Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

Text: Romans 4:18-21
God promised Abraham a lot of descendants. And when it all seemed hopeless, Abraham still had faith in God and became the ancestor of many nations.  Abraham's faith never became weak, not even when he was nearly a hundred years old. He knew that he was almost dead and that his wife Sarah could not have children.  But Abraham never doubted or questioned God's promise. His faith made him strong, and he gave all the credit to God. 

In faith

The Guinness Book of World Records lists records of achievement. It lists the weight of the heaviest man as 485 kg.
How tall was the tallest man? He was 241 cm.
What is the world's record for bearing children? It lists it at sixty-nine. The record states that a Russian woman achieved this great honour. She had eight sets of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. And this leaves another sixteen individual births. She was pregnant over thirty-five times. I donít think anyone will try to break this record. But where the Guinness Book of World Records is wrong is that it states that the oldest mother to give birth was aged 57. Sarah beat that record by a comfortable margin.

The story about Abraham and Sarah is an amazing one. This is the story of the oldest couple to give birth to their first child. Sarah was 90 and Abraham 100. We all know about the biological clock. There comes a time when it is no longer possible for a child to be conceived.

Well, the biological clock had certainly stopped ticking for Abraham and Sarah. When Abraham was told that he would soon be a father, he responds with total honesty. We are told he fell to the ground laughing, saying "How can anyone as old as Sarah and I possibly have children?"

When Sarah heard the news, she also had a good chuckle at the idea of her becoming a parent for the first time. Some people try to explain away this laughter saying that it was laughter of joy and excitement. I donít think so. These two old people were as human as you and I. I dare say that if the oldest person here this morning were told the same news, he/she would react much the same way. A humorous picture comes to mind imagining two old people trying to conceive a child, give birth and then have to deal with nappies, toilet training and then a teenager.

Twenty-five years had gone by since God had first promised Abraham that he would have many descendants. And now in their old age, God says that he will keep his promise and that in nine months time Sarah will give birth to a son. This long delay certainly tested Abrahamís faith in God and his promise, but Abraham never gave up on the idea that he would be the father of a great nation. In fact, God promised that Abraham would have more descendants than the stars in the night sky.

We heard a part of the Apostle Paulís discussion about Abrahamís faith in his letter to the Romans. Let me read just a bit of it again,
Abraham believed and hoped, even when there was no reason for hoping Ö He was then almost one hundred years old; but his faith did not weaken when he thought of his body, which was already practically dead, or of the fact that Sarah could not have children. His faith did not leave him, and he did not doubt God's promise; his faith filled him with power, and he gave praise to God. He was absolutely sure that God would be able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21).

Thatís a great description of what faith is.
Abrahamís faith filled him with certainty that God would do what he promised.
His faith believed even when it was illogical to believe.
His faith in God and his promise filled him with power, with the ability to endure, with the strength to overcome doubt, to the point where he praised God in spite of the circumstances.
His faith enabled him to overcome all kinds of objections, hardship, perhaps ridicule from others when he told them that he would be a father of a great nation yet he had no children.
He focussed on God and all the objections faded away. Objections like
"weíve tried to have a baby for the past 50 plus years and it hasnít worked",
"weíre too old",
"nothing like this has happened before",
"our friends think we are nuts".
Abraham simply focussed on God, certain that God would somehow fulfil his promise. This was nothing new for Abraham. Remember how God told him to pack up and leave his home to an undisclosed destination. Abraham trusted that God knew what he was doing. This was not blind faith. This was an intelligent faith that knew whom he could trust, and firmly knew who would travel through life with him no matter what that journey might bring and where it would take him. This was an intelligent faith that believed that God always keeps his promises.

Faith is a matter looking away from what we can personally achieve and look at what God can do for us and with us and through us. Faith is realising that we are at a point where we can do nothing to change our circumstances, and look to God who has the power to make a difference. You see that in Abraham Ė there was absolutely nothing that he could do about having many descendants. He relied only on God. This was entirely in God's hands. He took God at his word, trusted his promises and believed in his power to make this a reality.

Thatís why God waited so long. No one could look at Abraham and say, "Abraham, you old devil." No one could say, "Sarah, you're really a hot number." She stopped being a Golden Girl years ago. In no way could Abraham or Sarah take the credit. God did it! Their childbearing days were over. If God was going to create a nation from Abrahamís descendants then it was over to God to do something about it. Abraham trusted God that he knew what he was doing.

Maybe it has been your experience that when all human effort has failed, and supports have been pulled out from under you, that it has been your faith in God's love and goodness that has kept you going.
When sickness and pain have been almost too much to endure, it is your faith in God that has strengthened you and got you through it.
When fear for the future grips your soul, it is faith that assures that God has everything under control.
When grief tears you apart, it is faith in God's promises of hope, his ever-abiding love, and his assurance of eternal life that enables you to cope.
When you are depressed, overwhelmed, self-worth is at rock bottom it is your faith in a God who made you and cares for you that gets you on top of things again.

I donít want to make this sound too simplistic and be too blasť about the struggles that you have. Faith in God's love and care ought to banish all our problems. But our human nature and our sin get in the way. We are often involved in a struggle between faith and doubt. A battle goes on inside of us as we try to decide whether we ought to trust God to help us or will he leave us to fight our own way through the turmoil.

I came across what has been described as the Stages of Panic. This description of what happens when you find yourself in a crisis might be helpful.

Stage One - "I know God will take care of me." This is that moment at the beginning of a crisis. Faith fills your heart and you are sure that God has the power to get you through your trouble. You smile and laugh a lot because you know it won't be long before it will be all over. In many small daily crises that happen in your life, this confidence in God will get you through.

Stage Two - "I think God will take care of me." When the crisis drags on for about a week the second stage kicks in. You're still smiling but not as much now. You still believe that God will come to the rescue but he seems to be taking his sweet time getting around to it. As the days pass, little arrows of doubt find their way into your heart, but you rush to pull them out. "Any day now," you say. But the longer the crisis continues, you smile less, and what-ifs fill your mind and cloud your confidence. You start planning for the worst. Still, in your better moments you believe God can come through for you, but your doubt is almost as big as your faith.

Stage Three - "Thereís no way God will take care of me." At this point doubt has won the battle and faith has you in retreat. Anger and despair replace hope and joy. What a fool you were to trust in God! He never meant to help you. God has deserted you. Youíve been beaten.

Stage Four - "I don't know how he did it, but God took care of me!" Somehow, someway God took care of you. Your depression is gone, the financial crisis is over, you are able to cope with your sickness, you feel better about yourself. How did it happen? As you look back, you're not sure. You are sure of only one thing: God did it! You had nothing to do with it.

Having faith in God does some amazing things in our life.  Faith in no way relies on our human ability to trust and believe. God comes to us and gives faith. The Holy Spirit strengthens our faith through God's Word and Holy Communion.  God knows just how weak we are when it comes to trusting God and letting him take control.  Unconditionally, freely, completely he offers to stick with us and save us at the end of the worst day.

The apostle Paul then wraps up his discussion about Abraham's faith by applying it directly to you and to me. The story of Abraham is not just for him nor is it simply an ancient account of how God used to work. No, this story is written in the Bible for our instruction. The God of Abraham is our God too. The God of the Old Testament is the same gracious and forgiving God today.

Because of faith we know that Jesus has dealt with our sin and that as far as God is concerned is forgiven and forgotten.
Because of faith we know that God has established a special and unique relationship with us through our baptism.
In faith we believe that Jesusí resurrection assures us that we too shall live after death.
In faith we are certain that our Good Shepherd helps us and walks with us over the rough terrain of our life and will take our hand as we walk through the valley of death.
Faith calls us to turn away from trusting in ourselves, to defy all notions that God doesnít care and that death and destruction are all we can look forward to.
Faith trusts the promises of God.
Faith is a lifestyle. It is something we live each day.

May God grant us the kind of faith that Abraham had Ė
a faith that trusts that God has his arm around us as we walk through life Ė
a faith that believes that he will never ignore one of those whom he loves Ė
a faith that is certain that he is ready to hear our prayers and help us when there is no other help.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th March, 2003

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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