Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sermon: Following God into the Empty Horizon

Joshua 5:9-12

As we have been journeying toward the cross, we have jumped back and forth through history catching a glimpse of the people of God at different points in their journey and seen how God has worked in them and through them. Last week we caught a glimpse of God’s people living out the consequences of choosing their ways over God’s ways and the promise God made to them and the life which could be theirs if they were to trust God and live the ways God called for them to live. We heard God speak of a renewed covenant, one in which would wash the people clean of hundreds of years of unfaithfulness and turning from God, giving them an everlasting covenant dependant upon an everlasting God. The Sunday before last we looked at Abraham at a low point in his life, after he had turned from God and what God had planned for him and saw how God in all God’s graciousness reach out to him and reinstated the very promise God had given to him in the covenant God had made with him. The week before that we stood with Israel on the very edge of the Holy land as God called for them to trust and follow, and give of their first and very best. That week we heard God ask them to return to God the first of the first crops which would be grown in land yet to be conquered, in fields yet to be planted. God asked them up front to trust God and God alone to give to them what only God could give to them and what God promised. This week we encounter the people of Israel on the other side of that first harvest.

Just in case we are at all fuzzy on where we are in the Israelites’ history; let us all make sure we understand where we are. These are not people whom God brought up out of Egypt, nor are they the people whom God saved from slavery and oppression at the hand of the Egyptians. Not one of these people had seen Moses turn the Nile to blood, or see the land of the Egyptians be over run with flies, gnats, locusts, and frogs. These were not the men and women who worshipped the golden calf in the desert nor were they the ones from whom Moses veiled his face when it shone with the glory of the one and only living God, all those who saw the sea split and the water come pouring out from the rock are dead, and the people whom we encounter in this story are their children and grandchildren.

You may remember that God had promised the people who had come up out of Egypt that they themselves would not set food in the holy land. God had taken them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, across the sea, to the mountain where God made a covenant with them and they promise that God would be their God and that they would be God’s people, that they would love, and trust God in all things. And God led them straight across the desert, with not a few miracles along the way, and they had quickly arrived at the very edge of the land God promised to give to them and they had refused to trust God. The land looked too good to be true and the people in the land looked too frightening to entrust victory over to God. So God told them that they would all die before God would bring them into the land and they all did.

The people in our story today spent the majority of their lives walking circles around the desert, making laps around the mountain of God. And then when the last of their parents and grandparents had passed away, God lead them into the promise land and God did what exactly what God said God would do. God led them into Canaan in the same way which their parents and grandparents had been lead out of the land of Egypt, by allowing them to cross a body of water on dry ground. God had parted the Jordon before them as they had crossed it and God then proceeded to drive out before them all the kings of the land which surrounded the place of their crossing. These people are finally in the Promised Land, God has shown them that by the strength of the Lord and the Lord alone, they are able to drive out the people who live in Canaan and it is truly God who is in control. They are now living in a land which they call their own instead of wandering from place to place with no place to call their own. They have fields, they have watched the miracle of life begin in the life of the tiny plants which sprouted up in the land which God had given to them, all the while continuing to live off the bread God placed on the ground each morning and the quail which the Lord had land in their yards each evening. The plants had grown and the harvest has come and with the first harvest they have given to God what is God’s and they have taken what they have grown with their hands and with the help of God and they have celebrated their very first Passover since they have come to live and work the land.

Their entire lives these people have lived traveling from place to place. Their first memories were of going out with their mother in the morning and carefully collecting the miraculous bread called manna off the ground. Each of them can remember playful evenings watching the birds fly into camp and land right before them. They had chased the birds in games of catch and then had gathered them up for dinner. They had lived the entirety of their lives knowing that the manna would fall in the morning and the quail would come in the evening. What took faith and trust in God for their parents was common place for them. This was just the way God worked. This miracle of provision was just the way life was. Manna fell in the morning and quail practically alighted in the cooking pot each the evening.

But now they have entered the Promised Land, they have crossed the Jordon. They have come to live in the land of the promise and God is calling for them to trust God to help them continue to drive out the people whom inhabit the land of Canaan. They need to trust God for their future just as they have come trust the Lord in the past. Things do not stay the way they are forever. Before they were sojourners, before they were nomads, without a home wandering aimlessly through the desert. Then they were a people moving into the land driving out the enemy forces before them, now they are becoming a little settled on the outskirts of what will one day be the vast nation God has promised to them. They have homes, they have fields, they have a harvest and everything is about to change.

As we look at them and their lives, we would say that their lives have been far from normal, but it was normal for them. It was the way life was. The manna always fell, and the quail always came. Wandering around the desert was a way of life. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night was how they saw God. But these common place miracles were about to change. How God choose to work among them was about to change. Their way whole of life was about to change, how they trusted God was about to change. They were going to bed with the unleavened cakes and the parched grain from their first harvest in their bellies and in the morning they would awake and the world would be completely and utterly different, for them this new world, they would find all around them with the coming of the morning light, would seem almost utterly unrecognizable. With the new day, with the new dawn would come a new way of life. The text tells us that after their first Passover, after they had eaten the unleavened cakes and the parched grain from their first harvest in the land of promise, the manna fell no more and the quail no longer alighted on their lawns each evening. The entire way which God had always worked in their lives changed.

Israel was in the middle of a huge time of change. The world has been turned upside down; God has been turned upside down. God has always sent the manna in the morning. The quail has always come in the evening. This is the way God provides. This is the way God works. God is an everlasting God. God is an unchanging God. The manna will always come, the quail will always arrive, this is how we know God is with us, this is how we know God is at work and then one morning on the cusp of the most wonderful thing God has yet done for us, the manna does not appear and then that evening even as we stare at the eastern sky long after the sun had disappeared behind us the quail never came. Where is our God? What has happened? Things have changed? Nothing is they way it use to be? How can we trust a God who no longer works in the ways we have become accustomed to God working? What will we do now? What will happen now? Where is our God when the manna is not on the ground and the quail does not alight at our feet?

This passage is sandwiched between the crossing of the Jordan, the driving out of the first few unnamed kings of the land of Canaan which followed, and the battle of Jericho. We can look at the story and see the battle of Jericho on the horizon but they saw nothing on the horizon. They stood there that evening looking to the horizon for the quail and the horizon looked empty. There was nothing there. And God said to them, “trust me, it will be alright. I am still at work. I am still here, but you are going to have to trust me with a new thing. You are going have to trust me in a new way. I will work but I will not work in the ways to which you have become accustomed. I know manna-less mornings and the quail-less horizon looks empty but if you will follow me into that horizon if you will go with me into this new morning I will blow your mind.” (with a trumpet none-the-less)

We know how to trust God with the things we trust God with right now. There are ways in which we know God works, there are ways which we have always known and seen God. We are comfortable with the way God has been working. We are comfortable with the miracles that God is giving to us daily, in fact often times we take them for granted. We have been trusting God. We have being living life the way we have always lived life and have trusted God with the things we have always trusted God and God sees our complacency. God sees that we no longer really see the work which God is doing in our lives every day. We have come to expect the manna; we have taken the quail for granted. This is what God looks like, this is how God works. This is our reliable, unchanging God, we know who God is, we know God. Or at least we think we do. And then one day we wake up and the manna is not there. And we stare long into the night waiting for the quail to come. God looks at us and says, “The time of manna and quail is over. I need you to trust me in a new way. I need to you to know that I am not a tame God, who does what you expect, when you expect. I have brought you this far. You no longer need me to work in the ways I have always worked. In fact if I continued to do so, you would not grow, you would not become the people I am calling for you to be, you would not become who I know you can become. So stop staring into the horizon waiting for the quail to come and take my hand let me show you what is beyond the horizon, let me lead you into a new morning and if you come I promise what I have for you on the other side will be greater and bigger and much more exciting than manna and quail, follow me and I will truly blow your mind.”

We are the people of Israel. We are staring at an empty horizon wondering where our God has gone. All the things we have relied on in the past, all the ways God has worked in us and through us are gone. Manna was a wonderful miracle, the quail was truly a delight but this morning we looked out our window and the manna was not there and this evening the quail did not come. It feels as if we have been abandoned. God has pulled the rug out under our feet. God was at work, we saw it, we knew it and last night we went to bed with full bellies and this morning we woke up to a new world. One we are not sure we like, one where God is harder to trust and the ways God is choosing to work seem too hard to understand. We are looking into the darkening horizon wishing, hoping for quail which will never come. All the while God is standing before us calling for us to follow, to go where only God can lead and God promises to do amazing things beyond our wildest imaginations. We, stand looking at a horizon, an empty horizon but if we would only follow God we would see the miracle of Jericho is beyond that horizon, we just can’t see it yet.

I have said it before and I will say it again and again, we are living in a time of change. The world around us is changing more rapidly than many of us would like. Things are changing all around us and it is scary. But God is here God is leading us. We are the people of God following God into the promise land, trusting God in this land, this neighborhood, this new world which is all around us, which God promises to win for us. But first we have to trust God. We have to trust God with God’s promise. We have to trust God with the way God chooses to work and sometimes that means that God will no longer work in the ways God has worked in the past. Sometimes it means giving up the very works of God we have come to rely on, the very works of God we have always known, so that God can work in new ways, so that God can do new amazing things in our midst. This is scary, the miracles, the ways God has “always” worked are like the manna and the quail. They are wonderful, miracles which showed us that God was at work amongst us, but now they are gone and God will work in a new way. We just need to stop looking to the ground in the morning and staring at the horizon in the evening, instead we have to take Gods hand and walk with God toward the unknown, which lies beyond the horizon and trust God with the dawning of a new day.

Sermon: Come All Who are Thirsty

Isaiah 55:1-8

“Hotdogs, get your piping hot hotdogs. Get while their fresh get ‘em while their hot, get your hot dogs, juicy delicious hot dogs!” “Cola, get your ice cold cola!” I have not been to a baseball game since I was in high school, so my memory of what a modern baseball game is like, is pretty fuzzy. I am pretty sure that the “songs of the venders” did not ring out across the stadium. I am thinking the traditional vendor selling his wears in the stands has been replaced by a concession stand with horribly long lines, even if the vendor is a man from a days past, we have all seen the “proto-typical vendor” in a movie or on T.V. Many of us are probably familiar with the sound, the cadence, the ring of the words of one who has this for his profession.

This passage begins with a very similar feel and sound; “Is anyone thirsty? Come, Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it's all free!” Sounds almost as if someone is standing on the street corner calling to all those who are passing by, calling for them to come in, to come join him, to come join the feast. Unlike most street vendors this man is not selling wares for a profit but this man is offering up a grand feast, to the hungry and the thirsty, for free. And his food will fill the belly of the starving man who has had nothing to eat but his dreams of a plentiful harvest, which never came, and his drink will quench the thirst of even the most parched woman, faint with thirst because she has lost her way in the desert and has not seen water for days. He asks, “Why spend money on food, which will not fill you and why spend money on drink which will not satisfy?” What he has to offer will fill and will satisfy but you can not buy this food, nor can you labor, work for or in any other way earn the water which he will give.

God speaks these words through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel at a time when the people are desperate. They were living in a land which was not their own, living among a people which was not their own, they had been taken into exile by an enemy army and had been living in the land of exile for quite some time. They were far from their homes, far from their land, and felt they were extremely far from God.

Too often the people of Israel tied God to the land, which God had given to them, believing that their God live in the land, which was quite nearly a backwards way of looking at it because in reality they lived in God’s land, the land which God had given to them. Since they thought God belonged to the land and not the land belonging to God, they had the mistaken idea that God was not with them in exile, which incidentally was part of the reason they were in exile to begin with.

They knew they were God’s people, and they thought God was tied to the land, so they believed that God would never let their land be destroyed or taken from them, so no matter how many prophets came and warned them that if they did not change their ways God would leave them to the natural consequences of their actions and they would be destroyed and taken into exile, they never did believe them. So, when the people continued their idolatrous ways, when the people continued to mistreat each other, and take advantage of the poor, the sick and the needy. The people choose to turn from God and from God’s protection, which was found in living the kind of lives God had called them to live, so God left them to the consequences of their actions. They were overrun by a foreign army and they were carted off as prisoners to live out their days in enemy territory.

For years they had been living in a foreign land, they were far from all that was familiar, far from their homes, separated from their families and as I said before felt they were far from the reach of God and therefore felt as if they were living out their lives without hope. They had turned away from God’s law and God’s protection. And believe it or not many of the exiles continued in to live their idolatrous ways taking on even more of the practices of the people of the land in which they lived and, they continued to live in ways which did not glorify God. They continued to take advantage with each other, even after they had gone into exile. They had lost their way, spiritually. At this point in their history, the only thing that they see is the condemnation they felt day in and day out as political prisoners.

At one point they had had covenant with God. They had been God’s people, and God had been their God. Now, they had broken covenant. They had turned their back on God and now it looked as though God was choosing to turn away from them. They couldn’t see any future in sight…all they could see was they were living their lives as exiles, prisoners in a foreign land and all they felt they could do was to shrivel up and die as a nation, it seem that the once numerous descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Israel would just dissolve in another land and be no more. The people were defeated, they were weak, they were longing for home, they were longing for all which had once been familiar and in many ways they were hungering and thirsting for their God, whom they felt was unreachable and un-findable there in the land of exile.

In hard times it was customary for those who were well off, who were not suffering from economic troubles to buy up all the food and then disperse it to those who were in need. Isaiah is portraying God as a rich land owner who has seen the plight of the people and has done everything to procure the very best and is announcing to the poor, the sick, those who have gone without food, those who have gone without water, all who were lacking all the good things God had, that it is there for the taking. God has gathered up the very things the people needs and God has set it out for them to come and receive. God, is the one on the street corner calling, Come, take, eat, be satisfied.” God desires for all the richness, which belongs to God and to God alone to be available to all who are in need. God desires to gather the people up and to take care of them, to protect them and to give them what they truly need.

God calls out to them and tells them that they might have forsaken the covenant, they might have turned from their God but God had not turned from them. God is here, even in the land of exile and God is willing to give them everything they need to be whole again.

God tells them they will be a nation again. God tells them they will be the people of God united again. God tells them they will be full, their thirst will be quenched, they will have all that is good in the world. The old covenant may be worthless, it may be broken and mangled beyond repair, but God has given up the old covenant and there is hope. God is willing to make with them a renewed covenant, a clean covenant, one that will not be marred by their constant desire to disobey God’s commands. A renewed covenant in which God will not remember their hatred of all that is good and right, one which would not remember how many times they had turned from God to worship other gods or tried to worship other gods along side the one true God. God would give them a new covenant. Not only that but this renewed covenant would not depend on a fickle king, but would rely God, and on one God would appoint. One who would be called the Holy One of Israel. God is asking the people of Israel, “Will you trust in me, this time, will you rely on me?” God does not want them to rely on kings, or a leader, or even prophets for that matter. God wants Israel’s complete and unadulterated trust, God want them to trust wholly, completely fully, holding nothing back, giving everything over to God, and following God blindly just as their ancestor Abraham did. And just as God did with Abraham, God is coming to them to renew the covenant which they have put in jeopardy. God was reaching out to them even as they had drawn away from God and everything God had stood for.

They had turned from God and wondered why they felt so alone and abandoned, and God came to them in their self imposed alienation asking them to come back, to return to their God, to come back and start over again. And in doing so God gave them a glimpse of what a return could mean, would mean. God showed them the promise of what covenant life meant for their dry, famine impoverished beings, it would mean rest, it would mean food, it would mean communion with the one and only God of the universe. God’s plea reminds me of a poem.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

"The New Colossus"

The poem that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

If you could imagine God saying this to the people of Israel instead of the statue of Liberty saying it to the peoples of the world, such is the promise God is making with Israel, and unlike an empty cold promise, which is little realized by too many immigrants today, God’s promise is not spoken with motionless brazen lips, nor is it an empty ideal which no one is willing to live out in day to day lives, but God’s promise is spoken with the breath that breathed the image of God into each and everyone of us, the promise is worked out with the hands which knelt down into the dust and the labor is done by the one on whose back all creation is upheld.

The Israelites were living in a sort of in-between time. God has presented them with a promise, the promise that someday they will be a nation again, someday they will return to the land of the promise, but this promise as of yet, has not yet been fulfilled. They had the promise that God would rescue them, would return them to the land God had given to them, which would prove that God was not merely the God of the land of Israel, that God was not merely the God of the people of Israel but that God was the God of the whole world and God’s reach, care, provision could extend to them even while they lived in a land far from their own, populated by people who believed that other gods where in charge in their land, but they were far away from seeing the far reaching power of God come to fruition in their lives. God had yet to prove to them that God’s power reached throughout the entirety of the world. And while they were in the in this in between time, the question, on which everything hung was, “would they follow God, or would they continue living they way they had been living?” God has told them that forgiveness is at hand for their rebellious ways and that restoration from the consequences of their disobedient choices is at hand. God is willing to extend grace to them, to renew that which they broke, to set right that which they caused to go wrong and God calls out to them, calling for them to trust, to obey, to love and to allow God to truly be their God and for them to truly be the people of God.

The people of Israel, are not all that different from us. There may stand between us an unfathomable gulf in time and culture but the circumstances in which we live are not really all that different. The people of Israel were living in an in-between time. They were somewhere in the middle of promise and fulfillment. Their promise was for a homecoming and for a kingdom that was to come. We too are living in such a time. We are living in the time between the rising of our Lord and the second coming of Christ. A time after the resurrection with a promise of a life where all things will be set right, when Christ returns. We also stand between a promise of a homecoming which will be no less glorious or fulfilling than Israel’s return from exile and for a kingdom that is to come, a kingdom in which God truly reigns, a kingdom in which we will be truly filled, truly satisfied, truly at peace and in communion with our God.

And like Israel the question is, “Will we listen to God’s plea for us to come, eat, drink and be satisified and will we heed God’s call for us to return to God, and to trust God and God alone for all that we desire; to follow God’s commands so that we too may come to reside in the land of promise.

God stands before us calling to us to come, to eat of the food God alone can offer. God calls for us to drink from the water which God alone can provide. God calls for us to turn from whatever it is in our lives, which is separating us from being the people of God and return to God, God wants to write a covenant on our heart, wants to call us God’s children. Whether you experience all the good things God has to offer depends on one thing and one thing alone, “will you turn to God, live a live wholly given over to God, trusting God in all things or will you turn away?”

Sermons: God's Covenant with Abram

Genesis 15:1-8

Once upon a time, a very long time ago there was a man named Terah. Terah was a good man and we have reason to believe he was a God fearing man who had several children. And then one some time after his elder son died, for reasons we may never know, Terah decided to take his Son, Abram, Abram’s wife Sarai and his grand son Lot, pack up everything they had and move to Canaan. As they were traveling they came to Heran and Terah decided they had come far enough and this was as good a place as any to settle down, so he and his family stayed in Heran until his death.

By this time Abram and Sarai were getting pretty old, they were pushing 75 and they continued to remain childless. Then one day God came to Abram and said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land which I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And Abram listened to the Lord God and went, not knowing where God was taking him but knowing God would bless him and make him a great nation. Abram went because God told him to go. He followed God, trusted God and God took him to Canaan.

Often times we make a big deal about Abram going where God told him to go without even knowing where it was God was leading him, but the Bible does not make a big deal out of this. The Bible only takes 8 verses to tell us about God’s call for Abram and Abram going to Canaan and Abram arriving and settling in Canaan. It spends the next 10 chapters to telling us about what happened to Abram after coming to the land of Canaan.

We would think that blindly following God across the desert would be the hard part, but apparently that was the easy part, it was trusting God in the promise land and with the whole of the promise which seems to be the hard part for Abram. After Abram has settled in the land of Canaan, there is a famine and instead of trusting God or relying on God he packs up and leaves this land to which God has brought him and heads for Egypt, which seems to be just the beginning of a series of bad ideas for Abram. He heads off to Egypt, away from the land and the place God had brought him, away from the land of the promise and then he does something which as far as I can tell not only put the promise in jeopardy but put his marriage in jeopardy as well.

It is as this point in the story where Abram decides it would be a good idea to tell everyone that Sarah, his WIFE was just his sister. At this point I want all the wives, girlfriends, girls with guys sitting next to them to get your most mean, icy stare going, you know the one that one that makes children stop whatever they are doing immediately and the men in your life’s blood to run cold. I want you to hold that stare and look at your husband, boyfriend, and the nice guy who happens to be sitting next to you. Now Men look back at them because this is the look you would get if any of the women in your life found out you did what Abram does at this in our story. Don’t look back at me, keep looking at each other. I want that look emblazed into you memory. Because I want you to know exactly what a bad idea this was. As you can tell from the look on all these woman’s faces, THIS was, not, is not and would NEVER be a good idea. And for whatever reason Abram did not get the picture the first time he did this and received THAT look from Sarai, and believe it or not he tries this smooth move again later in his life, but then we are getting ahead of ourselves in the story.

I don’t know this the Bible does not say this but when I get to Heaven and I get to sit down and have a heart to heart with mother Sarah, I would bet money that she would tell me that it was at the moment when Abram said, “hey hon. I have a really good idea let’s tell everyone you are just my sister and not my wife,” was the moment when Sarai stopped trusting Abram word on this whole God making them and their forever allusive offspring into a great nation.

As you can imagine this whole, “she is just my sister” scheme did not work out so well and resulted in them having to high tail it back to Canaan where they settle down once again in the land where God told Abram, he needed to be in the first place. At this point God comes to Abram once again, almost as if after all that had transpired God sees that they needed to start over again. Abram, you might have not trusted me to take care of you here in the land I am giving to you and your children, you might have done some things which put even the idea of your children in jeopardy but I have not backed out of this promise, I have made to you. You might have gone your way for a while, but you are back and I am coming back to remind you what exactly it is I have promised to you.

God came to Abram, in spite of Abram’s sin, God came to Abram in spite of Abram’s lack of faith in God during the famine, God came to Abram and said to him after all that had taken place, “Do not be afraid. Abram, I am your shield. Your reward shall be very great.” God knew Abram’s fear, his weakness and told him, “do not worry, do not be afraid I will protect you, I will be your shield. I know it is hard. I know the road is rough. I know you do not know as I know. Your reward will be great. My promise still stands. I am here, trust me, rely on me and do not fear, do not turn from me.”

Abram turned to God and said, “What in the world are you talking about. You promised me children, you promised me descendants. A man my age should have these, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. A great nation indeed! I HAVE NO children!” And God takes is all in the infinite patience which only God has and gently leads Abram outside at night, to the very edge of the camp with the entirety of the desert lying before him and the great dark sky riddled with the heavenly lights stretching out above his head. And God has Abram, look to the stars shining the ink black sky above him to take in the vastness of the sky and the innumerable nature of the stars flung across the canopy of the heavens. As Abram is taking all this in, God tells Abram this is what I am giving you; I am giving to you descendents whose number will rival the stars in the sky.

And it is after all this that God makes his covenant with Abram. The covenant in which God did not merely promise Abram innumerous descendants but a covenant which gives to those descendants the very land to which Abram had followed God across the desert, the land from whence he ran when times got tough, God gave to Abram the land on which he was standing as far as the eye could see in all directions. God made a covenant, a legally binding agreement that this land would belong to the yet to be realized descendants of this very old very childless man.

The New Testament makes is clear that we, the followers of Jesus Christ are the spiritual descendants of Abram. All those who choose to associate themselves with Christ, accepting his grace, living as he called for us to live are spiritual children of Abram. We are the spiritual descendants of Abram. We in many ways through Christ participate in this ancient promise. In so many ways Abram’s story is our story. And the God who came to Abram is the God who comes to us. The God who loving and caringly spoke to Abram at this time in his life is the same God who speaks to us. And surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, the message God has for us is not all that different to that which God spoke to Abram.

We may not be childless men nearing 100 trying to trust God in the face of a seemingly unfulfilled promise but we are a church which is over 100 year olds trying to find its way in a cultural landscape which seems to have changed beyond recognition. All around us we look and all that once was familiar and comforting and reliable has been taken away. The landmarks have changed and we are uncertain if we can find out way into the future which lies before us, because we are not even sure where we are anymore.

All the things which we thought our society and our culture believed in seems to have changed. The things we could understand are gone and what is left is a world to which we are unsure we can relate. We have blindly followed God and we find ourselves in a new land, a foreign land which seems scary and unfamiliar to us.

And we can be comforted and know the God who led Abram across the desert to the land of Canaan, is the same God who is leading us into this uncertain future which lies before us. Just as God came to Abram calling for him to not be afraid, God comes as our shield and calming our fears. God will lead us, God will shield us, do not be afraid. God is leading us where God will lead us. God will take us to places where we can not yet understand how we will get there. We have come this far by faith and God will not leave us and abandon us to the wiles and woes of the 21st century no God will take us by the hand, tell us to not be afraid, and assure us that none other than God will be our shield.

But not only does God promise to shield us and tell us not to be afraid but God leads us into the night, and reminds us that our destiny lies with the stars. We are not an old man looking for children so that some part of himself will live on when he is gone, but we are a church wondering if this church, this congregation has a future and I believe God is saying, “Yes you have a future.” I believe God is telling us, “I am the God who has brought this church here in Cambridge up out of the 19th century, I am the God who lead this church through the 20th century and I am the God who is assuring this church that I will be with it, walk with it shield it, guide it, and take it into the 21st century and beyond. If only you trust me, if only you follow me, I can promise you what I promised your ancestor Abram, children, descendants in the faith, people who can point to this church as their spiritual mother, people who will call the people of this church their spiritual fathers, that those touch by God through us will be as numerable as the stars in the sky.”

God wishes to take our hand, God wishes to comfort us and assuage our fear, God wishes for us to trust and know that God is in control. We may be afraid of the famine, we may be find this the new landscape of this century is a place we would not have chosen for ourselves, we may even find this neighborhood where God has placed this church a fearful and frightening place, to even think, of doing ministry but this is where God has led us, this is where God has brought us and God promises us two things. God promises to be our shield to protest us and comfort us, to lead us and guide us. And God promises us as God has always promised those who choose to follow God, that the reward for following, the reward for trusting, the reward to going, doing, living as God calls us to go, do, and live will be great. So let us together take God’s hand and let God lead us as God’s people, as God’s chosen, as God’s church where ever it is God is leading us.

Sermons: Journeying Through Lent: Giving our Best and First To God

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Lent is the time of the Christian year which is set aside so that we are able prepare ourselves spiritually for celebrating the resurrection. It is a time to contemplate the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross. One of the ways we contemplate the sacrifice Christ made for us is by making sacrifices in our own lives. One of the ways which Christians have traditionally made sacrifices in their lives is through fasting, fasting not just food but other things in of their lives as well. At different times and different places Christians have fasted a vast variety of things, from Catholics fasting fish on Fridays, to early Christians giving up oil, olives and wine, to the more modern practice of each Christian choosing for themselves what in their life is worth giving up for God. As Christians we desire to be like Christ and one of the ways to do so is to participate in practices which Christ himself participated in and by participating in practices, which turn our minds toward Christ. Fasting actually does both of these things. Christ fasted in the desert for 40 days directly following his baptism, by fasting during lent which is traditionally 40 days long (not including Sundays) we are mirroring Jesus as he fasted in the desert for 40 days. Also fasting during lent is a practice which as we daily desire the very thing which we have given up our mind should be daily turned to the reason for our fast, through the very desire we have for that which we have sacrificed as part of our fast, our hearts and minds are turned toward thinking about Christ and the sacrifice he made on our behalf. Fasting is about sacrificing for the sake of Jesus Christ, so that we can be made in his image and in his likeness. In our fasting we are striving to be more like Jesus in our hearts, in our minds, in attitudes, in our words and most especially, in our actions. Fasting is about setting aside a time in our lives during which we are implementing practices into our lives which will shape us and form us into being people who look like Christ in our hearts, in our words and in our actions; into the people God created us to be.

B. The Journey toward the Cross – Sermon Series

The Journey of Lent is a journey of spiritual formation; it is a journey during which we allow God through the practice of fasting, to form us and shape us, a journey, which draws us closer to Christ it, is also a journey toward the cross. Not only am encouraging you to join with Christian all over the world and throughout all Christian history in using these six weeks leading up to our celebration of the Resurrection, but during this time we will take a journey together through the Old Testament together, looking at the patriarchs of the early Old Testament period and at Israel as God prepared her to receive the Messiah but to see who he was in his life, in his death and his resurrection we are going to look at the history God has with us and the path which God’s covenant took as it lead up to the so-called “New Covenant” which we find in the life death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

As we enter into the passage we have before us this morning we find the people of Israel poised on the very edge of the Holy Land. With the Children we have been tracing the story of these people, from slaves in Egypt, God leading them up out of Egypt across the Red Sea, to the Holy Mountain of God where they received the ten commandments, across the desert the first time where they had stood on the very place where they stand here in this passage but turned back deciding going forward where God was leading them was too scary, was not something they wanted to do, was not something they were up for and God let them, God let them go back into the desert and there they wandered for 40 years. They have finally, once again (remember they have been here before but turned back out of fear and lack of trust in God) standing on the edge of the all the promises the Lord has in store. Moses is speaking to them just outside of the Holy Land. The wandering is over, the wait is over, what they have been anticipating for 40 years is finally coming to pass, they will go into the land which the Lord God will provide for them.

Here they are about take a hold of all the Lord has in store for them. They are ready, they are exited and God, through Moses, is giving them final instructions before they enter the land. So what is God saying to them at this fateful day in their history? What sort of pep talk are they receiving as they are about to embark on this new journey with their God? What great words of wisdom is God imparting? What will God say to rally the troops so to speak and prepare them for the task that lies ahead. God takes this time to tell them how they are to live; to tell them what it means to be God’s people. God tells them what they are to do to insure that they remain the people that God desires them to be. God gives them pointers on how to best keep the covenant they had made with God.

The passage we have before us this morning is part of this greater speech. At this particular point Moses is talking about giving of the first of the first fruits. Every year they are to give the first of the crops to God. Seems like a strange thing to discuss at this particular time in their history. I mean while they are waiting for the go ahead to enter the land they have been dreaming about and hearing about all their lives, God stops to remind them that they are to give the first fruits of their crops to God as a sacrifice? Must be pretty important to God to take time now to talk about. Why is this something God wants to make sure they know at this particular juncture in their history?

Let us begin by coming to an understanding of exactly what giving God the “First Fruits” means. It means that before they eat anything, before they sell anything, before they divvy it up to give to friends or relatives they give the firsts of the crop to God. God gave them the land, God sent the rain, God made the crops grow. Everything they needed in order to produce this harvest came from God and all belonged to God anyway. God was only asking for a small portion of it back in return. In a sense they were to give God God’s share first, before anything else was done with it. This was something they were to do every year with every harvest, give back to God the first portion of all that God had given to them.

But when God is stopping them here at this time, God is not simply reminding about something they do every year, God is stopping them to remind them to about giving the first of the first fruits. This was not just any ole first fruits, this was the first fruits of the first crop given to them in the holy land. God wanted them to start off this way, begin this habit with the very first thing that came out of the ground. Before they turned a profit, before they came out on top, before they got to eat anything from any of the work that they had done, they gave the first of it to God. God came first, giving him his due came above all other things. It was a way of showing, living their trust in God. Giving God what came out of the ground first, because not only had they trusted God to help bring this crop to harvest but they trusted God enough that they would give God the first of the harvest continuing to trust God for the rest of the Harvest. Giving God the first of all that came and all that would ever come from this land God had given to them, giving to God first before they fed their families, giving to God first before they went to market, giving to God first before they even knew exactly how much would come. It was an act of trust; an act of faith in the God who provides all things, and gives all things and is there with us in all things.

We usually look at our lives and give so much time to work each day, so much time to cook, to clean, and to spend with our family members and friends. We spend a certain amount of time reading or watching TV, paying bills and when we get to the end of the day we say, that we are just too busy to spend very much time with God. We do the same with our money. The gov. takes its due before we even see it. We give so much money to the mortgage or the rent and to all the other bills and to food and gas and all the other things we have to pay for and then look and see how much we have left and maybe we will give the 10% to God, which we perceive is the right thing to do. When we think about giving of ourselves, of our time, of our things, our energy, of our money to God we never think about giving to God first, we don’t ever give God our prime time, we never give God our best, our first, we give God our leftovers, our last, what ever it is we have left when all is said and done.

When God speaks to the Israelites as they are beginning to enter into the bounty of all God has in store for them in this land God is about to give into their hands. God was asking the Israelites to remember that all the bounty of the land ultimately came from God. God gave them the land. God gave the rain and the sun and all that was needed to make the crops grow. God is the source of all life. God is the creator of the Earth and everything in it. At the beginning and the end of the day everything is God’s, our time, our energy, our things, our money, it all belongs to God. God does not ask for the leftovers. God does not want the time we have left when everything else has taken time from us. God does not want the things in our lives nobody else wants, or the things we are done using because we have not use for them anymore. God does not want that which is left when everything is said and done, God wants the first fruits. God wants to be thought of first and not last.

What does it mean for us to give the first fruits in our life? It means, no matter how hard it is for us, we need to set aside time and money for God before we divvy up time and money for anything else. I know I can hear you. I can guess what it is you are thinking, “But Pastor I really don’t have time, I really don’t have the money. Between everything else that has to get done, there is nothing left to give.”

The fact of the matter is the gov. takes our taxes out before we even see our check, we don’t miss. Why because we don’t even think about that money as being ours, the only money we really consider to be ours is the money that we can actually put in the bank or cash when we get our check. I would propose that if we did the same for God it would be the same. We would not miss it. If we set aside time and $$ to give to God and doing the Godly things first before we have a chance to spend it doing something else, we would not miss it.

Most of us who are here on Sunday mornings do this to some extent. Most of us would not think about doing anything else during this time. What if we set aside time for Bible Study, and for doing other things which God is calling for us to do, before we decided what TV shows we want to watch, or what night we go out with our friends. What if we set aside the time that we are going to spend talking to God and reading the Word before we let anything else fill that time. It does not have to be first thing in the morning, it can be anytime, but it should be time when you are at your best and not your worst. If you like getting up early do it first thing in the morning. If you are a night person do it at night. If you are your best at mid-day, then do it at midday. When you do it not important. It is important that you set the time aside and actually give it to God. Write your tithe and offering checks first. It is easy to pay all the people we owe money too first and then see if there is anything left for God. On the day you get paid write your check to God before you write anything other check. The money is gone before you can spend it on anything else. And most importantly, Trust God and you will be amaze at how little you miss what you have given to God.