Genesis 15:1-6 | Mission First: Called Series | Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost | September 18, 2016 | Dennis Sanders, preaching
Trust is something that seems fleeting in our age. We used to call banks, trusts which probably meant that we put some faith in the institution to take care of our money. But the recent banking scandal has caused folk to become suspicious of banks. We used to have faith in government, but scandals like Vietnam and Watergate made us see government in a different light. Trust is also down in our churches. The Catholic sex abuse scandal has done great damage to the church. I can remember a few years ago when we started to partner with Hope for the Journey. Since it is a ministry of a Catholic congregation, people who wanted to volunteer with the shelter had to take a course on boundary training, a program to protect children. This is a good thing, but because of the problem the Catholic church has had when it comes to sexual abuse by priests, it’s hard to take this program seriously.
The thing is, you need to trust for a society to run well. You have trust that the government will protect you and do the things it said it would for you. We need to trust each other in order to make friendships and communities. Trust means that you believe the other person has the best of intentions for you.
In churches, we place trust in the leaders and institution. We are willing to believe things that defy rationality, that even seem a bit crazy, because we trust in God or Allah or the Buddah.
But we know that trust can be broken. I just talked about the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, but there are other ways that religious people can abuse the trust of people. I remember hearing about Jim Jones and his church that moved to South America from San Francisco in the 1970s. His church became a cult and he was able to persuade people to move with him to Guyana and then to kill themselves with poisoned Kool Aid. We can remember David Koresh who was holed up on a ranch in Texas with his followers and we can remember the inferno that killed Koresh and the followers. While we were enjoying the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet, a group of people also were watching it with anticipation. They end up dead in a compound in California believing the comet would usher in a new age.
Which brings us to Abraham. At the age of 75, he hears a voice from God that tells him to leave the place where he grew up and move to a foreign land where he would be the father of a new nation. Now, Abraham had to wonder about this since he was 75 and his wife was also up in years and infertile. How in the world can he be the father of anything? But Abraham trusted God and moved his household to a new land where he waited to see what God would do. And waited. And he waited. And he waited. Months passed. Years passed. Over time, Abraham was wondering what was going on with God. Since he was a man with an estate, he decided he needed an heir. He chose a servant who would have his possessions after Abraham died.
In today’s text we open with Abraham having a vision. God tells Abraham that he would protect him and that he would get a great reward. God probably talked about protection, because in those days having children meant security. But Abraham knew he had no children and so he questioned God. What reward could Abraham get since he had no children? He tells God his plight: because he had no children, he had to choose one of his servants as his heirs.
But God tells Abraham that this won’t happen; instead his child will be the one who inherits Abraham’s possessions. Abraham doesn’t appear to verbally respond, but you have to wonder if he was doubting God at this point and maybe questioning his own sanity.
But God takes him outside to look at the night sky which was filled with stars. God tells Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. It’s hard to see a star-lit sky these days due to light pollution, but if you go out into the country, you can see a sky filled with stars.
For whatever reason, Abraham trusted God. He believed God would keep the promise.
As I said before, Abraham’s called looked rather odd at least to his friends and family. It didn’t make sense. Was this another trust that would be broken?
This is the second sermon in the Mission First: Called series, and the thing to remember here is that we are called to trust God. We are to be open to God’s leading and trust that God where God leads us.
But trusting God is not easy. It wasn’t easy for Abraham. More than once his trust waned. In chapter 16 and 17, time has passed and Sarah his wife was impatient. She thought it would be a good idea for Abraham to meet her servant Hagar and have a child through her. Abraham’s willingness to drift off the path didn’t void God’s promise. God would keep the promise even when we were not faithful.
Maybe that’s what separates us from the cults. The cults demand perfection. There was no wavering from the path. But in God there is grace. We are not always faithful to the promise but God is faithful even if it looked odd for Abraham to trust that he would have a child at his age.
What does it mean to be a community that is called to trust? It means being a people that is willing to walk with God, even when we don’t understand it all. It means following God even when it might seem odd to others.
I’m pretty sure some of you aren’t being asked to father children. I’ve already seen a few of you say most emphatically that their childbearing years are over. But I do think we are being called. I tend to think the fact that this community is still here is because of God. There are many who could look at the small handful who make up First Christian Church of St. Paul and think that it is time to close up shop. But I’ve noticed you still wanted to be church. I believe you were called to stay a community of faith, to be a witness in the St. Paul metro. Congregations larger and richer than us have closed, but for some reason we are still here. I still don’t know where God is leading this community, but I do believe we are being led by God. Christians believe God will keep God’s promises. It is in baptism that we are told we are loved by God and that God will always be with us. God makes a promise with us in baptism and we can trust God because in baptism, God keeps the promise.
But to the outside world? Trust can seem a bit odd. We might seem foolish in being a community of faith at our size, but we trust in a God that keeps promises even when at times we might lose faith. That’s what is the difference between following God and following people like Jim Jones. With God there is grace, we might not always be faithful, but God is faithful to us.
The Paralympics concludes to today. For those who don’t know, these are the games that have been formed for persons with disabilities to compete in sports. They always take place in the same city that the Olympics take place, a few weeks after the conclusion of those games. They don’t get as much press or television time as the Olympics does and that’s a shame because these athletes are just as elite as their olympian counterparts if not more so. There was the story of a American swimmer who won gold in London in 2012. He had been blinded by an IED in Afghanistan the year before while he was stationed their as a soldier. This year, people are talking about a 1500 meter run for runners who are visually impaired but don’t need guides. The top four runners did better than the olympians in the same sport. These atheletes are skilled in their sport, but I could see where some might think that it would be impossible to run or swim or what have you with limited or no eyesite or no legs. But these people believe that they can do what they do in spite of the circumstances. It is an act of faith that allows them to be able to do fantastic feats of athletic prowless.
Our banks might fail us. Our governments might fail us. Our churches might fail us. But as Abraham knew, God never fails us. Thanks be to God. Amen.