Second Sunday in Lent

Text: Genesis 12:1,4
The Lord said to Abram, "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's home, and go to a land that I am going to show you". 
When Abram was seventy-five years old, he started out from Haran, as the Lord had told him to do.

The trip was a bit scary but well worth it

Remember the line from the movie Forrest Gump, "My momma always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." Forrest is summing up his life as he reflects on all the twists and turns that his life has taken Ė a kid with a low IQ and finding school and relationships difficult, a hero in the Vietnam war, a famous football player, a champion table tennis player, the up and down relationship with his childhood sweetheart Jenny, and the deaths of his two best friends Bubba and Jenny and his mother, and unexpectedly becoming the father of Jennyís child.

Life is a bit like getting a box of chocolates and picking one randomly. You might pick up one that is soft and sweet, or with a hard centre, or with a nut or Turkish Delight in the middle. You don't know what you will get until you bite into it and it becomes either a pleasing or an unpleasant experience.

You could interpret "Life is like a box chocolates" as just a matter of good luck and bad luck. Itís bad luck if you pick a chocolate that has a centre you donít like and good luck if you get your favourite. Whatever happens is completely random and all you can do is go along for the ride and use whatever resources you have at hand to help you deal with what comes up.

Itís true that we never know what is around the next bend in our lifeís journey but itís more than good or bad luck if we survive the ride or not. Itís more than relying on our own strength to endure.
When we reflect on the path life has taken, none of us would have guessed in our early years some of the unexpected twists and turns;
the times of despair that seemed unending and the moments of complete joy that we wished would never end.
We might even wonder if things would have turned out differently if we had made different choices.

Abrahamís life was a bit like that. He was very settled and had done very well for himself in Haran Ė he had considerable livestock, servants and wealth. He and his wife Sarah were, to say the least, comfortable. Then out of the blue God came to Abraham and told him to pack up everything and move. Abraham could have said, No thank you, God. Iím quite happy where I am". We are simply told in Genesis, "When Abram was seventy-five years old, he started out from Haran, as the Lord had told him to doí.

Did Abraham expect that at 75 he would have to take this journey of a lifetime?
Did Abraham know where he was going?
Could Abraham be certain of what the future may bring?
Did he know that he would remain a wanderer for the rest of his life and that the only piece of land that he would own would be a burial plot for his wife?
He knew none of this just as none of us know what will happen in our lifeís journey beyond this moment. Just like any of us, Abraham made some big blunders along the way. He made some bad choices and sometimes questioned what was really going to happen next. Maybe in his own way he said,
'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.í

What enabled Abraham to be so positive when the road he was taking took some very unusual turns like leaving Haran, being promised to be the founder of a great nation and yet not have any children and then when he finally has a son in his old age, he is commanded to sacrifice him on Mt Moriah?

We are told, "It was faith that made Abraham obey God" when he was called to pack up and leave. "By faith he lived as a foreigner" in that strange land, always on the move. "He trusted God to keep his promise" to make him a father.
"It was faith that made Abraham obey God" and trudge up Mt Moriah with wood and fire and his son.

"It was faith that made Abraham obey God". What is meant by faith?

Perhaps what I should do first is to say that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to live by faith in God.
Living by faith in God does not mean that bad things will never happen in your life and that bad things have come your way because you havenít trusted God enough.
It does not mean that God will instantly give you healing, or rescue and save you from accidents and illness. It doesnít mean that when someone suffers from asthma, cancer, depression or schizophrenia, it is because they have a lack of faith.

Living by faith in God doesnít mean that you will never experience a shaky marriage, always have a good job, your kids will never disappoint you and always follow God's ways.
Living by faith in God doesnít mean that you will be successful and wealthy. It doesnít mean that when you hit a low point in your life, itís because you have a lack of faith in God.
Having faith in God doesnít mean that you will never be overwhelmed by a natural disaster, suffer at the hands of enemies, get caught in the crossfire of a war or lose your life because of your faith.

This kind of misunderstanding about faith heaps added burdens, guilt and despondency on those who are suffering. They blame themselves for "lack of faith".

So what does the Bible mean when it says, "It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him" (Hebrews 11:8).

When Abraham and Sara packed up and together with their flocks and tents they set off into the unknown
their neighbours, thought they were complete fools, 
their wider families, believed they were crazy to pull stakes and head off into some foreign place where all kinds of dangers were lurking. 
Regardless Abraham and Sarah went on a trip of faith.

They set out with nothing more than the conviction that God was saying to them, "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's home, and go to a land that I am going to show you.  I will give you many descendants, Ö and through you I will bless all the nations".

Faith was putting themselves into the hands of God, willing to go on a journey into the unknown, trusting that wherever God would lead them he would be there to help them.

Their faith trusted God to help them through any anxiety or uncertainty.
Even though they trusted God, they still faced all kinds of difficulties.
Their troubles didnít magically fade away; they made mistakes.
At times their faith seemed extremely fragile. The promise that they would be the beginning of a great nation seemed like a ridiculous dream.
At times they doubted and misread the signs of Godís will.
But they kept on the journey,
they trusted the God who had spoken to them and given them a promise and his reassurance.
In faith they believed that God would not let them down.
They believed that God's wisdom was far greater than theirs and finally reached their new home.

Itís very similar in the Gospels. For the disciples, faith started as they journeyed with Jesus. Sometimes they were sure of their faith but at other times they were uncertain where they were heading. It was wonderful travelling with Jesus but sometimes it was dangerous. One thing was clear Ė as they journeyed with Jesus their faith was shaped, enlarged and made more certain.

None of them were saved from misunderstanding, abuse and suffering. They did not become popular and prosperous. In time they had to face situations, powerful people and forces that once would have filled them with dread. But as they journeyed on in faith they found the strength and wisdom necessary for each challenge and each trial.

As they travelled they discovered that although good times came and they enjoyed those good moments, a bit like carefree cruising downhill on a bike on a sunny day with the wind blowing in your face, but their faith actually grew larger and stronger on the rugged, uphill climbs, and when storms roared into their faces. Didnít Paul endure all kinds of hardships, persecutions, sickness, and seemingly faith shattering obstacles as an apostle for Christ? No doubt these were difficult to endure but in the end Paul praises God for the hardships that had come his way. He writes to the Romans, "We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us" (Rom 5:4). When he talks about the hope that doesnít disappoint, he is referring to the certainty of God's love that is strengthened through trouble; the assurance that God does not abandon his beloved people and that he is right there with them upholding them in times of hardship; and the faith and trust that God never abandons his people even in the darkest moments.

I donít believe things have altered. Faith is going on a wonderful trip with Christ Jesus, not certain where it will lead us, but sure that in Christís company things will work together for good.

There will be those times on the journey
when our faith will seem to be inadequate;
when our understanding of God's love in difficult times is shaky;
when we canít see where the road ahead is leading us;
when all we can focus on is the pain and grief and not see the giant arms of Jesus embracing us and holding us up.

It is by stepping out on the road with that little, scrappy yet precious faith that we do possess, that we will find the greater faith for which we all long.

As you know Miriam and I like to travel and we have crisscrossed Europe numerous times by car. We drive because we want to see the countryside, the villages, the mountains and spectacular views. Sometimes we wonder where a road might be leading us. It is very narrow, windy and bumpy. We begin to wonder whether we made a wrong turn and should we go back. But our understanding has always been Ė this road must go somewhere and so we keep going and we are rewarded with amazing scenery that simply takes our breath away or a stroll through a delightful village. We have often said to each other, "The trip was a bit scary but it was well worth it".

Like Abraham we donít know where the road ahead will lead and what detours and crossroads we will encounter, but we will say when we reach our final destination in heaven, "The trip sure was a bit scary at times but with faith in Jesus we have made it and it was well worth it".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th March 2011

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