“Look Up!” [A Childrens’ Story]

My wife, Sarah, and I have good fun with our families. I’m from a German family, while she’s from a Norwegian family.

Now, truthfully, both Germans and Norwegians can be especially quiet, introverted, stoic people…but it just happens there are more jokes about Norwegians.

Have you heard the one about the Norwegian Farmer who loved his wife so much he almost told her?

My favorite is: What’s the difference between an introverted and an extroverted Norwegian?

When an introverted Norwegian talks to you, they look at their shoes. When an extroverted Norwegian talks to you, they look at your shoes.

Abram isn’t Norwegian, but he sure is good at looking down at his sandals.

God had promised Abram, who is childless at age seventy-five, he would have so many children that his name would be made great throughout the earth because his progeny would be so large they would constitute a new nation.

Now, in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, Abram has his head down, kicking the dust, feeling dismal because he doubts God will make good on his promise.

All of a sudden, the word of God appears to Abram in a vision and says, “Look up, Abram! Look up at the stars! Look up and try to count them! Your descendants will be as numerous as this sky full of burning suns, and just as this celestial canopy is over your head, so I will shelter you and be your shield.”

abram counting stars

With these words, God renews his promise and reminds Abram: Eliezer of Damascus will not inherit his house and possessions, but his own flesh and blood will live on, extend his name through the generations, and carry a blessing from God, in order to be a blessing to all the families of the earth!

And so Abram does looks up. He sees the stars in constellation, and the swirling Milky Way, and he believes that a God could make the heavens in all their splendor, could also do something as wonderful as give him and his wife a child in their old age.

Abram believes God’s promise and God declares all is right in their relationship.

Martin Luther might have called Abram’s doubtful behavior “navel-gazing.” That was Luther’s phrase to describe the way in which we sometimes refuse to believe God’s promises because of thinking too much or too deeply about our selves, our own experience, and our own feelings.

In our confession we say: God we have been turned in on ourselves. We are guilty of navel-gazing, of looking for lent in our belly-buttons…of fixing our attention on our own small, insular world, and on our own needs, so that we’ve missed opportunities to look to Jesus for protection and shelter.

But hear God’s again word of forgiveness. God says, “Look up and see that you were dead, but now you’re alive, you were lost, but now you are found.”

In God’s forgiveness, in our daily baptism, in the holy supper, God comes to us, invites us to repentance, and reconciles us to himself.

God invites us to look not inward, but to look up and outward at the world he has created and loves. Like Abram, we are blessed to be a blessing.

And filled with forgiveness, God sends us to live for and tell about our gracious God who longs to shelter and shield not only us, but all of creation.

In our gospel we see Jesus standing outside Jerusalem, lamenting her faithlessness, and longing to reconcile her to God.

The text reads a lot like a children’s story, with its fox, hen, and chicks all running around.

The Pharisees have come to tell Jesus that the sky is falling on his new revolution. Herod wants to kill him and bring Jesus’ story to a premature ending.

It’s hard to say if these sometimes-opponents-of Jesus, the Pharisees, are genuinely trying to help, or whether they are planting a trap of some kind, but Jesus seems to suggest they’re in cahoots with Herod when he says, “Go tell that fox…he can try as he likes, but I have work to do that doesn’t involve him.”

Jesus’ plans are not going to be influenced by this small-time governor. As sly as Herod may be, he can’t out-fox Jesus, and keep him from going to Jerusalem, where God has special plans for him.

Jesus knows he will not be stopped short of God’s city, where – ironically — God’s prophets are killed; where messengers through the ages have come to call God’s people to repentance, and have only failed.

And so Jesus, stands at a distance and looks at Jerusalem and speaks for and with the Father, lamenting, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing.”

A mother hen fiercely loves and protects her chicks, sits with them through rain and storm, will give her life for the sake of the chicks, and so Jesus offers us refuge in his wings.

fox%20and%20hen

And so Jesus laments that we don’t always come to him for shelter and refuge.

On Thursday night a number of us gathered at Isley Brewery for Luther on Tap – a time to have conversation about faith and life out at a local brewery.

We played a card game called Solarium, in which there are 50 different cards, each with an evocative picture on it. One card has a bird in a man’s hand, one is of a bicycle without wheels, one is the close up of a woman’s eye, one is of an elderly couple walking together…each picture is unique.

Each of us were invited to pick a card and answer the question: “How does this picture describe my relationship with God right now?”

To a person, even though we had different pictures, almost everyone said we felt like we were having a hard time carving out quiet time to read Scripture, pray, and listen.

For the next round we spread the 50 picture-cards out over the table again and this time we were invited to pick a card that spoke to what we would LIKE our relationship with God to look like.

Again, we all picked cards with different pictures on them, but nearly every one of us shared something about wanting to be more intentional in making time for focusing on God – in a sense, we all said we felt we needed to look up and pay attention to God and accept the shelter that Jesus longs to give us.

Like little chicks, we have a mother hen who treasures us and who will protect us in her bosom.

If our time together at the brewery hadn’t been interrupted by Last Call, I would’ve asked, “Who in your life has been an example of faithfulness? Who has shown you how to trust God?”

Certainly, as we follow Jesus, we benefit from having people we can look up to in the faith.

Paul says as much to the church in Philippi: He writes, “Brothers and sisters, look up to me – imitate me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”

Paul and his partners are Friends of the Cross of Christ; people who have found that the only shelter that can really shield and protect us is the love of God is Jesus Christ.

So, who in your life has shown you how to take shelter in Jesus?

And who might you invite to imitate you in learning to take shelter in Jesus?

Because God gathers us in community, where we find ourselves nestled together under the same wing of our mother hen, Jesus, who protects us from the foxes of the world.

Just as the mother hen stretches out her arms and gathers her chicks, so Jesus stretches out his arms on the cross gathering us and sheltering and shielding us in God’s mercy.

As a chick looks up her mother, so we are invited to look upon the cross and see God truly loves us.

If this all sounds like a children’s story – with the fox, the hen, and the chicks – maybe that’s because it is.

In Jesus Christ, God has made us his children and welcomes us into his remarkable story.

We are God’s children no matter what country or continent we’re from: Norwegians, Germans, Africans, Europeans, Asians, North and South Americans. We are his children whether we’re introverts or extroverts and no matter our personality type. We are his children whether we’re old as Abraham or young as baby Isaac crying in his wrinkled arms.

Amazingly, we are his children, EVEN whether we feel that we are close to or far from God.

God grace and mercy overshadow how we feel about him, mistakes we may have made, or how much good we may do.

God gives us salvation because of his goodness and mercy, which we see most clearly in Jesus Christ and his cross.

Sisters and brothers, look up to God in the highest heaven. Look up to the LORD. Take heart and look to one who shelters us with mercy.

[Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Phillipians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35]

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Make Creation Great Again

God’s creation is majestic…the rivers and seas, the summer tomato and the winter squash, the geese heading south in formation; the camel, the lion, the horse, the turkey and all of God’s creeping, crawling, creatures are fascinatingly unique…but only we humans are made in the image and likeness of God. In all of creation, only humankind can say that.

Of course, we’re the only ones who can say anything…complex language is only one of the benefits of being human! But only when God finished making humankind, did God say, this is VERY GOOD.

Our story BEGINS with salvation. Salvation means: wholeness, health, rightness and goodness. The world began as a PARADISE…and our lives began in GRACE…Consider God’s grace in this: You and I did not ask to be born. And we don’t remember the day we began to notice we were here.

Our awareness of the world around us, ourselves, and others unfolds gradually, and one day we realize that by God’s grace our hearts are beating, and the days keep coming, without us doing anything in the world about it, and that everything is a gift that points to God’s goodness. No matter who you are or where you come from everyone will eventually realize this.

Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, or Agnostic, everyone must ask:
“If I came from my parents and they came from their parents, and they came from theirs, like dominoes back and back into the darkness of the past beyond what we can see… where did it all begin and where do we all come from?”

And then, no matter who you are: as we grow to TRUE adulthood we must ask: Who am I as differentiated from my parents? Where do I belong in the world? Where do I fit? What do I believe and how will I live?

Our Creation Story not only tells us where we come from…it also tells us who we are.

We can learn a few things about ourselves from knowing that we are made in God’s image.

*We are made to be creative*

In the Creation Story we hear, “So God created humankind in his image.”

And so we know: we are made to be creative too.
Some may be painters, engineers, or musicians; financial managers, factory workers, mechanics, or teachers. We don’t have to be “artists” to be creative. We all create things and put the things we create out into the world.

In chapel, just a couple weeks ago we were talking miracles and I went outside and got a handful of snow and took it to each child. I let each one of them feel the cold, wet powder and pointed out that snow is a miracle of God – he designs water so that it can turn to ice and falls from the sky. And how each one of us a miracle – the way we can see, touch, taste, think and love, and how our bodies work and are a testament to the creativity of God.

Often when I speak to children I’m concerned what the experts say. They say not to speak over childrens’ heads; keep you language concrete. It’s not until later in life that we can understand metaphors, similes, and other more complex comparisons.
To make sure they understood, I was trying to keep my message as concrete as possible, so I said: “Each one of you are a special creation of God.”

A five-year old spoke up and said, “When we color a picture, we make something up. It’s like we are God’s drawing…He imagines us, colors us, and we exist!”

So much for what the experts!

I’m still grasping at that!

And we get to imagine and color and create in the world as well. Every human, because we are made in the image of God, is made to create….things that are good. So we ask ourselves: are we creating things that are good? Are we creating things that bring joy? Are we creating things that make lives richer, healthier, and better? That’s what we are designed to do.

*We are made to be caretakers*

In Genesis, we hear: God said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Francis of Assisi prayed: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs”.

Pope Francis cited these words and added to them: This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

We cannot look around at the world and believe God made it with loving-kindness and also be okay with seeing it destroyed. God calls us to preserve, protect, and value the rivers and seas, the summer tomato and the winter squash, the geese heading south in formation; and all God’s creatures thrive and give glory to God.

*We are made for relationship*

In the Creation Story, we hear God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”

Did you hear that!?

Hold the phones!

From the Hebrew Scriptures that, if they say ANYTHING, emphasis that God is ONE.

And God says, “let US make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness.”

God is a community. God is a friendship. God is a family. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And so God creates male and female for one another, as partners, and for friendship.

So this American ideal of the self-made man and woman who can do it on their own and don’t need help is a fantasy. You know the people who have made you who you are. Parents, grandparents, or family members raised you, and also teachers, doctors, confirmation mentors, friends, siblings, pastors, scout leaders, coaches, and more.

And this is BY GOD’S DESIGN. We are designed and meant to live in community, because we are made in the image of God who is community.

When Jesus calls his disciples to follow he calls them not as individuals, but he calls them into this group, this new family. In the same way, we are called into community.

We hear the story of creation and we see: to be made In God’s Image means:

*We are made for FREEDOM*

God is free to create as God desires, from the smallest parts of each cell to the solar systems and galaxies, God’s imagination is let loose…God is free to imagine what God will.

And God gives us freedom with our life…We can choose to love him or ignore him; we can care for creation and our neighbor or destroy and kill them…

God has given us freedom –that’s why things are broken here. It is not God’s desires but OURS that have filled our oceans with garbage, wipe out entire species, ignored families who are starving in a world where there is too much food, where families are torn apart by the misery of war, and people we love hurt, and get sick, and die….

Unfortunately, these things are our creation…

God promises in Jesus Christ all will be made well… His death became resurrection…and this dying world will live again too.

But, how do we trust that God – even God – could bring salvation to this colossal mess?

Because he CREATED the world – in wholeness, goodness, and rightness and the one who created the world and saw this it was good, will see that it is good again.

And in Jesus Christ we remember who we are.

We belong to God.

We bear the image and likeness of our saving, redeeming, healing God.

So let God’s image be seen through you. Let God’s light illuminate you for the world to see.

(Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a)