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21st February 2016 – Second Sunday of Lent – Jack Noonan

Sermon (Click Link to Listen)

Bible Readings: Genesis 15. 1-12 & 17-18; Psalm 27; Luke 13. 31-35

Sermon 21.02.2016.

Focus Scriptures:

Gen 15.1- 12, 17-18 and Lk 13. 31-35.

Our life is a journey, a pilgrimage,a quest. It has the perpetual movement of tidal ebb and flow.

Saying our life is a journey may sound like well-worn cliché.

But clichés can contain nuggets of ‘truth’ and a modicum of ‘wisdom’. But overuse and overexposure has reduced them to pat expressions which have lost vitality, and resonance.

These clichés are like dying stars. No longer radiating, the glory of their insights.

But phrases such as ….. life is journey/pilgrimage/quest need not be relegated to the league of cliché. The metaphor still bears up to examination and we still experience its truth.

In today’s reading we meet two individuals, Abram and Yeshua/Jesus, at crucial stages in their life’s journey and destiny.

In the first reading Abram….not yet renamed Abraham …in the midst of his third/of seven life changing encounters with the Living God…who says to him:

Do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield…I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.”

The journey from Ur started when Abram was 75 and ended, in this dimension at least, when he reached 175.

Then, in our gospel reading we see Jesus, the Nazarene, from Galilee, fatefully turn His face and footsteps to journey to Jerusalem, fully aware that:

‘… it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.”

At one level the journey of Jesus started before time began. His journey would briefly culminate in Jerusalem where He was destined to restore and reconcile all things through His sacrifical death. His Journey Part 2started with the Resurrection and still progresses as He and His church work to keep clearing The Way.

Christian living, from ancient times, was known as The Way.

A Way, simultaneously even and uneven.

A Way, strewn with apparent contradictions…and signposts that inform us:

To lose our life in order to gain it…

Strength is in weakness….…

to be rich…….. be poor.

to rise…..fall …

to live………. die…

The working out and working in to our lives of these paradoxes, form the basis of our life-long journey, and our ongoing dialogue with God’s Holy Spirit.

The Way of Jesus is no mean pathway, for on it we are invited into a dynamic life; co-labouring with God to:

work out our own salvation in/with fear and trembling….for God it is who is working in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

In working out our own salvation’ through faith, we also follow the ancient track set by our ‘father-in-the-faith’ Abraham and his covenantal seed, Jeshua Ha-Mashiach…

Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.

Like usBoth would tread the Way of Faith in God before us.

Like usBoth would freely with one step of faith after another start on the path that God Most High would incrementally open to them as they journeyed.

Like usBoth would experience extended times of trials, testings and temptations….in terms of their faith, their obedience and their willingness to self-sacrifice.

Like usBoth grew into trust, into confidence, and into faith in God’s rema/word to them.

In faith, we become Abram, and journey, like him and Sarai, from the barren desert tents of our old dry bones down to our Emmaus Road, with no tangible expectation in our heads other than it is where our following after God has brought us to.

Like Abram and Sarai, we wrestle, with doubt on doubts; with past mistakes and sin; with internal voices of unbelief conflicting with the hope that was seeded, in us, by God’s Holy Spirit.

Like them both, we have known delay, and disappointments, never knowing the moment of surprising, transforming joy as we meet, on our own Emmaus Road, our resurrected Lord Jesus looking out and waiting for us. This is a reward of faith.

The Apostle John tells us that Abram foresaw the wonderful ‘day’ of Jesus and rejoiced and was glad.

I sometimes wish faith would grow more quickly or that our Father would just download overloads of instant faith on us…a bit like Paul, on his journey down Damascus road. Wham, bam and there he was blinded by it! But…. then it took him some 3 years to sort himself out after that Damascus Road collision.

God in His knowledge of us is merciful. He knitted us in the womb. He knows our makeup. He saves us from biting off more than we can chew.

As with Abram, so with us. Each step and act of faith is built on the previous one. For each step in our developing faith carries its own responsibility, trials and temptation. God observes our stewardship of one gift before He offers another.

Abram’s first step in his conscious quest with God was at 75 .. Leaving kith, kin and country; trusting solely in the word and guidance of the Lord. God revealed one step at a time and in faith Abram accepted the invitation and challenge. No more nor no less is asked of us. Abram took the step because of the calibre of the One who invited him.

The result was Abram’s life being filled with seeds of promise : God his shield says: I will

make you a great nation…bless you;…make your name great…you shall be a blessing…I bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you…all the families of the earth shall be bless because of you.… Raise your eyes from where you are ,…. for I give all the land that you see to you and your off spring forever…’

It would be a mistake for us to imagine that just because God our Father has given us vision and promises that all will be plain sailing. This is rarely so. The seed of promise is sown… accept time, patience, obedience…… and God will give the increase….The promise will manifest in God’s time….as we co labour with Him.

By the time we arrive with Abram to today’s reading, tens years have passed since God promised him what I read above. The evidence that can be seen might suggest that God has totally forgotten His words. But the eyes of our faith can see what is not seen.

In our passage Abram is now 85 when the LORD speaks to him in a vision. We get a telling insight into the relationship between God and Abram. The relationship is not a one-sided affair, where God pronounces and Abram passively listens and obeys.

Though here Abram is told that his reward will be great, he is not unduly impressed. He is already a very wealthy man. His concerns and priorities are obviously different to God’s, and he says as much. Basically he says, what is the use of additional rewards, if there is no heir to leave them to. It’s not money I need but an heir….and despite promises, there is no sign of one.

‘’ I continue childless … You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’’

The LORD reassures Abram in his disquiet:

‘’no one but your very own issue shall be your heir’’

And then a beautiful and touching verse with an undercurrent of lovingkindness:

And He/God took/led/brought him/Abram outside/abroad and said, “Now look/haBet/na toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.

And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.’’

(spoke on the above text without notes)

Sometime the issues/problems we wrestle with tend to close in on us….and look like overwhelming us….Abram might well have been like this here….despite all his wealth and good works he was literally at the end of his line. But he speaks honestly and prays directly to God.

Look at what the LORD does….get out of where you are stuck. Shift your ground….shift your perspective….broaden horizons…..get out of the low ceilinged tent….Look out … Look around… Look up . Shift the goal posts …..now pray…sit… rest… wait….pray again …. Listen.

It’s all as simple as that…………………..(haBet/na develop)

It is peculiar quirk in our human psyche that easy times rarely help us to deepen our spirit or humanity. Seasons of suffering, and waiting do……………… as does learning to keep faith, in times of difficult circumstances and enduring delay. These conditions insert the needed grain of grit into the soul so that it produces priceless pearls of patience, long-suffering, perseverance creating solid hope.

Times occurred when Abram and Sarai felt God had forgotten His promise. Then our falling for the temptation to ‘help God out’…… Enter, at Sarai’s insistence; Hagar the maid….. and Abram fathers Ishmael…..this both complicates matters..forever… and further delays the arrival of the promised heir. Abram and Sarai waited 25 years for the child of promise, Isaac to see light of day. She 90, and he 100 years old.

For us, pilgriming in faith… into Christ and the Kingdom of God is an eternally unending journey. For it has not entered into our hearts or minds what things God has prepared for those who love Him. We journey on into life after life, from glory into glory; from being wandering aliens here to becoming permanent residents in the new heaven and earth. Ours is the never-ending prayer-journey into Love

‘’And to him (them) who overcome… I will give him(each) a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him(each one) who receives it.

It is we who are Abram…. En-route to being renamed Abraham.

It is we who are Sarai en-route to becoming Sarah.

Be brave in the strength and love of our Father. Accept his invitation and let us enjoy our journey together. Amen.