God’s Blessings – God’s Call
Jan 7 2017
Acknowledge the work done by Rob Bell – the inspiration for this series of three messages.
So what is this rather odd passage all about – and what does it have to do with you and me?
But let me say – this is a huge massive enlightening moment in the world’s understanding of God. So what’s it about?
Suppose you come to me and you want to by my 1975 faded, black BMW – that only lets water in when you drive through deep flooded roads.
And we agree to a price and you give me the money I want and you take the car. And the legal things happen.
There are ownership papers etc – it’s in your name.
Then a day or two later I discover that you haven’t transferred the agreed price to my account. And I start legal proceedings against you – according to law. Because we have a legal system in place and we have law and order etc. that protects us.
If the deal had been done in Abram’s day with no legal system etc.
No law and order, what we would have done was we would arrange to have a heifer or a sheep or a goat or all of them!
Cut down the middle laid out flat with an aisle between them and you and I would walk between the two halves – are you with me?
And I would say – I give you this wonderful faded amazing, should have been crushed a long time ago, BMW in return for $1000.
And you would say – I accept these terms for this magnificent machine…..may it be to us as is done to this heifer if we fail to live up to the agreement.
I’m told, this is where the term, cutting a deal comes from.
Way back 4 thousand years ago give or take.
So this was a covenant agreement between two parties where they agree to certain things. It was what you did in Aram’s day.
So Abram – is in this stage of discovering this unknown being this God who he senses is calling him to a new beginning and he has this sense of a promise – the future is going to be wonderful for you, lots of children, lots of money not to build bigger and better house for yourself, but so that you will be a blessing, to people outside of your family, your clan, your nation, your language, in fact I want you to be a blessing for the whole world.
And as he is working this through he has a vision of God saying to him I will give you lots of descendants.
So many you can’t count them.
So the natural response is – so what do I have to do?
What’s my part of the deal?
When I was a kid, I used to feed the cat of the family that ran the local movie house when they were away,and in return he gave me a free pass to the movies to be used whenever I wanted.
I shifted to a different part of town and couldn’t get to his place easily and the next time I went to the movies with my pass – he confiscated it.
He gave me this gift but there was a condition. Right?
Keep that picture.
His gracious gift was not gracious – it relied on me feeding his cat.
Abram is promised a family – generations who will start a whole new way of doing life.
Being a blessing.
So Abram will be thinking – what’s the catch?
What do I have to do to get the goodies?
And so he has a dream and in the dream God asks him to set up the means to cut a deal.
To make a covenant.
And in his dream he knows exactly what to do – because that is what you did in his day. He lays the animals out and all is ready for an agreement to be made. And then the unexpected happens. We read:
When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch suddenly appeared and passed between the pieces of the animals. (18) Then and there the LORD made a covenant with Abram. Genesis 15:17-18
The fire pot and the flaming torch are symbols of God. Remember this is portrayed as a dream. God is passing between the animals.
This is an ‘what’s missing from the picture moment?”
And it’s a moment that is so radical – so new so, the beginning of an awareness of grace, of a God who is different from any other of the gods.
In his dream, Abram does not walk between the animals – only God does.
It’s a one sided covenant.
As God is saying to Abram
Abram – I will be true to who I am, the God who has called you and who loves you, and has promised that through you the whole world will be blessed, and I require nothing from you only that you trust me.
Trust that when you are unfaithful to me, I will remain faithful to you.
Trust me that when you are lost, I will find you.
Trust me that even if you go through the deepest darkness the valley of the shadow of death, I will be with you.
Trust me that even when you die – you will not be separated from my love!
Not because you are good Abraham – but because there is no one good but God!
Wait – where did we hear that – that’s right – from Jesus! Only God is good.
Which is just as well because Abram did stuff up along the way – just like you and I do.
And had Abram walked with God between the animal carcasses – well – he would have ended up like them.
So God only allows himself to make covenant for only God can be faithful.
He doesn’t take away the movie pass when you can’t feed the cat! Are you with me?
But we don’t like grace!
We want to pay our way.
And so Abraham’s descendants developed a whole system of sacrifice because that’s what all the people of the time did.
There’s was a modification they were forbidden to sacrifice people.
But the whole sacrificial system was based around the belief that if God was to be God for us, then we had to make a blood offering to God.
And the more offerings the better God would bless us and would not be angry with us.
When Solomon dedicates his temple – he has the priests sacrifice 22000 cattle and 120, 000 sheep. This was big business!
They still believed that God’s blessing required they do something.
All because the people had forgotten that: “ the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.” Lamentations 3
The prophet Mica sees all this and responds: God doesn’t want the blood of animals! What God requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. Micah 6
And then Hosea: Hos 6:6 I (God), want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me.
So a young man comes to me and tells me how God had taken his son from him in death, because he had had an affair. And a woman is told by her prayer group in her church that her child dies from leukaemia, because she hadn’t prayed enough!
All of it – old gods thinking and still in people’s minds.
If something happens that I perceive as bad it is because I haven’t been faithful – so therefore God is not faithful.
That’s why in Abrams dream God and God alone walks between the animals to leave us in no doubt that when we are unfaithful God is faithful, when you and I are false – God is true, when we fail, God gives us the victory.
Why? Because you are the beloved!
When the apostle Paul does what he can to explain the ways of God in a letter to one of the early churches, he concludes with these words:
Romans 11:32-36 For God has made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that he might show mercy to them all. (33) How great are God's riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways? (34) As the scripture says, "Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to give him advice? (35) Who has ever given him anything, so that he had to pay it back?" (36) For all things were created by him, and all things exist through him and for him. To God be the glory forever! Amen.
And so this New Year may you go forward in Peace. And when you look to the hills that hide the way – know this: Nothing will separate you from God’s love.
Should a plaque sweep through the country and we all die – yet still God’s love will hold you – for nothing in life or death will ever defeat God’s purpose for you. The best will always be, yet to be!
Just trust God and enjoy this New Year! Have some wine for your stomachs sake! And enjoy the bounty and the goodness of the land.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.