Sermon February 21: Claim Your Mission

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Faith United Methodist Church

February 21, 2016

Second Sunday of Lent

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: Luke 13:31-36, Genesis 15:1-8, 18

Prayer of Illumination:

Eternal God, open our eyes to your light. Open our hearts to your love. Open our minds to your possibilities. Speak to us today, O God, and strengthen our faith. May our reflections bear witness to your truth as we see your promises unfold. Amen.                     

Sermon: Claim Your Mission

 You’ve all heard the saying, “There’s no fool…… like an old fool!” That’s right! The idea being that the most extreme fools are those whose age should have made them wise. Old age doesn’t necessarily imply wisdom. Do you know any old fools? This saying dates all the way back to 1546 when it was recorded in John Heywood’s Proverbs Collection. As I approach my 41st birthday I hope I can say that with age comes wisdom!

But Abraham. O Abraham. If this saying was made for anyone, it was him. I mean, what was he thinking? He should have known better than to drag his elderly wife out into the wilderness on the promise of land and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. It just wasn’t practical. Perhaps Abraham didn’t understand the intricacies of procreation. Yet at age seventy-five ~ with a wife in her sixties ~ one would think he would have gotten the idea. If he and Sarah hadn’t had children yet, it just wasn’t going to happen.

But perhaps I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself.   Because Abraham was not yet Abraham….and Sarah was not yet Sarah. They were still Abram and Sarai ~ travelers on the way ~ having only recently left their country of Haran on the promise that God would make of them a great nation. We hear God’s promise to Abram earlier in the book of Genesis when God spoke to him:

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the world will be blessed.

It truly is an amazing promise, but it is equally amazing that Abram claimed it. He took it on as his own. God gave him a mission of land and children and he embraced it. There was not one single sign ~ no proof beyond God’s word ~ that anything that was promised would come to be. Yet Abram packed up his household ~ left all he knew ~ and hit the road for an as yet undisclosed destination. I can just imagine Abram and Sarai’s friends waving them off ~ and taking bets on how soon it would be before they returned. Poor old Abram. There’s no fool like an old fool.

Yet, perhaps what Abram was chasing after was his last chance for respectability and honor. In fact, before God called to him Abram had probably given up on his dreams. Abraham’s life had not turned out as he had hoped, so he decided to follow another way, God’s way, a way around what was culturally expected. As Timothy Shapiro explained it, in Abram’s time, “…possession of children and land signified a healthy relationship with God… one was saved by one’s children, by the land one possessed.” Having no children was likely a source of embarrassment, and also a source great pain for both Abram and Sarai.

Which brings us to the lesson for today. Some time had passed since the initial promise and Abram had been busy. He followed God into battle and saved his nephew Lot. He’d done everything God asked of him, but he still had no children. At this point in the story Abram again found himself in God’s presence and Abram was beginning to doubt. “O Lord God,” he pleads, “what will you give me, for I continue childless…you have given me no offspring.” Perhaps people were starting to make fun of Abram. “What, no kids yet?” But to Abram’s pleas God replied, “Look to the heaven and count the stars….so shall your descendants be.” And again, Abram claimed what God said was true. God was providing a way around.

Our Gospel lesson is also a story about a way around. In it we see Jesus chatting with the Pharisees. Now the Pharisees thought they were in good with God, but they couldn’t figure out Jesus. Since they couldn’t understand Jesus they tried to trick him and corner him and get him in trouble with the authorities so he would go away. Jesus, though, kept evading their grasp, kept finding a way around their plots and schemes. In today’s lesson they tried to scare Jesus away by telling him Herod wanted him dead. But Jesus wouldn’t be scared, wouldn’t be deterred from his mission – his mission to gather his children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. So he replied, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.”

So maybe Abram was an old fool. Maybe Jesus was a fool. Neither of their decisions was practical. They both probably should have known better. Yet the season of Lent is a time for believing that the unbelievable is possible, for trusting that God has a way around. It’s a time for holding on to the promise even when we can’t clearly see the outcome. It’s a time of remaining faithful in the wilderness, just as Jesus was, just as Abram was.

In his story, Abram essentially had nothing to lose and everything to gain in following the way God laid out for him. I admire Abram’s courage even in the face of discouragement. I can’t say for sure that I would have had the same unwavering faith in similar circumstances. He truly claimed his mission. Yet, in the words of Kate Huey, “If God is going to have the final word on our lives and in the life of the world, if God holds the future in God’s own hands, then I guess we should get about the business of living under that canopy of grace that is God’s care and leave the worrying behind.” Which may be easier said than done!

It is important to remember that at the end of today’s passage Abram still didn’t have what he most desperately wanted. There were still no children for Abram and Sarai. They still had only the promise. As Professor W. Dennis Tucker put it, “Abram’s commitment to his God, despite all appearances to the contrary, challenges us to ask whether we have in fact believed in the Lord…”

It would still be many years before Isaac was born to two hopeful and aged parents ~ by then known as Abraham and Sarah. And even then, Abraham wouldn’t see the fulfillment of the promise. He could only glimpse at it. As the story goes, he had one son, who then had two sons, who then had twelve sons… and on and on and on. It would be many generations before the people known as Israel would enter the Promised Land and fill it. Yet Abram believed.

I don’t know about you, but I think I want to be an old fool. I want to trust the promise rather than the evidence.   I want to know better and believe anyway. I want to claim my mission, hecklers and doubts aside. When the way forward is blocked by those who say it can’t be so I want to take the way around. I know that, in my lifetime, there will be things that I want and can’t have. Hopes that will go unrealized. Like Abram and Sarai, we all know the pain of unfulfilled dreams.   Yet we walk this Lenten journey to the cross with one eye on the empty tomb, the ultimate way around, Amen.