February 9, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
“Becoming All We Can Be: Is That Really You, God?”
“Just and holy God, You need nothing from us, but You delight in our humble trust and thankful obedience. We repent of our shallow rituals and empty sacrifices. Enable us to do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with You, our God. Amen.”
We’re not quite at tax season, but we’re getting close – so I am on the lookout for every piece of tax-related deduction-making evidence I can find. I always do my own taxes, because when I was first ordained I discovered that we owed a few thousand dollars from the previous few years of doing it wrong; and as the tax consultant I used (a friend and member of the church I was ordained in) tried to help me, she learned that no one in her office, including herself, had ever done a clergy tax return, and she uncovered all kinds of tricky niches and traps to fall into or to use to my advantage. So, she taught me how to do my taxes; and I do.
My goal, with claiming dependents and paying quarterly dues, is that at the end of the year I will not owe anything, and the IRS will owe me less than $100. Why should I give them more than they deserve, just to hold it for me interest-free until after I fill out my 1040?
Well, a few years ago, I actually owed the IRS somewhere around $1,200. So I withdrew from savings and made my payment with my return.
Has this ever happened to you? In October, I received a check from the IRS for almost $1,400, because I had figured something wrong! That was my first awareness that the federal government isn’t necessarily the “bad guy”! I was in awe! They paid me back enough to cover my 4th quarter estimate, and then some!
And I kinda thought, “Is that You, God? Is that Really You?”
This month we are looking at four Scripture passages, four stories, from Genesis, in a series called “Becoming All We Can Be”. The truth is – we can never actually be all we can be. If we ever actually reached the summit of “all we can be” – life would end. What comes next? Be more than we can be? That’s a self-defeating goal.
But we can be on the road to becoming all we can be. That’s a road-trip everyone should probably always be on. The Bible calls this the “sanctifying” work of the Holy Spirit – a work which we have the right and the ability to quench. Or, a work we have the right and responsibility to encourage!
Last week we read from Genesis 1 and saw that in Creation God created mankind in His own image – full of freedom and love and goodness, and He said, “This is very good”; and I believe that each time a baby is born – between 350,000 and 380,000 per day (134 million per year) world-wide – that baby is born in the image of God – innocent, with all the potential to be a perfect reflection of God.
Today, we read from Genesis 3 and see why that hope doesn’t pan out, but we’ll also see how God provides new and even better hope for the whole world. Genesis 3:1-15 …. —-
3 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, … 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.…”
What was the first recorded time that God spoke to His human creation? [in the command to not eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil]
Adam, we have every reason to believe, heard God give that command. In today’s story, Satan, in the form of a serpent, talked to Eve and convinced her that Adam misunderstood God, or that God had ulterior motives for that command (I have a cartoon on my wall of Eve sitting in front of an Apple computer and a serpent telling her that God forbade her from touching it because then she would have the same access to all the information that God has).
Where was Adam in that encounter? [Right next to Eve! Why didn’t he stop her?!]
So, when was the first time Adam actually heard God speak – I mean, when did Adam decide that listening to God was important? [When he got into trouble – Uh-oh, we’re naked! Let’s hide from God. Uh-oh, He knows where we are! ] — This scene in Genesis 3 always reminds me of that 1968 sci-fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the astronaut Dave is trying to disconnect the computer HAL from its spaceship mainframe operative program. While this is a stretch, I wonder of Arthur C. Clarke or Stanley Kubrick was thinking about how mankind tries to disconnect from God. After all, the computer’s name was HAL, and the Lord’s Prayer includes “HALlowed by Thy name”.
Research suggests that it is a nearly universal truth that when humans find themselves so far over their heads, so deep in trouble, so lost or confused or scared or defeated, that we don’t know what to do next, we reach out to Something beyond us – whether we have ever previously really believed in the existence of God or not; we cry out to some Unknown source of power (and, we hope, love) for help. World-wide, in every culture, universally.
Keith Miller quotes John Knox as asking, “What is the ‘obsession’ which Gamaliel Bradford describes as a ‘keen, enormous, haunting, never-sated thirst for God’? When Francis Thompson tells of his flight from the ‘hound of heaven,’ what is pursuing him? When Bertrand Russell cries out that the ‘center of (him) is always and eternally a terrible pain,’ a ‘searching for something beyond what the world contains,’ what is this something? When Augustine said, ‘Thou hast made us for thyself and we are restless until we rest in thee,’ of whom, or to whom, was he speaking?”
We are, it would seem, looking to be in some kind of relationship with God – even if we don’t know it and maybe would deny it with all our energy.
And even when we do start to draw nearer to Something beyond ourselves, we encounter a resistance within ourselves. We have this innate need to be “in charge”; to be “god”, if you will. We want to be helped and loved by God, but it’s like we are so afraid of losing control we won’t allow Him to get too close!
Unless – or until – we find ourselves so desperate we cry to Him for help. CS Lewis talked about these amplified times of fear-filled anxiety as “God’s megaphone”. God sometimes uses these seasons of distress to get our attention – because now we’re ready to listen.
Think back to a time when you were “trapped” in such a hole of despair. What was the situation, the condition, of your fear and worry? For some of you, you don’t have to think back very far, do you? Maybe some of you feel trapped in such a snare right now.
Is there a way to discover God’s presence, His power, even His love, in the midst of that noose? Why would He allow that? How has He used that to draw you closer to Him?
I see Bob right here in front of me – many of us have heard his testimony of how God used a tragic auto-accident as His “megaphone” to get Bob’s attention and call him home.
Is there a way to discover God’s saving voice in the middle of your struggle?
Look back at Genesis 3. We can see that this whole encounter happens because Adam and Eve choose to sin; they decide to deny God’s authority; they worship their own freedom more than God’s majesty. So now they are scared to death – literally – and they do not know how to escape from the judgment about to fall on them. So they hide, and then they blame each other, and they blame Satan, and they blame God!
Where is God’s saving voice? 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, … 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.…”
How, and when, does God fulfill this promise? It starts immediately! Then there are dozens, maybe hundreds of ways God fulfills this promise throughout the Old Testament – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, King David; and ultimately in Jesus.
Who here has seen the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion? Remember the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before the crucifixion? What does Jesus encounter in that Garden? It is the serpent of Genesis 3. That is just a cinema-graphic way to illustrate the fulfillment of this promise – but they did it well.
Have you heard Jesus’ voice in your struggles? Have you listened for His Word of salvation and hope? It is time to respond to His megaphone. Respond today, and hear Him call your name.
Here’s the really good news: when we do that, God will demonstrate His grace and peace to others in our circles of influence – through our lives. Someone we know will receive a diagnosis of cancer, or divorce papers after 20 years of marriage, or a call from the police or hospital about their child – and this friend of yours will remember how you not only survived your trauma, but how you came out victorious! Even if you still have cancer. Even if your husband or wife still left you. Even if your child never made it back home. You had victory in Jesus.
I heard an old, old story, How a Savior came from glory, How He gave His life on Calvary To save a wretch like me; I heard about His groaning, Of His precious blood’s atoning, Then I repented of my sins And won the victory.
O victory in Jesus, My Savior, forever. He sought me and bought me With His redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew Him And all my love is due Him, He plunged me to victory, Beneath the cleansing flood.
No, we’re not perfect. Paul carefully reminds us of that, when he quotes Psalms 14 & 53 and Ecclesiastes 7, “10 … ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one….’ 24 and all are justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3)
“Wow God! Is that really You?” If you’re feeling convicted, confess it to Him, and repent – decide to turn your life toward Him. And you will know it has been God’s voice, really. And you will be thankful – even in the struggle. Amen.
Miller, Keith; The Becomers; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1973; Pp. 121-125.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 315.