Lectionary Year A
February 24, 2002
Step VI - Contemporary Address
B. Describing the Audience
C. Contemporary Address
(BD)God Is Faithful
Today's scripture has exciting news in it for us today. You and I are blessed! In fact, all the families of the earth are blessed. Why because God remains faithful to the promises that God made so many years ago to a man name Abraham. That promise remains true for you and I today.
We have experienced that blessing during our time here at Austin Seminary. It seems like it was just yesterday that we sat in these pews for the first time. We were trying to adjust to leaving behind friends and family to attend seminary in Austin. In our first year we walked around with glazed looks on our faces and wondered how we would ever make it through the next three years. The one thing we kept telling ourselves over and over again was, "God did not bring us here to leave us alone. God helped us come here and God will stay with us while we are here." At times we said this without much assurance that it was indeed a true statement. As we struggled through intensive languages and finals, those words sometimes sounded empty and we felt alone. There were lots of tears and consoling during that first year. There were many doubts as to whether God was still with us.
By our second year we were secure in new friendships, had passed Hebrew and Greek and we knew we were going to make it. It was obvious that God had indeed been with us the entire time. God had remained faithful even when we were full of doubts and fears.
Just as we stepped out in faith to go to seminary, so did Abraham step out in faith when he heard the Lord's voice telling him to leave his homeland and go to an unknown destination that God will show him. If we look at what is happening in Abraham's life when God speaks to him we find a long passage of genealogies. The list of generations begins two years after the flood and continues until we get to Abraham. We find Abraham living in Haran with his father Terah and brother Nahor. Abraham's brother Haran has died and Terah decided to leave their home in Ur and move to Canaan, but during the journey Terah changes his mind and decides to settle in a place called Haran named after his son who had passed way. We are also told that Abraham's wife Sara is barren. Life is looking bleak for Abraham and his family. They are in the midst of mourning the death of a brother and there is no hope of the family line continuing. The story is coming to an end, but in the very face of brokenness and death, God steps into the scene and speaks to Abraham. God offers Abraham and his family the hope of a future. God promises Abraham that he will become a great nation. God promises to bless Abraham, and make Abraham's name great. God promises that Abraham will be a blessing, and will bless those that bless Abraham, and curse those who curse Abraham. Finally, God says that because of Abraham, all the families of the earth will be blessed.
I am sure these promises seemed almost too good to be true to Abraham. Especially since there is no way any of these promises could be brought about by Abraham himself. For these blessings to be fulfilled, it will be up to God alone. As a result of God's promises, Abraham sets out on his own journey of faith. God leads Abraham out of the land of death and leads him to a new land, a land that the Lord will reveal to Abraham.
The promises that God gives to Abraham are significant. God promises to continue the genealogy of Abraham, make him a great nation and through Abraham blesses all humanity. Why would God pick Abraham as a starting point for a great nation? If we look at the rest of Abraham's life for an answer what do we find? When Abraham reaches the Promised Land he builds an altar, worships God and then leaves the land the Lord has just given to him. Abraham goes on to Egypt where he passes his wife off as his sister, and because of his deceptive actions, brings God's curses to the people of Egypt. Abraham will do this again when he stays in the land of King A-bem-e-lech. Abraham fears for his own life leads him to encourage his wife to be in an adulterous relationship to save his own life. Abraham takes matters in his own hands and sleeps with Hagar to fulfill God's promise of having a son to carry on the family name. Abraham falls short many times in his life, and yet God remains faithful to Abraham. Abraham, like all of us, falls short of God's righteousness. God loves us not for how righteous we are, but because we are his.
This reminds me of a story that a friend of mine once told me about his daughter's doll. My friend Jim came home from work one day and as he walked up to the house he passed the trashcan. On the top of the trashcan he noticed a doll with blue hair made out of yarn. There was a jar of jelly stuck to her hair, eggshells on her dress and there were coffee grains in her hair and clothes as well. As he passed the trashcan, he thought, "well sister, you have certainly seen better days." He continued to walk in the house. As Jim continued on he remembered that the doll he had just seen in the trashcan was his daughter's favorite doll. He realized that it must be a mistake for the doll to be in the trashcan. So Jim walked back to the trash can and picked up the doll. He pulled the jelly jar out of the doll's hair and picked off the eggshells. He shook off the coffee grounds and took the doll inside and continued to clean up the doll, so that he could give it back to his daughter. While he was cleaning the doll he remembered how he had bought it in the airport on the way back from a trip. It was just a small cloth doll made of ribbon and cotton and some stuffing. But the doll had become his daughter's favorite doll. The only value the doll had was that it was loved by his daughter. There are some things that are valuable because of what they are, like gold, diamonds or money. But other things are valuable because they are loved. You and I are valuable because God loves us. Abraham was important to God not because he was of upstanding character but because God loved him.
God has remained faithful throughout the ages not because of anything Abraham, or you or I will ever do. God is faithful to us because he loves us. God meets us where we are in our brokenness and in the midst of death. God pulls the jelly jar out of our hair, gently removes the eggshells and the coffee grounds from our face and clothes, and leads us to the land that he has promised so many years ago.
Today as we are in our senior year of seminary we have many concerns before us, such as ordination exams and wondering where we will go after seminary. New fears are emerging about what the future holds for us, after we leave our homes here in Austin and prepare to start out on a new journey. Those of us that are Presbyterian are searching for a call where they will be hired as a pastor and eventually be ordained. We Methodists wonder where we will be assigned. We have fears it will be a church in a place called Timbuktu where fine dining is defined as going to Dairy Queen. If we do ended up in Timbuktu we will not be the first or the last to go out in the wilderness. For in our travels to the Holy Land I remember standing at Mt. Nebo and looking out over at the Promise Land. I remember thinking this is it? This is the land promised to Abraham? It's a desert. There were a few patches of green here and there, but it looked pretty bleak to me. The sand dunes are so high that you could easily miss a watering hole and find death, instead of the Promised Land. It is no wonder Abraham moved on to Egypt.
Yet as our senior year comes to a end and we deal with the uncertainties to come, we need to hold on to the memories that God has always been faithful. He was faithful in those early days of seminary when we walked around with glazed looks and the feeling of being overwhelmed. God will continue to be faithful as we leave seminary.
During this season of Lent let us rejoice in the fact that God continues to be faithful. He was faithful to Abraham ages ago when God stepped into the middle of Abraham's brokenness and made him a great nation and a blessing to all the people of earth. Just as Abraham was blessed, so are we today. Our sins are forgiven because of God's loving grace. It is not by our works or merit that we receive God's grace, but because of God's great love for us. We can rest in the assurance that God loves us not because of what we have done, but because we belong to God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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