Sermon for the Second Sunday in 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. 

Because of faith

Did you know that Vincent Pilkington holds the world record for plucking a turkey - 1 minute 30 seconds?
Did you know that Ken Edwards can eat 36 cockroaches in one minute? (In fact, thatís all he eats).
A Russian woman has the record for the largest number of births. She had eight sets of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. And this leaves another sixteen individual births. All that means she was pregnant over thirty-five times and delivered 69 children. This means she was pregnant for over 26 years of her life.
What is even more amazing - these births took place in the early 1700s and even though medical science was still quite primitive only 2 of 69 failed to survive infancy. I think that record will stand for along time if not forever.
Last year the newspapers reported that the oldest woman to give birth was aged 70 and her husband 72. They had been married for 50 years and this was their first child through IVF.

We know that Sarah, Abrahamís wife, beat that record by a mile.

As you know Sarah was 90 and Abraham 100. The biological clock had certainly stopped ticking for Abraham and Sarah. When Abraham was told that he would be a father, he fell to the ground laughing.

When Sarah heard the news, she also had a good chuckle to herself. 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. In fact, for most of us it wouldnít be a laughing matter at all. The thought of giving birth, dealing with nappies, toilet training and then a teenager is enough to stop an aging heart.

From the time God first told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation to the fulfilment of that promise twenty five years had passed. This long delay certainly tested Abrahamís faith in God and his promise, but Abraham never gave up on the idea that he would be a father and from his child he would 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 a bit of it again,
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. 
Abraham was certain that God could do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21 CEV).

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.

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, leave his home and go 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 with him no matter what that journey might bring and where it might 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.

Even though there is a moment when Sarahís impatience is clear and she urges Abraham to have a child via her servant Hagar, in the end it came down to relying on God to fulfil the promise of an heir. The aging man took God at his word, trusted his promises and believed in his power to make this a reality even though from a human point of view the situation was hopeless.

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 pin up 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 is has been your experience that when all human effort has failed, and supports have been pulled out from under you, that it has been 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 faith in God that has strengthened you and enabled you to get through it.
When fear for the future grips your soul, it is faith that assures you 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 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 can still smile because you know it won't be long before it will be all over.

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 is 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!"  Your depression is gone, the crisis is over, you have overcome your depression, you are able to cope, 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.

In Romans 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 isnít 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 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.

This kind of faith in no way relies on our human ability to trust and believe. Itís not our faith that urges God to move and do something because too often our faith wavers and is uncertain. Even though our faith might be unsteady that doesnít diminish God's love for us. His offer to stand by us through thick and thin is written in blood, the blood of Jesus. This is an offer of free, complete, unconditional life that will stick with us. We have been given the Holy Spirit who keeps on pointing us back to Jesus and his love and continually takes our weak and wavering faith and makes it perfect in the eyes of God. That is the reason for Jesusí death Ė to make us perfect, holy, saintly, full of trust in God as our loving heavenly Father.

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
8th March 2009

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