WELCOME to this post for Digby Baptist’s worship service of Almighty God. On the website here you can also find the whole plan for the service in the Bulletin, along with plenty of opportunities for prayer and ministry. Video segments from worship are included in the post each week on Sunday afternoon.
Sermon: Awe Someplace (Gen 27:1-4, 15-23; 28:10-17; John 1:43-51)
When does God ‘show up?’
Where does God ‘show up’ in our lives?
How has God ‘shown up’ for you?
The story of Jacob’s ladder can speak to our minds and imaginations about those awesome, special experiences of God that we have.
Twenty-five years ago I graduated from Acadia Divinity College in the spring, and in the summer began my ministry in Parrsboro, NS. My first sermon, on July 21st, was from this Genesis 28 text. I named that sermon, ‘How Awesome Is This Place,’ when I preached it at Parrsboro in the morning and Diligent River that evening.
For today, I was going to call this, simply, ‘Awesome Place,’ but changed the title to, ‘Awe Someplace.’ A moment of awe, of holiness, a ‘God moment,’ can happen anywhere, anyplace, often someplace we don’t expect.
To review the story that Ardith read, I think I can do no better than my twenty-five year old self, in that inaugural sermon. We heard a familiar story–that of Jacob and the stairway to Heaven. After his dream, Jacob said, “How awesome is this place!”
At this point in the story Jacob is fleeing, at least he is wandering. He had just tricked his older brother, Easu, and his father into giving him, Jacob, the birthright – the rights, privileges and property that the oldest son always got in their ancient society.
So here he is, a little bit lost, a little bit hungry, a little bit guilty, and he rests for the day. He lays down with his head on a rock. He should have expected a nightmare if anything, after what he’d been up to, and with a rock for a pillow. But the vision he has is not a bad dream.
Steps lead upwards, messengers of a heavenly court parade up and down, from earth to heaven and heaven to heart. This is Amazing! God is here!
How does God show up now? Where does the profound experience happen? As with Jacob that day, it is often in the midst of a crisis.
Let me go back in time again and tell you a little story. It was twenty years ago, right now, that I was going through a series of interviews in Windsor with the pulpit committee of the Baptist Church there. Each meeting was at the home of Millie and Eric. Eric was the chairperson of the committee, looking for their new lead pastor.
I went to Windsor, and in my twelve years there I got to know Eric and Millie very well. What wonderful people! Eric had been an insurance man, Millie a nurse. They were both delightful. Eric had this way of talking and telling stories & joking that, sort of, well, he started sentences but didn’t end them… you figured out what the ending was.
Anyway: very loving and devoted people, very active in the Baptist Church. Millie had grown up in Kentville Baptist, Eric in a United Church outside Windsor. How did they really end up at Windsor Baptist Church, I wondered. How did they really know God? They told me.
They told me the story of one of their three sons, Michael. They told me of his life, his marriage and young family, just begun. They told me of his illness. They told me of the time they spent with him in hospital.
I’m not telling you details – it’s not for me to tell – but they told me of this moment, when the end was near for their son, and the pastor of the Baptist Church came in. They told me of how close and real God was at that moment, and when Michael died, in 1988.
Some people lose a beloved one and feel God has rejected them, failed, maybe ain’t there. Other people profoundly meet God in that hard season.
You know these experiences. You have your own stories. You tell them. Things got very real and beautiful last Monday, at the Study Group, didn’t they? Our homework had been to write a letter to the Lord about meeting God in our lives. You shared your letters, your experiences. And sometimes, it was at the hardest moments of life that GOD WAS THERE. Someplace difficult, painful, challenging, you had a moment of AWE.
Or, it was in retrospect, looking back, that you saw the Presence of the Holy, Loving God. Hindsight is 20/20, we say.
So, when fugitive Jacob dreams of the stairway connecting the heavens and the earth, it was just at a crisis point, when he had earned no such privilege, nor asked for a sacred vision. And he responds with faith, with confidence. He actually makes a vow – this is in the verses after what Ardith read – Jacob declares:
- the LORD shall be by God,
- this stone set up as a pilar shall be God’s house,
- I will give one tenth of what I receive back to You.
So, it becomes a matter for Jacob of personal faith, a matter of public worship, a matter of generosity and giving. He responded abundantly.
I saw this happen years ago – back in Parrsboro – with some people. So, one Hallowe’en, a friend and I got all dressed up in these scary outfits and went around visiting a few other folks, mostly from the church. At one home we stopped in at, their neighbours happened to be there: a young couple who lived across the road. They were quiet; we didn’t get well acquainted.
Six months later, the local funeral home called upon me to conduct the service for a man I’d never met. This deceased fellow was the father of the young man I’d met at Hallowe’en. Somehow, a connection was made with the son and his wife. They started coming to the church: every single Sunday. She was a Christian, and he became one. We celebrated their baptisms, they helped with many projects, they responded abundantly. They even fed me lunch on many a Sunday, after service.
Some of you have likely responded to special moments of the grace of God. You took new steps, you made new habits, you followed some new path.
Amazingly, it can be when people are in trouble that the Spirit shows up and something profound happens. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” exclaimed Jacob, “and I did not know it!”
We must remember that the ‘big’ meetings with God can be in locations one does not expect, or in circumstances that do not seem holy at all. Sometimes ‘in Church’ the miracles happen, but not usually here. More often it will be in all the other places. Out in nature; travelling; at a moment of illness or injury; at work; listening to ‘non religious’ music; reading something; having a random chat with someone.
So we learn to respect the spiritual experience of other people. And we need to show the younger generations that we respect what and how God will reach and touch them. It is also so important we respect the difficult times others have, especially when some say ‘it’s their own fault.’ Jacob was on the run from the trouble he’d caused when he got blessed. He was still going to be the carrier of a blessing for the world.
Awe, an awesome meeting up with the Holy One, will happen someplace or other. Any place. We are here today, probably not because this is a more awesome place, but we are here because of the awe we experienced someplace else. We bring that moment, that memory, that power to this shared worship of the One who blesses us all.
Now let me end with that Gospel scene of Jesus calling some of His first chosen disciples: Philip and Nathanael. They are a bit awestruck by this new, traveling prophet. What does Christ end us saying to Nathanael?
You will see greater things than these.
Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. (Jn 1:50-51)
You will see greater things. And they do.
I think, when I hear this, of something John later tells us Jesus said. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. (Jn 14:12)
Jesus has, as He put it, gone to be with His Father. From those Two we have the Holy Spirit, present now. Can we do greater things than were done in the past? Will we see greater things? I am still a believer in these. I am still looking, watching, and seeking these things.
There is awe, someplace.
Rejoice in it! Rejoice in our awesome God.
In a time of crisis, we see Christ.
In what kind of crisis have you met God?
PRAYER after the Sermon Let us pray. Mind at large, we bow in awe of Your presence, revealed in creation. We join with others in praising You.
Heart of our own hearts, we remember those deeply moving times when we knew You, and You moved us. Holy are You.
Spirit of life, we pray to be guided, we walk to be faithful, we give to make a difference in the world. Empower Your people.
In the name – the power and authority – of Jesus. AMEN.