Creation of Humanity

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:26-30 (NIV)

One of the most famous ceilings in the world can be found in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the vaulted ceiling of the chapel. One of the panels depicts the creation of Adam and has that exact name today. Below is a picture of that panel as it appeared in National Geographic.

1. What do you see first in this image? Why do you think this stands out to you?

2. How do you interpret the relationship between God and humanity as depicted here?

3. Why might Michelangelo have chosen to place a space between God’s finger and Adam’s finger? Do you agree with that choice? Why or why not?

4. Was there anything missing in the painting which would be important based on your reading of today’s passage?

Choosing One

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? If Saul hears about it, he will 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 people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (NIV)

Choosing a leader can be a challenging task at times. The first step is to determine the qualifications and traits which will be sought in a candidate. Then a pool of potential candidates must be collected. This is followed by examining each candidate’s qualifications and traits against the list of sought ones established at the start. When a potential leader aligns closest to the desires, then the declaring of the new leader can occur.

The passage which has been read for today presents the story of choosing a new king for Israel. God had become displeased with Saul for Saul’s unfaithfulness to God. God sends Samuel to anoint Saul’s replacement as king. Samuel is to go to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse. Jesse brings his sons before Samuel when Samuel arrives. As each son presents himself before Samuel, God indicates that each is not the right one even though they appear to be by human standards. When it seems all have come before Samuel but not any are accepted by God, Samuel makes sure that there are none remaining.  Jesse indicates there is the youngest one who is tending the sheep. Samuel sends for him and when he arrives God tells Samuel to anoint him as king.

We learn from this passage that God looks beyond the obvious human traits in choosing the right person for the job. The human qualifications of appearance and stature are not what God uses to determine the qualified one. Instead God looks for the spirit, attitude, and personality of the correct candidate.

As humans, we too often get dazzled by a person’s appearance. Physical traits and charisma play too large of a role in our choosing of a leader. We also disqualify ourselves or others because we are unable to see the traits of a true leader. This story of Samuel, David, and God cautions us to look beyond what is visible and seek to understand the spirit, attitude and personality of a potential leader.

Move On

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

Exodus 14:1-15 (NIV)

Back in the day when almost every house had a phonograph of some form, it was common for records to skip or get stuck in an endless loop. The cause could be food or drink being spilled on the record, or a scratch forming due to the record player being bumped while playing, or possibly a particle being in the grooves of the record. When these times would arise, there were a few options available to the listener. You could gently nudge the phonograph or the arm holding the needle. You could remove the record and gently clean it. Or you could purchase a repair kit and attempt to fix the issue. A person had to do something because losing part of a song or being caught in an endless loop was not acceptable.

As the Israelites journeyed from Egypt to the new land which God had promised them, they quickly got caught in an endless loop of fear and complaining. The portion of their journey which we find in Exodus today presents one of those times of fear and complaining. After leaving Egypt, God instructs Moses where the people are to encamp. God says that Pharoah will pursue them. Pharoah and the officials change their minds about letting the Israelites go so they pursue them. The Israelites shout out in terror as they see Pharoah and his army approaching. They complain about  being led out of Egypt. Moses assures the people that God will protect them. God has Moses tell the people to stop crying out and move on.

There are times in our lives when God needs to deliver to us the message given to Moses to deliver to the Israelites. We can become like the Israelites, caught up in a loop of fear and complaining. We need to be told to just move on. Continually crying out for relief does not always lead to improving our situation. Instead, moving forward can alter our circumstances enough to provide new opportunity and new hope. Thank goodness we have a God who is eager to lead us out of our ruts. Thank goodness we have a God who will send someone to bump us out of an endless cycle of fear and complaining.

Origins

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Acts 17:24-28 (NIV)

Many of us have had a desire to trace our ancestry. Websites such as Ancestry.com and myheritage.com have aided us in our searches for information. Now, with the advancements in DNA research, we have at-home tests which we can take then send into the company for analysis. Companies such as 23andme or Ancestry.com can provide these services for individuals. There is an increasing desire among us to know where and who we come from. As our world becomes blended more, our heritage seems to have gained importance. The stories that fill in our background help us to be more individualized. 

During Paul’s time there were no ancestry websites or DNA tests to provide answers to the internal question, “Where did I come from?” Paul is in Athens, the philosophical heart of ancient Greece. He is standing on a rock formation known as the Areopagus which was the location many philosophical orators would use to promote their philosophies to others. Paul is trying to tell the learned of Athens why they should believe in God. In the midst of his speech Paul shares thoughts about being offspring of God.

Paul tells the people that God, who makes everything, has no need for anything created by humans. Instead, God gives everything, even life itself, to everyone. God has taken care of all aspects of life so that humans reach out to God. We are the offspring of God, the source of our life. Paul’s answer to the question about our origins is stated here.

The ancestral research and the DNA testing does not go back far enough. This is because our origin is not found in our human ancestors but in the spiritual one of God. Every person finds his/her beginnings in God. We are all the offspring, the children, of God.

The Unseen

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Hebrews 11:1-12 (NIV)

As the gift of science has advanced, we have learned fascinating truths about our world, nature and our very selves. The discoveries have not been limited to just our world but have included understandings about space, planets, and our universe. We have come to gain insight into neutrons, protons, electrons, microscopic animals, amebas, germs, parasites and an endless list of objects which are undetectable with the naked eye. Aspects of the air we breathe, the air which moves the trees and the weather around us are all not visible to us but science has helped us understand these in deeper ways. What once was invisible and unknown to us has become familiar.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of the unknown. Here the unknown is in regards to spiritual matters and humanity’s relationship with the Lord. The passage starts with a definition of faith. Then the writer gives examples of faith from the forming of the universe, to Abel, to Enoch, to Noah, to Abraham. Faith is required of us to trust in that which we cannot physically confirm.

The definition of faith provided here is not unlike the mindset a scientist must have. The role of a scientist is to prove a theory based on assumptions or witnessing the effect something has on something else. At the start, the scientist must have confidence that there exists an element which may not be visible at first. When it comes to our faith in the Lord, we must begin with a confidence that the Lord exists and is responsible for what we experience. Then, like the scientist, we witness the evidence that what we believe is true. Until the day we see the Lord face-to-face, we find assurance and hope in our faith.

Having to Choose

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Joshua 24:14-18 (NIV)

Our lives are filled with choices for us to make. Some of these choices are fairly mundane such as what clothes to wear each day, what we are going to eat for breakfast, or what movie we are going to see at the theater. Other choices can have a significant and lasting impact upon our lives like what we are going to do after high school, who we are going to marry, or what job opportunity we are going to accept. Millions of choices are presented to us each day. Which option we choose can alter our experiences, our perspectives, and/or very lives.

Throughout the Bible we encounter stories of people having to make choices. The story today involves the Israelites and Joshua. Joshua is talking with the Israelites about the covenant which they have with God. He recalls for them how the Lord has brought them to where they are now. He recounts God’s saving actions and the leaders God has sent to them. Then Joshua tells them that they have a choice to make as they live in the new land which the Lord has provided. The people must choose if they care going to serve God or some form of another god. The people commit to serving God.

In truth, Joshua’s question is placed before us each and every day. When we start our day, and potentially many times throughout the day, we are called upon to choose who we are going to serve. This fundamental decision will impact each choice we make after it. If we choose to serve the Lord, the one who loves and redeems us by grace, then our words, actions, and interactions with others will come out of an attitude of love and grace. When this is not our guiding force, we know that we have chosen to serve another.

Hear again Joshua’s words: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” How do you respond?

Lost One

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:1-10 (NIV)

Have you ever had the experience of misplacing an important item, maybe car keys, your wallet, your identification, or your bank cand? I begin a deep search, retracing my steps, getting frustrated with myself, and worrying in large degrees. I am unable to rest or relax until the lost item is found.

We hear about such a frantic search in our passage for today. Jesus teaches using two stories. The first is about a lost sheep and the shepherd searching for it while leaving the rest of the flock behind. The second story is in regard to a woman who seeks out her lost coin. In both stories, the seeker rejoices greatly when the lost is found. Jesus tells those gathered that this is the reaction of God when one sinner repents.

Jesus’s message here is great news for each and everyone of us. There is not a person among us who has not been that lost sinner who Jesus refers to here. In fact, some of us get lost after having been found so we need to be searched for again. Our Lord will not relent on the search for each person. There is no limit to the number of times the Lord will search.

This leads to rejoicing all around. God rejoices every time a lost one is found. We rejoice in the knowledge that we are so valuable to the Lord that there is a search which never ends and will be repeated if necessary. We should also rejoice each and every time the lost one is found.

Life and Death

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Romans 6:1-10 (NIV)

Almost thirty years ago, Disney released an animated movie entitled The Lion King. A major theme of this movie revolved around the concept of the circle of life. Mufasa, the Lion King at the time, is speaking to his son and future king, Simba. Mufasa tells Simba, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” There is even a major song in the movie by the name Circle of Life. Nature has a way of taking death and using it to bring forth life, from death comes life.

The passage for today takes life and death in a different direction. We are told first that we are to no longer sin because we are now dead to sin through the power of Christ. Sin has brought death into the would but Christ overcame death and sin from his death on the cross. In baptism we are joined to Christ so we share in his triumphant death and resurrected life. Sin cannot have power over us anymore.

The challenge placed before us is how to refrain from sinning and live as ones who are dead to sin. There is no magic formula or a guidebook to give us steps to achieve this. Working toward this goal requires continuous effort on a daily basis. Failure will be a part of this journey. Grace as given by the Lord will allow us to move through our failure. No matter how we do, the continued effort will allow us to improve. God’s love will never abandon us in our successes and failures.

Being Restored

24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.

Ezekiel 36:24-30 (NIV)

If you watch HGTV you know there are a lot of restoration and renovation shows. In the prior type of show, there is an emphasis on retaining many elements of the house on object. The goal is to restore the original beauty and characteristics. The former type of show demolishes and reconfigures the elements to create an improved, and in some cases more functional, structure or object. Either situation brings about a revitalization for future use.

The passage from Ezekiel recounts for us a time when Israel had gone into exile. The people had worshipped idols and chosen not to follow God so foreign nations were allowed to defeat the Israelites in battles, capture or kill the people, and take the survivors back to the country of the conquerors as slaves. Here God is telling the people that this is not a permanent situation. God makes the promise to restore Israel. The people will be gathered from all nations and God will sprinkle water on them to cleanse them from all impurities. The Lord will remove their hearts of stone then place a heart of flesh in them. The Spirit will be put on them. The land will produce plenty. Israel will be fully restored as improved and functional people of God.

We may not be physically exiled and made slaves to serve others but we still are exiled and in need of restoration. Our sin exiles us from God and the fullness of life available to us. We need our Lord to restore us. This promise of restoration has already been fulfilled in the saving acts of Jesus Christ. Let the Lord restore you and you will be an improved, functional child of God.

Before the Throne

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Revelation 7:9-17 (NIV)

Recently we have been unable to gather in groups of any significant size. The pandemic caused a need for social distancing which prohibited large gatherings such as conventions, festivals, fine arts productions, sporting events and even worship services from happening. As the vaccinations continue, we are starting to see a return of some of these events and gathering of larger groups of people. Many of us can remember prior to the pandemic being a part of events where people from all over the nation and/or the world were in attendance. There exists a sense of awe when one witnesses this type of event. One day these events will occur again.

Our reading today speaks of such a gathering. We are presented with a vision of the throne room of God. There is a large group of people in white robes standing in front of the throne. This group is so large that it cannot be counted. The people moved palm branches and cried out praises to God and the Lamb. The angels around the throne sang praises to God. One of the elders explains that these people are the ones who came through tribulation and washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. These people have come from every nation and tribe throughout the world.

A feeling of great awe overcomes a person when picturing this gathering which will take place. The group standing before God will eclipse even the largest group imagined on earth. Knowing that people from every background and location we can define will be part of the composition of this group is mind boggling. All are united in the name and grace of God. All have been made clean of sin and made whole by the blood of the Lamb. Our cries of praise joined with the song of the angels will make a sound which will shake all creation.