The readings for Pastor Ken's sermon are Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, and Luke 12:32-40.
This sermon is about FAITH and FAITHFULNESS.
In our First Reading, from Genesis 15, we read that "the word of the Lord came to Abram." Out of the blue, unexpected, uninvited, God invades Abram's life. After the customary exhortation "Do not be afraid" (for it is a rather shocking surprise to have God drop in on us that way), God presents him with a promise: "I am your SHIELD (implying king, sovereign, protector, provider); your REWARD (better translation = GIFT) shall be very great." Now apparently, the gift that would have the most meaning for Abram would be to have his own son and heir. But he and Sarai are getting on in years and she is barren, so Abram points out that God has not given him any offspring, and so (according to the custom of the day) a slave born in his household is to be his heir. What kind of reward does Abram have to look forward to?! Remember God's covenant promise to Abram back in Genesis 12: "I will make of you a great nation" .... Where is this great nation? Only one heir and he isn't even Abram's own child! So Abram is amazed and mystified and maybe a little skeptical about this surprising promise.
But God isn't through yet. His word comes again: "Your very own issue shall be your heir! .... Count the stars .... so shall your descendants be!" A more amazing promise yet; even more unbelievable!
But what's even more amazing is the very next verse: "And he believed the Lord!" Why? How does one simply believe the unbelievable? There was absolutely no supporting evidence to make plausible God's unbelievable promise. Ah, you say Abram had FAITH so he believed the unbelievable. Well, one thing we can then say about faith is that it doesn't depend on evidence, or logic, or our analysis, or our experience, or anything else we can bring into the equation. For us Christians, BELIEVING GOD'S PROMISES DEPENDS ON SIMPLY ONE THING: TRUSTING THE ONE WHO MAKES THE PROMISES .... TRUSTING GOD TO BE FAITHFUL TO HIS PROMISES. Faith is indeed a leap into the unprovable, into the loving arms of a sovereign God who invades our lives with sometimes amazing, even "unbelievable" promises.
Our Second Reading, from Hebrews 11, puts it this way: "FAITH is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Here I like to make a distinction between wishing, which expresses our desire for something, and hope, which is our response to God's promise about something. Abram probably wished for a son all his life, but after God's invasion with his amazing promise, Abram had a basis upon which he could hope for a son. And that hope was not "hope against hope", but it was the hope that's based on the promise of our Faithful God. It was believing! Or, as Hebrews puts it, it was assurance, conviction, absolute rock-solid knowing for sure!
Hebrews goes on to point out something quite astounding about FAITH. After citing Abram's faith-obedience to God's call and promise, it notes that he and his descendants "died in faith without having received the promises", that is, without having received the ultimate promise of the heavenly kingdom during their lifetime! They, and we, while we live on earth, can see and greet the promise of that kingdom only from a distance as we anticipate its coming in fullness. Now we get glimpses of the heavenly kingdom, but some day we will be ushered into its full glory and splendor. Note Jesus' words in our Gospel Reading from Luke 12: "Do not be afraid (there's that exhortation again), for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." God has a great world in store for us .... Some day .... Does He even giggle in His good pleasure?
I have to tell you about a birdhouse I have in my backyard - earlier this summer I observed a couple of sparrows bringing in pieces of straw and string and things with which to build a nest - what a warm and satisfying feeling I had to be able to provide a little home for a couple of birds - in time I noticed some little chirps coming from the recesses of the little house and observed their steady flying to and fro carrying bugs - one day I peeked into the hole of the house and saw four tiny beaks peering out at me - four hungry chicks waiting for their vittles - what a warm and satisfying feeling to provide a home for a whole family of God's creatures - as I continued to sneak up and peer into the hole I noticed in time that the chicks would back away and hide from this unknown, large, and perhaps dangerous creature. "Fear not" I thought to myself, but wasn't able to communicate it to them. Then last weekend the chirping stopped, there were no more bug-carrying journeys by Mom and Dad, and no more residents in the birdhouse. The time had come. It was time to venture forth, to experience a totally different world and life than the little chicks had known in the safe and cozy confines of their house. Time to fly. Time to live a "new" life. They're gone now .... Up in the trees, in the sky, in the neighborhood .... And I miss them: my little "birdhouse family."
It occurred to me that when the time was right and God called Abram to leave his country, his people, and his father's household to venture forth to a land that God would show him, he was calling him to leave his "birdhouse" in
Some of us are facing similar moves, similar challenges, similar emotions. Some of us have graduated from the "birdhouse" of a school, and life as a student, with assignments given, defined problems to be solved, papers to be written. Our lives have been pretty well mapped out by our program and our teachers. Where do we go from here? How do we go about getting a job, becoming a productive member of society? What is this great big world with all its unknowns, challenges, and dangers?
Some of us are facing the first day in school, or perhaps a new school. It's time to venture forth out of that "birdhouse" of the life we have known and felt comfortable in to face the opportunities and challenges of a bigger world.
Some of us are facing life changes - a move to a different community, a different job, a marriage, even serious illness and possibly death! There are any number of things that will nudge us out of our safe, cozy "birdhouse" into a new life, a new world with all its unknowns, challenges, and dangers. How can we face such change? By taking each step with our gracious Lord. By believing, despite any worldly evidence, God's promise to be our shield, our king, our protector, our provider. By not being afraid, by being full of assurance and conviction, that it is our Father's "good pleasure to give us the kingdom." Goodness, if I could find such pleasure in giving a family of sparrows a little birdhouse for a time, how much more does God find pleasure in giving us his kingdom! And if we have the promise of his kingdom, what more do we need? The answer is: FAITH to accept it, to believe it, to stake our lives on it .... FAITH to believe that God is FAITHFUL to his promises.
Finally, we may ask the questions: How does this happen? When does the Father give us his kingdom? All that Jesus tells us is that we must always "be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." We get glimpses of God's kingdom during our earthly journey, but one day, when the time is right, we will receive it in fullness, in all its splendor and glory. Meanwhile, we are to be ready, dressed for action, serving our neighbors in Christ's love, and looking for God to be faithful to us.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing us for awhile to reside in our safe, cozy birdhouses, and thank you for preparing for us a great big world out there where we are privileged to share your love, to witness to your glory, to grow in our faith, and, ultimately, to fly through the gates of pearl into eternity with you. Thank you for taking pleasure in giving us your kingdom. May we find pleasure in anticipating its coming ... whenever. Amen!