Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 14)

Text: Genesis 15:1, 2, 5, 6
After this, Abram had a vision and heard the Lord say to him, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward." But Abram answered, "Sovereign Lord, what good will your reward do me, since I have no children? Ö The Lord took him outside and said, "Look at the sky and try to count the stars; you will have as many descendants as that."  Abram put his trust in the Lord, and because of this the Lord was pleased with him and accepted him. 

Look up at the stars

Someone said to me recently, "I canít believe in a God who can let innocent people, especially little children, get blown to bits by some crazy terrorist or allow a disease like AIDS to destroy the lives of so many people who are just innocent victims". I donít agree with his kind of theology but I can understand where he is coming from. Sometimes it is hard to see God at work, or understand his will and ways. The life of an only child so much loved by his parents is suddenly cut short through the stupidity of someone else. A young man, studying to be a doctor, is found dead in his bed because of some undetected congenital health problem.

We believe that God is in control;
we are certain that he cares for all his people;
we know that he is all-powerful and that there is nothing he canít do.
We believe these things about God but that still doesnít help us understand why God hasnít come to the rescue, or healed us of a debilitating illness, or stopped people losing their lives through no fault of their own. We believe that he is the creator of this beautiful that he has given us; we believe that he has given us Good News through his son Jesus, but at the same time why doesnít he step in when there is nothing but bad news in our world and in our lives. Even though we believe all these things about God, itís hard to see where he fits and what heís up so when things are going all wrong for us.

Sure I believe in the promise of eternal life in heaven, but what good is that when Iím trying to survive all kinds of trouble right now? Where is God when I need him the most?

Our first two readings have a lot to say about Abraham. God comes to him in a vision and gives him a great promise. "Do not be afraid, Abram. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward." The "great reward" God is referring to is the land he had promised Abraham when he left his homeland. But what good is land when there is no one to inherit it. After all, Abraham is old and doesnít have much use for land anymore.

More importantly he wanted a child. He says to God, "You talk about a reward; the reward that I really want is a son. You promised that I would have many descendants, but what good is a promise when my body tells me that I am too old. Not to mention how an old woman like Sarah could possibly go through a pregnancy and labour. I believe that you will shield me from all danger, but the thing I have wanted for so long is a son and now itís too late." There is no doubt that Abraham believed God, but right then and that moment God's promises didnít make a whole lot of sense.

And what does God say in return? "As long as you keep on looking at your old age, Sarahís inability to become pregnant, the person you will write into your will in place of a son, then things will always look gloomy and hopeless. Letís go outside. Look up at the sky and try and count the stars." Abraham looks up and sees the mass of stars dotting the black sky. "Thatís as many descendants that you will have. Stop looking at what is possible and not possible from a human point of view. Just watch me. Trust me."

Abraham was a great man of faith but we also know that he couldnít work out what God was up to when even after such a clear promise, nothing was happening as far as a baby was concerned. So he tried to help God out and got his servant-girl Hagar pregnant, so that he would at least have some kind of a family and heir. And when Abraham and Sarah are told by three visitors that they would have their own son, they laughed. No one had ever heard of 2 old people with one foot in the grave, having a child. Maybe they thought that God was having a go at them and having a bit of fun at their expense.

God doesnít say in reply, "Oh well, since you donít believe me, forget that I ever mentioned that you would have a son. Goodbye. You work it out for yourself." Instead God reminds them of his promise. "I will give you land and many descendants. Trust me." In the end the writer of Genesis tells us, "Abram put his trust in the Lord, and because of this the Lord was pleased with him and accepted him" (Genesis 15:6)

The book of Hebrews sums up Abraham in this way, "It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him. He left his own country without knowing where he was going. It was faith that made Abraham able to become a father, even though he was too old and Sarah herself could not have children. He trusted God to keep his promise" (Hebrews 11:8, 9, 11)

Trusting God can be a hard thing to do sometimes. Like Abraham, we wonder what on earth God is up to. We might think, "Now if I were God, I would do this or fix things up in this way." We expect God to work according to our understanding and logic. However, we see in the Bible that Godís way of doing things and God's understanding of how the events of this world and our lives make one grand picture is far beyond ours. Itís a bit like tipping a jigsaw puzzle out of the box and spilling all the pieces on the table. They are just funny shaped pieces of coloured cardboard. Even after we sort them into the various colours, they still donít make any sense. But the lid of the box promises that these pieces will make a beautiful picture.

Likewise God promises that the individual events in our lives, that donít make a whole lot of sense to us, do make up a beautiful picture. "Trust me", he asks. "When you draw your last breath, the last piece will go into place, and you will see from your place in heaven, the beautiful picture I have made from all those seemingly pointless and puzzling events in your life."

I know that when you are in the thick of some kind of crisis, itís hard to make any sense of it all. Sometimes even the encouragement to trust God doesnít help all that much. Abraham and Sarah had the same problem. They knew how good and great God, but he didnít seem to be so good and great to them at the time. But look what God was able to do in spite of their moments of doubt.

Faith simply takes God at his word. Faith believes the promise that we are his dear children and that he will always be watching over us as we travel the ups and downs of lifeís journey.

During the days of the bombing of London, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran through really thick smoke from their burning house.

In the front yard was a deep cater made by a bomb. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the dark hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. The smoke was so thick he couldnít see his father. The little boy was terrified and when his father called out "Jump", the boy replied, "But I can't see you!"

The father, looking up saw his son through the smoke silhouetted against the glow of the burning buildings, called out, "But I can see you. Jump!" The boy jumped because he trusted his father. Faith trusts God to help,
not because we can see, but because we are seen;
not because we know all the answers, but because we are known.

That illustration then leads to the idea that faith responds to the Word of God with obedience. The little boy, even though he was terrified and couldnít see his father, trusted his father and jumped in obedience to his call. It is important that you keep on reading Godís Word,
studying it with others, like in a Home Group,
and keep coming to church on a Sunday to hear it over and over again.
I have heard some complain that they donít come to church because they hear the same thing over and over again. That may be true, but it is important that God's message to you through the Bible becomes so much a part of you, so that when the going gets tough, youíve got some reserves to draw on.

Itís amazing how some people are able to cope with some of the severest and darkest times. These people have immersed themselves in God's love as revealed in his Word, so that when the events in their lives challenge their trust in God's love for them, they can remain firm when pain and doubt are tearing away at their bodies and minds.

If you are going through a tough time at the moment and are wondering what God is up to dealing you this kind of a hand, we can do something better than counting the stars as Abraham was asked to do. (Though that doesnít do any harm). Look at the cross. And see what God's love has done for you. See the power of his love that did the ridiculous and seemingly impossible Ė see the love that caused God to die for you.

Trust that love.
When our hands droop,
our knees are weak,
and we are weighed down with worry and our sinfulness,
and we feel like giving up, we have a Saviour. We believe firmly that Jesus has not let go of his grip on us. Life may not be easy but Jesusí love for us and his forgiveness are as strong as ever. In fact, faith looks forward to a time when we will be welcomed into the promised land of heaven. Trust him. He will not let you down, and you will see his goodness, over and over and over again.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th August, 2004

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