03-29-2020 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
March 29, 2020
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Exodus 15:22-27 & Judges 6:17-24
“A Rose by Any Other Name: Jehovah Rapha & Yahweh Shalom”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
This morning we are wrapping up this Lenten theme of names of God. Names are so interesting, because there’s generally always something behind the name. For instance, when you take a pen name ... that's a nom de plume. When you take a name for war, that's a nom de guerre. When you take a name for an eating contest, that's a nom de nom nom nom.
In my research for this morning’s message, I discovered that April 9th is National Name Yourself Day, a day that encourages individuals to change their names for one day. If anyone takes part in this event, I’d love to know, because, well, you know I would. For instance, you could fasten a toy frog to a headband, put it on your head and call yourself Lily that day. (Frog on lily.) Or you could fasten a little shovel onto a beanie hat and call yourself Doug. (dug) Or you could find a friend and each of you could each wear an old window frame, and you could be Curt ’n Rod. (This is the point where I’m so sad that I can’t hear all the groans and giggles.)
Since some folks weren’t with us when we started this series, back when we were still shaking hands and hugging, according to ChristianAnswers.net, there are 955 names and titles of God in the Bible. We will have covered ten at the end of the day. If nothing else, maybe this shining of the flashlight on names of God will inspire a deeper, personal investigation into how we address God.
At the very least, it has been an unfolding miracle as there was no way of knowing that we would be in this place way back in November of last year, when I tucked away an article from iBelieve.com on these names of God. As much as I would like to think that I had such super-powers, I have to hand any accolades over to God.
We began with Yahweh: God’s formal name and Elohim is God’s creative power and might side. The next week, the focus was on Abba and El Elyon week - God’s familiar name like Daddy and God’s High Domain, theoretically and spatially speaking. Then we explored El Roi - the God Who Sees our situations and El Shaddai, the God who is Almighty, in whom lies our peace and safety. Last week took us to Yahweh Yireh, which is our God of Provision and Yahweh Nissi - our God of enveloping protection. Today we get to Jehovah Rapha - God as Healer and Yahweh Shalom - The Lord Is Peace.
Before getting to the scripture passages, which are Exodus 15 & Judges 6, a little background. To set up the Exodus passage, Moses and the Israelites were starting on their 40 year jaunt into the desert. The first Passover had happened, when God had finished all the plagues and the Pharaoh had freed the Hebrew people. Enter Charleton Heston and the Ten Commandments movie, and the people passing through the Red Sea. It was probably a tad different than that, but I’m guessing you already knew that.
Anyway, they were right on the cusp of something of which they had no idea, and Moses and his sister, Miriam, had just had a little celebration for getting a huge number of people through to safety - like somewhere between 600,000 and a couple million people.
Exodus 15:22-27 The Waters of Marah and Elim
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
I’m guessing that there is no intentional irony, but I did find a little humor in the idea of the Israelites, first being led into a desert called Shur, and then complaining about the lack of water. Irony is such a delightful surprise, sometimes. Other times, maybe not so much.
And I can’t be the only person who finds a bit of amusement in the solution of bad water being fixed with ‘a stick’ or log or whatever that piece of wood was. Over and over and over again, God uses the folly of the world to confound the wise.
And we can’t leave out the irony of the twelve springs - twelve being the symbol of faith, totality and perfection - and the seventy palm trees - the number of perfect spiritual order carried out with all power - according to biblestudy.org. The general rule of thumb is that people can survive three days without water. So we can cut the Israelites a little slack. Still, the richness of paradox is stunning - totality, spiritual perfection - healing - if you will - when all seems lost or dead - is a powerful image.
Our passage from Joshua takes place long after that 40 year sojourn, long after Moses died and his appointed replacement, Joshua died. The book of Judges gives account after account of the Hebrew people going off-script, getting in trouble, and begging God to get them out of their fix. And in God’s ever gracious grace, a savior is sent to set everyone to right again.
In this particular instance, we meet up with Gideon, also called Jerubbaal, whom God chose to save the day. And, of course, Gideon is dubious of this call, so Gid asks for proof of God’s will - not once, not twice, but three times: first by fire, second by fleece and third….
17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”
19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.
20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Until we stop and think a minute about this passage, we miss a lot, aside from Gideon telling God “wait a sec, I’ll be right back.” Preparing a young goat - going to get it, butchering it, stoking up the fire, roasting, probably took a couple hours at the very minimum. Most of us don’t realize that an ephah of flour is about 36 pounds of flour! If the average loaf of bread uses a pound of flour, Gideon is asking God to wait while he makes 36 loaves of bread. Seriously? What lineworker would ask the CEO of any company to wait several hours while the lineworker tests the request of the CEO? And how often have any of us done something of similar nature with God?
There’s still more strangeness in this passage. Gideon has all the makings for a big ol’ soup and bread meal, and the Angel of the Lord tells him to ditch the broth? Maybe Gideon boiled the goat, rather than roasted it. Even so, strange.
Not until the sacrifice was “consumed” did Gideon realize he’d been chatting with an angel. Not so unlike Mary, talking to Jesus outside the tomb on that third day after his death. How often are we in God’s presence and don’t realize it? As the breath of God, God’s Holy Spirit is with each and everyone of us, in this very moment, regardless of what is going on around us, enveloping us in God’s presence. Staggering!
I miss having all of you here, because I’m guessing this would be one of those moments when I might become cognizant of the deep quiet in the sanctuary, to the point of being able to hear a pin drop on carpet sort of quiet, and most eyes on me. But I don’t get wigged out by it because I know it’s not me that you see, but God’s presence in which you sit. It’s that place of knowing I’ve done my job, and now God is showing up to do God’s job, which is very holy ground. And if that’s not “where” people are in that moment, I don’t go all apologetic to God, because I’m counting on God doing that very thing - somewhere else down the road for each person.
Because that is Jehovah Rapha - God as healer - and Yahweh Shalom - the Lord is peace. We may feel frightened or lost, terrified or lonely, anxious or unnerved, but those are our feelings, and God created us to have all of them. Those very valid feelings don’t replace the truth, however, that God is here, with each of us, right now, and it has always been and always shall be.
The other night, it was about 10:30, and I was out walking and noticed a street light. It was 37 degrees, because I stopped to check. I didn’t check the humidity, but it had to be rather high, as I could “see” the air. It wasn’t fog, and it wasn’t mist, so maybe it was fist - fog - mist…. It couldn’t be felt and had the light not been there, I wouldn’t have noticed it. But it was there, non-the-less. God’s healing and peace, regardless of how goofy they may look, how impossible they seem, are right here and right where you are - whether you be in Australia, India, Minnesota, Florida or any place else.
(Yes, last week’s premiere FCCF digital service reached all those places and more! In fact, it was most probable that the attendance at worship last week was twice what it would otherwise have been! So thanks for tuning in!)
But let us not overlook a couple of other significant parts of this morning’s passages. In Exodus, after a list of seemingly incongruent aspects, God told Moses “I am the God who heals you.” And in Judges, the Lord told Gideon, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” So Gideon made an altar and called it The Lord Is Peace.
As an insurance person once told me, not “if” I die, but “when” I die. We will all die a physical death. Just as God has many names and aspects, our physical death will be just one part of our lives. Just like God promised Moses, Gideon and so many others, God promises us that we will not die and we will be healed. It may not look like what we were thinking, it may not unfold as we’d like. But we will not go through it alone. No matter what we do, what happens to us, we are never alone. As we make our own altars of gratitude for all that God gives us this week, let us do so with all the certainty of our God Jehovah Rapha and Yahweh Shalom as we pray.
Healing God of Peace, thank you for your reminders of you and the life that is greater than this earthly life. You know how quickly we forget those reminders, how easily we can get distracted from your promises. Forgive us when we purposefully give in to distractions. Nudge us to see your presence - visibly or invisibly - that permeates every part of our environments. For the richness of knowing about you and growing our faith, we thank you. For gifting us with your most precious of gifts, that of your son, we are also grateful. As people already healed and already in your peace, all your people say, Amen.
03-22-2020 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
March 22, 2020
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Facebook Live Inaugural Venture
Genesis 22:14, Exodus 17:1-15
“A Rose by Any Other Name: Yahweh Yireh and Yahweh Nissi”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those of you who would like to follow the scripture passage this morning, I’ll give you a heads-up that it will be Exodus 15:1-17. Exodus 15, 1-17.
Over the course of the last weeks, our church family has been exploring some of the names of God. We’ve looked at six names so far, and I’m beginning to think that at least I might appreciate a scorecard at this point. So I came up with something kind-of like that.
God’s most proper and holy name is Yahweh. I know the color isn’t great, but it’s a picture of a formal dinner setting - wine glass, water glass, champagne glass, white linen, the whole nine yards or however many yards are needed for a single tablecloth.
The name, Elohim, pertains to the power and might of God, especially as it pertains to creating. We don’t think of a chef having ‘power and might,’ but they do, just in a different way than we usually think of power and might.
Abba is the Bible’s “familiar” name for God. It actually translates as “daddy,” and it was that form of God’s name that Jesus called out when he was on the cross, because when we’re in pain, often times we go back to those things that are basic and even primal.
El Elyon is the name that refers to God’s high domain. It’s not necessarily one of actual place, but it certainly the idea that “God” is over all.
El Roi is the “God Who Sees.” This doesn’t translate into a God who just waits to catch us making a mistake, but a God who sees our circumstances, with compassion and understanding.
El Shaddai means God Almighty, the part of God where we can rest in peace and safety, regardless of what is going on around us. I realize that this idea of food and God’s provision is quite close to being trite, but it helps our brains begin the extrapolation of just how big and complex and personal our God is.
Today we get to Yahweh Yireh, which means “The Lord Will Provide,” and Yahweh Nissi, which refers to the Lord as our banner, meaning protector. I have to admit, I thought the graphic for Freezer Wrap, Press’n Seal and Cling Wrap was quite clever, because if you were to unroll them, they’d be like long, quite skinny ‘banners.’
Before we get to this morning’s scripture passage, I thought it would be good for all of us to recall that the reason water never laughs at jokes is because water isn’t a fan of dry humor. Water - dry - humor.
I’m guessing that not everyone realizes the ease knowing if an ant is a boy or a girl, because everyone knows that if you toss a girl ant into water, it will sink, and if it floats, it’s a bouyant. Boy ant, bouyant.
The backdrop to this morning’s scripture passage is that while Moses and the Israelites were strolling through the desert, just after God had arranged for the menu of manna and quail, after leaving the eastern coast of the Gulf of Suez, they started to head east, into the heart of the desert proper. They had spent some time in an area of the Sinai Peninsula known then as the Desert of Sin, which is a name not related to the general meaning of a “transgression.”
Our passage will deal with the great and ancient enemy of the Israelites, the Amalekites. As Israel is to Israelites, Amalekites are to Amalek. They are said to have been descended from a grandson of Esau, making them some of the oldest enemies of the Chosen People.
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
The Amalekites Defeated
8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”
15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, “Because hands were lifted up against[c] the throne of the Lord,[d] the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
Earlier in the passage, it said the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. Just change a couple of words, and it becomes, the people were thirsty for toilet paper, and they grumbled against the virus. That being a specific, the general would be, the people were thirsty for normalcy, and they grumbled against change. Or people get thirsty for peace and they grumble against fear.
Whatever the specific reality for us, after such an ordeal, Moses ordered an altar built, and called it Yahweh Yireh, The Lord Is My Banner. It’s doubtful that Moses, Joshua, Aaron or Hur could have anticipated a “successful” solution involving hands and literally “helping hands” - from afar. Who among us, in our rightful minds, would think to try such a plan when faced with the possibility of being overrun? And who, among them, in the middle of such a “plan” would have thought it even a remote possibility of succeeding?
Yahweh Yireh, The Lord Will Provide.” In one of the gruesome and even confounding passages, God provided a ram, instead of Abraham sacrificing his son. God provided Abraham and Sarah a child, when it was well past the time of feasibility. God provided a world and a vast menu for Adam and Eve, even though the focus - for a bit - became that one forbidden fruit. From before the beginning of time, God has been providing for us. When our lives become different, or something scary happens, our human nature is to jump to the dire, rather than the real.
God truly answers our prayers, just not always the way we’d really like, or even in ways we can easily recognize. But our side of life doesn’t even begin to realize the length and breadth and depth of how God provides for so much more than we realize. From planting, harvesting and production of little sesame seeds on buns, to the provision of means of transport and barter, God has provided humanity with brains and curiosities and abilities to provide even the most common of items. And our altars of thankfulness become banners of appreciation when we give God our gratitude for all the pieces of this thing we call life.
For those who were never fortunate enough to have Star Trek as their afternoon babysitter as a kid, you perhaps don’t realize how many people grew up with the idea of a complete plate of food coming out of a place that looked like a dumb waiter or a nook in a wall that could have been construed as a futuristic elevator. Such things sort of magically appeared and rarely, if ever, was any real big deal made of it. Granted, we have modern vending machines that can accommodate a credit card. And there were days when a quarter could get you a cold bottle of pop out of a cold case that required you to slide the bottle along the galvanized steel bars that held the bottles in place. But behind even those inanimate and very impersonal objects is Yahweh Yireh, the Lord Who Provides.
And as crazy as some of God’s answers to our prayers are, our God still wraps us in banners - of concern and care and grace and love. As unlikely as it may seem in any particular moment, our God wraps us in healing and peace and comfort - sometimes in the goofiest of manners - sometimes even in the watching of a Facebook Live event from our own home. And if God has provided and so wrapped God’s people in days before, why would God stop now? Based on God’s fulfillment of past promises fulfilled, we can trust that God will continue to do so in the days to come, regardless of how those days might look. For such promise and anticipation, let us pray.
Yahweh Yireh, Yahweh Nissi, God of Provision and Banner, thank you that we get to be witnesses to such fulfillment of promises that gives way to reassurance for each step and breath and thought that we are given. Each and every one of us could have been born at a different time, and yet you determined the best time for each of us - to see your might, and power and grandeur and familiarity and nobleness and watchfulness and comfort. You know well how the world is not at ease these days.
And you know as well, that we can find moments of ease, slowing of and expansion of breath that has been rather stifled as of late. So help us to see your greater good, your larger life, your vast view, that such vistas allow us encouragement and assurance in even the tiniest and quietest of ways. And when we are over fears and toils, help us to remember to make our altars of sacrifice to you in the most honest parts of our hearts. And all your people say, Amen.
3/15/2020 Sunday Sermon
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
03-08-2020 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
March 8, 2020
Second Sunday in Lent
“A Rose by Any Other Name: Abba and El Elyon”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So there’s this uncle of female and male twins, and his sister, the mother of the twins, is stuck trying to think of a name for the children. The uncle says “I’ve got an idea!”, and the mother gets excited, thinking this could be it. She says "What should their names be?" The uncle replies “Well for your daughter, Denise” “That’s a nice name” comments the mother, “but what about my son?” The uncle simply replies “Denephew”.
It is always interesting how God seems to work. I don’t know about anyone else, but if I hear any more about a certain virus, political point or changing climate, despite all their importance, my head just may explode. As I thought more about it, it became apparent that I could surely use some mental and even spiritual distraction. And then it was like a bolt of lightening coming straight from the hand of God - “Tag, you’re it!”
So I deem it very clever on God’s part to place it on my heart to do a Lenten series on names for God. I doubt that there is much controversy over one of last week’s names, Elohim, which is a name that refers to God’s incredible power and might, with some implications of physical formation or creation of things, strong and sure things, even made out of nothing, as in the God of the creation of the world, according to Genesis 1.
Likewise, last week’s other name, Yahweh, not likely a popular theme for the day in Christianity, is yet the most holy name for God, from ancient Hebrew - like our Old English. Because Yahweh is such a holy name, it is seldom spoken, and it is written without vowels. I didn’t spend a huge amount of time looking for it, but I sort of remember that the reason it is spelled without vowels is linked to the holiness idea of the name. To attempt to perfectly spell God’s name would put one on par with the holy God, and that would be a sin - if I remember correctly.
Anyway, this morning we look at two more names for God: Abba and El Elyon. Last week I mentioned that Abba was the name for God like the name daddy - as well as the name for the Swedish pop group. When it’s used, there is an element of deep trust, intimacy and protection, very much like the name some children use for their parent.
I’m sure you’ve all noticed that there is no particular scripture passage listed this morning. When it became apparent that so many of the references were single sentences, it didn’t make sense to use a longer passage to make the point. To that end, one might wonder just when the Bible would use Abba, the incredibly familiar name of the same God who is so holy that people think twice before speaking God’s proper name.
Those here last week may tune out momentarily, as I bring up the passage from Mark 14, when Jesus was hanging on the cross. He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Abba is the Aramaic name for “father,” and since most experts believe Jesus’ native language to be Aramaic, it makes the most sense that Jesus would use one of the (probable) earliest words he learned, when he was suffering his greatest pain.
Jesus is the only one to use the name Abba in any of the gospels, but the apostle Paul uses it twice: once in a letter to the Romans and once in a letter to the Galatians. And what use he makes!
Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Having a God as father may be a difficult thing for some people, because of past abuses from their own fathers, which is why you will not often hear me refer to God as “he.” (Besides, using God for God helps me to remember that God is so much bigger than a pronoun.)
But if one is adopted by God, it becomes a different ballgame, because people who adopt children generally ‘pick’ them - at whatever age the child may be. Regardless of any of our particular situations, God has chosen you to be God’s child for far longer than you can truly comprehend. If it were more earthly, your picture would be stapled in the top corner of the adoption form, with God’s signature at the bottom.
Aside from the emotional aspect of this name, without complete researching, I’d guess there are no other gods that offer their follower the privilege to call them father - or mother - but that’s a whole bunch of ‘we aren’t going there today.’
Just a few verses after what Paul wrote about the Spirit and adoption, Paul writes about the Spirit and prayer. Romans 8:26 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
We don’t know how long it was between Jesus’ utterance of Abba and the rest of the sentence, but it could have been a long, pregnant pause, allowing for the Spirit to intervene between God and Christ - should Jesus not have known what to pray. Even if Jesus didn’t pause after praying “Abba” on the cross, it’s good to know that the Spirit is there for us, just as it was there for Jesus - regardless of our agonies or circumstances.
This reference Paul uses in his letter to the Galatians is somewhat akin to the way he used it with the Romans, but it goes a step further. He wrote, Galatians 4:4-7 “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture. Even from ancient Rome, those who were different were taunted. But when a person was - and is - adopted - it’s a done deal. No longer adrift on the sea of maybes and coulda’s, this legal formality ends the possibility of being taken away and given to another. We are God’s, and it’s a done deal, whatever way you want to look at it. Just as Jesus felt free to use Abba in speaking to God, so may we feel free to address God. It may not seem like such a big deal to us in our modern day, but it does remind us of how far we’ve come as people of faith.
Incidentally, this word, Abba, is not only a term used by our Catholic and Episcopalian brothers and sisters in reference to their priests, but is used for bishops and elders within the Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian churches.
A dad came in the front door and said, “I was just listening to the radio on my way from work. Apparently an actress just killed herself.” The mom said, “Oh my! Who!?” The dad said, “Uh, I can't remember... I think her name was Reese something?” The mom practically shouted, “WITHERSPOON!!!!!???????” The dad said, “No, it was with a knife…”
While our modern names are almost exclusively for designation, and intended for identification, Biblical names were also descriptive, and often prophetic. A child’s name could be a name and a prayer, psychologically setting up the child to become what the prayers had prayed.
She was born Sarai, a name that meant quarrelsome. But after God made the covenant with her husband, Abraham, and before the birth of her son, God said that Sarai’s name should be Sarah, meaning princess. She’d grown into her quarrelsome name, but when God changed her circumstances, she was also to understand herself differently.
So we can understand El Elyon a little better, as it is the name for God that means “God Most High.” El, as a name that is translated as “God,”can be used in conjunction with other words to designate various aspects of God's character. So El, means God and Elyon means ‘highest’. One could use it in the phrase, Elyon Dinah is the best pastor in the entire world, and you’d get the drift, if only it were true.
In Deuteronomy 26:19 while writing about a hierarchy of people, the author used this name of God that also denotes a hierarchical understanding. “He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.” Lord your God. El Elyon your God.
When speaking about the greatness of God, the Psalmist used El Elyon in painting a picture of God over creation, Psalm 18:13 “The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.” It’s rather cool, too, that Spanish and some Native American languages use “el” as an emphasis - as in the rock formation at Yosemite National Park’s famous, El Capitan - The Captain, rather than merely “the captain.”
So El Elyon is The Exalted One who is lifted far above all gods and people, a Deity unlike all other deities. El Elyon, I believe, is a distinction that would not relish “lording itself” over other beings, or even dismissive of other gods, but simply states a fact that can lend meaning in prayer and meditation and understanding.
It’s also interesting pairing these two names for God - Abba of the heart - and El Elyon of dominions and areas. And this very same God, of vast names and understandings, so desirous of a relationship with us, sent God’s very own Son to show us a deeper and higher life and way of living. Abba, El Elyon sent Christ, so that God might know the human condition more intimately, so as to fully immerse God’s self into our humanity, thought and ways of living.
Allow me to be the first to vocalize how ineffectual a name for God can be, when it seems that despite all God’s power and ability, God doesn’t heal us of maladies - man-made or otherwise. Except that God does answer our prayers - but not often in ways that we want.
This name designation could be all cerebral and disconnected from the heart. Except that the intent of this exploration is to connect the heart and mind in ever greater ways. One can look at a banner for a minute and know that it’s beautiful. But the longer one sits with that banner, incorporating the knowledge behind the creation of the banner, leads to an even deeper way of appreciating and even sitting with that banner. So is it true with names for God.
Using particular names of God in praying or sitting with God won’t necessarily change how God responds to our prayers or meditation. But those names change the length and breadth and height and depth of our understanding and prayers, our sitting with God, our breathing in and out of God. So we begin.
Abba, El Elyon, Elohim and Yahweh, thank you for the gift of language, that we may appreciate you more fully, your grand plan as well as your innermost subtleties. We confess that sometimes we fail to appreciate your largesse and grand scheme, as well as all the little things that make you so different and so surpassing of other deities. We ask your forgiveness as we live out determinations to keep your names in mind and heart and soul, that we live larger, breath deeper and more fully all that which is you. In the coming week and days, remind us as often as possible of your names and the richness of our lives in them. For all your blessings, large, small and all between, all your people say, Amen.
3/1/2020 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
March 1, 2020
First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 1:1-13 & Exodus 3:13-14
“A Rose by Any Other Name: Elohim and Yahweh”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A robber breaks into a house while the residents are away one dark night. Eager to see what he can loot, he quickly starts searching through cupboards and dressers, grabbing valuables with a trained eye. Suddenly, he hears a voice come out of nowhere. “Jesus is watching you.” The criminal jumps, scared the residents are back, and freezes. After a few minutes of silence however, he assumes it was his imagination, and goes back to robbing. A couple minutes pass, before once again, the voice returns. “Jesus is watching you.” Quite confused, the thief searches the house and checks the front door, but nothing pops out as unusual. He finally decides to move rooms, and finds a parrot, but ignores it. Before he can begin to do anything, someone speaks again, “Jesus is watching you.” The robber realized it was the parrot talking! Going to the parrot, he asks it, “Are you the one who’s been talking to me?” The parrot responds, “Yes.” The thief couldn’t believe it. So, he asks another question. “What is your name?” “Ismael.” the parrot replies. The man scoffed. “What type of idiot names a parrot Ismael?” The parrot speaks yet again, “The same type of idiot that names a Rottweiler Jesus.”
And just like that, it is the first Sunday in Lent. Going over my sermon idea stash, I came upon this one for the names of God, which seemed like an interesting topic for the season. According to ChristianAnswers.net, there are 955 names and titles of God in the Bible. Taking two each Sunday, and allowing for one or two Sundays for other “necessary” topics, we would wind up this study on or near December 24, 2021, just in time to start on the 50 names and titles of Jesus. Or perhaps we’ll stick with the ten names for God as listed at iBelieve.com, which fit so perfectly in this season of five Sundays.
Names are so interesting! And I personally think it’s fascinating how parents determine the name of their progeny. Since my mother has passed on, and I’m sure my dad won’t tell, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the real scoop on me being named after one of dad’s old girlfriends. Some parents just know the name before the child is born. Some try out different ones before landing on the right one, and still others wait until the baby is born, so they can see how the name will lay on the precious one.
There are people who change their names - for a number of reasons. There are nicknames and meanings of names and even names that invoke emotions from joy to fear to pain.
And then there are the different names by which we are known. Some folks, beside their given name, have the added names of mom and dad, or mother and father - sometimes dependent on emotions. My nephew can be Tom, Thomas when he’s in trouble, except that then he’s usually Thomas Delmin Wagner, and his nephews simply address him as Uncle or Unc.
When I do funerals for people who are grandparents, I’ve started to ask what the grandkids call their grandparent, because from Nanny to Rabu, Ninny to GiGi, Pappi to Papa D, G-pa to gramps, there are so many variations on names for the same personhood.
Today we have two of the most common names for God that come from Hebrew: Yahweh and Elohim. For those of you more visual learners, I’ve included a little box of information at the end of the announcement page in the bulletin. You’ll notice that the info comes from the Baker Evangelical Dictionary. By and large, I like this dictionary because it gives really extensive, yet accessible, information on that one doesn’t find in a regular reference book.
So the BED - Baker Evangelical Dictionary - tells us that Elohim means “God and refers to God’s incredible power and might. It is the plural form of Eloah and occurs more than 2,250 times in the Bible. The singular form is El and Elah.
I love that it is the plural form of Eloah - because even from the get go, the Bible gives us a hint of what we call the Trinity - God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. Even before anything was created, God the Three in One was in relationship. Not even God does well always being alone - never was, never will.
If I were to tell you that a person built a house, you might think that was nice. If I told you that the builder was an exceptionally nice person, that could well be true, but wouldn’t make much difference in the end. But if I told you that the builder was licensed, insured and had twenty years experience, it might make your opinion of that builder a little different - at least in how you might take any suggestions that the builder made on your specific home.
The same is true for God. When Jesus called out to God when he was on the cross, Jesus used the word Abba, which means daddy. For those who haven’t been in such agony of body and spirit, we’ve certainly seen enough movies that help us understand that in those moments, we may well cry out to a parent, with our most trusting of names, such as Daddy.
But Daddy, or Abba, doesn’t make as much sense to use when speaking about God creating the heavens and the earth. It makes far more sense to use a name that includes a sense of incredible power and might. So in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, the writer used Elohim - the God of incredible power and might. So as you listen to the passage from Genesis 1, know that every time the word God is used, it is the word Elohim.
Genesis 1:1-13 NIV
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Also in the name Elohim, there is the sense of God’s hands being strong and secure, so that what God builds is also strong and secure - which includes human beings - which is a big deal when we feel small and powerless. From before time began, when God was creating us in God’s mind’s eye, it was that we would be created from the hands of the One who is not only strong and sure, but can make anything out of nothing. It occurred to me yesterday that sometimes, when it seems like God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we’d like, is not because God choses not to answer, but answers them in creative ways and out of strength and sureness, rather than individual indulgence and frivolity.
The other name for God for today is Yahweh, and as it says in the bulletin insert, it is derived from the Hebrew word for “I AM.” If that has a familiar ring, it is the same name that Jesus used of himself: I AM the resurrection and the life, I AM the light of the world, I AM the Good Shepherd, and all the other “I AM” statements he made. It is rather powerful to see the same phrase used in the Old Testament when Moses was standing before the burning bush.
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Thank you, Kelly. As the box in the bulletin says, this name for God used in Exodus, Yahweh, is the only proper name of the divine person/presence (containing a sense of authority), coming from the verb which means to “exist,” “be.” As a cool little extra kick, the first part of Yahweh is the “jah" that we sing or say in the word “hallelujah,” meaning praise Yah.
A name can be catchy, kitchy, and cool, but when it has deeper meaning, that’ when we get to the meat of it. And Yahweh signifies “presence.” It is God “with”, God’s presence with us, not so far from another of Jesus’ names, Immanuel, which means God with us.
When we’re lonely, afraid, sad, grieving, we don’t need a creative God so much as we need a God that is present with us, one who will deliver us and be with us through the hard part. Yahweh is that part of God that is involved with our human struggle more than our human creation. Yahweh is the name of God that reminds us of our covenant with God - that God will be our God and we will be God’s people.
In this season that can be seen as dark or hard, I would never want to dismiss the reality of what happened so long ago in those days and weeks leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, and I’m so glad we have Robin MacKenzie’s banners to remind of of the 30 pieces of silver that ended up not only being worthless, but a huge reminder of those things that cannot be bought - like integrity and loyalty.
When we lean into the lent times of our lives, we can find so many opportunities for deepening our faith and relationship to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of some of God’s names give us not only a better vocabulary, but a richer understanding and depth of interchange. So use one or both of these names this week - in thinking about God, in praying to and with God, in sitting with God. And let us start right now.
Elohim and Yahweh, God of strength and God of presence, thank you for not being a surface God, but one with great depth and relevance. Thank you for the knowledge we have in being able to pray more clearly in our address of you - being able to draw closer to you in your power and deliverance. It is a comfort - being able to know your name much closer to how you know our names. Deepen our sense of all the aspects of you that make you God. And we, being your people, say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.