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“The One God of All”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Genesis 21:8-21

 

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving girl.

 

Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

I’ve always found this story rather distressing.  In age-old feelings of jealousy, it appears Sarah decides Hagar and her son should go.  It says she didn’t want Ishmael to inherit with her own son Isaac.

In a land of plenty, in this family with no other heirs, Sarah’s jealousy is most disturbing; why can’t she share?  Does she not trust Isaac will have enough?  …Even though we are told that Abraham is a rich man?  Is this a class war, where she doesn’t want her son playing and associating with Abraham’s son by her slave Hagar?  Or could it be anger and resentment, since – as soon as Hagar becomes pregnant with Abraham’s child – we are told Hagar gloats and looks down on Sarah.  After all, Hagar had surpassed Sarah in her apparent “womanhood” with Abraham, or so the culture would have said.  There was (and even still is) a lot of shame wrapped in a woman’s inability to bear children.

 

But even more disturbing:  wasn’t it Sarah’s idea all along that Abraham sleep with Hagar in order that he might have a descendant that way?  And now she wants to undo what she did?  This feels audacious and cold.  And yet, as judgmental as I feel toward Sarah in this moment, what options did a wife have in those days?  Women were valued by their ability to produce heirs, and this was something she could not yet do.  She was nearing a century of life, without the blessing of having her own child.  Perhaps she turned to her servant Hagar, as her way of trying to fulfill her wifely duties.

 

Whatever Sarah’s feelings or her reasons, we hear that Abraham is greatly distressed by Sarah’s wish to send off Ishmael.  So God speaks into this moment and directs Abraham to do as Sarah wishes.

And so, despite his distress, Abraham does what he has done before.  He believes God.  He obeys.  He sends Hagar off with Ishmael and only bread and a skin of water by which to survive.

But God has told Abraham that God will indeed make a nation of Ishmael also.  So not only will Ishmael survive, but it would seem that he will indeed thrive.  He too will become numerous, having many descendants.  And so Abraham obeys.

 

And this is when we look upon the dire situation in which Hagar finds herself and her son – with no more water, and expecting the end for she and her child.  She leaves Ishmael underneath a bush, farther off, so she might not have to witness the death of her child.

But just as God speaks with Abraham when he is distressed of soul, so an angel of God speaks to Hagar in this moment of deepest despair.  The angel tells her not to fear; that God has heard the cries of her son, and that God will actually make a great nation from Ishmael.  Hagar is to go back to her child and hold him fast in her hand.  And when she obeys, as Abraham had done, God opens her eyes and she sees a well.  She goes and refills the empty skin full of fresh water, and she offers this water of new life to her son.

 

Can you imagine the emotional journey Hagar has been on?  Can you imagine being someone’s servant, their slave?  Can you imagine that someone telling you to sleep with her husband?  Can you imagine the fears that must have entered her mind?

Can you imagine the position in which she finds herself?  Truly she appears at the mercy of her masters.  She does what they will.  She sleeps with Sarah’s husband.  She bears his child.  And when tensions grow between she and Sarah and Sarah wants her gone, she is cast out to fend for herself in lands and cultures where not having a tribe means certain death.

 

But this is not the end of Hagar’s story.  God has a plan for Ishmael as well.

Hagar’s story, tragic on so very many levels, does not end with the death of she and her son in the wilderness.

…For God hears,
God speaks,
And God provides.

 

To this woman, used and abused, God speaks of a future for her son that is magnificent and hopeful.

 

Now I must say that I am still very uneasy with this story.

It seems that, as in so much of life, the rich get richer and the poor poorer, the powerful remain strong while the powerless are jerked around and mistreated.

 

But I am also encouraged by this story.

For God does not treat Hagar and Ishmael as disposable, as trash, as pawns.

For apart from Abraham and Sarah, Haagar and Ishmael will prosper.  Their stories intertwine, but her story branches off here in its own direction.

God is with Ishmael, and he becomes strong with the bow.  He lives in the wilderness, and he marries a woman his mother finds for him from her homeland of Egypt.

They survive.

And they prosper. 

 

This is the character of the God we serve.

Imperfect servants of God, Abraham and Sarah,

They are still used by God.

God remembers that they are made of dust.

 

And yet God’s love doesn’t stop with the family of Abraham who he has chosen.

No God’s presence and love follows Hagar and her son Ishmael,

even into the lonely and vulnerable wilderness.

 

God has mercy on Sarah, who could never bear a child – her one main duty as a wife.  And God works in the life of Hagar, providing for she and her son in the darkest place of their lives, that they may one day form a nation of their own.

 

 

It is a common misconception that God’s choosing of Abraham means God does not love everyone else.  But it has always been for the sake of the whole world that God chose Abraham.  It has always been that THROUGH HIM all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  Abraham is blessed TO BE a blessing…to the rest of the world. 

For God’s love doesn’t stop with Abraham.  God’s love can be shown and grown through a servant like Abraham who listens, believes, and follows.  Through his obedience the families of the earth will find blessing.  But God’s love is for the whole creation, the people of every land and place, all those who wander and run themselves ragged in fear, like sheep without a shepherd.  God has mercy on us, despite our sins, and graces us with undeserved favor and blessing.

 

THIS is the God we serve:
The God who speaks to the rich nomad
and the spurned and abused servant girl,
making them both ancestors of great nations.

Despite all our human-divisions of power and vulnerability, gender and opportunity, wealth and poverty, …master and servant,

GOD is God to all.

 

We are alike,
beloved by the Most High God.

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

On this Father’s Day, let us speak aloud the names of those who are and were father figures to us. 

                                                (Psalm 72, excerpts)

Give to your Leaders good judgement, O God, and a sense of what is right.  May they govern your people with justice and do right for those who are powerless.  May the mountains bring peace for the people, and the hills bring forth justice.  May they defend the poor among the people, save the children of those who are needy, and crush the oppressor.  May they endure as long as the sun, like the moon through all generations; like the rains that fall on the early crops, like the showers that water the earth.  May justice flower in their days, and peace till the moon is no more. May they have pity on the week and the powerless; may they save the lives of the poor.  May they redeem them from oppression and violence and regard their blood as precious.  Let grain be abundant through-out the land, and wave on the the tops of the mountains.  Let the crops blossom like Lebanon and the people flourish in the cities like the grass of the fields.

(Iona Abby Worship Book)

Liberator Christ, you came into a holy place and read the sacred word about sight for the blind folk and freedom for prisoners.  Come to this place now.  Read these words to us till our own eyes are opened, our faith is unlocked, and we can see the world as it is, and as it could be; till the yearnings of ordinary people are taken seriously, and the visions of the young are valued, and the potential of the old is released; till you Kingdom is celebrated everywhere, and your church is good news to the poor.

Amen.

“Hospitality to Strangers”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 25:31-46
Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7
Hebrews 13:1-2

 

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

 

Hebrews 13:1-2

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

~~~~~~~~

 

This passage from Genesis stops me in my tracks before the story even gets going.  From the start we are let in on the fact that God was in fact meeting with Abraham, but it does not appear that Abraham knows this.  Rather, he looks up and sees 3 strangers standing nearby.

And not knowing that these 3 strangers are in fact God, Abraham’s response is so much more remarkable.

 

Do you know those who will fall all over themselves to bless and care for you?

That is the image I get here of Abraham.  Upon seeing strangers, he immediately jumps up, runs to them, and humbles himself – bowing low before them.  He begs them to allow him to provide for them nourishment as they rest awhile, and they accept.  He instructs Sarah to use the choice flour to bake cakes.  He instructs his servant to choose a calf, tender and good, from the herd to slaughter and prepare as food for his guests.  He gathers it all together with curds and milk and takes it to these three strangers

I am struck because I’m not accustomed to anyone going to such great lengths without a profound history of foreknowledge and respect for the guests.  Or perhaps one would go to such great lengths if one was afraid and wanting to pacify and please their unexpected guests.

But beyond such scenarios, I think we hardly ever see such willing, determined, and generous hospitality in our time.  …especially for complete strangers.

In fact, I suspect our first response would be more akin to irritation at the danger we might feel and the inconvenience of the drop-in.  And I, for one, find myself reticent to share the very best of what I have.  I usually want to save some (or all) for me…

 

But I suspect what is happening here is more about social norms.

With no fast food, no hotels or motels, every traveler remained dependent on the kindness and generosity of complete strangers.  And you would be more welcoming to others because you know that one day you may have to call on that same generosity and kindness, for survival.

 

But I suspect that Abraham’s own character is on display in this exchange.

He didn’t have to use the choice flour, to kill the tender young calf.  He didn’t have to run to meet them.  He didn’t have to.

He could have spoken only after they fully approached.  He could have remained seated, after all, he and his camp outnumbered them; Abraham was holding all the cards.  He could have served them but begrudgingly, not eagerly.  He could have planned to rob them of whatever they had on their person and to leave them half-dead somewhere obscure.

But Abraham rises, he runs to them, he humbles himself, and he lavishly serves them.

 

The writer of Hebrews exhorts the people to show hospitality – for in doing so, some have entertained angels.  But even greater than angels is God.  And here, we find that in entertaining these strangers, Abraham has indeed welcomed God.

And this may sound far-fetched to us – as we do not expect to encounter God in our driveways, hallways, or front steps, but Jesus brings is home, when he tells the parable of the nations.  In this parable, God separates people, and the deciding factor is how they behaved to “the least of these,” the nobodies, the unmentionables, the dregs, the invisible, the dispensable.

 

Please do not hear me as condoning these disparaging and demeaning names for those most vulnerable in our society.  But I use these words, to hopefully call to our minds the various faces of those we have passed by.  Can you see them?

Can you see the faces of those deemed un-noteworthy?  Those who have been counted as collateral damage to progress?  Those ostracized and rejected?  Those condemned by the dreadful circumstances into which they have sometimes been placed, been born, or fallen into?

 

Do we show this abundant, eager, insistent hospitality? 

Do we humble ourselves before them – not assuming our better situation is the result of our efforts alone, or that their disparaging situation is the result of their negligence or sin?

 

I suspect most of us cannot say we have ever offered hospitality like that which we see in this story of Abraham.

Let that sink in.

 

When the Kingdom of God is – at its center – hospitality to the stranger, how have we gone so wrong as to judge and ignore those who come close to our tents. 

I am guilty.

 

And what is it that we miss when we fail to welcome God in the stranger in our midst?

Where would any of us be now?  …We children of Abraham – not by blood but grafted onto the family tree by the grace and favor of our God?

Scripture says that in this meeting the Lord met with Abraham,
and in this meeting unawares,
God foretells that this aged couple will at last bear a child of their own flesh and blood!

It is the hope for which they long-waiting, went astray, and stopped hoping altogether. 

 

What is the hope for which you long-await?
What is the hope for which we long-await?
What is the relief and provision that will be balm to our souls?

I suspect that you, like me, ache.

We ache.
And our long-waiting has taken the form of prayer,
Of hope,
Of discouragement,
Of misguided efforts, and
Of despair, …at times.

 

How much more-so would your whole being ache
To think that God’s mighty and perfect provision came,
But was ignored,
Judged,
Dismissed,
Despised,
Shown the door?

 

God shows up among us in the stranger.

God shows up among us in the powerless.

God shows up among us. 

 

And what will you do?

 

What will we do?

…when such stranger shows up here?

 

What will we do? 

“So Abram Went”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Genesis 12:1-4a

 

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

 

Genesis 12:1-4a

Now 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 went,


 

 

What a beautiful God we serve!

This passage from Genesis is simple.
And it is beautiful.

 

God planted this dream in Abraham.  God spoke and Abraham listened.

And then, Abraham followed.

 

It is that simple.

 

Did Abraham know the way?

No.  God said God would show him the way.

Did Abraham get to stay in the familiar and the comfortable?

No.  God said to leave everything he had known and to go.

 

And so, Abraham took this leap of faith.

Abraham chose to believe God over his own wisdom.

Abraham chose to follow God over his own Father and family.

Abraham allowed God into the nitty gritty of his life.

Really.

 

For Abraham, God was not a ritual.  Faith was not merely a profession.  Faith was not an assent to a belief system or set of doctrines.

No, for Abraham, God was his life-line.

For in their culture, people survived by clumping.  They survived by numbers and connections.  To go out alone was to ensure your own death.  There were no fast food chains.  There were no internet lists of best hotels and accommodations.  There wasn’t Google Translate or Rosetta Stone language learning systems.  Maps were limited.  And you stayed alive by staying among the familiar, surrounding yourself with family.

New folks in town could be completely on their own, outsiders and excluded.  And worse yet, you were most certainly more likely to be met by armed men than a welcome basket of home-baked goodies…

And God was specifically instructing Abraham to leave all his security, on a mere promise.

God promises to lead Abraham.  God promised to protect Abraham.  God promises to bless Abraham and to make him a blessing.

 

And Abraham believes.

 

This belief is not merely talk.
This belief is up close and personal.

This belief is living and active:  Abraham is leaning on God moment by moment to find his way forward.  Abraham is leaning on God to protect him.  Abraham has put all his eggs in God’s basket.

 

Have you ever experienced such a thing?
To put all your eggs in God’s basket??

 

When I was living at Camp Hanover, I felt God call me into church ministry.  And I was eager to follow.  But God had me on a journey of discovery and transformation as well.  God was freeing me from the weights of oppression.  God was freeing me to finally see and know myself.  God was freeing me to live more authentically true to who I am.

But I was searching for my next step.

And finally in the middle of a worship service at Ginter Park Presbyterian, God spoke to me through the hymn, “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore.”  The phrase, “now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me.  By your side, I will seek other seas” struck me.  I felt in my Spirit that God was calling me to walk away from my job, my security, my source of income…and to follow.

 

Now, I don’t think my leaving was as graceful as Abraham’s.  Or if Abraham’s leaving was ungraceful, we’re not privy to that information!  But I needed assurance.  I asked God to confirm it to me, and in moment by tiny & big moment, God made me know in my bones just how needed it was.  And finally, I followed.  I stepped away from where I was, in order to embrace where God was leading me.

And it was terrifying.

I dubbed it: “The Grand Experiment of My Life.”  I was the experiment.  And the question I was asking as I was followed was, “God, if I follow you, will you keep me from harm?  Will you bless me and make me a blessing?”

 

Now, I can assure you that my journey has not been without suffering.  We follow a God who came to us in Christ Jesus and knew an agonizing death.  And I have suffered following God.  That is true.

The way has been fraught with the effects of human sin and discrimination.  The way has been fraught with fears and uncertainties.  The way has been fraught with anger at injustice.

And yet, I once was dead, and I’ve come back alive!

I was lost, and now I’ve been found!

I was alone without true companionship and friendship, and now I am embraced in loving partnership and community.

 

I have grown in depth.

My eyes have opened to many whom I’d never before seen or understood.

I have learned to be slow to speak and quick to listen.

 

And I can honestly say that God has blessed me and made me a blessing. 

 

And my journey is not yet through.

I continue to follow after God:  listening for the still small voice; reclaiming my identity, responsibility, and power; laying down my fears (over and over again) at Christ’s dear feet; and asking God to direct my steps.

 

We all journey differently.  There is no one the same.  But until we let go and fall into God’s waiting arms, we will never truly know the depth of God’s love and mercy, grace and provision, deliverance and protection.  Until then, all these promises of God that we affirm Sunday after Sunday are hardly transformative and little understood.

 

So, will we, like Abraham, choose to follow where God leads?

Will we, like Abraham, release our death-grip on the comfortable and the familiar, in order to follow God into the promised land that awaits?

Will we, like Abraham, exercise our daily muscles of faith – trusting God for the smallest and biggest aspects of our daily lives?

Will we, like Abraham, exercise our daily muscles of faith – trusting God for our common life together, as church?

 

We believe in the cross and resurrection! 

Are we willing to allow God into our moments of obedience (…unto suffering and great loss…)

that we might finally KNOW our God who brings life out of death?

 

THIS is the God we serve.

The God who raised Jesus from the dead is our God.

May we KNOW that God.

May we believe that God.

May we trust our God.

And may we follow, such that our very lives witness – alongside the Bible – to the goodness, might, mercy, grace, healing, wholeness, beauty, protection, provision, and deliverance of our God,…our Maker, Redeemer, and Friend.

 

Amen.

“Trust and Enjoy”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22
Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”…

God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

 

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths

 

 

This is perhaps the hardest, and the easiest, teaching of God to follow and carry out.  God is telling us to simply acknowledge God, in all our ways, and to trust.  That’s our job.  All the other stuff, all the hard stuff, is GOD’s job.  What God asks of us is really not that hard.  Children do this, in their own way, everyday!  God is not asking us to do what we cannot do.  God is asking us only to do what we can do…acknowledge God and trust.

So, why is this SO HARD!?!

 

I think it goes back to that garden and the fruit tree…and the serpent’s luring words:  “God knows when you eat this your eyes will be opened and you will become like God, able to tell good and evil.”

Just like Adam and Eve long ago, we too want to be like God!

We too want to be God!!

We want to play God with our own lives – to control it, to control others, to predict the future, to determine good and evil, to order our days, to get what we want, to shape our lives as we think best!

We don’t want to have a God, we want to be God!

And this is the root of our sin.

 

 

Abraham’s story is a curious story.  Many of us have heard it as children, and it may feel warm and familiar, but have we really sat with it, as adults?

Abraham’s Daddy sets out for the land of Canaan, but when he gets to Haran, he settles there.  No explanation is given.  We don’t know why he was aiming for Canaan in the first place or why he ends up settling in Haran, but this is how it goes.

Now, Abraham’s name back then was Abram, and the next we hear is that God speaks to Abram telling him to take his family & go to the land God will show him.  God tells Abram that he’ll make of him a great nation, in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

God doesn’t say where.

God just says go.

God is asking Abram to trust his spiritual ears – that Abram can and is indeed hearing God speak to him – and to trust the character of God, that if God says it will be good for him, then indeed it will be good for him.

…And the very next thing we read is, “So Abram went, as the Lord told him.”

It is a miraculous affair really.

 

How many people have you met, in your lifetime, who have simply gone somewhere –without anything lined up on the other end – simply because God told them to go and told them it would be good?

 

Have you done this in your life?

Abraham trusted God.

 

Now, here, we already see the rubber hit the road:

It is easy to say we trust God, but how can we see that trust in our actions?

Where is that trust reflected in our daily living?

Do our lives tell a story of anxiety and worry for the future?

Are our actions driven by fear?

Do we feel trapped in situations?

Do we complain about our lives but talk ourselves out of every idea for change?

 

I imagine most of us aren’t so different from Abraham.  God has planted dreams and visions in our hearts.  God has placed desires.

…Now, you may have to really dig deep to remember,…but do you remember being so on-fire about an idea? …so stirred up for a cause? …so passionate about something??

Do you remember being filled with a vision for your future?

Have you heard God say that your life meant something?

…that it matters?

…that it’s important?

 

God operates this way.  Remember Joseph?  God gave Joseph a dream – in which all the stars bowed down to him.

But do you remember?  When Joseph told his brothers the dream, they were plain pissed off!  They had a very “uppity” brother, it seemed to them!  They would put him in his place…the bottom of a hole, …and then a slave to the highest bidder!

 

And so we are afraid – “what will others think!  I must have a big head!  Who am I to ever do anything important?!”

How many times have we cowered in shame and self-deprecation… rather than believe the call of God on our lives?

 

But…

say we believe it.

Say in the core of who we are, we believe what God has said to us…

Then what? 

Do we tuck it away in a safe place where no one can discover it?..hurt it…ridicule it???

Do we then safely wait and secretly hope the dream will somehow fall into our laps?

 

Do we follow and do what the Lord has planted and placed in our hearts to do?

Or do we let it fade and die into numb forgetfulness?…hidden, safe, dead.

 

Let’s say, we not only believe what God’s said to us, but we follow

Then what happens?

Everyone, and our mother, may think we gone off the deep end.  Noah’s neighbors likely had the Department of Social Services on the line, ready to intervene.  Abram’s family was likely grumbling and complaining, worried about where they’d find water, or grass for the animals, or safety in foreign lands.  Had Abram shared God’s promises to him with others, I imagine it would have made for much late-night banter, …especially in light of his childlessness and what-not… “A Father of many nations!?  And at the age of 99!”  How do you think Joseph’s master or later his prison-mates would have responded if he shared his dream with them?  Perhaps they’d have thought him arrogant, or audacious, or crazy, or naïve.

We don’t respond well to folks who “hear God talk to them.”

We’re comfortable enough believing that people heard God’s voice in the stories of the Bible, but if anyone we know hears God’s voice, we pick it apart…

“Was that reeaaally God’s voice?”

“What if you were just hearing what you wanted to hear?”

“Perhaps you’re deceiving yourself.”

 

Just believing God’s word to us is daunting.  Now following it – hanging our very lives on it – in public…now that’s a very different thing.  That takes a whole new level of courage, resolve, and trust.  …simply because of the opposition we will face,… often from our loved ones…and sometimes also from ourselves:

“Was that really God’s voice?”

“Did I imagine that?”

“What if I’m wrong?”

 

Now as Abram is on the road, following God’s call, we begin to see Abram wrestling with the details of what God’s promise means and what it looks like to follow and to get there.

Abram has it in his head that his wife is so beautiful that folks will kill him, in order to take her.

We don’t know how true this may be…but we do read that at least 2 different kings think she’s so beautiful, they take her into their homes to make her their wives.  This all plays out because Abram makes Sarai swear to say she’s his sister – hoping that those who might otherwise covet his wife and kill him to get her, will rather consider him an ally in getting her hand for marriage.  It’s not a brilliant plan; I don’t think Abram really wants to share his wife with these others, but frankly, he’s scared to death.  He’s terrified that if they don’t lie about her being his wife, folks will kill him to get her!

…and he may be right.

So they lie.

 

Was this what God wanted?  Was this necessary?

God had promised Abram that he would make of him a great nation.  Clearly a dead Abram couldn’t make a great nation.  One could then reason that Abram didn’t need to lie – that he could be honest and God would protect him.

…But one could also reason, that it was by Abram’s lying that God protected him….

We just don’t know!

 

And in our lives,…we just don’t know.

 

I’ve had a far easier time in my life, trust God – that He is good and loves me.  What I find far harder to trust is myself!

I may make a mistake, as I try to follow God!

What if I lie, like Abram did, when God wanted me to tell the truth?

What if I sleep with my servant, in order to have the child God has promised me – when God wanted me to have that child with my wife?

 

Part of trusting God, involves trusting that God is big enough for all our mistakes.

 

Notice the scripture:

            Trust in the Lord, with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge God,

And God will direct your paths.

 

It doesn’t say, “In all your ways, get it right, and God will direct your paths.”

It says, “In all your ways, acknowledge God, and God will direct your paths.”

 

God wants us to trust

with childlike faith

and to not hang our hat, at the end of the day, on what we can see and predict and understand.

 

God wants us to follow

hand in hand

and trust God to handle everything that comes our way,

including US! – our mistakes, our misunderstandings, our everything.

 

Abraham did not always “get it right.”  For a man of great faith, he also was rational and strategic.  He knew how to stay alive as a foreigner in a foreign land, with a beautiful, coveted wife.  He knew how to negotiate with kings and win the favor of strangers.  Abraham reasoned that his aging, childless wife, might not be the one through whom God planned to make a great nation…..perhaps his slave would do – she could bear him a son!

Abraham didn’t know when to do what, but when God spoke, he believed God, and followed.

He had a heart that trust in the Lord.

 

And that is all God asks.

 

Our God is a God who wants to bless us!  Our God wants us to enjoy our days and our lot!

And God knows that we cannot enjoy when we are fearful,

or worried,

or doubting.

God knows that we cannot enjoy life, when we are reaching outside of ourselves and our abilities, trying to play God with our own lives and the lives of others.

God knows that our blessing and joy will only be complete when we

Acknowledge that God is God and we are not,

And trust God to do what only God can.

 

 

God is God, and we are not.

What God asks is that we trust, like a child

Leaning on God, like a child

Acknowledging God, in everything we do…

 

And God will be faithful to make our paths straight, to lead us into the promised land, to fulfill the word God has spoken over us in God’s own time, to realize the vision God has planted in our hearts.

 

God is God, and we are not.

 

We are God’s children! 

May we put our hand in God’s

and in-JoY this beauuutiful ride,

the life Christ has given us!

“Children of the Promise”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 15:1-6
Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Genesis 15:1-6

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

 

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.


 

How many times have I read this scripture from Hebrews  – to run the race that is set before us – without reading the scripture before it.  And now that I am reading the verses that come before, what a different way I’m hearing it!

The writer of Hebrews lists name after name of those who lived their lives by faith, and then he continues by listing those more recently who have lived by faith and suffered dearly for their lives of faith.  In all these cases, he claims that these faithful ones did not receive what they were promised because God had something better – us!  Yes, US!

Their lives of faith were for a purpose.  Their sacrifices and risks and losses were for a purpose.  And that purpose was all of us!  Through their lives of faith, we have also heard, Christ has come, and God has poured out the Spirit on all flesh!

 

Could these faithful ones – who gave it all, who risked it all – have ever imagined that God would use their acts of faith to reap a harvest of faith in believers to come, for generation after generation?!?

Could they have known how their acts of faith would unclog righteousness that justice would flow down like the mighty waters?

Could they have known how their acts of faith would carry the torch so future generations could see and receive the Messiah, Christ among us?!?

Could they have known, how many would be set free?!??

 

The writer of Hebrews explains that WE make THEM perfect.  WE are the inheritance God promised them.  We are the land of promise.  WE are the fruit of their labors!

 

These champions of the faith have been given us, as their reward.  They have multiplied the Kingdom!  They have helped to usher in the Kingdom on earth!!!

 

 

So, how does that make you feel?

 

It sounds crazy – that the writer of Hebrews would be talking about us, as if we were so great.  But we are!  We are the substance of things hoped for, of things not yet seen.  We are the fulfillment of God’s promises to these faithful ones!  We are what so many labored and loved and worked and sacrificed for.

 

Can you believe it?

 

 

Who do you labor and love and sacrifice for?

Do you ever wonder whether or not all your efforts are in vain?

What if God showed you how your acts of faith have impacted, not only those you love, but also the many who will come after you?

 

We all affect one another.  When we carry the torch of faith, it is not about us.  It is about the God who we serve.  It is about all those God loves and is seeking out.

 

And how many will know God’s love because of us?

How many will hear of God’s mighty acts because of our lives?

How many will know God’s freedom and truth, because of us?

How many will walk in righteousness and do justice, standing on our shoulders?

 

 

It is a humbling thought.

Our lives are more than just our own. 

 

 

And knowing that as we walk in the ways of our God, we are standing amidst a great cloud of witnesses – how does that make you feel?

We are not alone.  All who have come before and ran this race are among us still.  They reside now in the presence of God, and they cheer us on.  They are witnesses to our lives, as we have taken up the torch of faith they carried and continued on.

 

We are not alone.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

Even when we are alone.  We are not alone.

 

Can you see it?

Do you believe it?

 

If we remember that all those we’ve known and loved and lost are with us still, coming around us, cheering us on, what would change about our lives? 

 

Is it possible

we would finally lay aside all the doubts and fears,

sins and distractions that cling so closely?

Is it possible

We would remember what really matters?

It is possible

We would take courage from their courage?

Is it possible

we would live as though our lives really matter?

 

…because they do.