Sunday, August 7, 2016

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-16
Luke 12:22-34 (35-40)

Our soul has waited for Yahweh. He is our help and our shield.

We live in a world of instant gratification. People donít write letters because it is faster to send an email. We have overnight delivery for packages we buy online; in some cases we can even get things delivered within hours. We donít have to go into a grocery store anymore: we simply email the store our shopping list and they will have it waiting at a pick-up spot. We still wait in lines, of course. I visited a very popular fast food place the other day where the drive-thru line was at least twenty cars deep and the line inside was not any shorter. However, the employees work incredibly hard to ensure the wait is not very long and I had my food within minutes.

We donít like to wait. We pick the shortest line at the grocery store. We follow recommendations at the theme parks so we visit the busiest rides early to avoid the crowds. We pay extra for expedited shipping. I read a post on Facebook the other day that suggested that if someone doesnít return a text within minutes, then they must not want to communicate with you. We can have just about anything we want instantly, gratifying our deepest wants and our basic needs quickly so we can quest for new wants and needs.

Patience is difficult for us all. Imagine what it must have been like for Abraham. When Abraham first arrived in Shechem after being sent away from his home and family in Genesis 12, God promised that his offspring would inherit that land. Abraham was already an old man, as was Sarah. She was sixty-five, well beyond child bearing years. Yet, God promises him offspring. Now, legally this was more than possible as Abraham could easily adopt a child as we hear in todayís lesson. We donít know exactly who Eliezer of Damascus is to Abraham; he was obviously a very trusted member of Abrahamís household. Some suggest that he was a slave. The promise, however, seems to indicate flesh and blood relation, fruit of Abrahamís loins. It isnít until Genesis 15 that we seen Abraham questioning this promise.

ďBehold, to me you have given no children: and, behold, one born in my house is my heir,Ē said Abraham. In this conversation we see that God is not bothered by our doubts and questions. When we are uncertain about what God intends for our lives, we wonít be called unfaithful if we ask Him to explain. As a matter of fact, despite the ridiculousness of the promise as it is given in todayís lesson, Abraham ďbelieved in Yahweh, who credited it to him for righteousness.Ē Faith in God means trusting Him, even when it seems like the promise will never be fulfilled.

Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old, so decades passed between the promise and fulfillment. We heard about the visit of the Lord to Abraham a few weeks ago, but todayís passage happened much earlier. Between Genesis 18 and Genesis 15, Abraham and Sarah took Godís plan into their own hands. Sarah 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 Abraham and Sarah, 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 Sarah, especially since we know that Abrahamís faith is extraordinary. But the reality is that Abraham allowed himself to be swayed. He believed, but he also doubted.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, ďNow faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen.Ē Itís all about faith. This is an easy statement to make, but it is much harder to live it. After all, what is faith? How do we define something so intangible, so incomprehensible? The scriptures are filled with faith stories, and we all have our own stories to tell, but can we really define what it is? And what happens when our actions are faithless? What happens when we question God about how or when He will accomplish His promises? Does this mean we donít have faith?

We wonít necessarily see the promises of God fulfilled as we want or expect. Think about the people in Jesusí day who were expecting a military or political king. They didnít get what they expected, they got something better, and yet most of them did not see the truth. There are many today who are still waiting for the Messiah to come to make Israel great again. They want God to make things happen in their time and in their way. The point of faith is to believe that God will do what He promises in His time and way.

Thatís the hard part. We have a difficult time waiting and recognizing how God is fulfilling His promises. We really are impatient, but I donít think thatís a quality that is missing just from those of us who live in this age of instant gratification. Abraham waited longer, but even so, he didnít wait long enough. He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, and yet we learn he didnít trust God enough to wait. The people in Jesusí day trusted that God would send His Messiah, but they didnít trust Him enough to believe that He was doing it differently than they expected. Despite all their failures, God was still faithful. Despite all our questions and doubts, God will be faithful.

The Old Testament and Epistle lessons today remind us that Abraham had faith. He trusted God and followed Him out of the world He knew into a world he did not know. He left his home and his people to become a nomad, to journey to a strange and foreign land because a God he didnít know called him. There is nothing reasonable about Abrahamís story, at least from our point of view. How do we react to those who say ďGod told me to do this?Ē Usually we laugh or ridicule them, or we reject the notion that God might speak to an individual in such a specific way.

I wish God would talk to me with such clarity. Iíve been asking Him what He wants me to do for as long as I can remember. Iíve sought His will on my career, my family, my future. Sometimes I think I know whatís Heís saying, but most of the time I just muddle through. Iím not very patient, you see, and so when things donít fall into place as soon as I think they should, I begin to second guess myself. So, even now as I wander through each day with the faith I have, I wonder if Iím headed in the right direction. God does not always seem as clear to me as He seems to have been to Abraham. Could I leave my home and family like Abraham to follow God? Iíd like to say ďYes, I have that much faith,Ē but Iím not quite that confident.

But thatís the point of our scriptures today: it isnít about how much faith we have, it is about trusting in God even when we feel like we are faithless. It is comforting to see this story of Abraham from Genesis 15, because even in this text that is quoted so often lifting up Abraham for his faith, we see the reality of Abrahamís faithlessness. He trusted God even while He doubted God. Abraham questions how and when God will provide him offspring because he doesnít see how any gift or blessing really makes sense to His world view if he has no heir to which it can be passed.

I suppose the thing we have to ask ourselves in the midst of our questions is what to do while we wait. We donít have to wait if we are instantly gratified, but thatís not the way it works with faith. Sometimes Godís promises take time. Take the promise of eternal life, for instance. We know we have eternal life now, but it is a future promise that we wonít see fulfilled until we pass from this life into the next. We are certainly not running off to take that into our own hands, although I have been finding myself crying out ďCome, Lord Jesus,Ē often these days.

ďIím finished,Ē I say, but Iím not really. I know there is work to be done; there are people who need to be saved. Jesus will not come until, as Paul writes to the Romans, ď...until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.Ē Christ will not come until everyone who is meant to believe does believe. How will they believe? Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. The way we wait is to share the Gospel with our neighbors so that they, too, might believe and be saved. Besides that, there are people to be fed and clothed, strangers to be befriended and prisoners to be freed. Living in faith means taking every gift and blessing and using it for Godís glory even while we wait for His promises to be fulfilled.

Jesus doesnít make living in that faith easy. He tells us in todayís Gospel lesson, ďSell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which donít grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesnít fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys.Ē Perhaps we have not been given the command to leave our family and our homeland to go to an unknown place, but God does want us to let go of the expectations that we think define us. He wants us to believe and it is that faith that is credited to us as righteousness.

Jesus continued, ďTherefore be ready also, for the Son of Man is coming in an hour that you donít expect him.Ē Abraham heard Godís voice and followed. We may not experience Him in that way, however we too can hear His voice. Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you knew you were exactly in the right time and the right place and you donít quite know what took you there? It was a feeling, a thought, a compulsion. Iíve heard stories of people who have turned down the wrong street, only to find themselves face to face with someone in need. When it is over, these people knew without a doubt they have met the Lord in the eyes and heart of the person they helped.

Patience for Godís promises means waiting and watching and walking in faith. When our ultimate concern is our own selves, we miss those divine appointments. However, when our ultimate concern is God, we know that He will be faithful according to His good and perfect will, and that He provide for us in the meantime so that we can share out of our abundance in faith and trust that He will be true to His Word.

There may be promises that we long to see fulfilled, promises about our lives and future that God has spoken into our hearts. We believe that God can and will provide for us in these ways, but as we wait let us always remember that God will fulfill all His promises in His time and way. Blessed are those who trust in God because they know what truly matters. We have faith in something we will not see in this world, an eternal Kingdom where we will dwell in Godís presence forever. We have this hope by faith and this is what is credited to us as righteousness. God remains true even when we question and doubt. He watches from heaven above and knows all, into the very depths of their souls.

The psalmist reminds us, ďOur soul has waited for Yahweh. He is our help and our shield.Ē This is what it means to have faith. Patience may be one of the most difficult traits in our age of instant gratification, but we are called to live in faith trusting that God will be faithful. We might not understand His timing or His way, but faith means waiting and watching, using the gifts and blessings that God has provided for us in the meantime so that all might trust in the God who has promised all who believe a place in His Kingdom forever.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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