he will give to us his strength and his peace.

Our God is a God of glory – let’s worship him and trust in Him – even amid the storms, for then we will know his peace and strength. Amen

As I finish now, I want us to listen to a track of music… this is an alternative to our creed this morning.  

It is a worship song that acknowledges the storms that appear in life – the thunder, the oceans that rise – but recognises that God is king over all, the great I AM – the King of glory.

Names of God – The God who Provides

(Genesis 22: 1-14 and Luke 12: 22-31)

Introduction:

Last week we began a new series that will follow through during the summer months.  It’s entitled ‘Names of God’ – each week we’re focusing on a different name from the Bible and considering what glimpses it gives us of God’s character, what we can learn about God.   Last week we began with Genesis 1, and the idea that God is our Creator – that he loves us and knows us and made us in His image for relationship and community with Himself and with each other.

Genesis 22: 1-14  

This week we’re jumping ahead to Genesis 22 – the story of Abraham and Isaac, where God is revealed as Jehovah Jireh… which means the One who Provides.

Now ‘provisions’ isn’t a word we tend to use very often or think much about.  It is a weightless word to us.  We may use it loosely when we talk about stocking up on provisions before a road trip or camping holiday.  We may use it to refer to unexpected upgrades in life – such as ‘God provided our church with the means for a new boiler’ or ‘God provided me with a new car’.  

Some of us may remember times when God provided for specific needs. As a child, my family often struggled financially – and I can remember several times where anonymous gifts were delivered in unmarked envelopes through our letter box often just at the right time and for just the right amount.  When things looked hopeless – God provided.

In these different ways, and circumstances, we recognise God’s provision, but very rarely do we depend on them.

When God introduces himself (the Bible is His word, after all) as Jehovah Jireh, meaning “the Lord will provide,” it’s not in the context of snacks for holidays or cars or money or bills. 

It’s in the context of the most profound physical need a person can face – the loss of life. 

In Genesis 22, we read the story of Abraham being commanded by God to take his son Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him. 

Many years previously, God has promised Abraham that he would have more descendants than the stars in the sky.

  However, Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren, and Abraham and Sarah were getting on in years, but even through this God gave them a son.  

Isaac was conceived and born as a demonstration of God’s power.  Isaac was a miraculous gift.  

He was the promised child, whom God had promised to make into a great nation. 

He was God’s provision, or so it seemed until God said to Abraham to lay Isaac on the altar and offer him as a sacrifice.

Now this is hard, difficult, a dangerous text for us to understand.  

What was God playing at?  

Why did God ask Abraham to do such a thing?  

Why did Abraham agree to do it, with little protest?  

Why did Isaac submit – he wouldn’t have been a young boy, but a young man who could have easily overpowered his one-hundred-plus-year-old father?  

And what about Sarah, where was she in all of this?

Well this story raises some floundering questions… 

and I wish I could give you some nice easy answers…

For centuries, readers of the Bible, scholars, artists, poets have struggled to hear and understand this text.  

One thing I will say emphatically – God does not demand child sacrifice; indeed, God abhors it, as evidenced by the prophets.

What we do learn and can say with confidence, is that Abraham is obedient – an indication of his confidence and trust in God.  

Now the original Hebrew prose is beautiful and succinct.  Abraham does what God demands and sets out with his son. 

Abraham doesn’t say much. 

Isaac says even less, and one is left to imagine what they are thinking and feeling. 

The narrator uses repetition to heighten the poignancy: “The two of them walked on together,” as the father and son walk together in silence on the third day (22:6). Together in purpose, together in love. 

The narrator continually emphasizes the relationship between the two, as if we need to be reminded: “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac.” “Isaac said to Abraham his father, “My father!” and he said, “Here I am, my son” (22:7).

“Here I am” — in Hebrew is tow words ‘hine ni.’ (hee-nay nee)

It’s the same word Abraham used to answer God’s call in verse 1: “Here I am.” Abraham is attentive to God, and equally attentive to his beloved son. Here I am.

And Isaac says, “See, we have fire, and wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham, heart torn in two, says, “God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And, again, “The two of them walked on together” (22:7-8). 

Whether Isaac knew what was going to happen is a matter that the rabbis debated. Perhaps he did not, which makes Abraham’s pain all that much more acute. 

Perhaps he did, which makes Isaac, too, an example of great faith and obedience. The two of them walk on together, father and son, the son carrying the wood for his own sacrifice. 

The first century rabbis, with no connection to Christianity but with ample experience of Roman executions, said of this detail: “Isaac carries the wood for the sacrifice like one who carries his own cross.”

They reach the place of sacrifice, and Abraham builds an altar. Again, as if we need to be reminded, the narrator emphasizes the relationship between father and son. “He bound his son Isaac … Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son” (22:9-10).

At that moment, the LORD calls to him with great urgency, “Abraham, Abraham!” And Abraham replies for the third and final time in the story, hine ni, “Here I am.” 

One can imagine that his tone now is one of unspeakable relief and hope.

The LORD speaks, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (22:12).

Now I know” says God.  This story does not subscribe to later notions of God’s perfect omniscience. 

This is a genuine test, and Abraham is free to decide what he will do. God neither knows nor pre-ordains how Abraham will respond. 

Reading this story with a heart of generosity, one could argue that God imposes this one-time test on Abraham because God has risked everything on this one man, and God needs to know if he is faithful.

Abraham and his descendants are the means by which God has chosen to bless the whole world (Genesis 12:3). And Abraham has not always proven up to the task (the wife-sister charade, Hagar and Ishmael). Now God needs to know whether Abraham is willing to give up the thing most precious to him in all the world for the sake of being faithful to the God who gave him that gift in the first place. 

And Abraham passes this most excruciating of tests: “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Later in the Bible this story is referred to again.  Hebrews 11 (17-19) tells us that Abraham acted in faith that God would raise Isaac. He obeyed in the belief that God would provide a miracle of some kind, and God did – a ram caught in a thicket as a substitute sacrifice.

As God provides this substitute sacrifice for Isaac, so Abraham named the place ‘the LORD will provide’ in Hebrew Jehovah Jireh.  But this phrase can also mean ‘here the Lord shall be seen.’ 

Abraham wanted his descendants (physical and spiritual) and everyone who came to this place in the land of Israel to grasp the gracious character of God.  To know his providence and to know his presence.

So God the provider, Jehovah Jireh, gave life. God saved the promised son from being a sacrifice. God preserved His promise to make Isaac a great nation. 

————————————–

Luke 22: 22-31

In Luke 12, our other reading today, we hear the words of Jesus to his disciples:

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wildflowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 So do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

In these verses, Jesus shows one end of the spectrum of God’s provision. 

He cares for the smallest and even the inanimate in his creation. 

He clothes and feeds them. His eye is on them as treasured created things. 

So why should we worry about His provision? Are we not image bearers, uniquely made to be God’s children? 

He provides as a father ought – exactly those things that are best for His children without hesitation and always at the right time.  

So, in Jesus’ teaching we see one side of God’s provision, but we also see it in Jesus’ mission here on earth.  

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) 

Jesus came so that we might “have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10) 

And this provision, this inestimable gift of His son, was more than kindness. 

It was a rescue, a ransom, a debt paid, a punishment born as a substitute for the guilty – us. 

The same God who smiles on the brilliance of wildflowers and feeds a baby sparrow sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for sins already committed (Romans 3:25). 

Jesus was the last and final sacrifice, the flawless lamb able to redeem all sinners and pay for all sins once for all time. 

Jesus is God’s perfect and complete provision, the answer to every person’s deepest question and the fulfilment their deepest needs.

In Genesis Abraham’s only son was set to be sacrificed and was saved by God’s miraculous provision. 

In the gospels God’s only Son was sacrificed as the miraculous provision for all people.

So today we can say Jehovah Jireh, The Lord will provide, The Lord will be seen… and be certain it is, was, and always will be true. 

We can see it in the flowers and birds. 

And we can see it at the cross – Jesus is God’s great provision In Jesus we see God.

———————————————

Now as I draw to a close, I want to return us one last time to our text from Genesis.  

Isaac was the most prized, special, precious son of Abraham.  

Isaac was Abraham’s everything…his best…his joy… his hope, his world… the great promise.

And yet Abraham said to God, ‘Hine ni’ – Here I Am. (Hee-nay nee)

Abraham said, ‘God, Here I Am – do whatever it is, whatever you want from me.  I surrender to you and your ways, whatever the cost and whatever the consequence.’ 

I wonder this morning what for you, what for me, is the ‘Isaac’ in our lives?  

The most prized person or entity – the focus of our lives, the thing we hold dearly to?

Are you, am I willing to place our ‘Isaacs’ on the altar before God and give it completely over to him?  

To surrender that person, that thing before God, trusting that God will provide; that God will be seen.

Heni ni – Here I Am

On your chairs this morning, you should have found a small piece of paper and a pencil.  

I invite you now to make a note of those one or two things you’ve been thinking about…your ‘Isaacs’ and then when you come forwards for Communion later bring them with you and there will be a dish here in the middle for you to surrender and offer those things before God.  

As we finish sharing the bread and wine, I will place those things on our Altar-table as an offering to God.  

Names of God – Creator God

(Genesis 1-2:3 and Colossians 1: 15-20)

THIS TALK WAS GIVEN IN SEVERAL PARTS AS AN ALL-AGE SERVICE

Introduction:

Who is this?  (First SLIDE)

That’s right – it’s Amanda.  (next SLIDE)

Now Amanda isn’t here today… but looking at her photo, we know who it is, her name is Amanda.  Can anyone tell me what her full, official name is?

Yep Amanda Jane Hillyard….

But Amanda isn’t just known as Amanda – she has several other names, names that reveal something about her….

  • Amanda is married to Paul, she is Mrs Hillyard and so she is a wife.
  • Amanda has two children; she is a parent, a mum.
  • Amanda also has 4 grandchildren and so she is a Grandma.
  • Amanda has lots of family and so she is a sister, aunty, daughter.
  • Amanda gets on well with lots of people, know lots of people and so she is a friend and neighbour.
  • Amanda helps regularly at the Infants school listening to children read and so there she is Mrs Hillyard to lots of the children.
  • Amanda helps us here at church and has just taken on the role of church warden…

(third SLIDE)

Now I could go on, but you get the idea Amanda has lots of different names, names which give glimpses of who she is, her character, her relationship to others, her role.

And the same is true for God – the Bible gives us a whole range of names for God… names which give us glimpses of his character, can you think of any?

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore some of them.

Genesis 1 – 2:3  

Today we are starting right at the very start of the Bible – with the story of creation.

So, I’m going to share the story of creation – and as I do so, you’ll see stuck up all around the church today various images, each a different day from creation… as we come to that part, please can you bring it forward and we’ll form a line across the front.

  1. At first, there wasn’t anything at all – nothing!  So God set to work – he didn’t use his hands, or a special machine – rather he spoke, that’s all.  He said, ‘I’d like some light’.  And there was light… brighter than a summer morning, or a thousand Christmas candles.   And the Bible tells us…. It was good.
  2. God spoke again.  He said ‘sky.  I’d like some sky, and some water underneath.’ And sure enough, there it was.  The bright blue sky, with the heavens above it and the blue-green sea below.  And It was good.
  3. ‘Earth’ that’s what God said next, hard and firm, as if her really meant it.  And sure enough, the blue-green waters parted, and there was dry land underneath it.  Great patches of it, dirt black and brown.  Here and there all over the world.  ‘We need some colour’ God whispered, as if he were thinking out loud.  And quivering with excitement, green growing things crept right up out of the earth, then burst into blossom, red, orange, blue!  Pine trees and palm trees.  Rose bushes and blackberry bushes.  Tulips and chrysanthemums.   And It was good.
  4. God shouted next ‘Day – shining sun.  Night – shining moon.  Bright shining stars.’  And there they were, for morning and evening, summer and winter – time and heat and light!   And It was good.
  5. Next God called to the sky ‘come forth flying things’ he cried.  And through the clouds they came.  Flying large and flying small.  Eagles and insects.  Hummingbirds and hawks.  Then God called to the sea ‘come forth, splashing things’ and they came too, leaping right up through the waves.  Sailfish and swordfish, dolphins and trout, great grinning humpback whales.  And It was good.
  6. Finally, god called to the earth.  ‘Come forth waling things, crawling things, running, hopping and climbing things!’ And sure, enough they came, up from burrows, down from trees, out of the high grass, and across open plains.  And It was good.  Now everything was ready – good and ready and so he spoke again, ‘man and woman’ as if he were calling the names of his very best friends.  And out of the dust, filled with his breathe, came Adam and Eve – to enjoy all that God had made – to take care of it – and to talk with God.  ‘This is the way things ought to be’  And it was very good.
  7. After all of that, God rested and enjoyed it all.

(Thank everyone for helping… stick pictures on altar-table in the right order…)

So here we have the story of creation – it reveals a supreme being, a creator God.  

Now it is really important to recognise that this story isn’t science – it’s not a scientific, textbook, it is not trying to give us a detailed historic account.  

Science focuses on HOW questions…like how old is the universe? Or how has life developed? 

The Bible focuses on WHY questions: like why am I here? Or why is there good and evil?

The Bible unveils, reveals a personal, loving God, who created each of us, and longs to be in relationship with us.

So, right at the start we find a personal, supreme being, who does two main things…

  • The first 3 days tell how God bought form and order, a shape to nothingness.
  • Separation of light and darkness, separation of the waters to form the sky and the sea, separation of the sea from the dry land and creation of plants.
  • Then we see that God brings fullness
  • The creation of the lights to fill day and night, the creation of the birds and fish to fill the sky and sea, and the creation of animals and humans to fill the land.

We see that in the most amazing way, God speaks, and the most creative power is unleashed….  And everything that God creates is good.  That is God’s assessment of it all…creation is good.  And we know that know, despite the damage, creation is spectacular, surprising, full of wonder.  

However, and this is very important, after so much good, God creates humans  –  the climax of creation…. They are very good.  God said, ‘let us make man in our own likeness’.  So, God creates male and female, in the image of God he created them.  And God said to them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and steward it.’  

And this I believe – is incredibly important – first of all, it tells us that God himself is a community – a trinity of Father, Spirit and Son – three people, who relate to one another, and are one.   And we are made in the same image for relationship, for friendship, for companionship.  

The Bible tells us that people are made in the image of God to join in with the relationship of love that is God himself.  

Let me say a bit more – 

Within the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Spirit relate to one another, communicate with one another and love one another.  

Humans are made to join in this eternal relationship, which has always gone on and will always go on.  

God makes human beings unique, creative and special.  

Every person has worth and is incredibly valuable to God.  

God planned each person sat here today; 

He made each one of us, loves each one of us, 

cherishes each one of us, 

values and affirms each one of us, 

infinitely and unconditionally.

There is nothing that any one of us here could do that would cause God to love us more, cherish us more or value us more than he already does.

We also learn that God created each one of us with purpose and identity.  Adam and Eve are given identities, roles to fulfil – jobs to do.  To care for one another, and to look after creation around them – to care for it and steward it.  All of humanity, male and female are God’s representatives and God’s co-workers.  

There is much more that could be said but at the heart of this story we meet a God, who is quite simply amazing – beyond comprehension – creative, powerful  – a God who created a world with form and order, a creation that is diverse and beautiful, and humanity with purpose and identity.  

For now, we’re going to pause here…

Later we have another reading from Scripture which tells us a little bit more about our amazing Creator God.

Song – God you are bigger than BIG

We’re going to stand together now and sing a song which expresses just how amazing our creator God is….

There are some actions – so I ‘ll lead us.

Colossians 1: 15-20

OK – in this reading we are introduced to Jesus and we discover a bit more about our Creator God.  This section is a short poem that Paul includes in his letter as he is writing to the church in Colossae. 

Jesus, says Paul, is the ‘image of God, the invisible one’.  Nobody has ever seen God, but in Jesus he has come near to us and become one of us.  

If I’m sat home in my lounge, and there is somebody sitting in the next room, I can’t see them because there’s a wall in the way.  But if there is a mirror out in the hallway, I may be able to look out of my door and see, in the mirror, the mirror-image of the person in the next room.  In the same way, Jesus is the mirror-image of the God who is there but who we normally can’t see.  With Jesus we find ourselves looking at the true God himself.

The great thing about that is that the more we look at Jesus, the more we realise that the true God is the God of utter self- giving love.  

This poem reminds us that Jesus was present, working with his father in making the world.  It was, and is, his idea, his workmanship.  Creation is beautiful, powerful and sweet because Jesus made it like that.  When the lavish and generous beauty of the world makes you catch your breath, remember that it is like that because of Jesus.

Now, we know that creation carries a brokenness, an ugliness, a pain and evil.  If we’d read further ahead in our story from Genesis earlier, we would have uncovered the account of how sin entered our world and death became a reality.   

However, that wasn’t the original intention and the living God has now acted to heal the world of the wickedness and corruption which have so radically infected it.   Through Jesus’s death and resurrection God has redeemed all of creation.  He has dealt with our sin and brought us peace and reconciliation.

Jesus is the one in whom we are called to discover what true humanness looks like in practice.    So often in live we settle for second best, but Jesus summons us to experience the genuine article – and to find an order, a purpose, a beauty and a fulness that God longs for each of us to know.  

So, in conclusion, both our passages today reveal a God who is our creator God – a God who is powerful, a God of order and beauty, a God who created humanity in His image. 

A God who loves us and longs to be in relationship with us.  A God, who through Christ, reaches out to us, and says come meet with me.  Come know fulness of life.  Amen