2/21/2016 Second Sunday in Lent The text is Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“There can’t be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” This quote attributed to Henry Kissinger makes me smile. Yet, there is nothing about a crisis that makes me smile. A crisis is defined by Wikipedia as a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined. It’s a turning point, a condition of instability or danger, leading to a decisive change. And it can be a dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life.
By all definitions, in our Old Testament lesson for today, Abram is facing a crisis. He’s depressed and feeling that his life has been a waste, that for his faith and trust in God, he’s still coming up empty. He has no heirs, no homestead to call his own. All he has are unfulfilled promises of a future that seems more and more impossible.
Abram is a good man, a faithful man, who has ventured off into unfamiliar territory based solely on his understanding of God’s will. He has waited expectantly for the child that God has promised him and anticipated the joy of a son who would continue his lineage. But his patience and anticipation have now run thin. He has experienced the days turning into weeks and weeks turning into months and months turning into years and, still, no son. So when a word from God is revealed in a vision which speaks about the promise of great rewards, Abram is caught in the middle between reality and hope.
This a critical time for Abram is not getting any younger and the only heir in his household is a servant’s child – Eliezer of Damascus. So, Abram wants some reassurance. He wants to know that he hasn’t wasted his life time following a Lord who will not or cannot fulfill what he has been promised. He wants to know, “O Lord God, what will you give me?” What will you give me for my faithfulness? What can you give me, O Lord?
These questions, in a variety for forms, often pop into our minds during critical times in our lives. We may feel alone and abandoned by God and we may question God’s promise to be with us to the end of the age. We may ask, “Where, O Lord, are you? Why have you left me? In my need, where is the family you promised? O Lord, what will you give me? What reassurance will you give me that you indeed are here?”
We may be disappointed by the wait before prayers are answered and God’s promises unfold. So we ask, “O Lord, what will you give me?” And when we do, we may be as surprised by the answer as Abram who in his old age is still promised a child and descendants as numerous as the stars. What may be even more surprising is the incredible power of faith that enables him to believe it.
O Lord, what will you give me? And the Lord, our God answers… the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, the people you greet, the talents and skills that are yours and so much more. O Lord, what will you give me – and the answer comes: I will give you peace – This peace is not as the world gives. It will not come through the momentary break between struggles or through a life without bumps and bruises. This peace will come from an anchor of faith which I will implant upon your heart.
O Lord, what will you give me? What will give a sinner such as I? And what we hear is the promise of mercy… I will give you forgiveness – When you question me, I will not get angry. When you stray, I will look for you and open my arms and embrace you when you return. Even if you suffer the consequences of your poor choices, I will not hold a grudge. I will always be there to welcome you home.
In those times in which we question the Lord’s resolve to keep his promises, the Lord God reassures us that he will give us himself. When we question how far God will go to keep his promises to us, all we need do is look to Jesus and we hear God’s answer: I will let you see my love for you through my begotten son, as I stretch out my arms and I die for you in order to forge a bridge between you and me that can never be broken. I will keep my promises to you, even if you should not live up to all the things that you say you will do. For whether you live or whether you die, you are mine.
My friends, if we never question God during troubled times when we are facing a turning point or crises in our lives, we will never receive the reassurance of God’s promises. In his time of despair, the righteous Abram questions God. So, “it is good to remind ourselves again that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral law. It has to do with living in right relationship with God.” (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371). And that right relationship often begins with questions. Even though some consider such questioning to be the opposite of faith, it actually stems from faith for without faith there would be no need to question. It is through questioning that God reinforces his promises to us.
So, one way to grow in faith is to pursue our questions. Ignoring them or suppressing them actually deprives us of the opportunity to grow and to find comfort in God’s plan for the redemption of the world. It’s understandable that we may not want to face our questions about God head on. Some of them can be frightening, especially those dealing with the mystery of human suffering. It can be incredibly difficult to face the question of why bad things happen to good people – especially when you’re the one who is experiencing bad things! But like Abram, when we face our questions, or better yet, when we voice our questions to God, our trust in God’s promises may deepen.
Remember – there is no question so out of line that you can’t ask God. For in asking your questions you may discover that our God is truly God. O Lord, what will you give me? May you wait, in faith and hope, and see what is to come. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.