First Congregational Church
March 15, 2020
Third Sunday in Lent
Genesis 16:1-2, 6b-13, Psalm 91
“A Rose by Any Other Name: El Roi and El Shaddai”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I have to admit that my bed wasn't feeling well this morning, so I was sorely tempted to stay home to take care of it. I’m sure you all have heard about the man who walked into the doctor’s office and said, ‘I’ve hurt my arm in several places.’ So you would all then know that the doctor said, ‘well don’t go to those places any more.’ And I’d guess that not many of us would realize that working at a hospital is tough because you can't call in sick. "Yeah, I can't come in today, I'm sick.” "Come on in, we'll check you out.”
In over twenty years of ministry and nearing 60 years of life, I don’t know of a week that has so griped the world. And it has surely brought up questions in my mind. If the Bubonic Plague were to have happened in this age of technology and media, would it have been as wild? Or the Spanish Flu of 1918? Or the Stock Market Crash leading to the Great Depression of the 1930s?
In the midst of trying to get a grip on what was happening this week, I happened across a recording of Pavel Tchesnokov’s communion hymn, “Salvation Is Created,” sung in Church Slavonic, so said the Choral Public Domain Library. It didn’t so much matter that it was sung in the Cathedral Basilica in Saint Louis, Missouri, as it was from the very first chord something that I knew it needed my undivided attention. So sitting alone in my office, eyes closed, volume turned up, something amazing happened.
My heart found a little healing. I know this because at the end of the piece, there were a couple little tears on the outside corners of my eyes. I didn’t realize how much I needed a distraction from the crazy, how much I needed to focus on something beautiful, and how much grounding it brought back to the rest of my day.
Now I hardly expect this morning’s message to bring a tear to any eye, except maybe for when it’s done. But, focusing in on something other than the fear and disappointment can help us get through the fears and disappointments that may come our way when we leave this place.
To that end, we continue this Lenten series on the names of God. The first week we spent with God’s most proper and holy name of Yahweh and God’s name in terms of might and power, especially in terms of creating, that of Elohim. Last week we spent some time with God’s intimate name of Abba and the reference to God’s high dominion in the name El Elyon. Today brings us the names of El Roi and El Shaddai. As I mentioned last week, El means God - nothing more, nothing less. One could say El Dinah, and you wouldn’t know if the God Dinah was wonderful or terrible, gracious or even mean. So the words Roi and Shaddai get most of todays focus.
El Roi means “The God Who Sees.” It doesn’t refer to a god that watches out for all the little things we do wrong, but with kindness and care. It’s that aspect of God that sees us when we feel lonely, all on our own, or when we just need the reminder that God is close.
If it’s been a while, back in Genesis, after creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, the repopulation of the earth, we eventually come to Abram and his wife Sarai. We know them more so by their re-naming of Abraham and Sarah. But before they got their new names, there was a lot that they went thru, including infertility.
Genesis 16:1-2, 6b-13
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said.
Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
11 The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael,[a] for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward[b] all his brothers.”
13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen[c] the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi[d] (which means ‘Living One who sees me’); it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
Thank you, Donna. The God Who Sees, El Roi, saw not only the great Sarah and Abraham, but Sarah’s slave - one of the ga-jillions of people “not seen” in this world - or feel like that. Even for people that “are seen,” sometimes they (we) can feel unseen, dismissed, even overrun. The Good News is that we have a God Who Sees. We have El Roi, who looks on us with grace and care, who doesn’t leave us alone in our troubles.
No matter the virus name, the malady’s form, whatever comes on us, we are reminded today that our God sees us. It’s not just that God looks at us, but that ‘seeing’ means caring - about each heart, each mind, each soul, regardless of circumstances and time. Always has been true. Always will be true. No matter the fear, the terror, the loneliness, the sorrow - our God sees our hearts and cares when our hearts aren’t overflowing with joy.
And our God doesn’t stop there. We also have El Shaddai. This is the part of God that is “God Almighty.” This is our God as refuge and comfort, the one we can trust. This is that part of God where we can dwell in God’s presence in shelter and rest and peace.
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a] 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, 10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. 14 “Because he[b] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Thank you, Robin. I don’t know about anyone else’s take, but I think this is one interesting Psalm of juxtaposition. The sheltering image that we associate with mothering is woven into the imagery of battle, which is paired with the phrase of ‘only observing with your eyes” and God’s invoking of angels. Hands and feet, lion and cobra, trouble and deliverance.
And the coup de’ gras, the pestilence that stalks in the darkness and the plaque that destroys at midday. Truly, I tell you that this Psalm, today, is entirely God’s doing, because there is no way I could have predicted this passage, to be used on this Sunday, three weeks ago. I’m just not that good, no matter what people say.
Ole went to the doctor, who told him that he had the flu. Ole said he wanted another opinion. So the doctor told him he had bad breath, too. Sven went to the doctor, complaining that his hair kept falling out, and wanted to know if the doctor could give him anything to keep it in. So the doctor suggested that any glass jar would do.
One of the best lines I came across this week came from the pen of 18th century French poet, Voltaire. “The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature affects the cure.”
So go for rides. Savor the food you make. Go outside - if only to breathe different air. Watch old movies. Take naps. Do what my dad did and buy a 1,000 jigsaw puzzle. He found his for a buck ninety nine. Think about that project you’ve wanting to tackle and figure out how to do it. Clean out that drawer or closet you’ve been meaning to. Try new recipes - especially those with asparagus since Family Fare is selling it for .79 cents a pound this week. Make food for neighbors if you’re still feeling healthy. Figure out that online giving thing that the church is starting to encourage. Pray for your favorite pastor at least once a day.
The decision to open our doors today was based on the idea of it being the exact thing that we are asked to discontinue because it is also the exact thing that we so desperately need for ourselves in these uncertain times. We need to remember that these walls have seen other plagues and seen them thru. Those early pilgrims - here and those who came to these shores - basically did so with that mindset of marriage - for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. It is also true of our relationship with El Roi and El Shaddai. The God Who Sees Us is also the God of comfort and grace. No matter what comes our way, our God will be with us, will watch over us and will see us through. And for those things alone, we can offer our thanks.
El Roi, El Shaddai, Abba, El Elyon, Yahweh, Elohim, we are grateful for all the ways that you are our God. We are grateful that you are not indifferent, distant or uncaring. You are truly unlike any other. So, we may be free and frank with you, without fear. Because some of us are afraid, God. Some of us are disappointed, some are annoyed and you know all the other ways we are feeling these days. So help us to find the moments of beauty, of fulfillment, of worship that sweeps our hearts into your realm. Give us all the wisdom we need for these days, the awareness of our fellow citizens and the strength to do what is right for all of us. And all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.