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Here I Am
The Third Sunday after Pentecost

A sermon by Rev. Steve Blanchard, Assoc. Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
June 29, 2014

Genesis 22:1-14 [link]

 

Some of you know that I grew up in a small town in North Carolina called Siler City. Now like many small towns, our only source of sports was our local high school teams. You know we had all the average teams, football, baseball. But for those younger, the city provided a city league. And we had little league baseball, little league basketball, and little league football. Now I started playing football around the age of eight, on a team that was creatively known as “The Green Team.”  Now, we were sophisticated in Syler city and we had three other teams known as the Red Team, the Blue Team, and the Gold Team. Now I played for three years, as I said, and the first two years that I played, our team scored zero touchdowns and won zero games. And I didn’t feel that bad because the year before I started playing we had the same impressive record. Now, as I started my third year, we were destined to have the exact same season. We had a team besides your truly that looked like the average height was about this high. So, we were very very small. Now the first few weeks of practice we had scrimmage games against the other teams, and during those three games we lost a lot of players. First of all, half our team quit, ah, they saw what lie ahead, and more got injured. One of those was our quarterback. In fact, the poor quarterback, every time he dropped back to pass he got just pummeled by the defense, and he only got off one or two passes in the first three games. So our coach, who was brilliant strategist, decided to take the biggest player on the team, and put him in quarterback, thinking that maybe if we had the biggest player at quarterback, every time the defense came in at least the quarterback would have a chance to be able to get a pass off, and if not, he’d be able to run a few yards before getting smashed. Guess who was the biggest guy on the team? So the coach put me at quarterback. During the first real game of the season, the coach decided to strike early. He told me right before I went out, he said “Steve, just rear back and throw it as far as you can” to the fastest, but yet smallest player on our team, a guy names Dwight Austin. So, I did exactly that. I got the ball from the center, I dropped straight back, and immediately I recognized there were going to be two problems. First of all, the defense was coming very quickly. And second of all, I couldn’t find Dwight. Now, poor Dwight was so small that the defense was covering him up, I couldn’t find him. So my first thought was to run the opposite way. My second thought was to lay down, and I started to do one of those when all of a sudden I heard a voice above the crowd going “Here I am! Throw it!” And I reared back and I threw it. Now the pass I threw looked like a wounded duck that had been shot in mid-air. But it was in the direction of the voice that I heard. Miraculously, Dwight caught the ball, turned and ran for a touchdown. Our first touchdown in three years. Now, we were stunned. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know how to cheer for a touchdown because we’d never had one. Now, despite being beaten that game, 56 to 6, we were the happiest group of losers you have ever seen in your life. Now, we went the rest of the year, did not score a touchdown, did not win a game. But we had something to carry into the next year. And that was Dwight’s catch. Dwight’s touchdown gave us some hope to carry into the next year. Now, in our scripture this morning, Abraham is called upon God, to perform a far more difficult task than the Green Team ever faced. In verse 1, God simply calls Abraham, and Abraham responds “Here I am.” God then goes on to lay out a task that is so difficult, so incredible, so far out of our realm of thinking that we can’t even understand it. Asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son as an offering to God. Now every time I read this story I just, I can’t imagine what was going on then. But from what we read Abraham, he doesn’t argue with God. He doesn’t question God, he doesn’t try to resist in any way. Abraham just says, “Here I am.” Now, I have to wonder all the time, what in the world is going on in Abraham’s mind? I know what would have been going on in my mind. I would have said, ahem, God, um, let me just remind you of a little something. You know a few verses earlier you promised me that through my son Isaac many many descendants would emerge.Now, I just want to point out that if I fulfill this call that you have made, that’s going to be pretty difficult, because my son will be dead, and he will not be able to have many descendants. But Abraham, what did he do? He simply obeyed. He gathered up the wood, he got fire. He called on his son Isaac and said, c’mon son we are going to perform a sacrifice. Now, as they started going down the road, Isaac was a wise child. He looked and he saw the wood, he looked over here and he saw the fire, and he thought to himself, Hmm, where is the sacrifice? Where’s the ram? So he asked his father, and Abraham simply responded, God will provide. Well, Isaac soon realized that God would indeed provide, and he was the provision. But you notice that Isaac does the same thing that Abraham did. Isaac didn’t argue, he didn’t question, he didn’t fight his father, he didn’t try to run away. It’s almost like Isaac said, Here I am Dad. So when they got to the place where the sacrifice was supposed to take place, Abraham laid down the wood on the altar he made, he bound up his son Isaac, he laid him on the altar. He lit the fire, he picked up the knife and he was ready to kill his own son as an act of obedience to God, when thankfully an angel of the Lord shouted, Abraham! And Abraham said, Here I am. Now, most likely, the response of “Here I am” the second time was much calmer than it was the first time, and Abraham and Isaac were certainly relieved at this change of direction, Isaac especially. But you know, even though we don’t understand necessarily this story, or understand what God was doing at this time, and maybe the means in which he was trying to accomplish something, we have to honor the response of Abraham and Isaac because they simply obeyed and responded to God’s call, “Here I am.” Now, throughout the Old Testament, if you read you see several responses from various people of faith such as Moses, um, Jacob, Samuel, David, and others, whose response to God’s call is the Hebrew word “hename.”  “Hename” means “here I am.”  Even in the New Testament, if you look, you see people responding to God’s call, such as Mary, when told she was going to be the mother of God’s son, she simply responded, Here I am, what do you want me to do? And even look to Jesus, as in the garden of Gethsemane, he knew that he was facing a great time of suffering and death ahead. He probably could have said no to God, but instead he responds to God’s call by saying, Not my will Lord, but yours. The words “Here I am” denotes a physical presence. It’s being in the presence saying “Here I am, just as I am.” It’s a, it’s the attitude of a servant. The words “Here I am” is a willing person, is someone who is available, who has come before God reporting to duty saying, Lord, I’m here, what do you want me to do? How may I serve you? Now, those, that’s the definition of Here I am, it’s just being there, and saying Here I am, ready to serve. Now what is the opposite of Here I am? If we’re going to find out that, we have to look even further back in Genesis to the very first call of God to Adam and Eve. Now if you’re familiar with this story, Adam and Eve have sinned. They took the forbidden fruit, they disobeyed God, and after they do that, that evening God is coming through the garden asking for Adam and Eve going “Where are you?”  And Adam and Eve, instead of going “Here I am,” they are hiding somewhere, kind of a biblical hide and seek kind of thing going on, and hoping that God doesn’t find them. Well of course, you can imagine that misguided thought of hiding from God just doesn’t take place, and finally they emerge and they are ashamed of what they have done. I think they’re ashamed not only for the sin that they’ve committed by disobeying God but they’re ashamed of hiding from God, whom they’ve always had an open relationship with. And they have to take that time to confess. Another example, and probably one that most people are more familiar with of someone not responding to God’s call, is Jonah. Now Jonah was one of God’s prophets, and God called Jonah, he said, Jonah, I want you to go to Nineveh, and I want you to preach the word to the people of Nineveh. Now if you don’t know anything about Nineveh, Nineveh was not a very good place. It was a downright evil city, just full of sin and Jonah thought, those people don’t deserve your love God. Those people, he was prejudiced against the people of Nineveh. So what did Jonah do? He said I’m not going, and he turned and left the other way. Now God could have left it alone at that and called somebody else but God wanted Jonah to go. So God pursued Jonah, and despite Jonah’s best evasive efforts, God finally convinced Jonah to go to the people of Nineveh and preach the word. Now, the problem was, Jonah went, but he sure didn’t want to. But he went, he did his job, he preached to the people of Nineveh, and low and behold they turned to God. They repented of their sins. Now you’d think Jonah would have said Alright! Good job God! But Jonah didn’t. He was mad that they had repented. And he turned and he went down by a river and sat down and sulked and was angry. Both his responses, the first call to go and the second time that he went and sulked, both reflected a lack of faith in God and a lack of love for other people. Even Moses, who we look to as a pillar of faith, tried to get out of God’s calling by offering a lot of excuses. God, I, I, I, I can’t, I can’t go lead the people out of slavery. Um, I’m not good enough, I don’t have what it takes. Uh, please send somebody else. Now as I look at these stories of hide and seek, I wonder how often we play hide and seek from God’s calling. How often do we believe that we have a good reason for shirking our responsibility in response to God’s calling? How often, um, do we avoid God’s calling by offering excuses to God? How often do we say, God, I’m not the one to go do that. I don’t need to go minister to that person or work with this group of people. Look, you’d be better off to send somebody else. And then you have in contrast to these examples you have Abraham who simply responds, Here I am, How may I serve you? Lord, your servant is listening. Now some people believe that only ministers can be called, but that’s not true. In fact, everybody in this room has a calling. some of us have several callings. Because you see each and every day God calls us to hear his voice and to respond appropriately. He may, um, place a call on your life to just listen for direction in response to a problem you may be having. He may call you to respond to someone in need. He may even call you to address an even larger problem such as human trafficking or world hunger. Something that you feel, Oh, it’s too big for me, but God may be calling on you to pay attention to that thing and to do your small part. Now the question comes down to, how do we respond to that call? Do we go before God and say Here I am Lord, send me, do what you want to I am here to serve you? Or do we respond as Adam and Eve, and Jonah, and Moses did when called, by hiding behind our fears, or hiding behind our schedules, or our prejudices, or our complacency, or our selfishness, or our excuses. Now we all can come up with a lot of excuses. I come up with a lot every day, and I’m sure most of us are really good at it. But when God lays something on your heart, he does so for a reason. When God calls you, he does it for a reason. Maybe you have the particular influence needed in that situation. Maybe you have the particular resources needed. Maybe you have the opportunity that someone else might not have. And maybe, just maybe, the benefit is not for the one you are going to serve, but the benefit is for you. You remember my miraculous touchdown pass to Dwight of the doomed Green Team of the Siler City little league football? In case you missed that, that was the illustration I used at the beginning. Now, what I want to do is take just a moment and look at that just a little bit more closely. When Dwight yelled “Here I am,” there were three things important to note. First of all, Dwight had to be willing to accept the task. He had to be willing to show up at the game that day, he had to be willing to play his position, and he and to be willing to participate. Now, in contrast to that, when God calls us, God calls us to just show up. God calls us to have an attitude of being willing to participate, to say God, here I am. Second, Dwight had to be where he was supposed to be. When he said Here I am, he and to be where he needed to be. He had to, if he’d have been behind me on the bench, or behind me, or over on the bench, or had allowed the defender to cover some he could not be where he was supposed to be, um, that touchdown would have never happened. And in our relationship with God, to receive God’s power and presence, we have to be in a right relationship with God. We cannot let obstacles such as unforgiven sin or unresolved spiritual issues or other things prevent us from being where God needs us to be emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. When God calls us we need to be where we are supposed to be. Now finally, Dwight had to be willing to complete the task. When he caught the ball, if he laid down, or if he ran the opposite way, the whole thing would have been for nothing. He had to be willing to turn and run for the goal. And with God, once we say God, here I am, and we’ve accepted the call, we have to be willing to go with it, to run with it. Now that’s not saying the way before us is not going to be difficult, the way before us might be scary. There might be a whole lot of obstacles out there, seen and unseen, that lay before us and the goal that God wants us to accomplish. But if it is God’s tension, God’s intention for us to take that call and run with it and to complete it, God will prove a way. I don’t care what kind of obstacles are in the way, I don’t care how scared we are, how nervous we are, I don’t care what lies before us, God will provide a way. Because you see, we are not going on our own power. We’re not doing this by ourselves. If we did, yeah, we’d, we’d probably fail. I can’t tell you how many things in the past I have felt called to and then I tried to do them on my own and sure enough I have fallen flat on my face because I didn’t go with God. I didn’t let God provide the way, I tried to provide the way. But if we go ahead letting God lead the way, God will provide the way. When our response to God is Here I am, then we display a confidence in the faith, and the faith, in the power and presence of God. when we say to God, God here I am, we are opening ourselves up to allow God’s power, allow the Holy spirit to come inside and lead the way. Now whether this morning you were facing a spiritual fight, you could stand up today and say, if you allow God to lead the way, you could stand up and say, alright here I am, bring it on. If you’re facing a crisis in your life, you can stand before God and say God here I am, I am helpless to solve this crisis, but I know you can. If you’re facing a time this morning of indecision, you can stand with God and say God here I am. I don’t know what to do, I am totally clueless, but I know you’ll provide a way. Maybe this morning you’re feeling lost, or hopeless. This morning I can assure you that if you stand before God and say God here I am, God will show you the way. If you’re feeling scared this morning, scared out of your wits, if there’s something going on in your life that you’re just freaked out about, if you stand before God and say God here I am, I am trusting you this, today, I trust you, to, to take care of my fears, God will provide a way. Or maybe this morning you’re facing a call, a call to serve others, or to serve God in some way. If you stand before God and say God here I am. I don’t know what you want me to do, the task before me seems awfully big, there’s all these obstacles out there. I don’t see any way I’m going to overcome them. don’t worry about it. Just stand before God and say, God, Here I am. God is not a God that calls us and then throws us to the wolves. God is not a God who says, Alright, I want you to do this, and if you need help I’ll be over here somewhere. God walks with you every step of the way, no matter what you are going through. Here I am. Is that your response this morning, or do we respond like Adam and Eve, and Jonah, and run the other way going, ah, I have no idea what to do and I can’t do it. Here I am.

 
 
Steve Blanchard 2014
 
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