Sermon 2 Lent Yr C

2 Lent Yr C, 4/03/2007

Gen 15:1-12, 17-18

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Abraham’s Faith and Ours”

 

One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking his corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked, “How’s your cotton coming?”

“Ain’t got none,” was the answer. “Didn’t plant none. ’Fraid of the boll weevil.”

“Well, how’s your corn?”

“Didn’t plant none. ’Fraid o’ drouth.”

“How about your potatoes?”

“Ain’t got none. Scairt o’ tater bugs.”

The stranger finally asked, “Well, what did you plant?”

“Nothin’,” answered the farmer. “I just played it safe.”1

Fear can be a terrible power; it can run our life; it can enslave us; it can rob us of living life in all of its fullness. It can paralyze us and make us believe that there’s nothing we can do, since it would never work out anyways. Over against fear, opposite of fear is the God-given power of faith.

In today’s first lesson from Genesis, we learn once again of Abraham’s fears and faith. In this story, I think we can identify with Abram, since at times we too live with the same ongoing struggle and tug-of-war between fear and faith. In verse one, Abram is given a vision. His first response in God’s Presence is one of fear. God alleviates his fear with words of comfort and promise saying: “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be great.” Or as Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut translates this verse: “Have no fear, Abram; I am giving you an abundant reward as a gift.” According to Rabbi Plaut, the Hebrew phrase “I am giving you” can also mean “shield.” In the 18 Benedictions of the Jewish Prayer book, the phrase “Shield of Abraham” is a reference to God.2 I like this translation because I think it captures God’s action and initiative—God promises to protect Abram, and offers him his generous gift of grace.

This is a word of comfort and reassurance, which we all need in times of fear. The image of “I am your shield” is interesting. It implies protection, perhaps, rather ironically, the need for protection in the Holy Presence of God, as tradition had it that no one could see God face-to-face and survive. Now the very God who’s Holy Presence can destroy life here promises to protect Abram and preserve his life. This promise to Abram that he was his shield may also imply that God shall protect Abram from worldly enemies. The second part of the verse is also Good News for Abram. God promises him a very great, an abundant reward or gift. God is most generous. His gifts are endless. We too have been abundantly graced and gifted by God through Jesus’ love for us.

However, Abram, not getting any younger, in fact him and Sarai are beyond childbearing age, is sceptical, doubtful and impatient with God’s promise in verse one. In verse two, Abram says: “O Lord, GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer.” Shall Abram and Sarai ever live to see the birth of their own child? We too, like Abram, can become sceptical, doubtful, and impatient with God when God does not act promptly, in ways that we think are appropriate. Abram had serious doubts, as he arranged for his servant-slave Eliezer to be his heir. Apparently in the ancient East, it was not uncommon for couples without children to adopt slaves or servants and make them their heir, with the understanding that the adopted heir would look after the couple in their old age and honour them with a proper burial when they died. As Christians, we remember that we are slaves set free from sin, death and the powers of evil thanks to the saving work of Jesus accomplished on the cross and through his resurrection. When we were baptized, we were adopted into God’s family, and baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. So, we are the heirs of Christ, we receive forgiveness and new resurrection life through Jesus Christ.

Coming back to Abram, only after the LORD speaks again with words of reassurance and promise, telling Abram that he shall be given a child and heir and that his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars—only then does Abram believe God. We are told: “And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abram our ancestor in the faith teaches us to trust in God even at times when we see very little evidence to convince us. Even at times when reason and logic would convince us otherwise. Abram, an old man, Sarai an old woman are going to have a baby. Ya right! Tell me another one! They are going to have descendants as numerous as the stars—where’s the evidence of that? They’re going to move into the Promised Land? What’s so promising about this land anyways? Besides, other people live there, what about them? Sometimes faith seems impossible. And yet, listen to the story of Helen Boardman.

She likes to say that she robbed the cradle when she married her husband, Bill. Bill was just a spry 79-year-old when Helen caught his eye. She was 99-years-old. The two of them have been happily married for the past eight years. At 87 and 107 years of age, Bill and Helen like to go dancing, and they act in plays at their retirement center—plays which Helen frequently writes and directs. At age 90, Helen tried white-water rafting.

Helen claims that she stays vital by learning new things and keeping a positive attitude. As she says, “You can tell I’m an optimist—grateful for everything, every day. The cup is always full. Everything’s good. After reading my memoirs, my nephew asked if there had ever been bad in my life. My answer: “If there was, I forgot it!”3

There certainly is no shortage of bad in life—read the daily newspaper, watch or listen to almost any hourly newscast, there are always downside news reports, full of gloom and doom. And yet, there is also much good in the church and in the world, which the media chooses to ignore. There are many Helens, there are many Abrams and Sarais—people who trust in God and God reckons, God counts their faith as righteousness. People who inspire others with faith too and make a big difference through their thoughts and prayers, their words and actions of love and kindness, however large or small. People who trust in God to deliver and fulfill God’s promises as he did for Abram and Sarai; as he did by raising Jesus from the dead. God is faithful, we can trust in his Word more than our doubts and fears, we can trust God, and he fulfills his promises. Amen.

 

1 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), pp. 204-205.

2 W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York: URJ Press, 2005), p. 97.

3 Story told by King Duncan, “A Terrifying Darkness,” at <www.esermons.com>.

 

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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