By Woody Woodrick
God Created the Heavens and the Earth
Purpose: To recognize that creates reflects God’s loving order and purpose.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 1:1-6, 8, 10, 12-15, 19-20, 22-23, 25
Key Verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind of God swept over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:1-2
Have you ever known someone who was in charge? I mean really in charge; someone who only had to say the word and things began to happen: Companies bought or sold. Lawns mowed. Homework done.
Soldiers are moved half-way around the world on a moment’s notice. All because of something one person said. That’s power.
When one person makes a comment or gives an order that results in others scurrying about to respond, that’s power.
Now think about creation.
As God announces his plans for each day, it happens. He doesn’t even need someone to do it. Once he says it – “Let there be light” – it happens. For six days, God spoke and the world we know was formed. He created our universe simply by saying he would.
As God goes about creating, he says what he will do each day, does it, evaluates it and reports on it. He says he will separate the light from darkness; it is immediately done; he calls it good and the day ends. The only exceptions are the second day when he creates the sky and the sixth day. All the other days he calls his work “good.” He doesn’t say anything the second day, but after the sixth day, he calls his creation of man “very good.”
Let’s really think about what it means that God called each part of his creation “good” or “very good.”
Have you ever thought of part of God’s creation as not good? What parts?
Consider this: If God created it and calls it good, how can it not be good?
It’s easy to take creation for granted. We’re so constantly surrounded by it we tend to not take time to enjoy and appreciate it. When mowing in 100-degree heat, grass doesn’t seem too dad-gum good. But walking barefoot over soft grass on a more comfortable day is good. Ducking under low-hanging limbs to get to some of that grass with the mower is a pain, but standing in the shade of that tree and enjoying a breeze is good.
How often do we stop and think of creation as a gift? Do we treat it as a gift or a right?
God Created Humankind
Purpose: To discover humanity’s mission as bearers of God’s image.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 1:26-30
Key Verse: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over (everything) upon the earth.” – Genesis 1:26
Two thoughts on these passages jump out at me:
• God called the creation of humankind “very good”
• Man was created in God’s image
God places great value on humans, based on his assessment of our creation – very good. How then have we gotten to the point where we don’t give them the same value? For centuries certain groups of people have been viewed as worthless, either because of mental of physical disabilities or something that makes “them” different from “us.” Those differences usually have nothing to do with who “they” are. Skin color, gender, nationality and religion have all been used as reasons to devalue certain segments of God’s creation, sometimes even in God’s name!
So, how are we to view others if God calls them “very good?” He doesn’t distinguish among the races, the genders or where they live. God calls man “very good.”
What people do you consider of little value? On what do you base that opinion? Does re-reading the creation story and thinking about those others being “very good” in God’s eyes give you reason to rethink your position?
A popular sermon illustration tells about a man driving his car. On the back bumper is a sticker proclaiming the driver a Christian. As he drives along I-55 at rush half-hour, he shakes his fist at the other drivers. He clearly yells at others. He cuts people off, and makes hand gestures when it happens to him.
All this time, a police car follows the man. Finally, the officer turns on his lights and pulls over the driver. When the man gets out of his car, the officer arrests him for auto theft. The man immediately proclaims his innocence and wants to know why the officer thinks the car is stolen.
“Well,” the policeman says, “I’ve been following you for a while and based on the way you’ve acted, you couldn’t be a Christian like the bumper sticker says.”
Image. It works two ways. It’s a representation and a reflection. If we are created in God’s image, how is that reflected in the image we project. Most of us want to be thought of in some particular way. Sophisticated, humble, strong, sexy, attractive, smart, rich, hip, cool. Yet, how do people really see us?
How might the image we try to project present the image of God? Do we think hard enough about being the image of God so that we reflect that image in how we treat others? Do the people in your church see God when they see you or me? What about in the community?
When God states his instructions for man, he gives man dominion over the earth. I’m pretty comfortable with the belief that by dominion God means that we are to be in charge of earth, but to be good stewards of our gift. Use it for what we need, but take care of it so that it may meet our needs.
Abraham, Sarah and Isaac
Purpose: To celebrate God’s faithfulness in creating the community of the people of God.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 15:1-6; 18:1-15; 21:1-8
Key Verse: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” – Genesis 18:14a
Imagine being Sarah and being told at the age of 90 you were going to have a baby. Would your reaction have been much different?
Sarah laughed when God told Abraham Sarah would bear him a son. I wonder if God wasn’t laughing a bit, too. In stark black and white, God’s words seem a bit testy, but I like to think that God had a smile on his face when he turned to Abraham and asked why Sarah was laughing.
This is one of the great stories of God’s faithfulness. He had told Abram he would have a son and create a great nation. But as the years went by, Abram (who became Abraham) had to be wondering. Now, Abraham had learned to trust God, and he did, but still. He and Sarah were old, well beyond the years when they should be changing diapers and getting up for four o’clock feedings. Yet, that’s exactly when God kept his promise.
Why do you think God waiting until Abraham and Sarah were old to present them with their promised son?
Have you ever waited for a promise from God to be fulfilled? Did you begin to doubt it would happen? Could God be waiting on you to trust him enough to act on his promises?
I know of a young Christian woman who had prayed for a Christian husband and knew that God would send her the right man. She dated a few men, but none was Mr. Right. One day she and close friend were driving a couple of hours to help plan a church retreat. During the drive, the young woman talked about her experience and admitted her own frustration. She believed God would keep his promise, but she still wondered why it was taking so long.
As the women pulled into a parking place for the meeting, another car pulled in also. The woman looked out the window and saw a young man she had never met at the wheel. She turned to her friend and said, “That’s the man God has sent for me. That’s the man
I’m going to marry.”
Today, the young man and woman are married and raising a family.
God is always faithful to his promises. Great is thy faithfulness!
When Isaac was weaned, Abraham and Sarah threw a party to celebrate. That’s something I think Roman Catholics do better than Protestants – celebrate their faith community. In my limited experience with Catholic communities, they seem to know each other in a special way and are more willing to celebrate various events than do we Protestants.
If the sense of community among the faithful is a gift, isn’t it one we should celebrate? What do you think might happen if our church became known for its hospitality and even its parties?
Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael
Purpose: To rejoice that God’s love and care is not restricted to Isaac’s descendants.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 21:9-21
Key Verse: “(God said to Abraham) as for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” – Genesis 21:13
Sometimes God can be so confusing. He makes a promised and we’re supposed to sit around waiting for it to happen. But he also says that he helps those who help themselves.
Abraham and Sarah had waited and waited for the promised son, but nothing happened and now Sarah was too old to have children. So she suggested that Abraham have a child with the slave Hagar. This was not uncommon in their culture when a woman was barren.
It seems that Abraham and Sarah might have thought they were doing what God wanted. How many times have we, in our impatience to serve God, figured we knew what he wanted and when? So we took matters into our own hands. Does that ever turn out right?
How do we discern God’s will for us? What distinguishes God’s will from our own will, even when we think we’re doing God’s will?
One of the games people play is when we say something won’t bother us, won’t make us mad, when we know darn well it will infuriate us. Maybe sometimes our reaction catches us by surprise, but often we say “yes” when we mean “no.”
Although Sarah urged Abraham to have a child with Hagar, when it became a reality, Sarah apparently became jealous. She wished she could change her mind. Sarah’s anger at Hagar lasted a long time. Twice she sent her away. The second time, God told Abraham to go along with Sarah’s demand.
It’s interesting that God did remove Hagar and Ishmael from close proximity to Abraham and Sarah, but it was not to punish the mother and child. They had done nothing wrong. When they faced death in the desert, God saved them both. He told Hagar that Ishmael would also start a nation. Although outcasts among the Jews, God didn’t turn his back on his promise to Hagar and Ishmael.
Are there people in your congregation who seem to be on the edges, who need someone to reach out to them in God’s love? What about in the community? How do we need to change if we are to embody God’s lover to these persons?
Islam considers Ishmael a prophet and ancestor of Muhammad. In fact, three of the world’s great religions can trace their roots to Abraham – Judaism, Islam and Christianity. How might that fact impact the current world situation?
We know Sarah didn’t want Ishmael around Isaac, but do you wonder how the half brothers got along when they did see each other?
Isaac and Rebekah
Purpose: To explore ways in which God guides ordinary people to fulfill his purposes.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 24:34-40, 42-45, 48
Key Verse: “Then I bowed my head and worshipped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.” – Genesis 24:48
Following directions and making sure of the details can make all the difference between success and failure. Consider the differences between house plans and a recipe. Both are usually pretty precise. They call for exact measurements and materials.
The difference, however, can be in how closely we follow those directions. With a recipe, we might not use quite as much flavoring or sugar as the instructions indicate, but the result can still be a good-tasting dish. Granted, taking too much liberty with a recipe can ruin the food, but generally it doesn’t make a big difference and can even mean a better outcome.
A house, on the other hand, needs to pretty much follow the plans exactly. An eighth of an inch short on a cut piece of lumber or a half-inch wider doorway can lead to a poorly built house. Slight alterations to the plans can be made, but generally the plans are followed closely.
Abraham’s servant was given a task and developed a plan. He knew the task was important and he wanted to succeed. So he prayed that God would guide him to doing his job correctly. He asked God to help him follow the plan laid out for him.
Do you know people who live out God’s plan for their lives? What are some of their characteristics?
God not only makes plans for individuals, he makes plans for groups, such as churches. One of the key questions in the Mississippi Conference’s plan of church self evaluation, the A2 Indicators, calls for discerning God’s plan for the church. What is God’s plan for your church? What about the world?
The servant seemed to be in almost constant prayer to God asking his guidance. What roles does prayer play in your life? What leads to success when doing work for God – prayer or our own abilities and talents? How?
When he had found Rebekah, the servant worshipped God and thanked him. How often do we take the time to worship God at the conclusion of a task done for him? What do we say to God? Do we thank him? For what would we thank him?
God used a servant to find a wife for Isaac so that the lineage would continue for another generation. God knew the servant was diligent and faithful to God and Abraham. He was trusted by Abraham. What are some areas where you could help accomplish God’s plan?
• Woodrick is editor of the United Methodist Advocate.