Home Worship 9th June 2024

Second Genesis: The God Who Calls and Blesses.

Call to Worship:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;

First Hymn:

136 Morning has broken.

Prayer:

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Second Hymn:

124 For the fruits of all creation, 

Readings:

Genesis 21 and 22

Genesis 21

The Birth of Isaac

21 Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac[a] to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring[b] will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she[c] began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

The Treaty at Beersheba

22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.”

24 Abraham said, “I swear it.”

25 Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized. 26 But Abimelek said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.”

27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty. 28 Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, 29 and Abimelek asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?”

30 He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”

31 So that place was called Beersheba,[d] because the two men swore an oath there.

32 After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. 34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

Footnotes
  1. Genesis 21:3 Isaac means he laughs.
  2. Genesis 21:12 Or seed
  3. Genesis 21:16 Hebrew; Septuagint the child
  4. Genesis 21:31 Beersheba can mean well of seven and well of the oath.

Genesis 22 :

New International Version

Abraham Tested

22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Footnotes
  1. Genesis 22:13 Many manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint and Syriac; most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text a ram behind him
  2. Genesis 22:18 Or seed
  3. Genesis 22:18 Or and all nations on earth will use the name of your offspring in blessings (see 48:20)

Reflection:

Abram has obeyed God and travelled to Palestine, where he settles. God has visited and promised him a son by Sarai. Because he has believed, Abram and Sarai  have been renamed Abraham and Sarah. Our story tells how Hagar and Ishmael are driven out of the family by Sarah’s jealousy, but preserved by God.

The dysfunctions within the family have come out into the open – Sarah’s jealous hostility, and determination that there should be only one heir to Abraham’s wealth. At least in Isaac’s turn it  was to be his blessing.

Chapter 21 also tells of the treaty between Abraham and Abimelek, the Philistine king, which gave Abraham the right of residence and restored the well that Abraham had dug at Beersheba.

In ending that phase of Abraham’s life, the story tells how Abraham plants a tree, a tamarisk, to mark his sacred place of prayer.

In Chapter 22 we have the story of how Israelites came to differ most from the nations and cultures around them.

All took the first-born, human or animal, and sacralised it to their deity. Usually this required the death and burning the body on an altar. Now it is Isaac’s time. Abraham determines to travel to the sacred mountain – thought to be Zion – to sacrifice there at its altar.

As Abraham lifts the knife, God stops him and provides a ram in Isaac’s place.

In the historic path to Jesus, as far as we know, only Jephthah the Gileadite sacrificed a child, his daughter – and that was in the period of the judges, as the result of a foolish vow. Now Christians recount the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at our Eucharist services, in honour of Jesus’ Passion. And 20th Century prophet René Girard explains why all sacrifices have been abolished – because Jesus exposed the misrecognition, the méconnaissance, of that system as a basis of all religion. Girard warns that unless we learn to live in harmony with each other and in an environmentally, Creation-stewarding way, un-Christian humanity will create the final Apocalypse of Revelation chapters 18 to 20.

This is a large claim, but a significant number of scholars now subscribe to this and are marking a count-down to the final events of World War III which will end life on Earth.

Christians can take up the hope of God creating a new heaven and a new earth as offered in the sermon to be given in a few moments.

Third Hymn:

155 Come Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire,

Reading: Matthew 7:1-27

                                                                                                 The Message

A Simple Guide for Behaviour

1-5 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbour’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbour.

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honour to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

7-11 “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

12 “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.

Being and Doing

13-14 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

15-20 “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our super-spiritual projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Second Reflection (Sermon):

This sermon is based on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 to 7, and the Gospel reading comes from last portion of this blueprint for the kingdom of God. The translation is by Peterson in “The Message”.

In the text preceding 7:24-29 Jesus has provided a comprehensive way of living that is non-violent and constructive. The nine “blessedness’s” at the beginning of Jesus’ address are an indication of how the rest will unfold.

Our quoted passage is Jesus’ warning that we should be sensible architects, designers, of our lives so that their structure will withstand even the rigours of the Apocalypse.

Jesus’ instructions go beyond the guidance of the Ten Commandments and Old Testament Laws, admirable as they are. They have allowed the Jews to survive more than three thousand trying years, but Christians have Jesus’ “Three Commandments” and his personal example, including adherence to non-violence, to provide motive to live on in hope of an end to the reign of evil in the world.

The Sermon on the Mount provides nineteen instructions that arm the Christian against Girard’s “misrecognition” of religious and secular guidance to a positive way of life.

This includes the form of prayer – The Lord’s Prayer – Christians should use it to re-centre their lives regularly. In the given form there are seven parts to it, later Christians added “For Thine is the glory ….”. Seven comprises a  very Jewish set – the “perfect number” which actually sum up the entire Sermon.

The request to be forgiven is on the condition that the one praying has forgiven who has harmed them, or in the strictest translation, is a debtor to them.

The story behind the word I used a moment ago — “misrecognition” — comes from René Girard, the 20th Century French prophet who became a Christian through his professional career, as a scholar of literature.

Between 1947 and 1953, as a post-graduate scholar at Indiana University he was given the task of teaching a class French. Like many others, he had to develop instruction that drew his students, so he used French classical novels.

This enriched his own study of history.

So much so that he made his name in literature, philosophy then anthropology and theology. His admirers reckon he is a mould-breaker.

The first contribution is his Theory of Mimetic Desire, which recognises that human juniors learn by mimicking their carers — Mum and Dad and subsequent models.

Junior learns to become a member of society and can contribute to it.

But in this mimicking there comes a problem. In mimicking their admired model’s desire for someone or something, a triangle is created. The leg between model and admirer often becomes competitive over time. The rivalry upsets other members of their group and this widens, eventually, to passionate tensions between supporters of each.

Girard widened his theory by researching early cultures. He found that the cultures survived the tensions by choosing the weakest proponent in what has by then become a single rivalry and source of conflict. This individual is then sacrificed by the majority.

Tensions are relieved and the human group can move on.

Girard proposed that over time, generations, the victim is seen as the one who restored the fortunes of the group. They become venerated, sacralised.

We can see this in many historic cultures, say medieval Scotland — we can also find such failures as the Welsh princes before and during the reign of Edward the First who tricked them into accepting his son as their liege  “the Prince of Wales”.

Girard became a convinced, actively supportive Christian believer through his study of the Bible as an ancient historical document.

But how does the development of Girard’s theories affect us, here? today?

Earlier I used the word “misrecognition”. Girard uses the word to show that there is a failure to recognise that Christianity is different to all other religions[1].

It is the failure to recognise that the Passion of the Christ is validated in Jesus’ Resurrection

Jesus found God’s care for the victim, the scapegoat, in the Jewish Scriptures. He lived by it, taught by it and died for it.

His Passion unleashed the rapturous conversions of the first Christians, and empowers present-day followers.

It was and is Jesus who taught, but it is the Holy Spirit, his Advocate, that empowers and can reach anyone touched even just a hint of belief in God the Father.

That is the historic fact.
That is the present fact.
That is the future fact.
There is HOPE.

GOD WILL CREATE A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH.


[1] Editors Antonello and Gifford, “Can we survive our Origins?” 2015 East Lansing, Michigan State University Press p xxxvii, eleven other pages and in many other works

Fourth Hymn:

106 God, whose almighty word chaos and darkness heard.

Prayers of Intercession:

Fifth Hymn:

99 All creatures of our God and King,

Blessing

  1. Mark 3:32 Other ancient authorities lack and sisters