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Twickenham URC 11 Apr 1999 (Low Sunday)

The life of Abraham part 3:

What do you see?

(Genesis 13, 1-18 + John 20:19-31)

The boy, the sculptor and the lion: You've probably heard this story before. A small boy used to walk to school past a sculptor's yard. Just before the long summer holiday a massive block of stone appeared. What could it be, the boy wondered? Six weeks later he got his answer: there in the yard was a magnificent lion. The boy saw one of the sculptors standing there. "How did you know there was a lion in there?" he asked. The answer, of course, is because someone saw a lion, not a dirty block of stone. We need sight beyond what our eyes give us.

Isa 11:1-4: A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions (NIV)

In the second part of this series we wrestled with the two accounts of Abraham trying to pass off his wife as his sister. The first of these incidents took place in Egypt and when Abraham's half truth was exposed the Pharoah ordered their deportation but Abraham was allowed to keep the livestock, silver and gold that he had been given to him as the bride price when he had been perceived as Sarah's brother and 'owner'.

Genesis Chapter 12 does not explicitly mention that Lot had gone with them down to Egypt but evidently he did. The party retrace their journey and make for Bethel, where Abraham had first built an altar when entering the land for the first time. Lesson 1 from this reading is that although Abraham had gone off on his own, had been less than truthful out of a desire for self-preservation and had been willing to see his wife end up in the Pharoah's harem, there was a way back to God. Abram, his wife Sarah and nephew Lot had followed God's calling in leaving Haran and moving south. Famine drove them to Egypt, but then they returned to the land that Abraham felt led to by a new call of God.

Earlier references to Lot perhaps imply that he was a surrogate son to his childless uncle and aunt, but since leaving Haran he has obviously grown up, because he is now in possession of his own herds and herdsmen. In the less than favourable limestone hills the greatly increased herd sizes put pressure on the food and water supplies and conflict breaks out between the two groups, who, we are reminded, did not have the land to themselves. Family affections were under strain and the best thing to do was for the two parties to take themselves off to separate areas, where they would not be in competition with one another. Given his seniority, you might have thought that Abraham would have first choice, but with the magnamimity that marks out true greatness he gives Lot the choice.

Deciding to share can be a risky business - I don't know how it was in your families but when my sister and I were young the instruction always was 'one cuts, the other chooses', which ensured that the person cutting the cake did so with absolute fairness. Abraham metaphorically cuts the land in two - that to the left and that to the right, and lets Lot make his choice. You can see the choices in your own minds - rugged limestone hills on one side, and a lush green valley on the other. Lot looked at the lush green grass surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah and, we are told, it reminded him of Egypt. So the two took leave of one another and Lot, we read, set up his tent near Sodom. Later in Genesis we will read how he was sucked into the city with all its evil.

Abraham was left looking at his half of the cake. He had acted with commendable fairness, but even so it was perhaps hard to accept that at his age he would perhaps struggle with the land he had been left with. At this point God speaks to him again. The message is the one in our second hymn: "Have faith in God. Let your hope rest on the faith he has placed in your heart. Never give up, never let go of the faith he has placed in your heart". But that faith and that hope is not just to be something cerebral. Abram is to respond, to claim God's promise: "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see - all the land including the fertile valleys that you have ceded to Lot - I will give to you and your offspring for ever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you". So, encouraged by this renewed promise Abram sets out to claim the land for God.

Lot looked - but all Lot could see was the promise of material prosperity. When he looked he saw a place that reminded him of Egypt, a place where the Lord, the one true God was not worshipped. When he looked he saw a city that was already renowned for its licentiousness, but he did not see how it would suck in him.

Abraham looked - and saw problems, difficulties and struggle ahead. Then God speaks to him and his vision is transformed. With God on side, he sees opportunity and promise. The boy saw a lump of stone; the sculptor, a lion. We are called to be people who dream dreams and see visions, visions of what might be when something or someone that is apparently without promise becomes used as part of God's plan.

(1 Sam 16:1-8) : The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king." But Samuel said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me." The LORD said, "Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate." Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, "Do you come in peace?" Samuel replied, "Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me." Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD." But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, "The LORD has not chosen this one either ...." (NIV). You know how this story ends.

And Thomas? He looked and could see nothing but ten men who were obviously deluding themselves. He knew, surely they all knew, that Jesus had been taken down dead from the cross and laid in a tomb. Those pictures must have flashed before him for the hundredth time as the others recounted their story. He could not begin to see any truth in what they were saying: he had seen with his own eyes the terrible end to their three years with Jesus. Nothing short of touching the wounds would convince him. And yet when Jesus comes again the following Sunday evening he looks and sees.

When you look, what do you see? Nothing or the Risen Lord? Look, see and respond: My Lord and my God!

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Hymns (Rejoice and Sing): 247: Thine be the glory; O Lord You lead me (Hillsongs); 538: Teach me my God and King; 495: Father hear the prayer we offer; 345: Guide me, O thou great Jehovah Benediction