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Faith Against the Odds: A Sermon for Lent 2
February 21, 2016, 6:29 pm
Filed under: Sermons

texts this week

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

Throughout this season of Lent, we’re exploring faith on Sunday mornings. Last week, we talked about faith as trust. Faith is a gift of God that turns us towards God in trust. God proves Godself trustworthy through the witness of scripture, the sacrifice of Christ, and the ways God is present to us today.

This morning, we wonder about faith against the odds. What’s it like to keep the faith when times are hard? How do we keep trusting when our prayers aren’t being answered? What if the promise is just too great to be trusted?

Abraham- called Abram in today’s reading- is an example of this faith. He trusts in God even when it seems impossible that God would follow through and actually give him the things God has promised.

Back in chapter 12, the Lord said to Abram, ‘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 earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram leaves home. Even though we often refer to Abram as an example of faith, he struggles to trust. He has a hard time trusting God will keep him safe. He tends to try to make up his own plans, including passing his wife off as his sister in a disastrous attempt to be welcomed and honored by the Pharaoh. That ends well enough for Abram, he gets livestock and riches, while the Pharaoh ends up cursed. Pharaoh figures out he’s been cursed because he’s taken another man’s wife, but instead of attacking Abram, he sends him safely on his way, his wife, Sarai, restored to him. It seems like Abram took a really difficult route that hurt the people around him rather than just trusting God in the first place.

The biggest problem for Abram is understanding how God will fulfill God’s promise to start a nation from him. Abram has no children and he’s old and only getting older. This is weighing on his mind as we enter our reading from Genesis today.

He wonders if he’s misunderstood the promise. Maybe God will be creating a nation out of his household, not directly from his own children. Abram can’t figure out how God make this happen.

God’s response is to repeat the promise. God sends him outside to look at the stars. Count them, God says, that’s how many will be in your family.

Looking up at the stars, Abram believes.

I wonder what it is about those stars that makes Abram believe. Does it remind him that God created all the heavens and surely can give him a son? Is it a place where he encounters God and is strengthened by God’s presence? Or is hearing the promise one more time enough to inspire his faith? The text doesn’t explain. All it says is that God saw Abram’s faith.

Even the New Testament celebrate Abraham as an example of faith, citing his passage. But I’m not so sure I agree. Abram can’t handle waiting for God’s timeline. At that moment, under the stars, he might have been full of trust, but later on, when no son comes, he begins to wonder if God’s waiting for him to do something to make it happen.

Remember how I explained Abram’s first attempt to take matter into his own hands? I don’t think his wife appreciated being married off to another guy. Well, his second attempt to fulfill God’s promises himself isn’t any better. He decides to have a baby with one of his slaves. I think he figures that’ll be good enough- at least its his own kid. His wife is old and not getting any younger, so it would seem that avenue is closed.

But that wasn’t God’s promise. All of Abram’s attempts to make God’s promises come true fall flat. It doesn’t seem possible that God could do what God said God would. But God does. Years later, Sarah and Abraham have a child, Isaac, who will be the beginning of a new nation- God’s own people.

Our God works good that is against the odds. Our God fulfills promises that seem impossible. God gave Abraham and Sarah a child and a new home. Generations upon generations later, their descendants would include people of many nations, all brought in to their family by Jesus. Abram couldn’t have imagined how God was going to accomplish God’s promise. His faith wasn’t met with God’s answer in his impatient timeline, but it was in God’s.

God’s promises are for outcomes that are against all odds. God will birth God’s vision into reality. Jesus’ life and ministry show us what God’s mission is. God promises that the hungry will be filled, oppressive powers overturned, sick healed, and outcasts brought in to community. God’s mission is to bring all people into a connection with their life-giving creator that will never end. God declares sin forgiven and death defeated.

When we look in our lives and around our world, these things can seem impossible.

It would be impossible if it were only up to us. But God is at work. Sometimes God helps us keep the faith in hard times by giving us a glimpse of the work God is doing. That would be like the stars that gave Abram hope in God’s reaffirmed promise. Like the bright sunshine and warmth of yesterday that remind us spring really will come- it’s a glimpse, not the whole reality, but sometimes it’s enough to keep us going until what we wait for comes.

When we are reminded of God’s work, then our faith is nurtured and we are renewed in our ability to trust in even the biggest promises. Faith is a gift that God creates in us, but there are ways that we can put ourselves in places where that faith is fertilized. Faith is tended to when we participate in worship, Bible study, and prayer, and when we spend time with other Christians who can help us see how God is faithful.

God fulfills promises beyond all human expectation. When it’s hard to believe, remember Jesus. Jesus came to earth to show us more clearly who God is, what God is up to, and what God will do for us. When Jesus died, no one believed what would happen next. Jesus had been teaching openly about his death and trying to get people to understand that this would not be his final end, that he would be raised to life, but it was too impossible. Until that morning, when the women and the disciples went to the tomb, and found it empty. God raised Jesus from the dead- nothing is impossible for God. The things that God did through Jesus are glimpses into what God will do for us. May that revelation give you hope, as you look at the struggle in the world and in your own life and wonder how God could ever work good out of all that is bad. God brought Jesus from the dead. God will do many other wonders, as God renews the world and brings it into alignment with God’s vision, in God’s time.

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