ENGRAVED ON THE PALM OF HIS HAND
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Isaiah 49:13-18 NIV
Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Your sons hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you.
Lift up your eyes and look around; all your sons gather and come to you. As surely as I live," declares the LORD, "you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Thanks to the Hubble space telescope, we can look further out into the universe than we ever have before, and in the process we are discovering infinity. For example:
With the hubble space telescope we can now see objects in outer space that are so distant and so dim that their luminescent power is ½ of 1/1,000,000,000 the brightness of the dimmest star that we can see in a very dark night and place with the naked eye. (2 billion times fainter than the unaided eye can see from earth).
As we are looking out into the sky, we not only see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and the rest of the planets that we learned in school, we are discovering in our own solar system the Kuyper ring, a string of asteroids some of which are almost large enough to qualify for planets near Neptune. We are seeing volcanic eruptions on the moons of Jupiter.
But as the Hubble looked into the darkest regions of space over a period of 10 days, looking into the distance we discover not only more stars, no, we are discovering galaxies, not a few, millions even billions of galaxies, each made of millions or billions, or even millions of billions of stars. We see evidence of not just stars colliding, now galaxies colliding in cosmic cataclysmic events not fathomable to our puny human minds. And these galaxies are not just a few light years away, their light has taken between 13 and 16 billion years to get to us. If we remember that 1 light year is approximately 10 trillion kilometers, we are seeing billions of galaxies 160,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers away. (160 septillion kilometers away.) (If you really want to know how big that number is - I encourage you to start counting after this morning's service - if you could count an average of 1 number per second (when you get into higher numbers they get slower), an average person counting 10 hours a day would about a quadrillion years to count that high.)
Astronomy is an limitless incredibly interesting field of discovery - if you want to learn more and have internet access, you can see some of these pictures at www.seds.org/hst/hst.html. Like never before, we are discovering our smallness, our limitedness and if your are a Christian listening to this, we are discovering the infinite majesty and power of God Almighty. As the Psalmist wrote...
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after nighty they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:1-4 NIV
If the skies of the Hubble space telescope proclaim the works of God's hands, then God must be pretty busy. Yet what they proclaim is small in comparison to what is going on right here on earth, in the area of biology. Many of us have learned in school about the intricacies of the ecosystem, about species, families, classes, the incredible diversity within the studies of biology. And maybe you have learned of the wonderful ways that different parts of the human body work together and contribute to the whole body - from skin, to muscles to liver, kidneys, heart and brain. But that is simple. As the electron microscope and other tools have enabled us to look the cells and then the molecules of life, we have discovered another universe of smallness. Cells, our bodies contain trillions of cells, each working together to make the whole. And in each of these cells, in tightly spiraled DNA strings containing in simple chemical protein code billions of instructions complete with the syntax of language, commas, periods, it seems as one molecular biologist from the University of Alberta has said, each cell in our body is pouring forth a divine speech.
But with advances in looking ever smaller, we see inside the cells of a living organism different structures that metabolize food, generate the 1000s of different proteins and amino acids necessary to life, and each one of these developed in processes so complicated and machinery so intricate that with our intelligence we cannot come near duplicating them. When we get to the level of molecular biology the machinery of life stuns us. For example, the little twirling tail of an e-coli bacteria which enables it to get from one place to another, essential for its survival, is no simple structure. This tail at its base has a molecular motor, including an armature, a stator, and bearings. Darwin's Black Box The tiniest molecular machines intricately designed are the building blocks behind all of life in its infinite complexity! If we accept Paul's argument that in God we live and move and have our being, then God must be incredibly busy on the molecular level too.
I don't know about you , but when I come to know these things, these things that are education in their very nature, they push me to wonder, to awe, to swooning at the wonder of it all. These, just two areas of many many different areas of study push me to worship because in response, I can do nothing else.
It especially makes me wonder about God: If God is behind this, not only designing it, creating it, but also sustaining it, then God is a very very busy God. I wonder sometimes; If God has all this to take care of, why should he ever focus on me? I heard the same argument from one of the elderly members of our congregation whose life seems to continue hanging on by a string. That person said: "With all the problems in the world, the millions of sick people, the famines and wars and disasters going on, sinners to judge and the suffering to comfort, not to mention his intense interest in spreading the gospel, I'm not sure God has time for me any more"
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."
Well, by now, you may have noticed that this little ribbon on my finger is a very effective remembering tool. As busy as I get preaching, the ribbon is in the very presence of my business, I have noticed it repeatedly. (You may choose to distribute Peppermints at this point) The truth of this passage for Israel in exile and wondering if God had forgotten them, and for us in the maze of the knowledge explosion, is far richer. And the wonderful words comes from verse 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; The word there, translated "engraved" is literally to cut, God has literally cut us into his hands.
As I was reflecting on this passage, I looked long and hard for a cultural expression, a reason why in the culture of Israel someone would cut or engrave symbols of their loved ones in their hands. I could find non, except for one theme: Hands are one of our most important tools for expressing love. We place our hand on the shoulder of a burderned brother to show our care. We use our hands to touch our loved ones tenderly. We shake our hands to give a warm greeting. It is with our hands, the work of our hands that we so often give to others. And where there is intense love, there is a desire to give and give and give, give even if it hurts.
A short while ago, I was doing a project at home, taking a little time in my busy schedule to do a wood working project. In the process of handling a 2"X6", my hand slid and a large sliver carved its way into the palm of my hand. I carefully pulled out the long sliver, stopped the bleeding, bandaged it, and went outside again, back to work, thinking I would quickly forget about it. But I discovered something! The harder I worked, each time I picked up another board, the wound in my hand reminded me of what I had done. Every small amount of pressure smarted. The cut was in the exact place that would ensure that the busier I got, the more I would remember it. Listen again to God...
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
God has cut us into his hands, so that no matter how busy he is in the vast macroscopic universe and these microscopic molecular machines which display the work of his hands, he cannot forget us. Because we are the ones cut into those hands, the busier God gets, the more he remembers us.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
Now there is one more word that I have not focused on as I have talked about this text. That is the first word: "SEE." That first word has profound significance because it is repeated for us in the gospels in a similar context, maybe you in your mind are already making the connection.
Scriptures picture creation as God toying with his infinite power and knowledge. Scriptures picture redemption, the death of Christ on the cross, as God "going all out" in desperately hard work, giving his all for the ones he loves. He died on the cross, last Sunday we celebrated that he arose again, and then he appeared to his disciples. In both Luke and John, when Jesus first appears to his disciples, do you remember what he said? He says take a look! "See my hands."
To Thomas he said "Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe!
On this first Sunday after Easter, he is saying to us to...
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; I cannot forget you... stop doubting and believe!.
In his hardest work, he was remembering us! No matter what God is up to today, be assured, if he is busy, he is remembering us.
Let me conclude with a comment on Christian education because the heart of my sermon is the heart of Christian education. Good education pushes us to worship because God's handiwork, which we study in education in its myriad forms, is a study of the myriad of ways in which he expresses his intimate love and care to us. Without the amazing systems of the anthropic universe that are interwoven into our solar system, life could not exist. Without the amazing designed complexity of the molecular machines and factories that are encoded into our DNA strings, life could not exist. Without these life would not be possible, let alone all those other aspects that we call life, feelings, reason, history, language, relationships, economics, beauty, justice, morality and faith. All this possible because reality is a divine expression of God's majestic power, and unique to Christian education - his intimate sustaining love. The boundary between good education and worship is diffuse for good education leads to worship and worship leads us to a desire to discover God's handiwork.
So the church leads worship and in the process teaches and schools teach, but in the process they lead in worship. Education has everything to do with the religious presuppositions upon which a worldview is founded. (an excellent book which brings this out is How Now Shall We Live by C. Colson and Nancy Pearcey).
When your children go to church on Sunday to worship, do you know who is teaching them? I believe that does matter to you.
When your children go to school on Monday to Friday to learn, do you know how they are being led to worship. I believe that matters to you... maybe a lot more than you think.
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.
Thanks you for your hands - cut, wounded so that we can SEE and know that you have never and never will forget us.
Thanks for your handiwork that reminds us everyday of your intimate care and love for every creature, creation, and especially us, your children.
Thanks for Christian education....
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.