Sunday,August 8, 2004

Tenth Sunday in Pentecost
Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Let thy lovingkindness, O Jehovah, be upon us, According as we have hoped in thee.

St. Peter Lutheran Church is located near the Citigroup Center in Manhattan, as a matter of fact they share the same city block. The Citigroup Center is one of the financial institutions that have been targeted by radical terrorist groups for annihilation. The church has to deal with the security measures that have been taken to protect the building and all who work there. A door that is normally open has to remain locked. There is no parking on the street for the congregation that comes to worship. There is a constant police presence and even the worshippers must be prepared to be subject to search. The ministries of St. Peter’s will be affected since a shared loading dock has been closed and all deliveries must be checked.

At a recent service, the assistant pastor, Rev. Carol Fryer, said, “We cannot live in fear. We must let our faith shine through in the midst of all this. We will continue to do what we normally do as a sign of hope.” She said that their presence at the worship was a sign of their faith. Those worshippers were witnesses to the hope that exists beyond this world.

This is exactly what it means that we, as Christians, live in this world even though we are not of this world. We are heirs to a greater kingdom, something real and lasting that is beyond our reach while we live in the flesh. We have a hope that can’t be seen, except through the faith that is manifested through out lives.

If Abram had told his next door neighbor that he would be the father of millions, that guy would have laughed in his face. After all, well beyond the age of procreation, Abram was still childless. He expected that a servant in his household would be the heir to all he had accumulated. I can imagine Abram crying out the same as the teacher in Ecclesiastes as he points to all his possessions. “Meaningless, it is all meaningless because I do not have an heir.”

Yet, God had not forgotten His promise to Abram. “And, behold, the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, This man shall not be thine heir; But he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.” The promise still stands even though it seemed impossible. God confirmed it with the most extraordinary sign. He took Abram outside and told him to look at the sky. “So shall your dependents be.” Now, we have to remember that Abram did not live in the middle of the city. His view did not suffer the light pollution of street lights. When we walk outside, we can actually count the number of stars. For most of us, the heavenly bodies visible in the night sky number in the hundreds.

However, have you ever camped on the top of a mountain, far from the city lights? I remember when I was a girl, camping with Girl Scouts in Pennsylvania. I was amazed with the number of stars I could see. The sky was so full that I could never have counted so many. It would have been even more so for Abram, in the desert thousands of years ago. God was promising that Abram’s offspring would be in the millions.

Obviously, this promise was not to be immediately fulfilled. Abram would not meet his grandchildren’s grandchildren. He would never know the many generations that would fill the earth in the years to come. He was having enough trouble believing he’d have one son. Yet, he did believe. “And he believed in Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.” Abram and Sarah continued to walk in faith despite the fact that they might never personally see the fruition of God’s plan. They lived in the confidence they had in God’s faithfulness.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” They knew their faith went beyond this world. They sought after something greater while living daily in this world. “For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own. And if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.” Their hope is not in this world, but in the next.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” Those who live and move in the Citigroup Center in New York City will look at the joy and worship of those in St. Peter’s and wonder why they could be at such peace. If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, we should ask ourselves, what is it for which we hope? The people of this world live in fear of the possibilities. They hope that tomorrow they will be alive to live and work again. They hope the bombs won’t explode on their doorstep. They hope they will be successful, prosperous and blessed in every physical way.

True hope has nothing to do with those things. Those who have faith in God live in the hope of His promises. Paul Tillich wrote a book called “Dynamics of faith” which discusses the question “What is your ultimate concern?” What is it that moves you forward each day? For the man in last week’s Gospel lesson, it was the accumulation of stuff. The same thing is true of many people living in the world today. They put money away in IRAs so that they will be prepared for retirement, but they never put any of their wealth to use for the sake of God’s kingdom. Their ultimate concern is themselves. They ask, “What is in it for me.”

In today’s Gospel Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Jesus turns our thoughts from ourselves to God. He is to be our ultimate concern. We are moved to walk in this world for the sake of His kingdom. Jesus pushes the faithful to live in that hope. “Sell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth.” The things of this world are perishable, they are not lasting. Our wealth and our health will fail us one day. When our ultimate concern is ourselves and seeking after the things we think will give us hope for tomorrow, we are disappointed. When our ultimate concern is God, we know that even when the world around us falls apart there is still hope.

Jesus warns His listeners to be prepared for the coming of the Kingdom. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto him.” In those days when people wore robes, it was difficult to work with the lengths of fabric billowing around the feet. The robes were drawn up and tied around the legs, making them more like a pair of pants so that the person could move more freely around the field. Jesus is telling us to be prepared for action, ready to receive our Lord at any moment.

All of the New Testament writers wrote with an expectation that they would see the second advent of the Christ with their own eyes. Though the return of Jesus was imminent, they never did see the promise fulfilled in their lifetimes. And yet, they saw it fulfilled every day as they met Christ in the hearts of those who heard God’s word and believed. They saw Him in the hungry and the lonely. They shined His light to those who were lost in darkness and shared His forgiveness with those caught in the snare of sin. They were prepared to receive Christ in everyone who had some need – whether it was the poor who needed food or the rich who needed love.

Jesus said, “Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Abram heard God’s voice in a vision. We might 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 don’t quite know what took you there? It was a feeling, a thought, a compulsion. I’ve 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 know without a doubt they have met the Lord in the eyes and heart of the person they helped.

When our ultimate concern is our own selves, we miss those divine appointments. We aren’t interested in sharing our time, talents or possessions because it might mean we won’t have enough for tomorrow. However, when our ultimate concern is God, we know that God will provide for tomorrow so we can share out of our abundance in faith and trust that He will be true to His Word.

Today’s psalm shows us the futility of trusting in the things of this world. “There is no king saved by the multitude of a host: A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.” Blessed are those who trust in God because they know the greater concern. They know the hope that exists beyond this world of a kingdom that will never die. Throughout history there have been no nations or people who have lasted forever. Times change, enemies destroy, and hope in the future fails. However, even when these things happen, hope in God remains true. He watches from heaven above and knows all, into the very depths of their souls. Those who can say, “Our soul hath waited for Jehovah: He is our help and our shield,” will truly rejoice because no matter what tomorrow holds there is hope.

The people at St. Peter’s in New York City have no idea what will happen tomorrow. I could take only moments for a bomb to destroy everything they have and do in that neighborhood. Yet, they continue to worship God in hope and peace, not allowing the fear of this world keep them from being prepared for their divine appointments with their Lord. He will always come unexpectedly. We don’t know the hour He will come to us either, or in the way He will arrive. We can only be ready with our loins girded and our lamp burning, ready to give a word of hope to those who seek something greater in this world.

Thanks be to God.

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