Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent - 3/4/07

   The season of Lent is sometimes talked about as a journey…a 40 day spiritual journey through the wilderness of sin as it were.  During this time  we are called to more honestly confront sin, our own sin, and move toward repentance using the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving; all in an effort to orient our lives more toward God as we move in anticipation toward the grace of Easter.  Lent is a journey.

You also know that I often talk about faith as a journey, that faith isn’t just the acceptance of a bunch of doctrinal assumptions that can’t be proved, but that it is a walk with God, with Jesus through life.  Faith is living in the presence of God, trusting in the presence of this holy other, even though sometimes it’s a struggle because life isn’t always easy and doesn’t always go the way we want it to.  Faith is a journey. 

This journey metaphor winds up being used because it is such a part of the Bible.  Many of the stories in both testaments of the Bible are invitations into a wide assortment of faith journeys; sometimes the stories are pretty brief, sometimes it’s a more extended narrative; sometimes it is only a spiritual journey, sometimes the spiritual journey is part of a physical journey from one place to another. 

In today’s first lesson we get a portion of the journey of Abraham which is kind of the primal biblical journey story and one of the longer stories in the Bible. (He’s still called Abram at this point but I’ll stick with Abraham as that’s how we know him)  This story is about a physical journey but it’s also a spiritual journey and it’s all based on a promise, a promise from God to Abraham and Sarah that they will have land and offspring which in that culture were pretty much what you hoped for; material signs of wealth and security.  It was a promise made in the face of Sarah’s barrenness so there was no obvious reason that Abraham should think anything about their situation was going to change, but still, with nothing to go on but the word of the Lord, he packed up and left his home to begin this journey of faith, trusting in the promise of God.

Now we live at a time when people make promises, but sadly, we almost expect them to be broken.  We expect it and we accept it.  But it’s still bothersome!  It doesn’t matter if it’s promises made in marriage or promises politicians make to get elected, it bothers us when promises are broken…and of course what parent hasn’t heard from a child, “But you promised!” 

That’s about where we are as we enter the story today.  The Lord made the promise to Abraham back in chapter twelve and here we are in chapter 15 and nothing has happened.  It’s not clear exactly how much time has gone by in three chapters, but it appears to be about 10 years; and still no sign of a child for Abraham and Sarah who were old to begin with; Sarah’s barrenness continues and without a child the promise is empty.  Abraham wants to say, “But you promised!” 

I think we can relate to that feeling.  We too venture out in faith, but we hear the song of the angels every year on Christmas Eve about Peace on Earth, Good Will to All People, and we don’t see it.  It’s not happening in our world.  We hear all Jesus has to say about the Kingdom of God, a vision of life which pretty much upsets the accepted order of things, a reality where justice and compassion prevail; but the accepted order continues to carry the day, an order ruled by power and violence and manipulation where the rich get richer and we say, “Where are you God?  You promised!”

Why does one continue to trust in the promise when evidence against the promise is everywhere?  How does one continue to trust in the promise?  That is what Abraham is faced with at this point in the story and it is his response to this scandal, this dilemma which makes him the paragon of faith that Paul especially highlights many years later in his letters.  But note that doubt is very much a part of Abraham’s journey.  Abraham, this paragon of faith, is overwhelmed by doubt.  He’s pretty much convinced at this point that the promise is no good, that there is not going to be any change.  To start with anyway, he’s not buying the Lord’s words of, “Do not be afraid; your reward will be very great.”  He’s ready to challenge the Lord, and he does.

The response of the Lord here is interesting.  In the face of Abraham’s protest, he doesn’t shy away or back off from the promise he made.  If anything, he ups the stakes.  He takes Abraham out to gaze at the night sky and says, “Count the stars if you can.  That’s how numerous your descendants will be.”  The next words are, “And he believed the Lord.”

It’s kind of interesting, because what has changed here for Abraham?  The answer is, not much.  He doesn’t really know any more than he did before.  The Lord hasn’t offered any fool proof arguments.  All Abraham has is a renewed commitment on the part of the Lord.  “And he believed the Lord.”

What we have is perhaps the clearest example in the entire Bible of what faith is.  At this point in Abraham’s journey, God becomes more than just an idea for him.  God is now the voice around which Abraham’s life will be organized.  In essence Abraham has repented.  He has moved from a reality which demands proof that he can see and touch and manage and will now allow for the possibility of a future that God can and will bring out of the present situation of barrenness and hopelessness.  For Abraham there is certainty about this (not certainty such that he won’t experience doubt again in the future; he will), but there is certainty that is not based on reason, but only on a basic awareness that God is God.  That is faith!  And so the journey continues for Abraham, and for us.

Faith is trusting in the future of God.  It has to be acknowledged that to an outsider, to a cynic this trusting in the future might look like denial of the facts and naïve acceptance that everything will work out all right and trying to change the mind of those folks might well be an exercise in futility.  Through the eyes of faith though, this trust is more than everything will be OK.  It’s the ability to imagine a future that isn’t based on present circumstances but which is the work of God, the ability of God to perform new acts of creation even out of barrenness, even out of death.  Again, that kind of trust describes the faith of Abraham and it was a gift of God, a miracle of God, as faith is for any of us.  That’s the beauty of this story; Abraham didn’t work to achieve faith; his faith was created in the word of promise from God.

The part of the Abraham story that we have today is a pivotal piece in his faith journey.  It’s followed by the strange ritual with the dead animals and birds, a smoking pot and a flaming torch, all of which is historically obscure and just plain bizarre by our reckoning.  For our purposes I think it is sufficient to say that this ritual somehow binds the two parties together in a new and significant way.  But even with that, even with the cutting of this covenant, the story isn’t over.  The journey goes on for Abraham and it is several chapters and many years before Sarah gives birth to the promised son.  In between, Abraham’s faith continues to have ups and downs including times of doubt.  Even Abraham had to wait which is a reminder to us that waiting is another aspect of faith.

Like Abraham, much of the “but you promised” that we direct toward God has to do with waiting.  We want God’s promises fulfilled now, it seems like enough time has passed and we should have peace on earth.  But we have to wait.  “Wait for the Lord and be strong.  Take heart and wait for the Lord!”  That’s how today’s psalm ended and this psalm is another great description of a faith journey.  The psalmist has had his say; he has leveled a degree of complaint to the Lord and the complaint is real.  But he starts with “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?”  and he ends with “Wait for the Lord.”  

That’s faith.  Faith doesn’t preclude complaint; complaint and lament can be quite necessary to faith in fact.  Faith starts in trust, includes doubt and complaint, and continues in waiting…but it’s not waiting and wondering, it’s waiting that is confident of new life to be given.

          That’s where Abraham is at the end of today’s part of his journey.  That’s kind of where we on our journey through Lent or our journey through faith.  Except we have more than a glance at the stars to go on.  In Jesus, God’s future has been shown to us.  So we wait, sometimes impatiently, but trusting in God’s promises, confident that the future revealed in Jesus is our future too.
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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