Sermon Date: 
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bill Versteeg
Scripture: 

Purpose: To remind believers of the intimate loving care of God in their lives and to challenge listeners to the value and importance of Christian Education.

Sermon prepared by Rev. Bill Versteeg, Langley, BC, Canada
More sermons by Rev. Versteeg can be found in print and audio format at http://www.langleyimmanuelcrc.org/audiosermons.asp

Sermon
Isaiah 49:13-18 NIV

Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Your sons hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you.

Lift up your eyes and look around; all your sons gather and come to you. As surely as I live," declares the LORD, "you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride. (NIV)

Children's Message:
The following children’s message may be used by the reader. Any further reference to the children’s message within the sermon will be highlighted in a text box.

“How do you remember things? What helps you to remember them? Get children to list ways of remembering things.” (Examples: making notes, writing it on hands, having their parents “remind” them, ribbon around the finger...)

(A bag of peppermints and a small bright ribbon are required for this children’s message. If the congregation is small, you may choose to get a supply of peppermints big enough for the entire congregation.)

“Today I promise that I will give to you a peppermint after today’s sermon. To help me remember, I will put a ribbon around my finger.” (Have an older child help you tie a small bright ribbon around your finger.) “As I am preaching, every time I notice the ribbon on my finger while leading the service, I will say ‘Peppermints’ just to help myself remember the promise I am making to you. We will see how effective this ribbon on my finger, a part of my hand is in helping me remember my promise.” (As the sermon progresses, judiciously spice the sermon with the word "peppermints" every time you notice the ribbon on your fingers.)

Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Thanks to the Hubble space telescope, we can look further out into the universe than we ever have before, and in the process we are starting to discover how big infinity really is. For example:

With the Hubble space telescope we can now see objects in outer space that are so distant and so dim that their luminescent power is ½ of 1/1,000,000,000 the brightness of the dimmest star that we can see in a very dark night with the naked eye. (2 billion times fainter than the unaided eye can see from earth).

With the Hubble Space Telescope, as we are looking out into the sky, we not only see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and the rest of the planets that we learned in school, we are discovering in our own solar system the Kuyper ring near Neptune, a string of asteroids some of which are almost large enough to qualify for planet. We are seeing asteroid impacts on Jupiter and volcanic eruptions on its moons.

But as the Hubble looked into the darkest regions of space over a period of 10 days, looking into the distance we discover not only more stars, no, we are discovering galaxies, not a few, millions even billions of galaxies, each made of millions or billions, or even millions of billions of stars. We see evidence of not just stars colliding, now galaxies colliding in cosmic cataclysmic events not fathomable to our puny human minds. And these galaxies are not just a few light years away, their light has taken between 13 and 16 billion years to get to us. If we remember that 1 light year is approximately 10 trillion kilometers, we are seeing billions of galaxies 160 septillion kilometers away (160,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers away). If you really want to know how big that number is, I encourage you to start counting after this morning's service. If you count an average of 1 number per second (when you get into higher numbers they get slower), an average person counting 10 hours a day would take about a quadrillion years (1,000,000,000,000,000 years) to count that high.

Astronomy is a limitless incredibly interesting field of discovery. Like never before, we are discovering our smallness, our limitedness. If today your faith is in Christ, God’s Son, you can sense with me that we are discovering the infinite majesty and power of God Almighty. As the Psalmist wrote...

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.Psalm 19:1-4 NIV

If the skies of the Hubble space telescope proclaim the works of God's hands, then God must be pretty busy. Yet what they proclaim is small in comparison to what is going on right here on earth, in the area of biology. Many of us have learned in school about the intricacies of ecosystems, about species, families, classes and all those other incredible diversity within the studies of biology. And maybe you have learned of the wonderful ways that different parts of the human body work together and contribute to the whole body: from skin, to muscles, to liver, kidneys, heart and brain. But that is simple. As the electron microscope and other tools have enabled us to look at the cells and then the molecules of life, we have discovered another universe of smallness. Our bodies contain trillions of cells, each working together to make the whole. And in each of these cells, in tightly spiraled DNA strings containing a simple chemical protein code, there are billions of instructions complete with the syntax of language, commas and periods. It seems as one molecular biologist from the University of Alberta has said, “each cell in our body is pouring forth a divine speech.”

With advances in looking ever smaller, we are seeing inside the cells of living organisms different structures that metabolize food and generate the thousands of different proteins and amino acids necessary to life. Each one of these proteins developed in processes so complicated and machinery so intricate that with our intelligence we cannot come near duplicating them. When we get to the level of molecular biology the machinery of life stuns us. For example, the little twirling tail of an e-coli bacteria which enables it to get from one place to another, essential for its survival, is no simple structure. This tail at its base has a molecular motor, including an armature, a stator, and bearings. The tiniest molecular machines intricately designed are the building blocks behind all of life in its infinite complexity! If we accept Paul's argument that “in God we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28) then God must be incredibly busy on the molecular level too.

When I reflect on just a few of these themes that science is teaching us, these things that are educational in their very nature, they push me to wonder, to awe, to swooning at the wonder of it all. These, just two areas of many, many different areas of study push me to a sense of worship because, in response, I can do nothing else.

It especially makes me wonder about God. If God is behind this, not only designing it, creating it, but also sustaining it, then God is a very, very busy God. I wonder sometimes; if God has all this to take care of, why should he ever focus on me? One wonderful elderly women whose life was hanging by a string it seemed said to her pastor: "With all the problems in the world, the millions of sick people, the famines and wars and disasters going on, sinners to judge and the suffering to comfort, not to mention his intense interest in spreading the gospel, I'm not sure God has time for me any more."

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me." (Isaiah 49:15,16)

It may be by this point that you have mentioned the word “Peppermints” distractingly often. It will be helpful to stop the interjections and says something like:

“Well, by now, you may have noticed that this little ribbon on my finger is a very effective remembering tool. As busy as I get preaching, the ribbon is in the very presence of my busy-ness. I have noticed it repeatedly. (You may choose to distribute peppermints at this point. If you choose to distribute peppermints at this point, read the text—Isaiah 49:15,16—a second time to bring the congregation back to the main thought of the sermon before continuing.)

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me." (Isaiah 49:15,16)

When Isaiah wrote these words to Israel, they were suffering in exile in Babylon. Many were wondering if God had forgotten them. This passage for exiled Israel and for us who may be adrift in our twenty first century knowledge explosion is deep and truly wonderful. We discover this in verse 16. The Lord says to us: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”The word there, translated "engraved" is literally “to cut.” Literally speaking, God has cut us into his hands. Why would somebody cut their hands to remember something? Scriptural references, even historical and cultural references that combine cutting the hand with remembering are hard to find. Why would somebody who loves another person cut their hands in remembrance? Only one theme does come to mind. Hands are one of our most important tools for expressing love. We place our hand on the shoulder of a grieving friend to show our care. We hold hands to quietly show our affection for another person. With our hands which have some of the most sensitive skin on our entire body, which have such delicate control that ¼ of our brain surface area is dedicated to our hands, we demonstrate our love for others.

We use our hands to touch our loved ones tenderly. We shake our hands to give a warm greeting. It is with our hands, the work of our hands that we so often give to others. And where there is intense love, there is a desire to give and give and give, even if giving hurts.

A man was working on a home project, attaching a wooden deck to his home so that he could entertain company outside. In the process of handling a pressure treated two by six plank (2 inches by 6 inches) his hand slid and a large green treated sliver carved its way into the palm of his hand. He carefully pulled out the long sliver, stopped the bleeding, bandaged it, and went back to work thinking that he would quickly forget about it. But he discovered something! The harder he worked with his hands, each time he grabbed a tool, each time he picked up another board, the wound in his hand painfully reminded him of that treated two by six. Every small amount of pressure smarted. The cut was in the exact place that would ensure that the busier he got, the more he would remember. Listen again… to God...

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

God has cut us into his hands, so that no matter how busy he is in the infinite macroscopic universe, he cannot forget us. God has cut us into his hands so that even as he works on the atomic details of those microscopic molecular machines which display the work of his hands, he cannot forget us. Because we are the ones cut into those hands, the busier God gets, the more he remembers us.

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

Now there is one more word that we have not focused on as we have talked about this text. That is the first word: "SEE." That first word has profound significance because it is repeated for us in the gospels in a similar context. Maybe you are already making the connection.

Scriptures picture creation as God toying with his infinite power and knowledge. Scriptures picture redemption, the death of Christ on the cross, as God "going all out" in desperately hard work, giving his all for the ones he loves. Again and again, throughout the year, we remember that he died on the cross, that he arose again, and then he appeared to his disciples. In both Luke and John, when Jesus first appeared to his disciples, do you remember what he said? He said “Take a look! ‘See my hands.’”

To Thomas he said, "Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe!” (John 20:27)

From this passage in Isaiah, he is giving us the same invitation.

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; I cannot forget you”... stop doubting and believe!

In his hardest work, he was remembering us! No matter what God is up to today, be assured, if he is busy, he is remembering us.

Let me conclude with a comment on Christian education because at the heart of my sermon is the heart of Christian education. Good education pushes us to worship because God's handiwork, which we study in education in its myriad forms, is a study of the myriad of ways in which he expresses his intimate love and care to us. Without the amazing systems of the anthropic universe that are interwoven into our solar system, life could not exist. Without the amazing designed complexity of the molecular machines and factories that are encoded into our DNA strings, life could not exist. Without these, life would not be possible, let alone all those other aspects that we call life, feelings, reason, history, language, relationships, economics, beauty, justice, morality and faith. All this is possible because all of reality is a divine expression of God's majestic power and glory (Romans 1:20). Unique to Christian education is the theme that all of this was not only lovingly created by him, it is lovingly sustained by God and it is for his glory. The boundary between good education and worship is diffuse for good education leads to the wonder of worship and worship leads us to a desire to discover still more of God's handiwork for by its very nature faith seeks understanding.

So the church leads worship and in the process teaches. And schools teach but in the process they lead us to worship. Education has everything to do with the religious presuppositions upon which a worldview is founded. So today, let me conclude with just two questions:

When your children go to church on Sunday to worship, do you know who is teaching them? I believe that does matter to you.

When your children go to school on Monday to Friday to learn, do you know how they are being led to worship? I believe that matters to you... maybe a lot more than you think.

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

Prayer
Gracious Father, thank you for giving us your Son so that we could understand clearly the depth and length and width and height of your love for us. Jesus, thank you for showing us your hands, cut, wounded, crucified, so we can SEE and know that you have never and will never forget us.

Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, thank you for your handiwork that reminds us every day of your intimate care and love for every creature, for all of creation, and especially for us, your children. And thank you for the opportunities we have to train our children in directions that lead to worshiping the one true God. Truly you are worth of all honor and glory and power forever and ever. Amen.

Recommended sites for visuals to use with Powerpoint
http://hubblesite.org/gallery/

http://cosmos.phy.tufts.edu/~zirbel/laboratories/galaxyimages/HubbleDeepField.jpg

http://2008.igem.org/wiki/images/f/f1/NYMU_Flagellum.png (for use in describing the tail of an e coli bacteria – see also http://www.newscientist.com/blog/shortsharpscience/uploaded_images/clutch-746675.jpg)

Order of Worship

GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP

  • Welcome and Announcements
  • Mutual Greeting
  • Call to Worship: Psalm 19:1-4, 14 (could be done as a responsive reading)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.?
4 Their voice?? goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world..

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

  • Opening Song “How Great Thou Art” #483,
  • God’s Greeting: “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
  • Song of Praise: “God, You Call us to this Place” (Sing a New Creation #14)
    “Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet” (Psalter Hymnal #569)

SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION

  • Prayer of Confession
    Merciful and holy God, we come to you with our brokenness and the brokenness of this world, caused by our sins.

    Heavenly Father, our loyalties were divided this past week. We have served, trusted and worshiped false gods, like ourselves, mammon, and the god of consumerism in the temple called the shopping mall. We have loved to praise our own glory rather than yours.

    We confess that we have tried to be wiser than you. We have tried to make as much money as we can and spend all of it on improving our standard of living. We confess that we have not worshiped you in Spirit and in Truth.

    We don’t worry too much about swearing, because it’s just a habit, either our own or someone else’s. Swearing makes us look tough and important. We confess that we lack reverence and awe for your holy name O Triune God. We have listened to others use your name in vane without grieving. We have prayed religious prayers to impress others.

    Lord of the Sabbath, you created a six-day work and one-day rest rhythm. Yet for us Sunday has become just another day in which we do whatever we want to, including our neglect to worship you with your people faithfully. Teach us to rest from our evil ways, and through you, Holy Spirit, to begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath.

    Lord, we confess that we don’t pay much attention to our parents. If we’re honest we must confess that we sometimes think they’re old-fashioned and they spoil our fun. But we also think we can cheat the police authorities who you have placed over us as long as we don’t get caught, by road rage, speeding, by driving when we have had too much to drink, and by our disrespectful comments towards them. Teach us to be patient with each other’s failings, both as parents and children, citizens and government representatives. For you are endlessly slow to anger, and patient and compassionate towards us.

    Lord, we confess we haven’t physically murdered anyone perhaps. But we have failed the silent children that have been rejected and aborted, the little ones who have never seen the light. We have murdered in our hearts. We acknowledge that we think we are entitled to hate people who are nasty or who in any way make life unpleasant for us. Or at least we can insult them in thoughts, words, looks or gestures. We have uttered words and done deeds that encourage discord, bullied the classmates on the school ground, perpetuate racist assumptions and sexist stereotypes— in short, for everything that contributes to oppression. Spirit, convict us to hate the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger and revenge and show us instead to embrace loving patience, peace, gentleness, mercy and goodness towards our neighbors.

    Lord, we have committed adultery with our eyes. And when our marriages gets dull, we sometimes dare to imagine it’s OK to have an affair or two. We’re only human, so we argue. But we’re sinful humans Lord, who secretly cheat on the Internet, in our books, thoughts, jokes, magazines or movies. Holy Spirit, make our hearts clean and holy as our bodies are Your temple.

    Lord, we have stolen what is not ours and coveted what belongs to others. We forget to declare parts of our income or overstate our tax deductions. For we think that we are entitled to take what doesn’t belong to the government, all the while making sure we don’t get caught, because then we may have to face the music. Yet Lord you know our hearts and our thoughts. You know our greed, our complaining and our squandering of your gifts. Show us how to share with those in need and to treat others like we would like to be treated.

    We have lied to you and to others. We confess that we have twisted each other’s words, read in between the lines with colored glasses on. We also admit that we don’t want to miss out on any gossip about people. We confess Lord that when we put other people down we feel better about ourselves. Lord, even in this very confession, we look for ways to hide or excuse our guilt. Instead Lord, teach us to think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.

    Father God, we are ashamed to lift up our faces before you, for our iniquities have gone over our heads. If you, O Lord, should mark our transgressions, O Lord, who could stand? How shall we answer you? We lay our hands on our mouths. We have no answer to your righteous wrath and judgment. Lord, you are our shepherd. With your rod and your staff, correct us and rescue us from our sins. Forgive us, revive us and reshape us in your image. Help us to make room in our hearts and lives for you and our neighbor.

  • Declaration of God’s Grace for Sinners:

    People of God, because of Christ we declare to you these words of grace from Col.2: 13-14!

    “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

    As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us. Brothers and Sisters, we bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord!

  • Song of Celebration: “At the Name of Jesus” (PH 467)
  • (Alt. Song “The Lord is Gracious and Compassionate”)
  • Morning Prayer
  • Offering

GOD SHAPES US THROUGH HIS WORD

  • Prayer for Illumination
  • Scripture Reading: Isaiah 49:13-18
  • Sermon: “Engraved in the Palm of His Hand”

WE RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD

  • Prayer of Application:
  • Song of Response: “And Can It Be” #267

GOD SENDS US OUT INTO HIS WORLD

  • God’s Parting Blessing: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. May He turn His face towards us and grant us His peace. Amen.”
  • Our Parting Praise: “Beautiful Savior” Psalter Hymnal # 461
  • Postlude