Cut To The Heart
Cut To The Heart.
GENESIS 15: 1-20
I know what you might be thinking.
Perhaps you are thinking;
“Uh oh. It’s Pastor Will’s stewardship sermon.
And he is talking about chopping animals in half.
And pots of fire.
And ravens eating carcasses.
If Pastor starts sacrificing animals on the communion table we are out of here. That’s not what we signed up for Pastor Will. Where is the sermon where you say God commands us to give 10% of our income to the church, before taxes, even though I am struggling to get by? Where is the sermon where you quote Paul who says, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6) to remind me how uncheerful I am when I give to the church which makes me feel guilty which is the exact opposite of being cheerful. Where is the sermon where you say that if I pour my time, treasure, and talent into the church God will bless me by giving me the perfect job, the perfect spouse, and the perfect family? I could go for some unrealistic promises of money and worldly success beamed down from heaven or even some good old fashion passive aggressive guilt tripping me into giving, but a sermon about cutting a bunch of animals in half and walking between them? Well Pastor Will that just won’t cut it.”
I hear your concerns. But it is going to be okay. We are going to get through this sermon together. Because God is faithful. He is faithful in our lives. He is faithful in our church. God has a plan and our lives can be part of God’s plan. Even though we are faithless God is faithful still for he can’t deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13). God is a covenant cutting God. He has cut a covenant with us, shedding the blood of His Son. The only question is how shall we respond?
Covenant is a biblical word for a legal agreement. The word itself means to cut. And often such agreements would be etched in stone or sealed with the shedding of an animal sacrifice to symbolize the seriousness of the agreement. But this isn’t like a legal agreement between equal business partners. Nor is it like a loan you might sign for your house or your car. The best business agreements are between equal partners. With a loan from a bank the agreement is less equal. You need money to make a purchase for an item like a car or a house, that is beyond your means to save for in a reasonable period of time. You pay back the loan with interest. So eventually the property will be yours but the bank will make far more money on the loan than the money they give to you. And if you don’t make your payments the bank can reposes your house or your car. It is not an equal agreement but at least there is the hope that you, the one who is paying back the loan, will get something out of it.
Neither of these modern legal agreements describe the idea of a covenant. A Covenant was usually made by a more powerful ruler on a country or territory he invaded. The conquered had little choice but to accept the agreement. The King was all powerful and the signing country was basically a puppet state. You would be forced to provide a certain amount of your crops, or your men for battle, or your women to be sold into sexual servitude, or else the King would burn your village nation to the ground. It would be like the mafia making a “protection” agreement with a local business. You pay a group of guys to protect you from that very same group burning your business down. It is functionally extortion. It would be like how the United States forced unconditional surrender by dropping two nuclear bombs on Japan at the end of World War II. The Emperor signed on to the terms of the agreement. But Japan had been decimated and humiliated. They faced nuclear annihilation. They didn’t have much of a choice. Now Japan is one of our closest allies but that relationship began by totally breaking the will of the Japanese people. When ancient readers read the word covenant they would have images of conquest and unconditional surrender in mind. It would inspire fear and terror in them. Not hope, faith, and love.
So imagine being an ancient reader reading this story for the first time. Imagine your surprise when the creator of the Universe, the Almighty and Sovereign God, the King above all Kings, basically comes down to Abram’s level, and makes a reverse covenant. He is seeking our hearts. He is the hound of heaven and he will not settle for anything else but our unconditional surrender. For there can be no God’s above Him. But he wages His war with promises. He wages His war with Love. He wages His war with tender mercies and chords of loving kindness that draw us into His Grace. Instead of Abram, the helpless party, making promises to God, God comes down and makes promises to Abram.
God has already promised Abram that he would be the father of many nations. But the promise seems delayed. Sarai is old and she has no children. Abram fears that one of his slaves will become his heir. The text suggests, that God takes the form of a person. Then he takes Abram from the inside of his tent, where he is worrying, outside, to see the wide open night sky. He shows Abram the stars, each placed in the sky by the LORD’s hand, and promises Abram that so numerous shall his descendent be. He would even change Abram’s name to Abraham. From Exalted Father to the Father of many nations. The text doesn’t say that Abram said a word. What would you say if you were on a camping trip and the LORD called you out of your tent and gave you a speech under the stars? It is as if his doubts are silenced to a stillness, the assurance of faith. It was as if Abram sensed the vastness of God’s creation, God’s plans, he saw that it wasn’t about him, it wasn’t about his particular talents, it wasn’t about his courage, accomplishments, planning, how hard he prayed, or how much theology he knew or didn’t know. He was a speck. Like one of the stars in the night. But he knew God was greater. Greater than the stars. Greater than his doubts. Greater than his fears. And he could say nothing. But in his heart he believed. Not just in a creed. He trusted. He trusted in the living God who had called him from His home to a land and a future that he did not know. And the LORD counted Abram’s faith as righteousness. His faith was the offering. The living sacrifice. His courage was not in himself but in the God that was with him.
God made another promise to Abram. That he would poses the land. But Abram had no army, no power of his own. So God had Abram cut the animals in two. And a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between the carcasses. At first reading one might think it is Abram carrying the pot. But the word “Behold” is often used for things the LORD does in scripture. The text implies that it is the LORD himself carrying the pot. It is the LORD himself carrying to torch. The pot is a baking instrument. Hot coals would be placed in the pot and the dough molded on the outside to be baked into bread.
In covenant ceremonies of that day often animals would be slaughtered and the one who agreed to the covenant would walk in between the two pieces and swear to uphold the covenant. The implication being that if they did not uphold the covenant they would curse themselves to be like the slaughtered animals they walked through. God was the one walking through the sacrifices. And he was saying to Abram, “I rather die than abandon my covenant with you.” God was willing to do whatever it took to keep His promises. He was willing to embrace extreme measures to see His promises fulfilled. Over and over God was patient with his people. He delivered them from Egypt and gave them the law for their good. They abandoned Him and worshiped Golden idols. He gave them a King because they wanted to be like the other nations. And Israel’s kings fell away. He sent prophets to call His people back to him and they persecuted and killed his prophets. Finally, the prophet Jeremiah said that a new covenant was coming. One not written on stone tablets but on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). For he has loved us with an undying love and he shall rebuild that which has been broken (Jeremiah 31:3). The LORD said to Abraham that faithful night that he would be willing to die to fulfill his promises and he was faithful to His word. . He prepared bread for a meal but no meal was had. Thousands of years later Jesus had a meal. And Jesus made a sacrifice.
On the night that he was betrayed Jesus took the bread and said, take eat, this is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. After the super he took the cup and said, “This is cup of the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink of it in remembrance of me.( 1 Corinthians 11). He sent his Son to the cross to die and rise again for in Jesus all of God’s promises are a yes (2 Corinthians 1:20). Even when we mess up God is faithful. In that way God is much like Chicago cubs fans.
When I was Indiana I was about two hours from Chicago and I had several Cubs fans in my congregation. And since 1908 they had faced disappointment after disappointed from their team. But Cubs fans had made a covenant with their team. They were willing to wait. They were willing to shed their blood, sweat, and tears. I hope there were no animal sacrifices involved but I don’t really follow baseball so I will have to take Cubs fans word that no sheep were harmed in support of their team. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Vivian Baron knows the meaning of this Proverb. A few months after she was born the Cubs won the World Series in 1908. 108 years later her longing was fulfilled when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. I would also like to note that Back To the Future Part II, a time travel film ,where the hero Marty Mcfly travels from the year 1989 to the year 2015, predicted that the Cubs would win the World Series in 2015. The movie was off by one year. Not bad if you think about it. I am still waiting for flying cars, fusion energy, and hover boards. But Nike did come out with shoes with self tying laces. They only cost $720. Perhaps not the best investment if you are concerned about stewardship. Would depend how much you used those shoes to spread the good news of the Gospel. That would be a whole lot of evangelizing. A whole lot of inviting people to church. If you get 720 people to come to Calvin I will buy you a pair of self tying shoes. God is faithful to his promises and so am I.
In all seriousness, the point is that God is faithful. God is a Cubs fan and we are the Cubs. God is a momma bear and you don’t mess with a momma bear’s cubs. It is hard to see what He sees in us but because she believes in us we can surprise the world, we can overcome the world. God shows His love for us that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We love because God first loved us and sent his only begotten Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:19). And unlike Cubs fans we are not disappointed because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5). Our God is generous. And he calls us to respond with generosity. The only question is how are we to respond to such a generous God?
During this Stewardship season I have four suggestions for how you can respond to God’s Grace. The last is the most important.
First, consider giving first when you make your budget . As I said in my stewardship letter God loves a cheerful giver and not a rule bound giver. We are to give to God the first fruits of our harvest not what is left over. If that is a small amount that is okay. Money is not the most important thing. Making your giving to support the ministry of the Gospel first is.
Second, consider inviting your friends to church. Consider inviting your neighbors to church. Consider inviting strangers to church. If you live in a nursing home consider inviting your nursing staff to church. Jesus tells us that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. So pray to send out workers into the harvest (Matthew 9:37). The cheapest and most valuable form of advertising is Word of Mouth. You could have not an extra dime to give but your invitation to a friend could make all the difference in the world. If you don’t necessarily like my preaching that is okay. People come and stay at churches for all sorts of reason. Don’t do it for me. Do it because you love this church and you want ministry here to continue long after I am dead and gone. Often Shirley prayers for the LORD to raise up a great evangelist for our nation. But we cannot wait. We are the evangelists we have been waiting for. We don’t have to be elegant. We don’t have to have it all figured out. We just have to love God and love our church enough to share our love with others.
Third, consider becoming a member of our church and getting involved in leadership in our church. Consider talking with me about your gifts and let us work out how you can best serve this local congregation. We will have a membership class in the coming year. You may not think of yourself as a good leader, but neither did Abraham. Perhaps you look at all the possibilities like stars in your life and you know not where to go. Maybe you feel like a speck in the night. So did Abraham. Take a leap of faith, step beyond your comfort zone, as Abraham did. God can use us in our weakness. For his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians).
Finally, let the Lord cut you to the heart. Allow God to write His love and His Law on your hearts. Where have our hearts been made hard in our hearts ? Where have we resented the hand of the Lord in our lives? We must repent.
As Peter said to his people at Pentecost when the promised Spirit poured out on His people. The Spirit that they had been waiting for thousands of years. And he said Jesus he went about doing good and healing everyone who was oppressed by the Devil. And we crucified Him. Each one of us. For we were not interested in what he had to say. And that crowd of thousands they were cut to the heart. And they asked what must we do? And Peter said not with judgment and wrath but with such love for his Lord taught him to be a good shepherd. He said repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, the promise, for the promise is for you, and your children, for all who are far off. And there are those who are far from us today who need to be here, and we need to find them, and we need to bring them here. Your invitation could make a world of difference for people today. So today I pray that the Lord may travel through us in our midst. That He may rest upon you today like a gentle dove and say, this is my Son, this is my daughter, with whom I am well pleased. That He may come into your lives like rushing wind and guide you to places that you may not expect but you will be grateful when you arrive. And he may pour out fire upon our hearts and empower us to do things that we never expected, hoped, or imagined. And years from now that this city will give glory to God for our ministry. So be cut to the heart today.