2/25/2018 Second Sunday in Lent The text is Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
99 years old! That’s how old Abram was when God spoke to him. Now, 99 is a ripe old age in anyone’s book, and I know I don’t expect to make it that far. Long before that age, I’ll probably be living in a nursing home, riddled with arthritis. I may even end up like the old preacher who was dying and sent a message to his doctor and his lawyer, both church members, to come to his home. When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room, the preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit, one on each side of his bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled and stared at the ceiling.
For a time, no one said anything. Both the doctor and the lawyer were touched and flattered that the preacher would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled because the preacher had never given them any indication that he particularly liked either of them. They both remembered his many long, uncomfortable sermons about greed and covetousness and all sorts of other behaviors that had made them squirm in their seats. Finally, the doctor broke the silence and asked, “Preacher, why did you want us to come?”
The old preacher mustered up his strength, then said weakly – “Jesus died between two thieves…and that’s how I want to go.”
At age 99, Abram was planning for a funeral. Instead of planning for his future he was determining how to spend his final years. He had no children to carry on his name and his wife, Sarai, was well past childbearing years. He was ready to close his eyes and leave this world. But God had something else in mind for this elderly man and this elderly woman to whom he was wed.
At age 99, four extraordinary promises were made to Abram. First, that this childless man would be the father of many; second, that he and his progeny would be given a land of their own; then, that his name would be great; and finally, that other nations would be blessed through him and his lineage. To any reasonable person these promises must have seemed preposterous. At almost 100 years old, Abram thought of his body as already “as good as dead”. And Sarai? Well, she was 90 years old herself, and 90-year-old women simply don’t have children EXCEPT through the will of God.
Now, just as preposterous as God’s promises to Abram must have seemed to him and his wife, God’s promises through Jesus Christ must have seemed to the people of first century Palestine. Sometimes, it’s even hard for us to believe in such Good News. We are promised forgiveness and yet we don’t feel forgiven. We are promised new life in baptism, and yet we have the same old aches and pains as the people before us. We are told that we are cleansed from our sin, yet we make the same mistakes. We who believe are promised a place at the eternal heavenly banquet table, and yet no one has seen heaven and given us a report on it. God’s promises seem too good to be true. God’s promises seem too good to be true. And yet, as God kept his promises to one very old man and one very old woman who were as good as dead and to their descendants, so God will keep his promises to us through Jesus Christ. As unrealistic and extraordinary as those promises seem, there is no reason to doubt the power and will of God to make them happen.
Through a 99-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman, God did wondrous things. To reflect the fulfillment of his promises, God changed their names – so Abram became Abraham, meaning “exalted father of the multitudes”, and Sarai became Sarah, the “princess”. Both these names, given by God, look outward. As the personal relationship with God was to be lived out in a relationship with others, this special relationship that God had with Abraham and Sarah was not just for them.
God wanted to have the same kind of relationship with all the children of Abraham and with each new generation. God’s relationship does not wear out. Time does not end it, as this relationship extends to each of us through faith. So no matter how old or giftless we may feel, God has included us in his promise and in his plan. We all have a niche to fill. For God hasn’t finished with any of us yet.
I know I’m giving my age when I tell you that I still remember seeing an elderly man in the 1960’s wearing a t-shirt on which the front was inscribed with the words, “Be Patient With Me Because…” And on the back were the words, “…God Hasn’t Finished With Me Yet!” As I read about Abraham and Sarah in our text today, I couldn’t help thinking how much they might have benefitted from that t-shirt philosophy. For in their minds, because of their age, God had finished with them and they were as good as dead.
But God hasn’t finished with any of us. And God hasn’t finished with Emanuel Lutheran Church either. God has surprising plans in store for us all. Each and every day is full of new opportunities to share God’s grace with others. Each and every day we embark on new journeys of faith. Each and every day we are embraced by the never-ending love of God. Sometimes we may feel like we are too old or too young, too stupid or too poor, too shy or too busy or simply too tired to be of any concern or use to God. But God doesn’t stop reaching out to us and God doesn’t give up on us, even if we give up on ourselves.
May we believe this, as preposterous as it may sound. For this is God’s promise to us – that he will stay connected to us throughout all our years and offer even those of us who feel like we are as good as dead, one more surprise. Be ready for it when it comes. Believe and accept it and pick up the cross given to you. For God has something wonderful in store for you and for others through you if you are just willing to trust in him and his promises.
Lenten blessings to all of you, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.