Sunday, March 7, 2004

Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:1-9

Wherefore, my brethren beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved.

Have you ever been caught in a sudden shower without an umbrella? Our first reaction is usually to find some shelter so that we do not get wet. If there is nothing nearby, we will take whatever we are carrying - our purse, briefcase or newspaper - and put it over our heads as if it will help keep us dry. Usually it is a fruitless effort. The rain splashes on the rest of our body and the item we use to cover our head ends up soaked and ruined.

It is a natural human trait to seek protection from the storm. We know that the newspaper will do nothing to save us from the weather, but we use it anyway. We prefer the safety of our homes when severe storms hit, but even the best-built homes are little help against a tornado, hurricane or flood. The shelter of a roof over our heads offers comfort and security.

Our shelters are not always so easy to see. We buy life insurance to protect our investments. We look for a job position that will give us good benefits and a large enough salary to meet our needs. We surround ourselves with people who will love and encourage us. We join with others who have similar ideas and beliefs as we do. Living in these shelters helps to ward off fear, doubt and loneliness. We feel safe and protected, secure by the promises of the job, relationship or ideology.

Yet, the things of this world are not completely trustworthy. Insurance does not cover every possibility; people come and go. Like a newspaper in a downpour or a candle in a blizzard, the shelters we build to protect ourselves fail. We are devastated, left stranded when our relationships fall apart or we are fired from our jobs.

I would love to say that there is a shelter that would give us worry-free living for our entire lives. I would love to live assured that my job will always be there, that I will be able to pay all my bills and that I would always be happy, successful and loved. Yet, there is no such assurance in this life. God does not promise that our lives will remain untouched by the storms. He promises something greater.

In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus cries out to the people He loves. "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her own brood under her wings, and ye would not!" The Jews of Jesus' day lived in their own kind of shelter; a shelter they thought would make them righteous before God. They lived under the Law and sought goodness through obedience. The obedience, however, was not to God, but to a prescribed set of rules. Their works were their salvation. If they did all the right things, they would be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.

Even the Law as given by Moses fails. There is no way for any human being to uphold the Law of God perfectly. We fail miserably when we try. We can't be righteous on our own; we can't build our own shelters.

When God spoke to Abram, He said, "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." At first Abram questioned God about this. He sought the security of having an offspring. "O Lord Jehovah, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" Without a child of his own, everything God had blessed him with would be turned over to another. Without a son, the promise would never come to pass.

The Lord answered Abram's fears with a promise. "This man shall not be thine heir; But he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir." Then the Lord told Abram to look up at the sky and count the stars. His offspring would be as many as the stars shining in the heavens. Now, we have to realize that there was no light pollution in Abram's day. As we look toward the sky from our neighborhoods, the stars we can see often number only dozens, perhaps even small enough to count. But if you have ever climbed to the top of a mountain, far from the city lights, you will notice that there are so many stars it is impossible to count. The promise of God is great - far beyond our imagination. Abram just wanted one son to pass on his inheritance. God was giving him a people.

Verse 6 says, "And he believed in Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness." We are righteous not by our works, but by faith in the One who is trustworthy and our true shelter from the storm. As the psalmist writes, "One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after; That I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of Jehovah, And to inquire in his temple." The words he uses can be translated in many ways, calling the presence of God the tabernacle, rock, refuge, strength, stronghold, temple. He is confident, not by his own abilities or means, but because God is faithful. "Wait for Jehovah: Be strong, And let thy heart take courage; Yea, wait thou for Jehovah."

Yet, it is hard for us to wait. The storms of life come quickly, often without notice. Even now I am watching the darkening clouds gather on the horizon. Severe weather is threatening. The Lord knows that we are insecure, that we need tangible evidence of His presence in our lives. Abram is known for his faith, we are called to believe as he did on that day so long ago. Even after he was credited with righteousness because of his faith, he still asked, "How can this know this will be?"

The Lord did not chastise Abram for asking. He gave Abram a physical sign of His promise. He cut a covenant, an ancient practice between two parties to ensure a deal has been made. The parties sacrificed several animals and laid them on either side of a path. The parties involved walked through the animals, in the blood as it ran from the carcasses, in essence saying "May what happened to these animals happen to me if I do not keep my promise." God made the covenant with Abram, so that he would know God's promise is true.

Paul tells us that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. He says, "Their god is their stomach." Isn't it true that we seek shelter in our jobs, homes, relationships - putting them before the Lord God Almighty? Without Christ, our minds are on earthly things, seeking security, comfort, peace and happiness in all the wrong places. Paul encourages us to live according to the pattern that they gave to the Christians. That pattern began with Abram and continued throughout the Old Testament with those who sought after God, honored Him above all else and lived by faith not works.

We are different because we have faith, by faith we are saved and become children of God. As children, we are heirs to the Kingdom of God. "For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself." He has taken us under His wing and we are, even today, being transformed into His likeness, that we will rest in the shadow of His presence forever.

At the beginning of today's Gospel lesson, some Pharisees went to Jesus to encourage Him to go away. "Herod wants to kill you." Why did these Pharisees give Him this warning? Did they want to save His life? Did they want to avoid a bloody mess? Perhaps Jesus' teaching didn't bother them, but they just wanted Him to go somewhere else to do it. By sending Jesus away from Jerusalem, they would not have to deal with the questions and accusations. Jesus could quietly disappear into the wilderness to teach and preach to the animals. Outside Jerusalem, He would not rock so many boats.

Jesus refused to go away. He was going to complete His mission and that meant death. "Nevertheless I must go on my way to-day and to-morrow and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." It pained Him to see that they did not understand. He cried out to them to see Him as the shelter that will bring peace and hope. Living under the Law did not bring them security or peace. "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."

There, in that confession of faith we can find true refuge. Under His wings we will be safe - not from the storms of life, for we will still lose friendships and change jobs. Our homes will not last forever. Yet, we have the confidence that's promise to Abram is still ours today as one of His many offspring by faith. In Christ, as we follow that pattern of believing in His promises, we might get wet but we are assured that eternal life is ours as heirs to God's Kingdom in heaven. Thanks be to God.

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