Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Whole Bunch of Numbers

A Whole Bunch of Numbers
Numbers 1:1-4, 17-21, Isaiah 11:1-9, Matthew 3:1-12

A heated and passionate argument occurred the last quarter of the year in the world of Major League Baseball. It was an argument between Sabermatricians and Traditionalists. Sabermatricians have a new set of statistics to evaluate the performance of players.

The debate centered around pitcher Felix Hernandez, with a record of 13-12, the fewest number of wins by a Cy Young winner. He also didn't pitch in the heat of a playoff race. But the award traditionally goes to the best pitcher.

Debates centered around numbers are always fascinating.

In our year long focus on the Story of Scripture, our last month has focused us on the Story of Israel: Exodus, Wilderness, Law & Order and then more order: the numbering of society

I want to offer three points today: You are a number. You are a number of things. You are not a number.

You are a number.
We read today of the numbering of adult males in early Hebrew society. This had several purposes...
Army development, census purposes, creating of community, marching alignment as they move toward the promised land.

  • We don't like to think of ourselves as a number. But if I were to give you a certain number, you might identify it: for example, 15 digits is your drivers licence, 16 is your credit card, 10 is your phone number and 4 is your atm code. In part, we are a number.

    You are a number of things.
    In the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist shows us how diverse we are as individuals. What are some of things we are called in this passage?
    Sinner (repent)
    Recipient of a Kingdom Invitation (its near)
    Baptized in water (clothed in Christ)
    Fruit producer (in keeping with repentance)
    Not a merit based inheritance (we have abe as our father)
    Baptized by the Holy Spirit (By Christ)
    Wheat gathered into a barn (saved)

You are not just a number.
The Isaiah passage invites us to a whole new realm. In Christ, we have been invited into a new life, a new relationship, a new role in this world.

--Where New life with its fruit emerges from a lifeless stump.

--Where the Spirit of God with wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and fear of the Lord is resting.

--Where judgment occurs not only because of what we can see and hear.

--Where righteousness and justice help the needy and poor of the earth.

--where a wolf lies down with a lamb (leopard/goat, calf/lion/yearling, cow/bear, lion/ox

--and a little child shall lead them

The prophet describes wonderful images of traditionally relationships of enmity: the infant/cobra, young child/vipers nest

This vision of a coming kingdom is rooted in our readings final words. How can all of these things come to be? Because:

no harm or destruction on my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

Order opens us to freedom, and the best form of freedom is spiritual freedom.

Today, if you find yourself as a number, don't be a single digit: be part of the community where the Spirit is alive.

Today, if you find yourself as a number of things, be those things for the glory of God.

Today, if you find yourself as not just a number, always remember Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and coming King.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Law and (Priestly) Order

Law & (Priestly) Order
Exodus 20:1-21, Matthew 24:36-43, Romans 13:8-14

In the Exodus story, we have the joy of salvation from slavery, the provision by God as the Israelites get on their feet, and, in today’s reading the ordering of society by God.

What is the Law?
The Law as 10 commandments
The law as 613 laws for a society

Who Kept Order?
Israel was, in its earliest wishes from God, to not have a king. God would be the King.
--the laws would be interpreted by judges
--the priests would provide order and meaning by way of ritual, sacrifice and religious observances.

Law would define and priests would provide order.

Today’s Story Brings Us Back to the Beginning of Genesis. The Garden story is so perfectly defined by Walter Brueggeman as one of
Promise, permission, prohibition

Promise: Matthew
· The Son of Man will come again to restore order and rule in a fallen world.
· That is what Advent really is all about: the anticipation of Christ’s coming
· The promise is to be remembered by followers (even when the ‘data’ doesn’t suggest an
imminent return).
· Negative illustration: if a house owner would know when a robber was to come, they would
be prepared. How much more if we know a king of Glory is to come?

God’s promises are not often expected by people of faith, but it doesn’t take away from their reality.

Permission: Romans
There are commandments, (many of which are in negative form), that are summarized by a very freeing and positive commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.

Love doesn’t harm.

Love is the fulfillment of the law.

That is a liberating permission given by God. Love your neighbor.
Wake up from your spiritual slumber.

Clothing yourself with Christ (clothing in the garden was shame-based). Here is the image of Christ being our identity, esteem, clothing ourselves in the beauty and image of the Lord.

Prohibition: Exodus
Have you ever heard the saying that ‘Religion is a bunch of thou shall not’s.’.

When I was younger, I used to defend against this. But in a sense, it is true.

But, there are prohibitions. In the garden: thou shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
We did, and now we know evil, as well as good.

So “No’s” help us not know evil.
As an American, many have become foundational in our legal system.
As a Christian, they are acts that displease God, so we shouldn’t seek them.

No other gods. No idols or images for God. No taking God’s name in vain. No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No false witness. No coveting.

The thing is, to the extent that you follow these commandments, your life is probably better. So ‘yes’, the bunch of thou shall not’s are part of the story. Sorry. But when we follow Christ, we say yes to God’s promises, and our faith becomes more than just the prohibitions.

I think following Christ is more about Yes than No.
As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no’. For the Son of God Jesus Christ was not ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but in him it has always been ‘yes’. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘yes’ in Christ.
--II Corinthians 1:18-19

Prohibitions shape our permission. And our permission is built on the promise of God.

The Fear of God
God’s voice thundered the day the 10 commandments were spoken. The people, when they encountered God, had fear. They pleaded with Moses, don’t have God speak, or we will die.

Christians have seen the sacrifice of Jesus be the act that makes us able to be in God’s presence. The holiness of God is satisfied when we clothe ourselves with Christ. God looks at us through the lens of his son, and sees beauty. We can love God.

But let us be aware of losing fear. “the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning”.

After Moses teaches the people, he goes back to be with God…
“he approached the thick darkness where God was”.

That too is part of the story. Faith sometimes seems clouded, it seems confusing. It seems that God is elsewhere. That God is not approachable.

We are called to have eyes of faith. Faith honors the prohibitions. Faith captures the permission. Faith holds onto the promise.

Clothe yourself with Christ. He is our law. He is our order.


The Story of Scripture: Wilderness
Exodus 16, Colossians 1:15-20, Luke 23:32-42

Have you ever been to a sporting event where there was so much anticipation and excitement that even before the game starts, the spectators are cheering and jeering, clapping and fist pumping, going nuts…and if on broad and pattison, sometimes waving towels in the air?

Perhaps you have been to a game where the Cheers at a football game were quickly quieted

Today’s story of God providing for his people in the wilderness can be seen through the lens of preparing for a football game.

1-4 The grim reality
--45th day of desert travel (what is the longest time of travel that
you have experienced?)
--slavery: all we did was sit around pots of food and eat all we

Football analogy: sometimes the other team scores first.

4-8 the game plan
--Gather enough for one day says the Lord
--see if they can follow my instructions (the idea of test)
--honoring the Sabbath
--morning will show you God’s glory and evening will teach
you that God has rescued you from the land of Egypt.
--you will know God’s provision
--grumbling is to be taken directly to God

Football analogy: Sunday’s game happens because coaches homework

9-16 communicating the game plan
--Aaron, God’s mouthpiece, speaks to the community
--God starts to make himself known
--God lets Israel know that he heard their grumbling
--Then Israel will know the Lord is God.
--the food appears
--What is it? The people wonder.
--They take what they need.

Football analogy: coaches coach and players play.

17-18 the result
--Israel does what it is told
--Some gather much…and some little
--those who had much—not too much
--those who had little—not too little
--Each one gathered as much as they needed.

Football analogy: sometimes the coaches know what they are talking about.

19-20 the fumble
--the warning: don’t keep it until morning
--and some do not listen

Football analogy: takes the life/momentum out of team.

21-26 Driving down the field
--people adjust and do what is required
--gather each morning, twice as much for Sabbath

Football analogy: most of the time, you score because of sustained drives

27-29 another fumble
--don’t listen about Sabbath portion
--fool me once shame on you.
--God addresses the problem: How long will you refuse to
listen to my commands?

Football analogy: you might get benched if you repeat your mistakes

30-32 touchdown
--the people find rest
--the people become comfortable with God’s provision
--the people appreciate where they have arrived, and come

football analogy: the whole team celebrates when you reach the endzone.
Handing the ball back to ref or a touchdown dance, everyone is

33-34 reviewing the game
--keep some of God’s provision as a testimony to God.

Football analogy: gametape helps you take pleasure in victories and learn
from defeats.

35-36 the rest of the season
--ate this for 40 years as they traveled through the wilderness
and prepared to enter the promised land.

Football analogy: whether victorious or defeated, it is only one game. You
move on to next week’s challenge.
Christ the King Sunday:
The last week of the Church calendar. Next week is Advent, the Christian new year. The church calendar teaches followers about the life of Christ, and the final act of Christ is his reign as resurrected and ascended King.

--This Sunday is actually a recent addition to the church calendar: 1925 by Pope Pius.

--It does complete the idea of life, baptism, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, reign

--realm has started to replace reign. Stemming from a faulty misunderstanding of reign: because kings can present negative images, we shouldn’t call upon Christ as King.

Who is this King of Glory? Jesus Christ.
The image of the invisible God: the invisible God made visible.
Firstborn over all creation
Creator of all things
Before all things and all things held together in him.
Head of body, the church, firstborn from the dead
Supreme in everything
God pleased to have all his fullness in Christ
Reconciler of all things through the cross and peace by his blood.

The majority of the references to Jesus as King in the bible occur in the Passion Week narratives. Christ is seen as king not because of policy or proclamation, but by giving himself on the cross.

Looking at the Cross Story through the lens of King:
Christ led to cross by the humanity he came to save.
Taking on sin and its shame: between two criminals
Offering prayers of forgiveness for humanity
Being mocked, despite his infinite goodness
Being given earthly accolades of kingship, even if as form of mockery.
The situation troubles one of the criminals, but out of the Lord’s rule, even when dying, came salvation.
The king knows where he is going.


Wilderness is the model for this world: it is wilderness, rough and tough, beautiful and trying, lacking resources and life all around. You can’t escape it, and avoiding it moves you further from everlasting life. So you have to embrace it and plow through it on the way to the reward. The reward of surviving wilderness is promised land. For the Hebrews, this meant the land of Israel. For followers of Christ, this means the kingdom of God.

Salvation Belongs to God

The Story of Scripture: Salvation Belongs to God
Exodus 14:10-31, Luke 21:5-19, Revelation 7:7-19

Superbowls belong to the Steelers.
Cheesesteaks belong to Pat’s.
Cars belong to Ford.
Soft drinks belong to Pepsi.
Big box stores belong to Walmart.

Or is it that
Superbowls belong to the 49ers.
Cheesesteaks belong to Geno’s.
Cars belong to Chevy.
Soft drinks belong to Coca Cola.
Big Box stores belong to Target.

Make no mistake: Salvation belongs to God. And there is no second choice. There is no competition.

Story of Scripture so far: creation, prohibition ignored, family dysfunction, start over in Noah, Abraham given covenant. Isaac son of promise, Jacob and Esau more dysfunction, Joseph’s providential care, the Hebrews in Egypt, Moses’ miraculous birth.

This week: some of the things I’ve been thinking about include:
· A church directory from 1991 in which Kirk Bingamen’s pastors article talked about the sacred being attacked by the secular. But Salvation does belong to God.

· In our study of World Religions during Friday Bible Study:
Hinduism: oppression of the caste system and the karma:
But Salvation Belongs to God.

· In preparation of this sermon: Egypt acts as the oppressor and enacts slavery upon the Hebrew people. But salvation belongs to God.

· Watching television, I caught the last episode of God in America: Exodus was the inspiration for MLK, and how one time they prayed, and then walked through the cops without harm.
Salvation belongs to God.

Exodus: Salvation Belongs to God.
Exodus is the salvation event of the Hebrew Story.

The Exodus is the central part of the story of God’s saving the Hebrew people:
Promised land. Slavery. Promised Deliverence. Wilderness. Promised land.

The Exodus becomes a model of salvation we find in Christ,
Promises of God. Freedom from slavery. Salvation by Christ. Journey through wilderness, kingdom of God.

· The darkness of the dilemma: v 10-12
· The vision from Moses 13-14
· God’s command and plan 15-18 (also note: Why are you crying out to me?)
· The cloud of God’s protection 19-20
· The waters divide, the people cross and the Egyptians are overcome 21-28
· The testimony 29-31

Salvation belongs to God.

Luke: Salvation Belongs to God, not the ways of the world
The beauty and majesty of human achievement does not save. 5-6
The false promises of teachers does not save. 8-9
The skewed plans of the nations do not save 10-11
The plans of evil men will not save 12

In the midst of these things, God will save. We live in the world answering to the name of our God (12). We witness about this God to the world (13). We know this God throughout difficult seasons (14). We find wisdom from this God to navigate difficult decisions (15). Some might even give the ultimate sacrifice for this God (16). You might be hated and disregarded because of this God (17). But in this God, not a hair of your head will perish (18). And standing firm upon this God leads to everlasting life (19). Salvation belongs to God.

Revelation: Salvation Belongs to God in Christ

The diversity of the saved in their new home (9)
The song of the saved (10)
The connection to redeemed creation (11)
The song of the cosmos (12)
Remembering what we have been rescued from (13-14)
What salvation means (15-17)
· Before God’s throne
· Service day and night forever
· No more…hunger, thirst, heat
· With the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ
· Led to springs of living water
· Every tear wiped away.

Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech was originally entitled “Normalcy, never again”. This is a great description of the life we are called to live for the Lord.
Salvation belongs to God. He will see it through. It is real. It is coming. There is no competition. There is no second choice.

Called In, Called Out

The Story of Scripture: Called Out, Called In
Exodus 1-2:10, John 3:1-17

Called Out: of Egypt, of slavery

Last week, we left off with the story of Joseph and his 11 brothers. Joseph, through a series of providential circumstances, Joseph finds himself second in command to Pharaoh in the Egyptian kingdom. He brings his 11 brothers and their families to live in Egypt during a severe famine.

Over time, we read that there was not acclamation into society. The Hebrews become slaves in Egypt. Several reasons are given: Hebrews were different than Egyptians, their population grows at a rapid rate, and the perception of a possible political/war alliance against Egypt poses as threat. The result is that life is made difficult for the Hebrews.

The Scripture says that it was more than difficult. The Egyptians were ruthless in the way they treated people. Ruth is compassion for the misery of another. Ruthlessness is to be merciless and cruel.

Way back in the story: God had said: This is the land I will give you. Egypt was not that land. Canaan, which would later be named Israel, was that land. And for whatever reason, they were not in Canaan in this point in the story. They were in Egypt. And that is part of the reason life is hard. The initial move provided for Joseph and his family, but then after his death, when “one who did not know Joseph” came to power, the Hebrews became slaves.

Would they get out of Egypt? If so, how would you even begin?
The process of being called out starts with the birth of a baby…and the sovereign-laden unfolding of the details. God was in these details.

The world is a harsh place.
When threatened by growth, the pharaoh institutes an evil genocide of the baby male population. He commands the midwives to participate in his murderous ways.

At this point, it is important to think about our world. Our world can also be a harsh place for millions and millions of people. Cries against injustice go up to God. Pleas for mercy extend from one suffering person to their fellow citizens. In our country, we have so much, but there is nonetheless a different kind of harshness. Our harshness is borne, not out of poverty, but out of abundance. As people of faith, we live amidst harshness, but are called to answer it with the way of the Lord.

God’s servants are strategically planted in a harsh world.
The midwives, however feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do, they let the boys live.
This is an amazing act of faith on the part of the midwives, even to the point of risking their personal safety when they have to answer to Pharaoh. “What happened?” asks the Pharaoh, to which the midwives respond, those Hebrews deliver their babies quite quickly. What can you say to that?

When Moses is born, his mother is able to protect him and keep him under the radar for three months, but then she must make a decision that is unfathomable. But she entrusts a little baby to a big river, and asks God that the river will guide this little one to safety. Moses’ sister walks along the river as the basket flows, adding her prayers and watchful anticipation.

Pharaoh’s daughter and Miriam, Moses’ sister
The river leads this baby to the daughter of Pharaoh, she has compassion within her heart, and will see that the baby is taken care of. “This is one of the Hebrew babies” she says. She could have followed that statement by demanding that her father’s decision be honored. Instead, she looks down and sees a little girl, who kindly offers, would you like me to find someone to nurse the boy. The little girl was Moses’ sister, and conveniently enough, she knew of someone who could nurse Moses.

And so a mother, who out of desperation, casts her baby into the wild unknown to preserve his life, find that life preserved and indeed, finds her baby back in her arms, at least for a few more years.

Next week, we will focus what Moses does when he grows up. But today, if no one else, Moses’ mother and sister must have known how special he was. What is the first step toward overcoming a struggle? Hope. And the struggle of the enslavement of a people: still hope. And whatever mountains and obstacles and struggles and barriers we face today: hope. Hope. One day, one hour at a time: Hope.

For the Hebrews were ultimately to be called out of slavery, and out of the land of Egypt. This story from history becomes a model in the Bible for all the people of faith. The Hebrews were called out of slavery, out of Egypt, into a promised land. Today, we live by the same model, we are called out of slavery to sin, out of the world, and into the promised land. This promised land is gained through Christ.

Called in: through Christ

What direction are you looking in?
We are to look in many directions throughout our faith:
Down in humility
Around with compassion
But primarily, You and I are called to look up
We are to look up to Jesus this day.

Nicodemus and his Encounter with Jesus
Nicodemus helps seekers throughout the generations meet the one who gives eternal life.
Nicodemus comes at night, when he wouldn’t be seen. He comes as a teacher of Israel, who should not have associated himself with this radical Jesus, who was challenging the religious establishment. He comes with questions. He comes not fully understanding what Jesus was saying. But yet, at the end of the day, he comes. And in doing so, he speaks to us, saying, you should come. You should look to Jesus.

· Looking to Jesus is a spiritual, not a physical birth.
Like birth, there is struggle, but looking to Jesus will create a spiritual
birth in our hearts. Spiritual birth is about the birth of the heart, the birth of our spirit
into a new relationship with the Holy Spirit of God.
· Looking to Jesus involves Trust.
Faith is like the wind: you don’t know when it comes or goes, you can’t predict it. It is
difficult to explain.

· Looking to Jesus is about the object of our faith: in this case, a person.

· Looking to Jesus is about eternal life.

· God is interested in his people finding eternal life. Not to condemn, but to bring eternal life to all who believe.

Moses reference: provides a way for disobedient nation to be forgiven their sins, requires them to look up and not around. The story involves the grumbling people of Israel who had seen God provide for them, but after a while, the provision was taken for granted. The people became comfortable in their abundance. And so they complained to their leader and they complained about God. God sent snakes to bite the people, and some of them lost their life. But the snakes cause a little urgency, and the people ask Moses to pray for them. God tells Moses, here is how they will find healing: put a bronze snake on a pole and have the people look up. If they have enough sense to just look up, they will be healed.

A bronze snake put the people face to face with their problem. They had to look at their problem. And when they did, they found the answer.

It is easy for most people to run from the problem. To avoid it. It takes a certain amount of faith to look at the problem. But just as Moses lifted up a snake in the wilderness, Jesus was lifted up on a cross. And people had to look at the problem, the problem of sin. And all that do, even if it hurts at first, it points us to the one who overcame sin: Jesus Christ. And when we come to him, and look at him, and believe in him, we will live forever.

A Man Named Joe

A Man Named Joe
Genesis 50:15-21, Luke 19:1-10, II Thessalonians 1:1-4

Joseph looks at his brothers and says: You intended to harm me, but God intended for good to accomplish what it is now doing.

Now that is a line that reality tv shows search for. 19 Kids & Counting, Kate Plus Eight. The Jackson family…they got nothing on this bible verse.

The Story of Scripture…So Far:
A promise given, believed and seen
Promise given by God. Believed by people and seen in the world.
Creation as good
Humanity violating prohibition
Family furthering dysfunction
Noah: God’s new beginning
Abraham and a promise
Abraham believes the promise
Isaac: a child of promise
Jacob & Esau: blessing & curses

Today, Joseph, who I will call Joe. Do you remember Joe the plumber, the famous player in the 2008 presidential election? Well, we have another Joe today. A man named Joe.

Genesis: A Man Named Joe
If you like soap opera’s, then this family tree is something you will love.

Today’s Scripture reading is near the end of Joe’s story. The plot of the reading is that brothers are fearful that Joe will punish them now that their father Jacob has passed.

· Jacob (who is renamed Israel) sees the woman of his dreams: Rachel. He negotiates 7
years of labor for his Uncle Laban for her hand in marriage.
· Jacob is deceived by his Uncle into marrying Leah, then works for Leah’s sister Rachel.
· Jacob has 12 sons, by four different women: Leah (first 4), Rachel’s Maidservant Bilhah
(2), Leah’s maidservant Zilpah (2), Leah again (2, 6 overall) and Rachel (2).
· Rachel’s oldest Son is Joseph.
· Joseph was the honored son in Jacob’s eyes (33:3: in rear with Rachel as he meets Esau)
· Rachel dies in giving birth to Joseph’s brother, Benjamin

One point of all this: these 12 tribes, with different, competitive, insecure backgrounds, bring their family story into the mix.

· 37:4: When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they
hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
· his dreams: sheaves of wheat, stars and sun/moon.
· the plot to kill Joseph, the cistern alternative/sell to the merchants and fake his death
· Joseph is sold by merchants to Potipher a leader in Egypt
· Joseph and Potipher’s wife, he is thrown in jail, gains trust of warden
· the dream of the cupbearer and the baker (cupbearer forgets Joe)
· 2 years pass, Pharaoh has a dream “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings” the
cupbearer says)
· Joe speaks to Pharaoh about a coming drought/famine and advice for overcoming it,
pharaoh acknowledges wisdom, puts him in charge of palace and the land of Egypt
· Joseph leads wisely and navigates the people through the famine
· people from throughout the world visit Egypt, includes the 10 sons of Israel, looking for
food (Benjamin was kept at home the first time)
· a series of stories in which Joseph {teaches his brothers a lesson}
· Joseph reveals himself to his brothers
· the sons return to the land to get Jacob and all of the families, surviving the famine (and
ironically, setting up slavery)
· Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons as he is dying then Jacob blesses his sons
· Jacob dies, leading to the story today

At the end of the day, this is a really incredible story, with unbelievable ups and downs. But it is also a very human story, universal in its appeal.

Emotions/Situations that You and Joe have in common
--do you feel disliked?
--do you feel betrayed?
--do you feel unsafe?
--do you feel snubbed?
--do you feel forgotten?

Ways to you and Joe can honor God
*integrity when tempted (literal running away when necessary)
*waiting patiently when things are down
*speaking to those in power, even if with trepidation
*having wisdom to navigate difficult situations
*the courage to show who you are and resolve differences
*trust in the sovereignty of God (God meant it for good)
*the desire to have your loved ones blessed.

Luke: Jesus Names and Renames Zacchaeus
Salvation comes to an unexpecting house.
A wealthy man (by shady and culturally rejected means) is interested in Jesus as he comes through town. Goes to humble means to see him (climbing the tree). Jesus says come down: I’m staying with you.
What would you do in order to see Jesus?

The presence of Jesus, and that encounter, changes Zacchaeus for the good. He rights his wrongs. And through Jesus, salvation comes to him and his house.
What would you say to Jesus

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. We are named and called by Jesus. And when we respond, are given our titles we had lost or misplaced: children of the living God, children of the king, sons and daughters of the living God.

II Thessalonians: Men and Women Named…
If Joseph is a story that speaks to all of us, and Zaccheus is given back his true name of Son of Abraham, then what about us? What are the religious titles that we bear? Paul’s words give us a few clues.
· A church
· Followers of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
· people of peace and grace
· people of a growing faith
· people of an increasing love
· people of a persevering hope

Today, is Reformation Sunday. Tomorrow is All Saints Day
The story of the church is that a bunch of men and women with everyday names like Joe who have changed the world. The world is changed for good when we remember the core of our faith, (as the reformers did five hundred years ago): Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone. We remember the saints who have gone into the presence of God.

Today, faith, hope and love
Tomorrow: a gift given by God
Forever: held in the arms of the Almighty

Abraham, the Early Years

The Story of Scripture: Abraham, the Early Years
Chapter 5: the Early Years

Today, we celebrate World Communion Sunday, which is a reminder that the family of Christ extends throughout the world. Today in our year long story of Scripture, we learn of Abraham, by whom the promise that God’s blessing will reach to the ends of the earth

So far in the story of Scripture: Creation, Fall, Cain, Flood.
Today, the story turns. We move from nations to nation. From humanity to a chosen people.
The tower of babel, and its attempts to throw off the power of God, are replaced by the hopes of one family and its faith.

Genesis 12:1-9
The Promise: I will make you into a great nation.
The problem with the promise: 11:30, “now Sarai was barren; she had no children”
There is humor in my title: The early years: we meet Abram when he was 75.

The Story of Scripture and the Story of Abram and Sarai are really the same story: the story of a promise from God. The promise requires faith.
Will God keep it? Will they believe it?

The promise: FROM GOD
I will make you into a great nation
I will bless you
I will make your name great
I will bless those who bless youI will curse those who curse you

Walter Brueggeman writes,
The promise of land is to a landless people
The promise of an heir is made to a barren, hopeless couple.

How do you make a future when there is no foreseeable options?
For this question, we must turn to our Seinfeld friend, George Costanza.
KRAMER (moves over and sits next to George): Do you ever yearn?
GEORGE: Yearn? Do I yearn?
KRAMER: I yearn.
GEORGE: You yearn.
KRAMER: Oh, yes. Yes, I yearn. Often, I...I sit...and yearn. Have you yearned?
GEORGE: Well, not recently. I craved. I crave all the time, constant craving...but I haven't yearned.
KRAMER (in disgust): Look at you.
GEORGE: Aw, Kramer, don't start...
KRAMER (moving back to the othe side of the booth): You're wasting your life.
GEORGE: I am not! What you call wasting, I call living! I'm living my life!
KRAMER: O.K., like what? No, tell me! Do you have a job?
KRAMER: You got money?
KRAMER: Do you have a woman?
KRAMER: Do you have any prospects?
KRAMER: You got anything on the horizon?
GEORGE: Uh...no.
KRAMER: Do you have any action at all?
KRAMER: Do you have any conceivable reason for even getting up in the morning?
GEORGE: I like to get the Daily News!

Like George, Abraham's data in his story did not look well. That is, if we forget the main character of the story> God is the main character.
In the midst of the dry land comes life giving water. In the midst of the barrenness comes hope.
God does his work apart from the human perspective, and human means of accomplishment.
“to stay in safety is to remain barren; to leave in risk is to have hope.” (B, 118)
And so Abram and his family get up and go.
Abraham intermingles with nations in the narrative: Egypt, Melchizadek, Moab, Ammon.
(just like the promise said).

And then, very quickly: “unfaith”
The promised land becomes famine land. And Abraham and family go to Egypt.
Between the characters and their speeches, comes the entrance of God.
At first, it seems unfair.
“Abraham’s shabby actions does bring curse” (Brueggeman, 129)
(just as the promise said)

Romans 4:13-25
Remember, it is God.
“God giving life to the dead and calling things that are not as though they were.”
“Against all hope, Abraham had hope in God.”
“He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”
“Being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised”

Luke 16:19-31
Abraham emerges as one of the most influential characters in the Bible.
Jesus uses the image of Father of many nations, in a story about the afterlife.
Abraham shares to the rich man: that if you do not believe the words of God, you would not believe the works of God.
(just like Abraham did)

What is the choice?
“The story of Abraham and Sarah put a crisis before humanity. It is the crisis of deciding to live either for the promise, and so disengaging from the present barren way of things, or to live against the promise, holding on grimly to the present ordering of life.” (Brueggeman, 113)
What are we to do today?
Seeing the promise. And,
Live By faith