|Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Christ the King Sunday, Year C||November 20, 2016||Christ the King Sunday, Year C||Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||November 13, 2016||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19|
|Charles Sydnor’s sermon, Nov. 6, 2016, All Saints||November 6, 2016||All Saints, Year C||Luke: 6: 20-31|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 30, 2016||Proper 26, Year C||Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10|
|Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 23, 2016||Proper 25, Year C||II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14|
|Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 16, 2016||Proper 24, Year C||Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32: 22-31|
|Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 9, 2016||Proper 23, Year C||2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Luke 17:11-19|
|Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 2, 2016||Proper 22, Year C||II Timothy 1:1-14|
|Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||September 25, 2016||Proper 21, Year C||Luke 16:19-31|
|Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||September 4, 2016||Proper 18, Year C||Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33|
|Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||August 28, 2016||Proper 17, Year C||Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14|
|Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||August 21, 2016||Proper 16, Year C||Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17|
|Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||August 7, 2016||Proper 14, Year C||Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Proper 14, Year C|
Second Sunday in Lent, Year C
Sermon Date:February 21, 2016
Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1
Liturgy Calendar: The Second Sunday in Lent, Year C
"Abraham,Look to the Heavens" – He Qi
This past week I went over to see how my neighbor was doing. She’s had a rough time over the past few years. She’s had her own messy struggle with cancer, and her husband recently died.
During the visit, my neighbor told me about her 88-year-old friend down in South Carolina, who is Catholic and also a woman of faith. Through the years, these two women have shared the ups and downs in their lives through their letters. And at the end of every letter, they always sign off this way.
“Keep the faith, baby!”
Paul said that same thing to the Philippians.
“Stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”
How do we stand firm in the Lord and keep the faith, especially when the going gets tough?
In today’s Old Testament reading, Abraham (for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use Abraham instead of Abram in this sermon)–Abraham was having a tough time. God had made promises to Abraham that God still hadn’t kept.
God had promised him way back when that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Time had gone by. The earth turned, year after year. Abraham and Sarah got older and older, and still no children.
And so Abraham questioned God.
And I like this, because don’t we all question God when the going gets tough? When promises seem unfulfilled? Before we get to a place of acceptance with whatever the difficulty is, don’t we all question God?
Well, we’re in great company—because so does Abraham.
God and Abraham are having a conversation. There’s God, promising yet again that Abraham’s reward is going to be very great. But so far, Abraham hasn’t seen any proof.
In this passage, Abraham questions God when God promises yet again that Abraham’s reward will be very great.
“Really, God? You’ve promised, and yet, I don’t have any children. I’m going to have to leave what I have to Eliezer of Damascus, a slave born in my house.”
So what’s the deal here God? I need some clarity, some reassurance. You’ve promised, but I haven’t received the promises.
And so God answers Abraham’s question.
God’s answer is still only a promise. No explanation about how the promise will come true, but God takes Abraham outside and says,
“Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And then God says,
“And so shall your descendants be.”
So the first thing we can learn about standing firm in the Lord is that it’s ok to question the Lord.
But there’s more.
Abraham questions, and then Abraham is willing to listen to what God has to say.
So often, we ask our questions of God, but then never take the time to listen for the answers that God is trying to give us.
“Wait,” you may be saying, “God has never spoken directly to me, even when I’ve taken the time to listen.”
Part of the problem here is that when we question God, we want the specific answers to our questions, and when we don’t get them, we assume that God has remained silent in the face of our questioning.
What I find fascinating about today’s passage is that when Abraham asks his questions of God, he doesn’t receive specific answers either.
God doesn’t say HOW Abraham will become the father of countless descendants. God doesn’t explain HOW the land that God has promised to Abraham will actually become Abraham’s land.
The answer that God gives to Abraham is much deeper, wider, broader, and significant, not only for Abraham, but for everyone who has ever dared to question God.
When Abraham listens to God, the answers he hears are once again only promises. But this time, Abraham has listened deeply, and he hears in the promises the answer that God is giving to him.
The answer is that God has been faithful, is faithful, and will be faithful to Abraham.
And ultimately, the answer to every question that we will ever ask of God will be this very answer.
I, God, am faithful to you (name people in the congregation).
The amazing thing about this conversation about God and Abraham is that God decides to SHOW Abraham that God is faithful.
Now here’s where the story gets very weird!
God tells Abraham to take various animals, cut them in half and lay them out, and to form a pathway between the halves. What a bloody mess. Gross!
And so Abraham does this, and then he spends time shooing away the birds of prey who want to dine on this buffet. And then night comes.
Abraham falls into a deep sleep and a deep and terrifying darkness descends upon him.
Do you remember back in Genesis in Chapter 2 when God created all the animals to keep Adam company but Adam still didn’t have a helper as his partner?
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and he slept. And God took one of Adam’s ribs and from the rib he made Eve, Adam’s helper and partner.
This Hebrew word for the deep sleep that Adam slept is the same Hebrew word for the deep sleep that Abraham experiences—a sleep that will bring forth something new and transforming—a sleep that will bring life giving help and partnership.
And when Abraham comes out of the trance, he realizes that the God he believes in has shown his faithfulness by making an everlasting covenant with Abraham that will never be broken.
In the deep sleep, or trance, Abraham saw a smoking pot and a flaming torch pass along the bloody pathway that Abraham has laid out.
Remember how God leads the Israelites through the wilderness with a cloud by day and a flame by night?
Well here, God, a smoking pot and a flaming torch, goes through this bloody pathway.
What does this mean?
We can’t be sure, but the explanation that makes the most sense to me is this, and this explanation comes from Fleming Rutledge in her sermon entitled “The Bloody Passageway.”
She explains that in ancient times, covenants were sealed in this way—animals were split apart, and a pathway was made, and the two people making a covenant passed along the pathway to indicate their willingness to keep the covenant, and to show their understanding about what would happen if they broke the covenant—they would become like those dead bloody animals on either side of the path.
And here’s another interesting fact—if the two people were equals, they would each go down the passageway, but if one were much weaker than the other, then only that person would be required to walk down that path of blood and gore, and take the consequences if the covenant got broken.
So here’s God—the creator of heaven and earth, going along that path, making a covenant with Abraham.
Rutledge says that “there is nothing else like this in the history of religion: the Almighty Lord of the universe enters into a relationship with his chosen human partner under the conditions of human liability.
“Here in the opening pages of the story of salvation, God lays himself open to the full consequences of everything that will come after: the disobedience, the idolatry, the folly, the greed and cruelty, the vanity and selfishness, the pride and deceit that fill the following pages of the Bible.”
She goes on to say that “after the people of God have flagrantly disregarded their part in the covenant for thousands of years, God at last steps forward and, on a hill outside Jerusalem, ratifies the covenant once and for all in the blood of his Son. The fiery presence of Yahweh in the midnight spectacle of the bloody alley becomes the pouring out of the last drop of blood of the Son of God.”
Paul said to the Philippians, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”
Stand firm in the Lord.
Listen to God.
And last, and most important, believe in God’s faithfulness.
Abraham believed that God was faithful and would keep his promises, and God reckoned it to Abraham as righteousness. Abraham believed and finally understood that God’s answer to all his questions was this. “I, God, am a faithful God.”
The psalmist who wrote today’s psalm thousands of years ago understood that God is faithful. The psalmist shares the good news is that God is our light, salvation, strength, and sustainer. God walks along with us, just as he walked with the psalmist, through the bloody deadly messy trenches and passageways of our own lives in order to bring us new life, over and over, even when we give in to evil and death.
2016—letters pass back and forth between two faithful women who never fail to encourage one another with these simple words—“Keep the faith, baby”—
So question, listen and believe—and stand firm in the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our God who, as Fleming Rutledge says in the closing words to her sermon, “takes us by the hand, and leads us out where we can see the stars, where the flaming splendor of his appearance dispels our darkness, and above all where God lays himself down in the corridors of death,” so that we may see and know that God’s faithfulness to us in our lifetimes will never fail, and that when we stand firm in the faith, our seemingly unanswered questions are not dead ends, but doorways through which we pass into the countless blessings God has for us, including our eternal citizenship in heaven.
Resources: Rutledge, Fleming. “The Bloody Passageway,” in And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament. W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. 2011.