First lesson - Genesis 28: 10-16
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
Unison Reading Psalm 145:13-20
L: Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
P: The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds
L: The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
P: The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
L: You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
P: The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.
L: The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
P: He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
Gospel Lesson: John 10:27-28
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
I love Jacob’s words in that scripture verse from Genesis:
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
Most of us can identify with Jacob. Have you ever suddenly realized something that you should have known – and then looking back wonder how you could have missed it.
Let me illustrate with a little tale:
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip.
In the middle of the night, Holmes nudges Watson awake, and says,
"Watson, look above us and tell me what you see."
"Why Holmes, I see millions of stars”
"And what do you infer from these stars, Watson?"
"Well, a number of things," he replied:
“Astronomically, I observe that there are millions of galaxies and billions of stars and planets.
By the moons position, I deduce that the time is about a quarter past three.
Meteorologically, I expect that the weather will be fine and clear.
Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and man, his creation, small and insignificant.
Feeling very pleased with himself, Watson then said,
“What do the stars tell you, Holmes?"
Holmes was silent for a moment; then in exasperation he said:
"Watson you knucklehead, someone has stolen our tent!"
How often we can look right past the obvious.
In the Scripture verse from Genesis chapter 28, Jacob was actually on the run from his older brother Esau who was plotting to kill him.
Travelling alone, he had to stop because the sun had set and it was too dark to keep moving. After falling asleep on his stone pillow, Jacob had a spectacular dream where God confirmed that the promised blessing of his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham were to him as well! And the Lord then spoke these comforting words “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.”
Jacob awoke from his sleep thinking, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” God assured him that he was not alone. Jacob was greatly encouraged with God’s presence and protection!
And that same God is near to all believers. But like Jacob we can also at times feel alone and distant from our Heavenly Father.
This morning I want to share three aspects of our humanity that can create barriers - barriers to our relationship with the One who is present always and never too far away to help!
The first aspect of our humanity that can create barriers is our sinful nature; this very real part of each of us can at times make us feel separated from the Lord. Even though we are declared righteous by His grace and we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, we still can have inner conflicts that pull us down and tell us we are not worthy of God and His forgiveness, His love and His favor.
The truth is - we will not be perfect in this life. In 1st John chapter 1 verses 8-9:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
These words from the Holy Scriptures just confirm our need and amplify His love and concern for us. And they express the inner struggle that we still face.
Some days I still feel this conflict which I believe is described in Romans chapter 7:
“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”
What does this mean? As Christians, we strive to please God in all that we do, but we can fall short of that lofty goal. And that realization of our own inadequacy can drive a wedge between us and our Lord.
Sarah Young in her book “Jesus Calling” writes about this conflict we can experience. This devotion is written from the perspective of Jesus actually speaking to the reader. Imagine that He is speaking to you personally:
Page 377 December 26
Step from pulpit … Read from book …..
“I AM the Gift that continuously gives -- bounteously, with no strings attached. Unconditional Love is such a radical concept that even My most devoted followers fail to grasp it fully. Absolutely nothing in heaven or on earth can cause Me to stop loving you. You may feel more loved when you are performing according to your expectations. But My Love for you is perfect; therefore it is not subject to variation. What does vary is your awareness of My loving Presence.
When you are dissatisfied with your behavior, you tend to feel unworthy of My Love. You may unconsciously punish yourself by withdrawing from Me and attributing the distance between us to My displeasure. Instead of returning to Me and receiving My Love, you attempt to earn My approval by trying harder. All the while, I am aching to hold you in My everlasting arms, to enfold you in My Love. When you are feeling unworthy or unloved, come to Me.”
We can never be good enough to earn His favor, but we do not have to be. Thanks be to the gracious Father who accepts us as we are and clothes us in Christ’s righteousness.
The second aspect that may create barriers between us and God is our human nature - our “finiteness”. It is part of being human that can sometimes make us feel distant from heaven; we can see how tiny we are in the vast universe. The earth is huge to each of us yet it would take 1.3 million Earths to match the volume of the Sun; and the Sun, our star is small in comparison to some other stars. The sheer immensity of the solar system, and then the galaxy we live in is incredible.
In the 8th Psalm the writer seems to echo this sentiment - “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
How many of you remember David Wilkerson?
He was a famous evangelist who started “Teen Challenge” ministries and wrote the best-selling book “The Cross and the Switchblade”. This outreach was launched in 1958 from a small office in Staten Island, New York. Pastor Wilkerson conducted street rallies on "gang turf," meetings through which many gang leaders and members were converted.
When I was a young Christian I attended a rally in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas where Reverend Wilkerson was speaking. It was held in a large arena where thousands had gathered to hear this famous preacher.
During the service I was looking around at all of the throngs of people that were attending, and I suddenly started to feel very, very small and insignificant. I was just one of thousands of people; how could God know all of these people and have time for me? There are just too many.
This inner struggle started a downward spiral for me – and after weeks of struggling and feeling separated from God I finally cried out, “Father, do you care about me or not?”
At that moment of despair, He flooded my heart with the warmth and love of His Holy Spirit.
He had not withdrawn from me – as a child of God that is impossible; instead He was working in my heart to bring about the reconciliation I desperately needed.
The Psalmist’s cry, “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” was answered by Jesus in Matthew 10:29-30 when he said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Wow! Even a scraggly, tiny, seemingly insignificant sparrow is under the Father’s care. And we are so important to God, that He even has our hairs numbered. Of course, some of us have more numbers than others.
Though we are finite, we are of immeasurable value to the One who is infinite – to the Great Shepherd who said I give my followers eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
The third aspect as humans that we face are the tribulations in this life. There is no escaping this, and our Lord said that “in this world we shall face troubles of many kinds”
Troubles like illness, injury, natural disasters, losses of loved ones, misunderstandings between people, enemies who are against us, and on and on.
All of these fiery trials can seem unfair and can make us look away from God. When we are facing severe problems, it is these times that His presence can seem the farthest.
It is natural to feel this way, because we can be consumed by the events affecting us. We know what the scriptures say, and yet in the midst of darkness it can be difficult to hear them. It can seem like a wall comes between us and our Lord.
When my father was on his death bed, the family gathered around to be with him. He had been stricken with Alzheimer’s disease and had become a shell of the person that I knew and loved. As we watched him take his final breaths in this life the sorrow and darkness flooded my heart. And yet I was relieved that his suffering was over, but still I felt like a part of me died in that moment.
At that time I did not feel God’s hand or comfort; I only felt sadness and deep loss; and really we had in many ways already lost Dad about 2 years earlier when his mind and body started deteriorating.
But the next day my cousin, Jill who I had grown up with took me aside. Jill really loved my Dad as well. She told me that she had a dream the night my father died; in that dream she walked into the room where Dad was laying down and suddenly he sat up in bed smiling.
Jill was surprised that he could do that because his mind was essentially gone, but in the dream, he said to her “Tell everyone goodbye for me”.
That was an incredible moment for me. That dream did for me what no other medium of communication could ever do.
When it seems like the heavens are far off and no comfort is coming, I believe the Lord is enfolding us in His everlasting arms. He is carrying us through the valley of the shadow of death whether we have the strength to ask for His help or not. If you are in Christ Jesus, you are never alone!
In conclusion ….. the realities of our sinful nature, our human nature - our “finiteness” - and the trials we face can hinder us from enjoying our daily walk with God. But our Lord continually works to break down any barriers we have made that make Him seem hidden or distant. In our life’s journey, we may sometimes discover like Jacob that “Surely the Lord was in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
This is the God who is always present; and never too far away to help.
"GO AND TELL"
Last Week's Sermon
REV. CLARE KELLEY