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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Here is Moses (Exodus 3.1-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; January 27, 2019 - Exodus 3:1-14

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Music ::
Prelude: Yes and Amen (Housefires)
Call to Worship: Holy Ground (chorus) (Davis)
I Sing the Mighty Power of God/Alleluia (arr. Austell)

Offertory: Total Devotion (choir) (Havergal, Grassi)
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovan (CWM RHONDDA)

::: Affirmation of Faith ::
Leader: How did God reveal His character and name to Moses?
ALL: God Almighty named Himself, “I AM who I AM” (Ex. 3:14)
Leader: How has Jesus identified himself in relation to God’s divine name?
ALL: Jesus said of himself, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.” (John 8:58)
Leader: What does Jesus’ identification with the divine name tell us about his nature and character?
ALL: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Leader: How is God named and glorified in the eternal worship of Heaven?
ALL: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” (Revelation 4:8)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

When we started the “Here I Am” series a few weeks ago I talked about two aspects of that statement. One was understanding through the scripture what it means for us to say that, to be listening, available, and ready to God for where God would lead us. The other aspect was learning more about who God is as the one we respond to. In the story of Peter and Jesus, we encounter God through Jesus and He is forgiving and loving, still desiring for Peter to be a part of His work. In the story of Abraham we encounter the God who provides, not just for Abraham in the moment, but for all humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our place. In the story of Jacob we encounter God who is merciful, despite the deceit of the scoundrel, Jacob.

Today we look at Moses and we will look at both those aspects – how Moses responds and who God reveals Himself to be. I want to trace four statements through this story: Moses saying “Here I am,” God describing Himself, Moses asking “Who am I?” to do this thing God asked, and then God’s ultimate answer, the Divine “Here I AM.” My hope is that you will learn more about God and yourself, and become better equipped to listen, become more willing to be available, and become ready to go in participating in what God is doing.

Moses: “Here I Am” (v.4)

Verses 1-4 describe God getting Moses attention: Angel of the Lord (which turns out to be God Himself), burning bush that won’t burn up, and calling Moses name out loud. Moses is intrigued by the phenomenon of the burning bush. When he hears his name he answers, “Here I am.” (v.4)

Moses had grown up in Egypt, an Israelite raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter in the house of Pharaoh. But then as a young man he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man and he fought and killed the Egyptian. He had fled for his life and now, in middle-age he has married a Midianite woman and is tending the flocks of her father, his father-in-law, Jethro.

Moses has moved on from his roots and his calling. He was clearly a special baby, spared by the Lord when the Pharaoh at that time was killing Hebrew babies. God had blessed him with an education, support, and protection of growing up in Pharaoh’s household, but he had fled from all that. Did he ever think about his people, enslaved and suffering in Egypt? I don’t know. But he was listening when God called His name. We’ll see if he was available and ready to go…

Pausing to consider Moses at this stage I am reminded again of Peter where we considered him a few weeks ago. He had followed Jesus as an enthusiastic disciple, but had failed Jesus significantly by denying him the night of Jesus’ arrest. When we find him at the end of John, he also seems to have moved on and left that life of discipleship behind. He’s back in his boat, fishing like before Jesus found him.

Can you relate? Was there a time when God was more real or you were more actively serving and following Him? I realize you are here this morning, but are there ways you feel like you have moved on from God? Did you make a mistake? Did God disappoint you? Did people disappoint you? This is one of the powerful things about this story. God still calls our name: “Robert, Robert.” How will we respond? Will we say, “Here I am?” Are we listening?

God: “Who I Am” (v.6)

Now in previous stories we have had to look for and characterize what God is like, but in verses 5-10, God does a pretty amazing job of identifying Who He is and what He has done. In effect, He is introducing Himself to Moses and saying, “This is Who I am.”

First, God is HOLY. He tells Moses to not come too close, to take off his sandals, because even the ground around God’s presence is holy. Holy means set apart for a special purpose. Clearly, that’s going on with the burning bush. But the bush and ground are holy because ultimately God is holy and God is there in the midst of the burning bush.

Secondly, God introduces Himself relationally: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (v.6a) I don’t even know if Moses knows or remembers his father since he grew up in Pharaoh’s house, but collectively it’s a declaration that this is the God of Moses’ people. And then also the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I talked last week about how God’s encounters with each of those ancestors of Moses revealed something about God’s character. With Abraham, God showed Himself faithful. With Isaac, God showed Himself as provider and savior. With Jacob, God showed Himself merciful.

At this point, Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (v.6b) I guess God has effectively introduced Himself at this point! But, God goes on, thirdly, to describe how He is now going to relate to Moses and the people of Israel. God tells Moses that he has “seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt.” God has heard their cry and knows their sufferings. (v.7) And God is going to deliver them and bring them to the land “flowing with milk and honey.” That is the Promised Land. In fact, the God who was faithful to Abraham, rescuer to Isaac, and merciful to Jacob is going to be all those things again now with the enslaved people of Israel.

So God has something for Moses to do. God is at work and wants Moses to be a part of that. Is Moses available? Is he ready to go?

I believe God is still at work, being faithful, saving people, and showing mercy. And I believe God wants each of you to be a part of His work. So, same questions: are YOU available? are YOU ready to go?

Moses: “Who am I?” (v.11)

Moses was not. He hears about going to Pharaoh and bringing his people out of slavery and he asks God, “Who am I (to do that)?!” (v.11)

Isn’t that just where we so often get stuck? “God, you want me to do what?!” …share my faith with a friend… risk involvement in another person’s mess to help them out… confront racism when we see it rather than turn away or remain silent… volunteer with the youth... go on a mission trip… see my regular life as a mission trip…

Listening to God is one thing… and that takes some intention and willingness to hear. Are we afraid of what God will say? Absolutely! But listen to God’s response to Moses: Certainly I will be with you! (v.12) On top of that, God offered a sign… not in advance of the mission, but as confirmation of the mission afterwards: “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” (v.12)

That has been my experience in so many cases. I don’t get a ‘sign’ in advance of following where God is leading (and He doesn’t promise one afterwards), but so often in hindsight I can see confirmation of the Lord’s presence and direction.

What moves us from ‘listening’ to “available and ready to go?” I think one thing is realizing that what God is going to accomplish isn’t up to us or our skill or strength. It’s easy to get stuck on “who am I to do this?” but what we need to see instead is who God is.
God: “I AM WHO I AM” (v.14)

In verses 13-14, Moses moves a little in the right direction. He is ‘available’ if not yet ‘ready to go.’ He tells God he will go to the people of Israel to tell them that the God of their fathers has sent him. And then he asks an interesting question: “They may ask your name… what shall I say to them?”

Now God has already identified Himself. Remember that from a few verses ago? God is holy. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God sees and hears His people’s suffering and is going to act. That’s a lot of introduction.

Maybe Moses is just hesitating. But maybe he thinks of his people… perhaps the memory of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s God has weakened. They have been in slavery for 400 years! And the Egyptians had that whole range of Gods: Ra, Anubis, and the like. It’s entirely possible the thread of God and His promise to Abraham to bless, multiply, and provide a home had passed into story and distant memory. It’s a fair question and perhaps a helpful one as well.

God’s response is significant. This is God’s “Here I AM!” and the explanation of God’s name is so unusual and notable. It is hard to translate. Perhaps you’ve heard the possible translations there in verse 14. The name God gives can be translated “I am who I am” but also “I will be who I will be.” God is not only naming Himself, but describing His own ability to determine His future. No one created God or determines who or what God will do or be. God IS. Up to this point Moses had been calling God ‘Elohim’ – the general word for God. Even named as the God of Abraham, it was just that, “the God who spoke to Abraham.” But this is personal, and foundational, and claiming to be first and last and all in all.

When Moses wrote it out, the Name was four Hebrew letters: YHWH. Even to this day, Jewish people do not speak or write the name because it is holy. In your Bible, you can know it is this name (YHWH) whenever you see LORD in all-caps. In fact, that became the practice when referring to the holy Name… Jewish people would substitute the word Adonai or “Lord.” Even the name Jehovah, used in English-speaking settings, are a nod in this direction, verbalizing YHWH not with the vowels it would normally take, but using the vowels from Adonai to speak the word. You’ll sometimes see this same kind of thing in English when Jewish people will write G-d instead of writing ‘God.’ Though sometimes all of that can move into superstitious practice, it is meant to recognize the holiness of God’s name. Christians believe it is acceptable to pronounce YHWH, “Yahweh,” but I would still do so with ultimate reverence and seriousness for all that it means and represents.

And having declared “Here I AM” to Moses, God says to tell the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”

Listening, Available, Ready to Go

Listen: is God speaking to you through His Word or Spirit? I believe God continues to speak to us today, not (usually) verbally, but nudging our spirit and through the words of Scripture. Is He calling your name?

Available: Are you available to God? It is easy to shy away from mission or ministry that seems daunting. Often we don’t feel qualified to do it. (And truthfully, we AREN’T qualified to do what only God can do.) But God invites us to be a part of it, to trust, obey, and follow. And if we can remember who it is that is calling us – if we can catch a glimpse of just how holy and powerful God is to accomplish His will – it can help move us from ‘available’ to ‘ready to go.’

Ready to go: Are you? Are we? I believe God not only still speaks, but also still acts. Where is He leading you personally? Where is He leading our church? Trusting in His power and purpose, I am ready to go! Amen!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Here is Jacob (Genesis 27.1-19)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; January 20, 2019 - Genesis 27:1-29

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Music ::
Prelude: Ashokan Farewell (Chris Orr - fiddle, Rich Bonnell - mandolin, Robert Austell - guitar)
Come Thou Fount/We'll Feast (arr. and chorus, Austell)

Let Us Be Known (Bethel Worship)
His Mercy Is More (Papa/Boswell) - chorus for Song of Assurance
CHOIR: 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus (arr. Youngblood) - Cathy Youngblood directing
Have Thine Own Way, Lord (ADELAIDE)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Is it okay to do something wrong – sinful – in order to accomplish God’s will? Does a good and godly end justify means that are less than godly? What happens to God’s plan when we sin? These are all questions raised in today’s story. We are continuing the “Here I Am” series, seeking to be listening, available, and ready to go for whatever God may ask of us individually and as a church.

I’ll flat out tell you this is a messed-up story. In fact, one of the first things I do in preparing for a sermon is to go into my files and see what I’ve preached or taught on it before. I realized I have never taught or preached this passage before. I don’t remember consciously avoiding it, but I’m sure I looked at it and thought, “Yeah, I don’t know what to do with all that mess,” and moved on.

So why now? Well, when I chose the eight or so passages for this series, they came from searching for the phrase, “Here am I.” This was one of the passages that turned up so I put it on the list. Joke’s on me! It appears twice in this passage, but neither time from Jacob! But, I trust that God put it on my radar for a reason, so we are going to dig in. And, having looked at it now, it’s still a mess, but I think there are some profound things to learn from Jacob’s story about how we make ourselves available for God.

“Here I Am”: Esau

The first time “Here I am” appears in our story is on the lips of Esau. Isaac, the son of Abraham, has grown old and wants to pass on the family blessing before he dies. This blessing is no small thing. It can only be given once and was understood to be a legal as well as spiritual transaction. The father would bestow the family mantle and God’s blessing on the son. And traditionally that blessing went to the eldest son. So Isaac summoned Esau and greeted him, “My son.” To this Esau responded, “Here I am” – not just identification, but “listening, available, and ready to go” for what his father wished. Esau was the first born (of twins) and was a hunter. And so Isaac asked Esau to hunt his favorite game, prepare it, and return “so that my soul might bless you before I die.”

Trickery and Deceit

Straightforward enough so far… but mother Rebekah hears this and goes into action. She tells Jacob to go get an animal from the flock, which she will cook and prepare. She wants Jacob to pose as Esau with old, blind Isaac, and get the blessing. Jacob realizes that may not be enough and points out that he and Esau are very different and different-looking twins. Esau is very hairy and Jacob is not. Jacob is worried, not that this is wrong, but that he will be caught! But Rebekah responds in two ways. She tells Jacob to obey her, that she will take any curse or fallout from this upon herself, and in some of the verses I skipped over for length, she dresses him in Esau’s clothes and puts the hide of a furry animal on his arms and neck so that Isaac would be fooled. Later, Isaac will speak the second “Here I am” as he is thoroughly tricked by Jacob’s deception.

Jacob’s actions are not behavior that God would endorse or command in any way. And while that may seem like the messed up part, the Bible is full of people who do NOT do what God wants. Don’t ever make the mistake of reading the Bible and thinking that every character or behavior you find there is an example to be followed. Sometimes the character or behavior is there precisely to show what NOT to do. And I believe this is one of those cases. At this point I’m ready to declare Jacob and Rebekah off the rails entirely. And this is not Jacob’s first time; earlier he tricked Esau out of his ‘birthright’ – the right of the firstborn to inherit property and blessing. So maybe you want to say this is just him claiming that. But that’s just trickery on top of trickery!

But here’s the complicating factor. It’s not the deceit and trickery – that’s just deceit and trickery and it’s wrong. The complicating factor is that it seems like Jacob receiving the blessing WAS God’s plan! Whoa, wait a minute, what?!

Does a Godly End Justify an Ungodly Means?

God told Rebecca before the children were born that the older would serve the younger. That’s back in Genesis 25, verse 23. Later God would say through the prophet Malachi (1:2) that He “loved Jacob” and in the New Testament that would be quoted in Romans 9 as a demonstration of God’s right to choose to show mercy on whom He will – and here’s one of the main takeaways – even on a scoundrel like Jacob.

So where does that leave us with what’s going on? It’s confusing, but I want to spell it out, because it’s a glorious truth.

God has a plan!
God is good and does not cause evil or sin.
God enacts His will through fallen human beings, who do sin.
God desires right behavior, but is still able to accomplish his plan when fallen humans sin.

So, God wants to (and will) keep his covenant promises to Abraham and Isaac – to bless them with many descendants, a home, and through God’s blessing of them to bless all the peoples of the world. Ultimately, this promise will be fulfilled and embodied in Jesus Christ. But what about when Abraham lies and makes his own back-up plans? God still comes through. What about when Jacob tricks Esau and then tricks his father into blessing him? God still comes through. What about when the Israelites – the promised descendants of Abraham turn from worship of God to worshiping foreign idols? God still comes through.

With Peter, we’ve already heard Jesus speak to the concern that our mistakes disqualify us from following and being used by God. With Peter and Jacob, the question of WHETHER we can be used by God has been answered.

With Jacob, we can realize that we don’t need to hold back from saying “Here I am” to God because we might mess God’s plans up. Now that is a different thing than choosing to make our own way to what we think is God’s plan by any means necessary. God does call us to holy and right behavior. So being intentionally deceitful or sinful? The Apostle Paul would say, “May it never be!” But saying yes to God – listening, available, ready to go – despite weaknesses, fears, or the possibility of messing up? God says, “Come on; it’s on me to come through, and I will!”

Jesus: a Godly Contrast to Jacob

Now we are still left with whether Jacob is a role-model, and I would clearly say that he is NOT. But I think the point is not to look at Jacob, but to look at God. Jacob’s life was marked by struggling against and with God, but God always came through. Almost every time Jacob is mentioned in scripture after his life in Genesis, it is in the phrase “the God of Jacob.” In fact, you might make a case – since later in scripture God is often called the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” – that qualities of God are highlighted in each patriarch’s story. The God of Abraham is Faithful in keeping His promises. The God of Isaac is the God who Provides and Saves. And the God of Jacob is Merciful and Powerful.

I want to end with one other contrast to Jacob as we think about HOW we say “Here I Am” to God. Jacob’s name meant “grasper” or “striver.” He was named that because when he and his twin, Esau, were born he was holding on to Esau’s heel. But his name certainly proved accurate as he spent so much of his life striving after what Esau had and grasping for all he could get for himself.

There was another who said “Here I Am” to God in a way that we can and should emulate. And, of course, that was Jesus. But when I was looking at Jacob’s actions and the meaning of his name I thought of a passage in the New Testament that not only offers a contrast to grasping Jacob, but exhorts us HOW to say “Here I am” to God. Listen to Philippians 2:5-8…

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

How do we say “Here I am?” How shall we be listening, available, and ready to go? It is in humility, in service to God, and in obedience to God’s will. When you look at Jacob, look to God, who is merciful and powerful to accomplish His will. When you say “Here I am” to God, look to Jesus as our example to follow. Amen!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Here is Abraham (Genesis 22.1-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; January 13, 2019 - Genesis 22:1-14

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Music ::
Blessed Be Your Name (Redman)
Be Still My Soul (FINLANDIA)
I Will Offer Up My Life (Redman)
My Faith Looks Up to Thee (OLIVET)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

**If you would like to dig into Genesis 22 in more depth, I have put a four part sermon-study out in the welcoming area. If you are reading online you can access that study HERE.

Last week we started the “Here I Am” series with Jesus and Peter. It was an overview to how God calls us to be part of what He is doing, even when we may feel unqualified or disqualified. Jesus forgave Peter and let him know that he wanted him to be part of God’s work in the world. Today, and in each of the coming weeks, we will look at a biblical character who literally said “Here I am” to God. We’ll look at their life situation, what aspect of God’s character they were responding to, and how their story might inform our story. Our goal (and the tagline of this series) is to be listening, available, and ready to go.

Today we look at Abraham and what is, perhaps, the defining moment in his faith and life. Even more important than that defining moment, however, is God’s definitive demonstration that He will keep His promises. And that, ultimately, is what affects us the most. We may be shocked and/or encouraged by Abraham and Isaac and what they went through, but in the end, those reactions should be overshadowed by the great demonstration of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises. Take note of the THREE times Abraham says “Here I am” in today’s text.

“Here I Am” #1: listening and ready

The text and the story open up with the first “Here I am.” God calls Abraham’s name and he responds – listening, available, ready to go – “Here I am.”

This is a hard story to start with, but I don’t want to shy away from it just because it’s hard. And really, it’s more than hard; it’s incomprehensible. We are told in verse 1 that this is a test, but God didn’t tell Abraham that.

There are many bits of background to this. God had previously told Abraham something and Abraham had doubted and made a back-up plan. God told him he and Sarah would have a child in their old age even though they had not been able to have children. But Abraham had the child, Ishmael, with Hagar because he wanted an heir. God told Abraham to go through Egypt and then through the country of King Abimelech. Rather than trust God, Abraham lied to both rulers and said Sarah was his sister instead of his wife because he was afraid. And twice God intervened to deliver him. And now God was asking an even more impossible thing.

Secondly, child sacrifice was not unknown. In fact, it was practiced by some of the surrounding people. It’s what other gods demanded. Abraham could have rationalized his action because others did this. But was the God of Abraham like other gods? God had promised Abraham children and blessing. Would God go against His word?

And finally, note that God is not just making an unfeeling demand, but knows and expresses the depth of what this sacrifice would cost a father. In the end, God the Father is the one who sacrifices His only Son and Abraham the father can truly understand what that means, some 2000 years before the cross.

Abraham, take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac… and offer him as a burnt offering (a pure sacrifice for sin). (Genesis 22)

The language is notably familiar to language used in the New Testament to describe Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3)

The purpose of this story is not for us to out-think God or judge God or get inside God’s head and understand such a thing. I think that’s one of the things being tested. Abraham, will you obey God in all things or just the ones you understand? Or if God is good and faithful, will you trust even when you don’t understand? I think of Peter and the disciples who heard Jesus teaching about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” and were disgusted to follow such a teacher. But Peter rightly said, “Where else will we go… you have the words of life?” I think about young children whose parents ask them to get on a bike without training wheels or dive headfirst into a pool of water and it seeming like certain death. But either through trust or obedience, we mostly move forward.

And I will offer this one release-valve for the anxiety this passage can produce. I don’t believe God will ask you to sacrifice your child. This was a once in history event that prefigured God’s sacrifice of His only son and functioned on levels unique to Abraham and God’s covenant. But I DO believe God will ask us to do things we don’t understand. And I do believe we will face the two tests or temptations of Abraham: 1) to judge and reject God; or 2) to make our own back-up plan.

Ultimately, this story will teach Abraham and us about the faithfulness and goodness of God, and the extent of God’s sacrifice and love for the sake of the world.

“Here I Am” #2: with you

The second time Abraham says “Here I am” is not to God, but to his son, Isaac.

This second occurrence of these words teaches us about the nature of companionship. By that I mean togetherness or not being alone. Scripture describes this with various words: companionship, community, covenant. What I want you to see and hear in the story is that neither Abraham nor Isaac were alone in this trial. God identified with Abraham’s challenge as a father and Abraham fixed his faith on God the Father. Abraham likewise was present for and with Isaac in this test, even though Isaac didn’t understand everything that was happening either. Isaac fixed his faith on Abraham his father.

There is a particular phrase that highlights that.

Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife.” (vv.5-6)

The young men are left behind and Isaac has to carry the wood on which he will be sacrificed. It reminds me of Jesus carrying his cross towards his own crucifixion. And Abraham carries the fire and knife. It’s what comes next that caught my eye. Look right after that at the end of verse six:

    So the two of them walked on together.

Companionship. Community. Covenant. There was a point earlier in which Abraham wielded the knife to circumcise Isaac and bind him to the covenant. Now, in the very last moments of this test, the father walks with the son. And Abraham is more than physically present for his son. Isaac calls out to his father, saying, “My father!” (v. 7) And for the second time in the longer story, Abraham responds, “Here I am.” The first time was to answer God when He called his name. Now, when Isaac calls him, he responds, “Here I am, my son.” In the midst of an impossible trial, the father is there for and with the son.

One of the ways we live out our faith is that our “here I am” to God is mirrored in saying “here I am” to one another. That is one of the foundational purposes of church, of the gathered community of faith. We are here to walk life WITH each other because that’s how God walks life with us. Just as Jesus named the greatest commandment as love of God AND love of neighbor, our listening, being available, and being ready to go are a “here I am” to God AND a “here I am” to each other and the world around us.

“Here I am” #3: listening attentively

The third time Abraham says “here I am” is to the Angel of the Lord. And this was at the most crucial time of all because it was when everything was on the line. It was the moment of deciding whether to turn away, make a back-up plan, or carry through. And that can be the hardest time to keep listening. But Abraham neither turned away nor tuned out God, but remained fully ready, listening, and ready to go. And he heard God’s faithfulness and provision through the angel and the ram in the thicket.

Again, I don’t believe God will ask something this extreme of you because I believe this was functioning as a covenant moment for us to learn from, not re-enact. This is most especially true because in Christ God accomplished this ultimate sacrifice that we could not imagine or perform. But I do believe that God asks us to do things we don’t understand at the time. I believe we choose between making back-up plans, turning away, or tuning in. And it is the last that is hardest… listening more rather than listening less, saying even a third time to God, “Here I am, listening, available, and ready.”

What Does God Ask?

So what sorts of things might God ask of us if we are listening, available, and ready to go? And what does faithfulness look like?

When God gives us the opportunity to tell someone else about Jesus, we respond in faith saying, “Here I am - you have not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and boldness.”

When God gives us the opportunity to pray for someone, we respond in faith saying, “Here I am – you have given me your Holy Spirit to help me pray.”

When God allows us to suffer illness or grief, we respond in faith saying, “Here I am – I will praise the Lord as long as I have breath.”

When we are walking through a valley of deep darkness, we respond in faith saying, “Here I am, Lord – and I trust my Good Shepherd to walk with me, even in the dark valley.”

Faith is our choosing to participate in God’s promises by acting like the children of promise he has said we are in Christ.

Faith is not clinging to our old and worn plans for getting through a fear-filled life. Faith is trusting God’s promises for salvation, peace, joy, and blessing in Christ. Faith is saying “Here I am” when Jesus says follow me, for we believe we are beloved children whom the Father loves dearly.

Finally, don’t read Genesis 22 in fear that faith means God will ask the unthinkable of you. In the New Testament, God promises not to give us more than we can handle in His strength. Read Genesis 22 as Good News – even in the face of the unthinkable, God will not fail. God is faithful and will keep his promises to you and to your children. His promises are for salvation through Jesus Christ – his only son, the beloved son – whom God sent for us and our salvation. God’s promises are for an eternal home with God for all those who trust in Christ. God’s promise is to be with us in life and through life – even at the end of life – and to never forsake us.

And God has invited us not only to receive these promises, but to participate in them. As we respond to God, “Here I am,” God will use us to bless and teach others of His faithfulness. Our faithful response will remind us and those we meet that “The Lord will provide.” Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Here I Am (John 21.15-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; January 6, 2019 - John 21:15-17

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Music ::
Come People of the Risen King (Gettys)
Depth of Mercy (Bob Kauflin)
Mighty to Save (Morgan/Fielding)
Here Am I/Take My Life (Tomlin/Giglio)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

“I forgive you.” Have you ever heard those words spoken truly and purely? You’ve messed up, hurt someone, done something wrong. And that person has not responded with retribution or passive-aggressive payback, but has moved toward you in love and offered a second chance and a clean slate?

“And I want you to be a part of my life.” Most of us would settle for the release that comes with forgiveness. “Whew; that’s over.” But wiping the slate clean can leave one feeling alone at the bottom of a new mountain to climb. But what about when forgiveness is rooted in a desire for restoration and healing and relationship? Can you even imagine? How would you respond to that?

That’s what Jesus offered Peter in today’s text. And I chose this passage to begin a new series entitled, “Here I Am.” Over the next eight weeks or so I want to look with you at a number of situations in the Bible where people responded to God by saying “Here I Am.” And what I think we’ll see is two-fold: 1) that people offer themselves to God with the full range of human emotions… doubt, fear, enthusiasm, faith, courage, and cluelessness; and 2) people respond to different aspects of who God is… some to God’s power, some to God’s love, some to God’s presence. This is not a one-size-fits-all prescription for serving God, but one that is as varied as humanity and as rich and deep as the character of God.

My hope is that we will encounter God in each week’s text and service and that we will become listening, available, and ready to go wherever God might lead us individually and together. So let’s dig in!

Barriers to Following Jesus

Over and over again Jesus invited people to come and see, come and check out his teaching, his life, his work. Over and over again Jesus invited people to believe and to follow. By ‘follow’ I mean serving Jesus with your life: priorities, commitments, time, energy, purpose. Following is what happens when we listen, make ourselves available, and are ready to go where God leads. But whether you are hearing that invitation for the first time or you’ve heard it many times before, one of the barriers to saying “Here I Am” is that we’ve messed up. Whether we’ve said it out loud, we think, “God wouldn’t want to use me; there are other, better people He’d want to use.”

Peter had been a super-star disciple. He had clearly confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and on whose testimony Jesus declared that he would build the Church. He asked Jesus if he could come out and walk on the water to him. He tried to banish demons and heal people. He was all heart and effort and faith. He fiercely refused to let Jesus wash his feet, then volunteered for a full bath when he realized Jesus was making a point. And he’s the one who said he’d never ever desert Jesus.

And he did. In the hours of the night after Jesus had been arrested, he stayed close to see what was going on, but when he was recognized and questioned by a young girl and then others, he loudly denied knowing Jesus, finally swearing that he did not know the man. Then he ran away, not even present at the crucifixion of his Lord and friend. If you’ve ever failed someone in that way, you know how discouraging it can be and how easy to just turn away altogether. In relation to God, you may know what it is like to go back to our “old life of fishing,” doubtful that God has any useful purpose left for you.

Depth of Mercy, Depth of Love

But Jesus surprised Peter and I believe he can surprise you. Peter was with some of the other followers, perhaps also trying to figure out life after feeling like they had lost Jesus. And Jesus came to where they were. He came to where they were fishing, where they had breakfast, and he came to Peter, who probably thought he was the last person Jesus wanted to talk to.

Three times Peter had denied Jesus.

Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”

Three times Peter answered, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Three opportunities to counter his denials and re-affirm his love for Jesus.

Three times Jesus responded, “Take care of my flock.”

Three times, in effect, Jesus said, “I love and trust you, and I forgive you.”

It was just what Peter needed and it wasn’t a gimmick or a ritual. It was genuine forgiveness. It was genuine grace – unexpected, undeserved, and more than Peter could ask or imagine. And that was not all.

In that invitation to “take care of my flock” Jesus not only implicitly forgave Peter, but also said, “I still want you as a follower and disciple.” Jesus still had work for Peter to do. He was still saying, “Follow me.” Forgiveness didn’t just promote the fallen Peter to a second-class version of a disciple who now had to sit on the bench while other less-tarnished disciples were in on the action. Jesus forgave Peter and called him freshly into service as a disciple.

And so, in addition to the three times Jesus said, “Take care of my flock,” he goes on in the next few verses to twice say, “Follow me.” (vv. 19,22)

In a few minutes we will sing about this “depth of mercy” – that reaches beyond our expectations to forgive, heal, and call us forth.

Do You Love Me?

What I hope you hear as Good News today is that even as Jesus had not given up on Peter, neither has God given up on you. Even if you have failed and fallen, even if you have doubted and grown distant from God, even if it has been months and months or years and years, God still loves you, offers extravagant forgiveness and grace through Jesus, and says to you, “Follow me!”

I pray that God will open your ears to hear this, especially if you feel like God has given up or isn’t interested in you.

In the coming weeks we will encounter God through the eyes of different people in scripture. For some, God will be all power and might, and they fall to their knees before that power. For others, God draws near and speaks quietly and they have to listen carefully to distinguish His voice. Some will be asked to do something they don’t understand; others something they don’t want to do. In each case, we will see the importance of that posture of listening, available, ready to go.

Today, through the eyes of Peter we encounter God in Jesus Christ. He is full of love and mercy, forgiveness and a new start. More than that, God wants you to be a part of what He is doing. Today we are invited to respond to the love of God in Christ: Do you love me? Follow me.

Are you listening? Are you available? Are you ready to go?

‘Amen’ means “Yes, let it be so!”