Category: blessing

Freed to Follow – an exodus Journey Week 1

Sermon, Pentecost 10A
Sunday August 21st, 2011.
Ocean Forest
the exodus journey week 1

So, we begin this exodus journey and yet this journey comes from what has happened before. We know from the account of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph that God’s presence and promise has been under huge threat because of human weakness, idolatry and sin, and yet, by God’s determination and grace, has prevailed – at least for now.

We hear in the opening verses of this Exodus…..



1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. 5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.

6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

God’s blessing of his people; his promise to Abraham of a great nation of descendants, a great name among the nations and a land of blessing in which to live is happening despite generations living and dying in between the life of Jacob and Joseph and this new beginning about to happen.


The Israelites are a minority group within Egypt. They have bred like rabbits! Verse 8, “Now there arose a new king in Egypt….” may jump as much four centuries. It seems the blessed nation have been fruitful and multiplied as God had originally commanded the first human beings to do (Genesis 1 and 2). This new King see a threat in this now huge ethnic minority group. They look like they might soon take over the country!


This is a fear-filled thing. I hear people saying things about what is happening in Australia that betray this kind of fear of foreigners. “The Chinese will take us over. The Indonesians will take over one day. The boat people will flood us and use up our valuable resources……”. Was it Pauline Hansen who gave voice to that fear a decade ago when she said “the Asians are taking us over….Asians out….”? A quick look at history will tell you that these kinds of fears have always been around. They have often led to great evil. Fear does that.

In this scene, the Israelites are almost like a plague! “They became exceedingly numerous so that the land was filled with them”, we hear. They are like mosquitoes at a BBQ, flies at a picnic, Fremantle Dockers supporters at the footy!

The Egyptian monarchy is worried for another reason besides being taken over from within. What if one of their competing neighbours like the Babylonians, Syrians, Assyrians etc… decide to take us on and enlist the support of this huge group of people who may or may not have any loyalty to us when push comes to shove? Egypt would be serious peril.

So, the king decides to deal “shrewdly” with this problem people. The plan is to oppress a whole people – to force them into slavery and use them as objects for the building of a kingdom. People become objects to be bought, sold, used, abused and treated much lower than the pinnacle of all creation – human beings.

Of course, those us who live in the top 10% of the wealthiest people in the world have little idea about what this really is. However, for anyone who has come close to poverty and/or any oppressive regime, the full force of this oppression will make more sense. The rest of us can only imagine…… no status, no job, no goals, no control over my day, no point thinking beyond today because it may be your last. Seeing your family brutalised on a daily basis. Seeing the places that you used to enjoy now out of reach and watching all the people you used to know carry on as if you were not even there. This is a complete removal of privilege and plunge into abuse, hatred, racial vilification, death and fear.

It is interesting though. Egypt is also full of fear (1:10). As the oppressors dehumanise others and violate their family and communal life, they themselves become sub human. Once this pattern of fear and oppression has been established, it brings in an entire way of life and behaviour for those caught up in it. Both become lost.


That terrible human descent into death now shows itself again. Just as it was for Joseph and his brothers, fear, then jealousy, then hatred and then physical and communal violence takes shape in this now fearful country. The Egyptians fear the Israelite’s capacity to threaten their way of life. They are very jealous of the apparent unstoppable blessing they seem to have as they “fill the land”. This “shrewd” plan to stop their increase and snuff out their blessed life does not work. Even though the Israelites were mistreated, their families grew larger, and they took over more land. “Because of this, the Egyptians hated them worse than before…”(Exod 1:12). Jealousy has given way to hatred – not just in theory but now actually done on a daily basis across the country – wherever Egyptians and Israelites live in the same place.

We can tell what is next; violence and death. “Kill all the baby boys” commands the fearful and inhumane Pharaoh. This has been a final step in the snuffing out a minority group for many a regime. It is a final desperate measure to kill off a threat. We have a very well known account of such a measure in the New Testament, as the paranoid King Herod the Great command the same when he suspects the promised Jewish Messiah has been born. We hear that every Christmas.

We then hear this account of very crafty mid-wives who commit an act of civil disobedience by directly disobeying the law of the land (1:15-21). The reason given for their act of rebellion in an oppressive regime is faithfulness to God (v17). They took their life in their own hands as they delivered new life everyday for the sake of obeying the God of life who gives life. He is also the God who alone has the authority as creator and giver of life to take life away.

This gets me thinking about Christian civil disobedience. When is it faithful to the Lord to directly disobey civil law? In the 70’s in Latin America a whole movement and theology came into being called “Liberation theology” where many Christians even went to the extent of taking up arms against brutal military regimes with leaders like Pinochet.

Here in comfortable and peaceful Western democracy, we hope it never comes to this. All we can do is thank God for his gift of justice and legal system and a shared will to keep it that way; even to actively support and work for justice and “pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honour God as St Paul urges us” (1Timothy 2:2).

All through this descent into human hatred, oppression and murder, all driven by fear, God is at work. It is so ironic that Pharaoh is actually being an instrument of God’s creative work. The blessing, multiplying and fruitfulness does not stop. Now God’s saving work is taking shape. We come to this most famous and wonderful little account of God’s man for the moment – Moses.

Again the Israelite midwives, who are actually experts in handling God’s fruitful blessing when you think about it, outdo the murderous Pharaoh by keeping another one of their precious baby boys and ensuring that he lives through this horrible time.

How poignant it is to read that this desperate woman who somehow managed to have her son and then hide him for a few months as soldiers come house to house on a daily basis and take boys from their mothers arms and murder them, now places her precious boy in an ark. This word is so seldom used in the entire Old Testament. Here we are meant to remember that other “ark” of Noah and God’s saving work in those days. Humanity was so lost. We had descended even further into sin and chaos that God acts to bring order and life back to his creation. he does this my placing Noah and the remnant of his creation in that ark.

Later on in Exodus, we will hear that those foundational directives on how to faithfully live with the Lord and his community – the 10 Commandments – will also be placed in an “ark” – the Ark of the Covenant. Precious things go inside arks. Saving things go inside arks. Moses is now inside an ark. The hope of God’s saving love is in that ark.

And then we really come to the crescendo of this whole beginning account. It is amazing that of all people to give a sign of what God is going to do it should be an Egyptian – and Pharaoh’s own daughter at that! What does she do?

“…….she saw the baby and felt sorry for him because he was crying…”(2:6). Pharaoh’s daughter does three things in response to one thing. The one thing is crying. The three things are “seeing” and hearing (implied) and “feeling sorry” for this one crying.

“Feeling sorry” for him? In English that seems a bit week. The word for a woman’s womb in Hebrew is the root of this verb. This woman who has a womb experiences a womb wrenching compassion for this child who has just come from another woman’s womb. The compassion is of the deepest kind – from the womb. it is that compassion that comes from the human spirit – that women experience in pregnancy, childbirth and when new life is in infancy.

This “gutted” woman is a precursor to more words from God that will come next week. Here, Pharaoh’s daughter “sees” and hears and has deep compassion because the boy is crying.

 

“Crying”: This is the situation of God’s people, according to God. They are “crying”. They are weeping in this terror in which they live. Labour, hard labour, misery, cruelty, mistreated – this is what is creating this weeping and crying out for salvation, for hope, for and end to it all.

Friends, as we leave it there, we can journey on knowing that we travel with a God who sees, hears and has compassion on our crying – whatever it is.

We can also trust that our God creates good out of evil and frustrated the working of fear, oppression and hatred.

We can also trust that our God is very happy to work with little things and little people – people like midwives, daughters, grieving mothers, crying babies and little “arks”. God works through these things to deal with the fear and trouble we as his people and we as part of his troubled world face.

In this little ark is the hope of God’s people and his promises acting in the world. His fellow Hebrew babies were thrown into the water of the Nile. But God ensured that this child of promise was “drawn out of the water” of the Nile. God undoes this horrible command of a king who thinks he is bigger than God.


His people will soon be “drawn out of the water” as they pass through that Sea of Reeds on dry ground and be born again as God’s people of blessing.

We have been drawn out of the water at baptism. Baptism was our Red Sea. It was us being drawn out of certain death to new life and blessing in Christ.

We walk this journey as God’s water people – people of hope. people in the ark or the boat of the church. We sit in the Nave of the church – we travel in God’s presence into the desert way of Jesus – the way of his cross, the way of God’s power revealed in the ordinary and seemingly weak things of the world.

God is on the move. He see, he hears, he is compassion and he is drawing us out into new hope and life in these weeks ahead. See him. Hear him. Cry out to him. Amen



My spirit revived!

Sermon

Pentecost 9A, Sunday August 14, 2011.
Ocean Forest


My spirit revived!

WHAT I NOTICED IN THE TEXT

This is the final scene in a long story of pain for a family and a father. The author takes heaps of time to tell the story and builds to this final scene of reconciliation and summary of all that has happened to this family and this fledgling nation, Israel.

There is huge emotion on display in this text – long held hopes for true reconciliation with those who have hurt you bring that out.

Hindsight – being able to survey the past and what has happened and see how God has shaped your life and actually used the troubling and testing events and even the great wrongs that have been done to you. Joseph says that it was God that actually sent him to Egypt to save a nation, not a band of jealous, angry brothers bent on destruction. God triumphs over destruction of life and turns it around for the preservation of life.

Walking backwards into the future. That is the way the Hebrew mind evident in the Old testament works, as we see it here very clearly. The only indication of the future is the less than clear world of dreams. Joseph had dreams, the prison mates had dreams and Pharaoh had dreams – even when interpreted by Joseph, they are vague at best. But there is absolute clarity about God’s promise to Abraham, what has happened to Isaac and Jacob, and now Joseph. “Gods meant it for good” concludes Joseph. He always does it seems.

Reconciliation: Reconciliation is an opportunity to bring glory to God ad here Joseph gives God all the glory. Reconciliation demands that we get the log out of our own eye. The brothers seemed to have done this as they lived with the guilt of what they done and were now ready to enter reconciliation because they had admitted their wrong. The two waring parties were now ready to be gently (or not so gently!) restored and to then go and live in this newly restored relationship.

WORD
What a scene this bible text reveals! It is the scene of a family restored, a father revived and a hope rising up again. It is a scene of forgiveness triumphing over all of that harmful stuff we have mentioned in these weeks as we have followed the story of Jacob – the “winning struggler” and God’s promise of blessing through him.

This emotional reconciliation account is the crescendo to a beautifully told story which explains how it is that the promise to Abraham to be the head of a large nation of descendants blessed by God came to be. Joseph’s story is the last of four great stories of four great people in the book of Genesis – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and now within Jacob’s story – Joseph, his favoured son.


Prayer: O Jesus, every moment in my heart and my ear, speak to us in this word that we hear.


So much has happened to get to this great scene of brothers reconciling after years of hatred, jealousy, lies and guilt. Let’s do a quick catch up….


Jacob favoured this young son, Joseph and that brought into being it inevitable result – jealousy, hatred and physical and emotional harm to the favourite among his 11 brothers. Last week we heard how they took their opportunity to get rid of the young “dreamer” who had these dreams about being the dominant and blessed one among all his brothers. They throw him into a dark pit, but eventually then sell him as a slave to travelling traders who head to Egypt.


Jacob, now called “Israel” by God, the “struggling winner”, is inconsolable with grief and loss. Joseph, the blessed one of God, ends up in Egypt, and is bought from the spice traders who bought him from the 11 brothers by a man named Potiphar. This man is a royal official of some type. So, Joseph land on his feet, really. This is God’s doing it says. “The Lord was with Joseph….” we hear at various intervals in this wonderfully told story of God’s blessing.

Potiphar could see that Joseph was a blessed and gifted man of some divine god, so he hands over the running of his own substantial household to Joseph. Potiphar’s wife notices Joseph is a good catch and makes a pass at him! Joseph has some character and some integrity about him. He rejects the offer and keeps on doing so for some time. Eventually the jilted woman sets Joseph up. Potiphar gets Joseph thrown in prison.

It must have been a tricky thing to serve Pharaoh wine and bake his bread because for some minor mistake, the cupbearer and the baker to the King end up in prison with Joseph! This puts a new spin on Masterchef!!

In time Joseph also proves himself to be an excellent prison administrator! He ends up being given that role. He is a blessed and talented man of faith.

Joseph, the dreamer, actually is a dream interpreter. He can see things others can’t. Not only does he impress his inmates with his special sight into dreams, but also then by twist of fate, Pharaoh himself. By seeing that Pharaoh’s dreams are a warning about a devastating 7 year drought and famine coming, Joseph is again restored to the palace.


Just as Jacob favoured him right from the beginning, and as Potiphar and also his in-mates in prison favoured him, now even Pharaoh himself makes Joseph “the man in charge of all Egypt” – in other words, Prime Minister under the King himself. 23 years after he was thrown into the pit by the brothers that hated him and his dreaming of favoured status, at the age of 30, he is Prime Minister in the super-power nation of the day.


He sets about drought and famine-proofing Egypt. Of course, people from surrounding tribes and groups would also benefit from Egypt’s food supply in severe famine. Some of those non-Egyptian surrounding people are his own family – his brothers who after some years of drought and extreme hardship come down to Egypt to buy grain and goods to survive.


From here Joseph is the architect of this great scene we have heard. By careful manipulation of events and direct conversation with these brothers who left him for dead out of jealousy and hatred, he manoeuvres them around to find out a few things.

Is Dad still alive? Yes. Are these brothers of mine still full of hatred for me? Not so much hate now, but guilt and fear. “God is punishing us what we did to our brother” they admit to the PM of Egypt. (Gen 42:12).

All the while, Joseph hides his identity from his brothers. He has to be sure they have changed. He is after reconciliation and must know that it has a fair chance of winning over what used to be hatred. If it doesn’t he will have no choice but further pain and sorrow. He obviously hoped for reconciliation intently because several times in the various encounters over a couple of years he gets very emotional about it all and has to duck out of the room to keep his identity from them!


Eventually we get to this scene where the 11 brothers and the dreamer they hated are in one room and Joseph knows that they are ready to lose their hatred and guilt and receive his olive branch of reconciliation.

This is the last time he will hide his identity. “Every one get out!” he commands as the emotion wells up inside him. He finally tells them who he is. He does this by loud wailing and weeping in a forceful show of raw emotion – so much so that all the people out of the room hear the weeping and Pharaoh hears it too!

His brothers are speechless – dumbfounded! They can’t get a word out. They are so shocked and full of fear. Surely the day of judgement on their terrible sin is here. Pay day is here. We are going to cop it. We deserve it. We did it. He is alive and has all the cards in his favour.

The blessed man of God who knows what it is to be hated and abandoned and mistreated, as well as what it is to be loved and blessed by the Lord and to serve the Lord for the good of a whole nation in pain, pours out God’s mercy and blessing on these men. There is such an emotional scene of reconciliation – genuine reconciliation – not just conflict resolution or agreeing to disagree, but gut wrenching repentance, owning up, pouring out of guilt and fear and the undeserved gift of mercy – grace really.

It’s a scene for any of us who are guilty or wrong and fearful of punishment – from others and especially from God.

It’s a scene for any of us who have been hated and abandoned by a brother, sister parent or friend.


It is a scene for anyone who has been the one who has done the hurting the hating and the abandoning.

It’s a scene for any Christian who has forgotten what our overall task is with others – we have this ministry of reconciliation (1 Cor 5:16-20)


16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20


With God’s promise of future, blessing, hope and life, and only with his promise, this kind of reconciliation is possible and given freely to any sinner, anytime, anywhere.

How do we receive this kind of healing? How do we give this kind of olive branch to enemies? How do we find the peace and the purpose that this kind of complete forgiveness brings – forgiveness with each other and with God?


We have to be weak and let God be strong. There is no beginning of this reconciliation without weakness and vulnerability and great risk – before our enemy and before the Lord. There is no other way to a scene like this.

We either trust the Lord and rest in his promises and blessing and presence in us and take the risk and be weak in the struggle or we keep up the charade that we are always right, justified in our rights and in charge of forgiveness. We are not. This Joseph account shows that it is only the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who has the grace, the mercy and the power to create this kind of healing and new hope.
We are about to embark on a great journey of how this God of hope, who “hears the cries of his people and their struggle in slavery” will make the first move in making sure his promise of community, name and land to Abraham will come to be.

We will see how he creates a nation of blessing – how he will take this undefined community and baptise them and free them in his promise and power and shape them by hard struggle and mistakes, but then constant leading and restoration to be the nation through which the whole world would be blessed.


I reckon that in this great account of the beginning of a nation’s place and role in the world, called Exodus”, the ‘way out’ we will find God with us in our faith journey here.

We are a community created by God in a wider human community, just as the descendants of Jacob and his 12 sons were a community within a wider community. We need God to show us our particular place and role – our vocation, as his community in the human community, as the Hebrews would discover as they became the nation of Israel.

We will see that our meaning and purpose as defined and given by the Lord happens on the move, in the desert places, when we are tired, hungry and thirsty and longing for the good old days when things were easier.

We will also find that our purpose and hope for now and the future as God’s people takes shape when we are on the mountain in the glory cloud of God’s presence, eating and drinking together with the Lord in all his glory and grace.

So, we pray that the Spirit of Jesus will revive us and restore us as we begin this little journey of “the way out” with the Lord – our exodus with the Lord from whatever is enslaving us.

We pray to or heavenly Father – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now revealed in Jesus of Nazareth as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that we will get something out of this together for our lives now – for our jobs, our families, our church, our school, our mission.

We seek with confidence because this is no mere children’s story or even just a story – it is the witness of Jesus to us in the power of his Holy Spirit and will divide us, cut us, call us, heal us and be good for us.


Our end of the deal is to seek with the heart. He will show us and shape us in his way.

Prayer:

Jesus, you are the great teacher and revealer of God to us and we need your revelation now. In these days ahead and this account of the mighty works of the Lord and the very human responses of Israel, speak to us and shape us your community in this wonder human community. Amen.


THINGS TO REFLECT ON

Who do I need to be reconciled with and am I and that person ready. Can I see my wrong and admit it and go from there?

What does hindsight of your experiences tell you about God? Did he really mean it all for good and has he been at work all along? Pick a good and a bad experience and ponder them from Joseph’s point of view…..

What can you see of the future? Is it true that like the Hebrews, we can only really walk backwards into our future – keeping our eyes on Jesus and what has already done in our lives so that we stay with him and his Word and let him take care of what behind (or actually in front of us) in our future?

Blessing in Hopelessness

Sermon:

Pentecost 8A, Sunday August 7, 2011.

Ocean Forest
Joseph in the pits
STARTERS:
  • If you could name a few of the greatest blessings God has ever given you – what would they be?
  • What has God promised you, both in the Bible and in your personal experiences?
  • What do you think happens to God’s blessing when you are in the pits?
  • Have you ever been the favourite in class, or in the team or in the family? How as that?
  • Has there been favouritism in your family. If so, what has it done to your family?
THINGS I NOTICE ABOUT THE TEXT
  • There is grief, sorrow, jealousy, favouritism, pain, injustice, abuse, lies and just about every bad human behavior on show here from various people and yet God’s blessing endures. it is a very, very human account of people and God’s promises intersecting
  • It is a long way from the Hebron Valley up to Dothan in the north of the country. They are out on the edge of their territory – a great place to “lose” their troublesome young brother.
  • Joseph was definitely not worldly wise in the world of family politics. He was only 17 and he showed it by sharing his dreams of dominance with his 11 other brothers.
  • Jacob even sees that it will not go for his favourite son, Joseph, if the lad keeps sharing these “dominating” dreams with his brothers 9v10). But Jacob does nothing except notice this dynamic. Why didn’t he act to teach his young son something about life?!
WORD
From last Sunday, we now take up Jacob’s story some years after that wrestling for God’s blessing in Jabbok River when he has had his twelve sons, one of whom is Joseph. In anyone’s book, Jacob has been blessed! Twelve children is a good number! God’s promised blessing to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, way back in Genesis 12, of a whole nation of descendants, a great name among the nations and land in which to live a blessed life – so that this nation could be the bringers of God’s blessing to all nations, is taking shape.

But, as is always the case, imperfect human beings seem unable to live in God’s promised blessing. We forget God’s promises, doubt his faithfulness and play god ourselves – trying to determine their own dreams for the future. Our text today is about the seeming end of a dream; the end of God’s promises and blessing.

 

I don’t know what it would be like to be one of 12 brothers, but I know what it is to be the youngest. I might know what it is like to be regarded by my siblings as the favourite. That’s what my sisters always said about me when it came to escaping the wrath of my dad. I was, after all the youngest and the only son he had. But unlike Joseph, I was not hated by my siblings. My sisters never ganged up on me and threw me into a pit!

 

In our text we see that awful string of things that destroys a family; favouritism, jealousy, hatred and physical and emotional harm. The seed of the trouble is favouritism by a father to one child. For old man Jacob, Joseph was a special sign of God’s blessing in his life (and maybe a source of pride in his virility!).

For 17 years in this large family, Joseph was treated with more focus and favour than all the rest. Joseph even got a specially made coloured coat for his 17th birthday. The others never got that. Favouritism bred the seeds of discontent and family feuding.

Fuel was added to the fire when this young kid started unwisely sharing his dreams of world domination with his 11 older brothers! – saying in several ways that they all would bow down to him sometime in the future! The text just says…”and they (the brothers) hated Joseph all the more”.

Of course, they were not only hating Joseph, but actually, God’s blessing. These dreams of Joseph being dominant among the 12 brothers were signs of God’s continued presence and promise. But no one in this family could hear it or believe it. They were locked into established patterns of dislike. Human brokenness again begins to destroy God’s blessing for a family and the world.

 

It goes to show that once we give up on God’s faithfulness to his promises in our own lives and settle for only what is in front of us we can find ourselves anywhere. Here, we are in the territory of all out hatred. Anything is possible.

 

One day the 11 brothers see an opportunity to get rid of this young favourite, coloured coated dreamer. There is disagreement about how brutal and final to be. Some want to just murder him. Most want to just get rid of him by less excessive means.

The only reason they decide not to murder their brother is so that they don’t have to be cursed for the rest of their lives by the guilt – not out of even one ounce of compassion or kindness to a family member. How complete is this hatred?! If this word today is anything, it is a stern warning from the Lord about the horrible consequences of playing favourites in family or in life.

 

The passing traders purchase Joseph from the 11 brothers for their spice trade journey to Egypt. The brothers cover up their hatred and its consequences. Sin is always like that. We have to cover it up if we don’t repent of it before God.

 

They spin a yarn to the old man, Jacob, about beloved Joseph being taken by a bear and they produce the much hated coloured coat with some goat blood on it for “proof”. The old man is distraught for weeks. No one can console him in his loss and grief.

 

What looked so good is now diminished. God’s blessing is diminished and damaged. That is what it looks like to Jacob and to those of us hearing this Word.

We have darkness here. We have a young man in a pit of darkness. It is a pit of hatred, mistreatment, betrayal and all of this from those who are closest – family.

 
We have hatred on show. We have thuggery, gang-land behaviour, underbelly stuff. We have cover up, deception, trickery. We have unfettered grief and loss; a Dad distraught at the loss of a loved child. Where is God in all of this? Where is this dream of a future of blessing? What was looking good now seems to be falling apart.

I had a recent experience of feeling this kind of deflation while on R&R leave. I went bush for a week. I drove our van right out into the heart of the Gascoyne region. I had been looking forward to getting isolated, sleeping in a swag, not seeing people for a while, seeing the bush in full bloom after the rains, seeing that big blue sky and that red, red dirt – and finally viewing the largest rock ion the world – My Augustus – 1200km NE of Perth.

 
My spirits were up as I hit the first dirt road and beautiful river crossing….. However, I made the mistake of having reasonably well-worn tires and only one spare. I had two punctures along the way. The first was in a safe place and was sorted out easily. The second was “the end of the dream”. I left Mt Augustus station with one spare tyre, a puncture repair kit and 340km’s of gnarly dirt road with hundreds of washouts, creek crossings, corrugated parts, cattle grids and dust before me. It was not a good drive. The enjoyment I was seeking in just being out there in the beautiful inland was out of reach. I was on tender hooks.

I made it to 170kms (half way), stopped, checked the tyres; all good. Within 5 minutes of that stop I went over a cattle grid and heard the sound of metal on metal. My heart sunk even further. I stopped. Sure enough; a blowout. A 40cm gash in the side wall of the tire. There was no way of fixing it. So I had 170km’s to go with no spare.

 

I had only seen one car so far this day and only three cars on the road for the last 2 days. If I got a flat, I would be waiting a long time. Even though I had plenty of water and food and sleeping gear, it was still scary. My mind was engulfed in doubt and fear.

I pulled into a homestead to try and fix the spare. There was no one around. I still had 80km’s to go. Sitting in the car trying to decide what to do – stay at the homestead and wait until someone turns up (which could a whole day, or keep going, I heard something in the soul. A strong direction and even a voice…”Trust me”.

I wonder whether that is what the God of promise and blessing says to his people in the pit. Is that what Joseph heard in the pit? Is that what the grieving Dad heard in his loss? Is that what we hear?

I hear this simple direction not only about a 3 hour moment on a dirt road. The moment I heard it I knew it was for me here and you here. I don’t know if we are in the pit with Joseph, but the promise that was right before our eyes only 4 years ago is hard to identify now in some ways. We have been through some hard times these last 4 years.

We begun about this size and shape, and God blessed us with kids, parents, baptisms, confirmations, 1st Communions, activity, numerical growth, financial blessing and we were “living the dream’ as a congregation and college of the Lutheran Church of Australia.

For anyone of us here who has worried about this place, given our heart to this place, served shoulder-to-shoulder with each other in this place and seen these interesting times curtail in some way those earlier signs of God’s blessing in Jesus seem like they have diminished, this word is word for you.

Being in the pit was not the end of God’s blessing for Joseph. A family lost in jealousy and hatred was not the end of God’s presence and promise for that family.
• The mistake of playing favourites was not the end for a mistaken parent.
• Painful loss and grief was not the end of life and hope for an old Father and grand-father.
• The despising of God’s word and the signs he sends was not the end for a fledgling community who would
   still become a nation of struggling winners under God.

 
Same for us…..

Going through hard times and seeing things be trimmed back a bit, and experiencing the concern and worry about what seems lost is not the end of our present in God’s promise. God is in the pit and many steps ahead – as he was for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

 

Any jealousy, dislike, unresolved conflict or friction between others is not the end of God’s community and his plans for his people to be a blessing to each other.

  

Any mistakes we make as parents or educators of children or colleagues and partners – any moment when we have fallen into playing favourites is not the end of God’s favour toward us through his loved Son, Jesus, our brother and friend “to the end of the age”. His mercies are new every morning and anyone who calls on his mercy and his promised will receive.

 

Loss and grief and the heavy sorrow they bring does not snuff out God’s enduring promise to conquer death in our lives and bring joy after the sorrow, rain after the drought, peace after the turmoil, as he did for those followers in the boat in the storm.

 

We are always fledglings in life and in community and God’s blessing promises to sustain us and make us prosper in God’s way and timing. He is calling us to simple trust him with our life – all of it.

 

We will hear of the magnificent way in which Joseph and his brothers and his father and a whole community are brought to hope in God’s promises again as we carry on with Joseph next week. Trust the Lord. His blessing is upon us and working through us as we put our faith in Jesus. Amen

 
WEEK THOUGHTS
  • What is God calling you to do in remembering how he has blessed you?
  • Is there a way to undo favouritism in your life?
  • What would be the blessing you need from God at the moment.
  • What do you think about Ocean Forest at the moment and God’s blessing among us?
  • Things have diminished in various ways and we have shared some tough times. Is God calling us to trust him a new ways? How?
 
 

Jacob in the Jabbok

Pentecost 7A

Sunday July 31st, 2011.

Ocean Forest
Jacob in the Jabbok
Blessing in struggle


Well, if you were ever looking to rate biblical stories for their “intrigue” factor, then this strange account we hear today would be right up there! Here is Jacob, one of the three patriarchs of the biblical community, wrestling in the Jabbok river all night with some strange unnamed super-human man, and winning the wrestling contest! The all night long struggle is over that much needed thing called “blessing” – God’s blessing in my life.



We might learn again 4 things about God’s blessing in our lives;

1. God’s blessing is at the foundation of life
2. God’s blessing creates and requires some struggle
3. God’s blessing triumphs over all struggle
4. God’s blessing changes us forever

Prayer:

Father in heaven, by the power of your Holy Spirit now present and active in your Word, send us your blessing for our life as your children in this place, in the name of Jesus. Amen.


I think we all know personally the significance of blessing in our lives – blessing from significant people, like parents, and blessing from God as followers of Jesus Christ. A parents’ blessing of his/her sons and daughters is a precious and crucial thing if the sons and daughters are to grow up healthy people. Without blessing of others, people are often consigned to a struggle to gain strong self-identity and confidence.
There are many stories of people we may know who have feel they have never really received the unreserved blessing of their mum or dad or other very central person in their lives and of the deep longing this has left and trouble it has caused.
1. God’s blessing is foundational for human life.
Our text is a part of a big account of blessing that started long before this wrestling match in the Jabbok. Abraham was the first to receive the undeserved and unearned blessing promise of God three generations before Jacob’s wrestle in the Jabbok.



God blessed Abraham and gave him the promise of being the father of a nation specially chosen by God. In Genesis 12 we hear that Abraham was blessed by God and give the promise of a great name, a huge family nation and a land to live in. But even more important – this blessed nation and land would have one overarching goal in its life – to be a blessing to all nations and people. God blessed the old man and his nation to be a blessing to all of creation.

How foundational is that! Without God’s blessing there would be no Abraham, no Isaac, and no Jacob, no Israel, no us. Without God’s blessing there would actually be no earth and no humanity because right from the start “God blessed the earth and Adam and Eve” (Genesis 1-3). You could say that God’s blessing IS life itself. God’s blessing is as foundational as air and water to planet earth and human beings. Without God’s blessing, there is no life, no promise, no hope.

2. God’s blessing creates and requires some struggle.
Jacob, of all the OT people, seemed to know the crucial importance of God’s blessing for our life. He and his mother, Rebekah, acted in less than open and honest ways when the time came for Jacob’s Father, Isaac, to give his precious and once-off blessing to his first born son.



But, of course, Jacob was not Isaac’s oldest son. He was in fact the second out of the womb just after his twin brother, Esau. So, Jacob had no family/legal right to his Father’s blessing. But that did not stop him (and his mother) from scheming to get it! They discovered that this whole thing called God’s blessing would create and require struggle.

The famous moment we hear of in this whole saga is when Jacob and his mother conspire against Isaac, and Esau. Isaac is old and blind, and ready to give his last and once-off blessing of God to his oldest son, Esau. When the moment comes mum and younger son fool the old man into thinking that Jacob is Esau by very tricky means and ensure that Jacob will be the carrier of God’s blessing in his life.

This moment of blessing would create 20 years of struggle and pain for this family. Jacob and Esau would not see each other for 2 decades. I don’t blame Esau! Jacob and Rebekah did a rotten thing to him. This whole issue of birthright and blessing would be for Esau a thing of dread. “He despised it all” we hear. He also despised his brother.

Blessing created struggle. God’s blessing is perfect and holy and life, and yet, when it is placed in the domain of fallen human beings, human beings cannot handle it. We mistreat it, try and buy it, try and own it, manipulate it (and God). We try and control it – thereby placing life itself and hope for the present and future in jeopardy.

But thanks to God’s faithfulness to his promises and his will to bless his people, God does not let human beings kill his blessing promises. We get to this strange night in the Jabbok. But we see now that God’s blessing not only creates struggle in us human beings but is requires struggle at times.



This night-time wrestling match happens the night before Jacob and Esau are going to meet for the first time 20 years. It could go either way as far as Jacob is concerned. Either Esau will still be angry and be ready to finally exact his revenge on his twin brother for destroying his life as the first born blessing bearer, or he may have had enough time to “move on” , as we would say. There will either be a restoration or more than likely, a war and a death!

Jacob is a very crafty fellow. He does two things. Just in case Esau and his 400 men want to get nasty, Jacob splits his huge caravan of people, concubines, and animals in two. At least half of his accumulated “blessing” will escape to live another day. He also organises a massive gift to appease his brother’s anger – to “sweeten him up”, you might say, before they get to meet.


As all the organisation is happening, Jacob is all alone overnight. This strange figure begins the blessing struggle. Jacob seems to know this is a “God-moment”. He is always the one to strike while the iron is hot. He will “not die wondering”, as we say. He wrestles for the blessing he senses this man can give. See verse 26.


26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Jacob knows that God’s blessing needs to be fought for at times.
• God’s blessing is always there and it is a gift but it requires something of us too. God gives his blessing to us freely in the Son he sends to secure our life with him, (Jesus), but he calls us to ask for it, struggle for it, seek it, knock on his door for it – with the promise that we will find it, receive it and enjoy it. God’s blessing requires struggle at times.


Jacob would not give up God’s blessing. He would not give up this “God moment”. Will give up God’s blessing as Esau was willing to? Will we give up receiving God’s blessing for food, for more wealth, for another way, a shortcut to short-term gain?
Truth be told, we will and we do. Each of us needs to ask the Spirit to show us how we are giving up God’s blessing and life so we may repent and seek it again in our work, our relationships, our hopes and dreams for the future and for now.



We need our Heavenly Father’s blessing ore then anything else. His blessing is his Son, Jesus and all he is and does. He is the blessing bearer we may need to wrestle with and not let go until we have his Word – his blessing for our life now.

3. God’s blessing triumphs over all struggle
Jacob cannot be shaken by the divine man in the river. In the end this God-man gives Jacob the blessing he so seeks. The blessing comes in the form of two things;
1. a permanent limp from the struggle to get the blessing
2. and a new name that will redefine him and his descendents.


One thing is clear in this mysterious event; Despite struggle, treachery, deception, ego, family breakdown, fighting, lying, cheating, family fueding and all the pain these cause, God’s blessing triumphs. The blessing God gave to Abraham stays in tact – even in the struggle. No struggle will stop God’s blessing from achieving its intended goal – the blessing of the whole world. Even though we human beings will play god with God, take the glory for ourselves, try to get there by shortcuts, and all of the above, God’s promised blessing to gather all of creation into his blessing through his new Israel – us, the Christian Church, will succeed.
Jesus said as much. “The gates of hell will not prevail against this confession of faith you have just uttered, Peter” “Jesus, you are the Messiah of the Living God”. This will prevail and be there in any struggle we face. Again, even as Jesus was ascending to his place at the right hand of the Father he was giving his church the blessing. As he was taken up he blessed them”, the gospel writers say. The blessing has not stopped and the promise of one church, one faith, one baptism is continuing – even if we have to get wet and fight for it in some deep water of pain.


4. God’s blessing changes us forever
And the last thing to say? God’s blessing changes us forever. Jacob received a new name that would not be just his personal name, but a name for the relationship that would continue to exists between God and his people. The name is a ripper! “Israel (v28). One struggles with God and people and prevails – “Struggling winner” – that’s us!

Friends, your place with God and relationship with him will continue despite your never ending strong will to fight God! We are now, ”joined at the hip”, even when we fight or misunderstand each other and God. God the parent might look at us, his child, putting on a temper tantrum or going the wrong way and shake his head but never leaves – he promises to never withdraw his promises and see them through and see us through.

People of blessing, at the very foundation of our life is God’s blessing. 1. It creates some struggle between us an other people at times. 2. It requires some fight to cling to and receive at times. 3. God’s blessing will triumph despite our dodgy ways because we have been changed.


We have been named in the water by the Word of life, “child”. “Blessed child”. My Child”, by the father of us all and our heavenly brother, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Son of blessing.


Grab hold of God’s blessing and don’t let go. Seek it, on your knees if you need to. Receive God’s blessing here in worship. Fight for it in your life. Hold up your work, your marriage, your friendships, your goals, your directions to God and say – “bless these, Lord, and help me detach from those things that are not of youyou’re your blessing and give me the wisdom to know the difference”, because, Friends, Jesus’ blessing is life and power and peace and promise. it is our very breath and all of our hope.



Jacob’s Prayer (Genesis 32: 9-12) adapted

O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, and I will be with you to the very end of the age” 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown to me. I began with nothing but now I have so much. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of trouble, hatred, unresolved conflict because I am afraid they will come and rob me of your blessing and mess up my life. 12 But you have said, ‘Nothing can ever separate me from your love given in jesus, my Saviour, and I will trust that blessing. Amen


A Father’s Blessing

Sermon
Father’s Day
Sunday September 5, 2010

A Father’s BlessingDeuteronomy 1:29-31, Ephesians 6:1-4, Luke 11:9-13

Friends, on this Father’s Day I would like to do some talking straight to men. We need it. Women need it and children need straight talk to men more than they might know.

There is a epidemic emptiness among us that is causing men (and women and then children) so much pain that we need to talk about on Father’s Day. I begin with a gifted man of Christian faith, Father Richard Rohr. He names the huge chasm in the soul we are all dealing with in various ways that is crippling our relationships and families and society. Let me explain…

Rohr says,
“All men know how to do is pass on roles, money and opinions, but not who
they are. The fundamental drive affecting male spirituality is “father hunger.”

Rohr speaks of one example of what this “father hunger” is. He says, “I gave a directed retreat recently to a very fine man, a priest who has driven himself to be perfect, successful. We were trying to determine where that drive was coming from…… “

’It’s like a chasm. It’s like a canyon,’ the priest said.”

“’What is?’ I asked.”

“’The depth of the emptiness and pain of my relationship with my father,’ he replied. All he could keep saying was, ‘It’s like a canyon.’”

“Here was a man who looked very productive and creative. And he was, but in his 40’s his world started collapsing because he was always driven by a need to please his father. Nothing he ever did for his father was right. He transferred that need to please the Church, the bishop and the people. But that drive was keeping him from the real experience that he already was loved by God.”
“That little example is the story of much of the Church as far as I am concerned. This father hunger is running so many things for good and for ill. When we don’t recognize we are seeking love and approval from the absent father, then we become compulsive, frenetic, busy, wild in a bad sense. That is why we need power, addictions, money…. We don’t recognize that what is really at work is father hunger.”

Another well known man who really names this great wound we carry is John Eldridge. He wrote a little book called “Wild at Heart”. It sold millions of copies. He was onto this chasm in the soul of a man that affects his partner, children, work, health and our community.

This hunger we have is for affirmation from the only one that really counts at the human level. A man will not become a fulfilled and functioning man in relationships and life until he has his father’s affirmation – or in older terms, “the blessing of his father”.

Our modern reality is that this foundational blessing that a man can only get from his father is not being given. It is not understood, not valued and not experienced between fathers and their sons at epidemic proportions.

As an example of how wide and deep this chasm between sons and their fathers is and how completely it affects our community, Rohr speaks of his experience in prison ministry. He says that in his 15 years of working in prisons in the US, the single most potent and common underlying driver of crime is this chasm of father hunger.

“Somehow – and this is the heart of the problem – men have lost the ability to pass on the wisdom and experience of their life and who they are. All they know how to do is pass on roles, money and opinions, but not who they are. I would see that as the single greatest lack of power, dysfunction and disability in civilization today”. (Rohr)

Rohr says, “By “father hunger” I mean the profound, but usually unconscious longing for affirmation and limits from male authority figures. The most common words people use to describe their relationships with their fathers are “absence,” “sadness” and “I don’t know him.”

“Men have not been given the permission or the skills to pass on who they are to their children. We often know what makes fathers angry, but not the deep desires and dreams of their hearts, much less their loneliness and hurt. That vacuum creates a similar emptiness in the hearts of sons and daughters. Dad is an unnameable mystery, which only calls forth fear, doubt and sometimes endless rebellion”.
”In so many of the countries that I have visited men are no longer authoritative or empowered – leaders in any true sense. They have walked no spiritual journeys so they have nothing to offer. All they can do is go in the direction of clichés, control, comfort, legality and all the rest. That’s all that is available to them. As a result, there is a tremendous father hunger within many societies today”.

So, have you got it? Have we got it here? For sure. I see it in adults and kids, Christian and non-Christian. I see people striving, busy, emotionally guarded and yet obviously hurting, seeking affirmation from anyone and everything they can find – I see it my own spiritual journey.

Here’s a reflection point for men and women about whether or not you have received that precious “blessing of your father”.
What is one specific way you knew that you received your father’s blessing?
Here are some answers to that question asked of one hundred people by Gary Smalley, popular author and psychologist.
1. “My father would put his arm around me at church and let me lay my head on his shoulder.”
2. “When my father was facing being transferred at work, he purposely took another job so that I could finish my senior year in high school at the same school.”
3. “When I wrecked my parent’s car, my father’s first reaction was to hug me and let me cry instead of yelling at me.”
4. “When I was thirteen, my dad trusted me to use his favorite hunting rifle when I was invited to go hunting with a friend and his father.
5. “My father went with me when I had to take back an ugly dress a saleswoman had talked me into buying.”
6. “My father would let me practice pitching to him for a long time when he got home from work.”
7. “Even though I had never seen him cry before, my father cried during my wedding because he was going to miss me no longer being at home.”
For me , I would say even though I would use those words of “absence” and “just not there” for my experience of my own father, I would also say that I have received my father’s blessing. For me it first occurred on our wedding day when I was 21. My Dad had a tear in his eyes as he looked straight into my eyes and shook my hand firmly. No words – but that longed for affirmation that “You can do, son. You are a man now, son”. “You have my blessing”.

The problem was for me that it took 21 years to know that I had my father’s blessing. Some people never get it. In fact, they get just the opposite. “You will never amount to anything, son”. “You are lazy”. “You are useless”. “That ‘B’ was not good enough. You should have got an ‘A’. “Why can’t you be like Jack. He’s really good at footy…..”.

Oh, the pain this withholding of a fathers blessing creates deep in a person – girl and boy, but especially boy. Oh, the mistakes we parents make and the pain we cause. Oh, the length of time it takes to discover why we are so driven, so busy, so restless, so empty and lonely! All along we have been longing for our father’s blessing.

In steps God. In all the years of dealing with this wound of the absence of a father and his blessing, God has been blessing me. Jesus has given the gift of naming God “Father” to all who repent of their sin and weakness and need and believe in him.

All along the journey of being a man, a complete and fulfilled human being, God is the ever-present Father who invites us to call him “papa” and to seek him, knock on his door, seek his presence, his word, his healing, his love – his blessing. I can tell you that without those words of absolution, gospel grace and especially that word of blessing, I would be an even more wounded man, driven to find what I desperately need from somewhere – in addiction, control, power, achievement in others’ eyes…..

It is true. Brennan Manning, another mentor of mine, believes that the single most important, radical and needed word Jesus ever spoke was, “Abba” (The Signature of Jesus). Jesus allows us to call God, ‘Father’, ‘Papa’. In this intimate relationship of he as Father and we as his sons and daughters, God is pouring out his affirmation and his blessing on us and filling up that chasm we may have between our own fathers and ourselves and our children.

Fathers, we have the calling to be a father. God has given us children. Our single most important task in the 18 + years we will live at close quarters to our children is to give them our blessing.

The single most important message a young son needs to hear from his Dad is “You can do it, son.”, “I believe in you, son”. “You’ve got what it takes, son”.

If you have never received this blessing from your father and it is still possible to receive, seek it from the old man. If it is not possible, then hear your heavenly Father’s blessing on you. It will be enough for you to be the man he created you to be. Take that blessing (‘The Lord bless you and keep you, …….’) whenever you hear it as your heavenly Father saying “You can do it, son”.

What must accompany this single message also is passing on who we are, not just what we know.

Rohr chimes in…” If fathers could pass on their feelings, their excitement, their grief, their touch and the process of their struggles to become authentic men instead of just their dogmatic conclusions to their sons and daughters, I believe that we would have a very different world. There would be less mistrust and anger toward power and maleness, much less need for war and competition,……

Not only that, we would be becoming more like our own Heavenly Father who “carries you as a father carries his son, all the way until you reach a safe place…” (Deuteronomy 1:30).

The blessing of God our heavenly Father be with us all.