The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Little is much if God is in it

with 2 comments

It was great fun, enjoying worship together, on June 18th. Here’s most of the sermon:

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:26-34

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”

We’ve talked some about sound – how sound happens when energy, transmitted by compression waves moves through matter – a tabletop, or air – and those compression waves reach our ears. Our brains read the frequencies of the waves, and create, inside our minds, a sensation we call sound.

Light is something like that. But rather than traveling by compression through matter, light is energy that travels in waves through the electrical and magnetic fields all around us. It travels in a different “dimension.”

If we could see the electromagnetic fields all around us, we probably wouldn’t be able to see anything else, for the atmosphere is thick with them. Matter of fact, did you know you can hear them? Want to? [here we turn off my cordless mic, and listen to the receiver pickup up noise from the atmosphere].

That’s the dimension through which the energy called light travels.

atom thumbWhen this energy strikes an object made of atoms, it jars the atoms’ electrons into slightly different orbits. As the electrons move, their movement causes more disturbance to fan out through the electromagnetic field around them. Some of those disturbances strike our eyes. Our eyes de-code electromagnetic disturbances, hand them off to our brains, and our brains make pictures. We see.

Suppose light travels to this diagram. Some of it hits here, in the red. Electrons are stirred up. Much of the energy is absorbed. But the electrons are stirred in just such a way that they create disturbances in the atmosphere of a certain frequency. When that frequency reaches our eyes, it creates an electro-chemical reaction that travels into our brains, and our brains say, “Oh, I know that. That frequency means red. I’ll make Monte a picture of a red neutron.”

So sight, like sound, really exists only in our brains. Sight is pictures drawn in our minds as certain kinds of energy are processed. We don’t really “see” anything, I guess – we sense reflected energy, and turn it into pictures.

And what we do “see” is never the thing itself. We only process reflections bouncing off the surfaces of things. It’s like me watching you in this hand mirror. We get so good at it that we actually think we’re seeing. But we really process only reflections, of only the surfaces of things.

Electromagnetic spectrumActually, it’s worse than that. When God created light, I assume he created light in all these forms – and possibly more we don’t know about. Of this whole spectrum of light on the top bar, only this tiny middle part – maybe 3% – can we humans process with our eyes. You could say that we are at least 97% blind. 97% of the light God created, you and I have never seen.

At least, not yet. Listen to Paul, from 1 Corinthians 13, talking about the world to come: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

We are poor disabled creatures staring at reflections in hopes our brains will draw pictures and give us enough of a clue of what’s around us that we won’t bang our shins. We are bats flying by radar in the dark. Our perceptions are wonderful, and very useful – but they are very limited means of judging reality.

But someday, I believe, we shall see “face to face.” We can only imagine how beautiful “seeing” must really be.

That’s the intro. Now, three quick Scriptures about seeing.

Fly away to B.C. 1020. Here are the characters. The Israelites had begged God to give them a king, so they could be like other nations. God finally did, and the King, Saul, has turned his back on God.

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 … God was sorry he had ever made Saul king in the first place.

God addressed Samuel: “So, how long are you going to mope over Saul? You know I’ve rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I’ve spotted the very king I want among his sons.”

“I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.” God said, “Take a heifer with you and announce, ‘I’ve come to lead you in worship of God, with this heifer as a sacrifice.’ Make sure Jesse gets invited. I’ll let you know what to do next. I’ll point out the one you are to anoint.”

Samuel did what God told him. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the town fathers greeted him, but apprehensively. “Is there something wrong?” “Nothing’s wrong. I’ve come to sacrifice this heifer and lead you in the worship of God. Prepare yourselves, be consecrated, and join me in worship.” He made sure Jesse and his sons were also consecrated and called to worship.

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!” But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” [NRSV: … the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.]

Jesse then called up Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. Samuel said, “This man isn’t God’s choice either.” Next Jesse presented Shammah. Samuel said, “No, this man isn’t either.” Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.”

Then he asked Jesse, “Is this it? Are there no more sons?” “Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.” Samuel ordered Jesse, “Go get him. We’re not moving from this spot until he’s here.”

Jesse sent for him. He was brought in, the very picture of health— bright-eyed, good-looking. God said, “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one.”

Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life.

Samuel left and went home to Ramah.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Human perception was insufficient. What looked puny to people looked good to God. God looked more deeply – into the heart.

Now to the Core of our faith: Jesus himself, as told by Mark.

Mark 4:26-34 Never Without a Story

26-29Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!

How do things work in the Kingdom of God? Things look unpromising with human vision. We sow. They turn into a bountiful crop. We don’t know how.

30-32″How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”

How do things work in the Kingdom of God? They start dinky. Don’t look like much. Grow huge.

33-34With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.

Now, to Paul. What does he see and what is invisible to him?

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down [“Conditions” here: See or not see? Here’s how he uses conditions here:]. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? [“ruts in the road or rocks in the path” – see or not see?] When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.

9-10 But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions [“our conditions”: see or not see? What’s the main thing? “Cheerfully pleasing God”]. Sooner or later we’ll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad.

14-17 Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do. Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone [see or not see?]. That puts everyone in the same boat [see or not see?]. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.

And here he sums it all up:

16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Paul’s not going to be “drooping his head or dragging his feet.” “Ruts in the road or rocks in the path” aren’t going to stop him. His conditions – what things look like now – don’t get him down. Why?

It’s what we don’t yet see that keeps us going.”

The results?

Christ’s “love has the first and last word in everything we do.”Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing.”

And he sees people differently: Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone, because of Jesus’ death, has access to a far better life than people ever lived on their own.

And so he decides to evaluate people – to see – on a different scale – not on the basis of how impressive or prestigious or athletic or intelligent or beautiful they are – like Samuel was tempted to evaluate Saul’s sons – but on the basis of what’s inside.

And we’re learning to do that, too. Not to trust our limited surface vision, but to look for the things we can’t see in our conditions, in the people around us, in the world, knowing that most of reality can’t be seen with our regular eyes – but only with the eyes of our hearts.

[So, I ended by strumming Little is Much (by Kittie L. Suffield), which includes these words:]

Does the place you’re called to labor Seem so small and little known?

It is great if God is in it, And He’ll not forget His own.

Little is much when God is in it! Labor not for wealth or fame.

There’s a crown- and you can win it, If you go in Jesus’ name.

Blessing: Pastor Sharon


Written by Monte

June 21, 2006 at 8:32 pm

2 Responses

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  1. This isa pretty good sermon, and I really enjoyed the reasoning and scrip[ture used. I have a question though. I love the song: Little Is Much When God Is In It.” Do you or any of your readers know anything about the history of the song, or does it have a history??

    Ira Sterling

    February 9, 2010 at 11:03 am

  2. It appears that you’ve put a good amount of effort into your article and I demand a lot more of these on the World Wide Web these days. I truly got a kick out of your post. I do not have a bunch to to say in reply, I only wanted to register to say phenomenal work.

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    December 18, 2009 at 6:26 pm

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