Sunday, February 28, 2010

When life is crummy … God is still faithful

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
I’m struck by how things are just not going right in these scripture passages. First of all, I remind you that Abram is Abraham’s original name, until God changed it, later on in the story. Abram was promised a child, land, and honor, but so far, none of that seems to be happening. Abram was 75 and Sarai (later called Sarah) 65 when the promise of a child was first made, but it took 25 years for that child to be born.
As time goes on, and it seems like no child would be forth-coming, Abram is getting desperate, and he tells God so. “Hey God! You promised me a child of my own blood, but so far, nothing is happening. It sure looks like Eliezer, my slave, is going to be my heir. What gives?”
So, God renews the promise in a ritual common between kings in those days. Animals are slaughtered and divided in half, as the text describes. Then, both parties walk between the two sides of the slaughtered animals. It is like saying, “If I break this covenant, may I be cut in two, like these animals have been.” The ritual is called “cutting a covenant.”  You’ll notice in our scripture text that Abraham only does the physical labor. He does not walk between the animal sides. Only God does that, as expressed in the image of the smoking fire pot and flaming torch. God makes the promise, without requiring anything but patience and faith, trust, from Abram.
When Abram is 86, Sarai gets impatient, and sends her slave girl Hagar to Abram, so there might be a child, and Ishmael is born. However, this is still not what God wants. God’s plan is for there to be a child born to Abram and Sarai when they are REALLY too old for it to be possible. Isaac is born when Abraham is 100, and Sarah is 90.
God finally gave them the child that had been promised 25 years before. J  I assume God also gave them the energy to deal with raising an infant and then a toddler, not to mention a teenager!
The point of the long saga of having a child born to them is that God was faithful, and though they tried alternative methods, God promised them a child, and God – in God’s time – fulfilled the promise. The child was to carry out God’s purposes, that their entire family would be blessed to be a blessing to all the nations on earth.
… Let’s look now at the Gospel text. For Jesus, life isn’t looking so rosy, either. In Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus, Jesus has now left Galilee and has set his face to go to Jerusalem. On the way, he has a number of healing and teaching encounters. He also faces increasing resistance from the Jewish leadership. In our text for today, it could be that the Pharisees are trying to just get rid of him. “Why don’t you make it easy on yourself, and leave town?”
But it could just as easily be that some of the Pharisees were in favor of what he was saying, and truly wanted to protect him from harm. In Luke 14, Jesus dines at a Pharisee’s home, and in Acts, there are several instances of the Pharisees supporting the new Jesus movement. And you may remember that Paul himself was a Pharisee.
In response to the warning, Jesus tells them that he will continue to fulfill God’s purposes. And he will do this in spite of the way Israel has always rejected the prophets and refused to listen to them. Like a mother hen, Jesus wants to gather all of God’s chicks under his wings, but they refuse to be gathered in.
When our traveling group was in Jerusalem, one of the places we spent time was at the Western Wall. This is the retaining wall that marks the remains of the temple, which was destroyed about 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Many people were there, mostly Orthodox Jews -- with prayers in their hearts. There were also visitors like us, having a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an opportunity to pray where so many have prayed before. And, in the more secular plaza area Israeli security officers – soldiers – kept an eye on everything, to ensure peaceful gatherings.
I prayed for peace. Jerusalem, the Holy City for so many people – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – has such a history of violence and lack of understanding of God’s purposes. Since long before Jesus, and in the 2000 years since Jesus, people have rejected the grace that God offered to all. And yet, God the mother hen, continues to invite us to gather under her wings for safety, forgiveness, and love. God remains faithful. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus proves it.
… The Apostle Paul’s own life, since becoming a believer in Jesus, has been filled with painful experiences. At the time of the writing of the letter to the Philippians, he was probably in prison in Rome, awaiting trial – and most likely, execution (though we have no written record of that). Paul urges the Philippians to hold fast to faith in Jesus because the reward of life with Jesus in the future is worth the persecutions they are facing in the present moment. Paul tells us that what happens to us on earth is not nearly as important as what happens in our relationship with God. Even when life on earth is pretty crummy, we can trust in God to be faithful.
In our own lives, experiences can be pretty crummy, too. We may be facing the signs of aging bodies, or more serious illnesses. Our finances may be stretched tighter than we ever imagined they could be. Our children – whether still small and living with us, or grown and living their own lives – are still our children and we don’t want them to have difficulties. Our marriages may have seen better times.
It’s important to face up to the challenges of life. We don’t want to ignore them, we want to be proactive with our health issues, with our finances, with our family concerns, and with our family relationships. But God wants us to see a fuller view of our lives. Beyond the present moment, what else does God want us to see? Are we treating our bodies as temples where God resides or as less important? Is our health or lack of health a gift from God? Do we treat our financial resources as God’s gifts or as the results of our own hard work? In our family relationships, do we respect, love, and forgive each other as God has first respected, loved, and forgiven us? While God may or may not intervene in the present moment, God is indeed present with us and faithful to the promise of love and forgiveness.
In our congregation, we might be tempted to focus on the decisions we have just reluctantly made. Or we can view them as God’s gift to us, to help us get refocused as a congregation. Can we use this time to remember to celebrate small and large successes, like the pot luck and auction which raised $781 for the Piecemakers ministry? Can we use this time as an opportunity to get to know people from the other worship service, and feel more like one body? Can we use this as an opportunity to gather together for fun and fellowship? Can we use this as an opportunity to do more ministry together? Can we use this as an opportunity to take a longer look at the life and ministry of this congregation, to see into the future with hope and faith in God? Can we use this as an opportunity to remember that God is faithful?
… Please pray with me. Faithful God, we need you in our lives. We depend on your promises to us, to be with us in the day to day stuff of life as well as in the bigger picture of our relationship with you. Lead us to declare always, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Amen