Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-16; Luke 12:22-34 (35-40)
By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.
I spend much too much time and money at the art and craft stores. I love to wander the aisles, looking at the supplies, wondering if I could make something out of that new and usual product. I look at the paint colors, imagining which ones would go well together. I touch every paintbrush, wondering what type of stroke it would make and if it would do what I want it to do. I measure the canvases, search through the clearance aisles, and check all the sales. In the end, I donít think I ever leave without something in a bag.
This is especially true right now as I prepare for a craft fair in September, although Iím less likely to wander and more likely to go there with a specific list of items I need. See, I canít make a painting without all the supplies. I need paint and canvas, brushes and varnish. I need crosses and clockworks for some of my projects. I donít need any of those things to live, but I do if I want to create something. I need something tangible to work into something beautiful.
We understand that we cannot make something out of nothing. Even a magician who appears to make something come out of nowhere has prepared the stage. The rabbit may not be visible to the audience, but it is there. The milk may seem like it disappears, but thereís some trick. The magician manipulates something tangible in a way that amazes us, but he doesnít do it with nothing. We need things to do what we are going to do.
And we can do some amazing things. We can grow large trees and beautiful gardens, but we canít do it without seeds and water and dirt and sunshine. We can make the most delicious meals, but we canít do it without the ingredients. We can build spaceships that take men to the moon and cameras into outer space, but we need the materials to do so.
But God doesnít need anything. He doesnít need anybody. In the beginning, God spoke and everything came into being. The writer of Hebrews tells us that everything we see was made when God spoke; it came out of nothing. We understand this by faith, although intellectually we have a difficult time with it. Scientists are constantly discovering things about the universe that helps to explain how we can to exist. They see fossil records and study the basic building blocks of life. They come up with theories and try to explain it all. But with every answer, all they usually find is more questions. Even the big bang leads us to ask, ďHow did that first atom come to exist?Ē
We donít have to reject science to believe in God and creation. After all, science tells us that something happened to the stuff that existed, and faith tells us that God spoke that stuff into existence. While there are theories with which I do not agree, I do know that we should not limit God to time and space. He does things His way, according to His good and perfect will.
See, thatís what is so amazing. God does not need us, but He chooses us to be co-creators in His world. He chooses us to accomplish His work. In the Old Testament lesson, we see a bit of Abramís story. Now, Abram had a good life in Ur. He had a home and a wife. He had family and he had many possessions, including livestock and slaves. The only thing he did not have was an heir.
One day a strange voice came to him and told him to leave Ur. The voice said that He would guide Abram. Abram left the stability of home to become a nomad. He didnít know where he was going or what he would find there. He didnít even know what purpose would be fulfilled. What does it mean to become a great nation? How does that happen in one generation? Abram was at that point already 75 years old. How could he become a great anything without a son? Despite the uncertainty, Abram believed and followed the voice.
We know that Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old, so decades passed between the promise and fulfillment. Weíve heard the story out of chronological order; we heard about the visit of the Lord to Abraham a few weeks ago. Todayís passage happened much earlier. Between the two stories, Abram and Sarai took Godís plan into their own hands. Sarai gave him her maidservant Hagar and a child was born.
We donít need to take Godís plan into our own hands. But we like to see results. The clock is constantly ticking in our world. God might not be limited by time or space, but we are. So, like Abram and Sarai, we do whatever we think is best to make Godís will happen. We justify it with catchy little slogans like ďGod helps those who help themselves,Ē but by doing so we prove that we donít really trust God to be faithful. Now, of course, there are those who will blame Sarai, especially since we know that Abrahamís faith is extraordinary. But the reality is that Abram allowed himself to be swayed. He believed, but he also doubted.
The promise in todayís Old Testament lesson is extraordinary. ďLook now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.Ē Of course, Abram understood that God was speaking about generations, and yet the number was still staggering. Can you imagine the sky that evening? Itwas not dimmed by the lights of a city. When we look at the sky, most of us see a few dozen or a few hundred stars; we can almost imagine the day when our great-great-great-grandchildren are having their own children. Abram, an elderly man with no offspring, was looking at a sky with more stars than he could possibly count. ďSo shall they seed be.Ē Abram would never see it. It was a promise beyond his imagination and one that he would never see fulfilled in his own lifetime.
ďAnd he believed in Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.Ē His righteousness was not based on his actions; he could not be counted righteous by his actions since the next thing he did was take matters into his own hands. God understands. He doesnít withhold His promises based on our failure. Even though Abram and Sarai tried to make Godís promise happen in their way, God still fulfilled it in His way. There is great comfort in knowing that even when we are faithless, God is faithful because He knows our hearts.
But Jesus knows that there is good reason for us to remain faithful even when we doubt. ďTherefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your lifeÖĒ He goes on to talk about not worrying about food or home or clothing, because thereís so much more to our life than those things. A few weeks ago Martha was worried about food, but Jesus told her that Mary found something better. We know we need food to eat, a roof over our head and clothes to wear, but this is not something about which to worry.
Neither is accomplishing Godís work. It is when we worry that we try to matters into our own hands. Thatís probably what happened to Sarai. She felt like such a failure; she was barren and she had failed to give Abram a child. She worried that everything God intended would fall apart because she couldnít do her part. But God does not need us; God can accomplish the impossible even when there is nothing. His Word spoken is as good as done. We just donít understand the timing. God knows what we need and He knows how to give it to us. The righteous believes this.
Faith isnít about the tangible. It isnít about flesh and blood. Faith is about living in Godís promises. We wonít do it perfectly. Weíll doubt. Weíll be afraid. Weíll try to take matters into our own hands. But our failure doesnít negate that which God has already done. Our righteousness is not dependent on our ability to stand firmly in the promises of God; our righteousness is credited to us by Christ. He covers us; we simply live under that cover. When we do fail, God is near to reassure us with His mercy and a reminder of His promises.
The writer of Hebrews tells us, ďNow faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.Ē How would you describe faith if you were questioned by a child or a non-believer? We might want to define faith in concrete terms, as if it is something we can hold. Unfortunately, those who do not have faith need something tangible that they can feel or see or experience. They want to take it in their own hands, do something to be worthy of the promises of God. They want to come up with human explanations; they want to find the answers to those age old questions. But sometimes the answer is that there is another question. Faith tells us that in the end, or in the beginning, the only thing that truly matters is that God spoke and it was.
The psalmist writes, ďBlessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah, The people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.Ē The bottom line is this: God does not need us, but we need God. And He has chosen us for His own. He has called us into His Kingdom and given us all we need. He has promised us more than we can possibly imagine and we are counted as righteous because we believe. We are children of Abraham, one of those many stars in the sky, not by our own power or work, but because God is faithful. We need not worry or take matters into our own hands because in His time and in His way, He will make everything come together perfectly.
We might not see the fulfillment of all Godís promises in our lifetime; Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah all believed. And even though they were not always faithful, God is. He is faithful to us, too. So, let us walk in that faith, and live in the hope that rejoices at the promises even before they are fulfilled. In faith we will dwell with God now and forever and inherit the Kingdom that is eternal.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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