Sermon, Year A Lent 2, March 20, 2011
Plymouth United Church of Christ , Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011
Focus Scripture: Genesis 12:1–5a (Call of Abram) and John 3:1–17 (Nicodemus). The lectionary only included up to verse 4a in the Genesis reading, so here is the full passage as was read this Sunday.
Genesis 12:1-5a (NRSV)
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, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.
Seventy-five years old.
Seventy-five years old, and Abram is told to pack everything up and move to a foreign realm — a foreign realm where he doesn’t know where it will be. I know some in this church who are around this age who are in the process of packing up and moving or recently did, to a nursing home or smaller apartments. Maybe you thought you’d be in your houses until you died, but it didn’t work out that way. Same for Abram.
Abram is being sent to an unfamiliar place at an age when he might have been thinking of sizing-down, settling into a comfortable retirement, getting rid of some stuff. Maybe give some to the kids, and spend some more time with the grandkids.
Oh, wait, that’s right. Abram and Sarai don’t have any children. They have no descendants to give their stuff to. No grandchildren to play with. But they’re going to have them. That’s what God said. Seventy-five years old Abram is, and Sarai a few years younger, and God shows up and says, “Time for you to move. Oh, and by the way, you’re going to have a baby.” Imagine that! And it’s not just the announcement that would be extraordinary, but also the one making it. Because God hadn’t spoken to anyone in at least 465 years.
So, picture this. The passage we read today comes from the beginning of chapter 12 of Genesis. Working backwards, in chapter 11, we have the tower of Babel and genealogy of Abram’s ancestors. Chapter 10 is a list of Noah’s descendants. Chapter 9 is the tail end of the flood story, when God makes the rainbow covenant with Noah. So the last time God talked to anyone was in chapter 9 when God spoke to Noah. Then God disappears for a number of generations.
In fact, in these first 12 chapters of Genesis, God only shows up four times. There’s creation where God talks to Adam and Eve and Cain. Then God disappears until humanity is judged wicked and then God shows up for the second time, this time to talk to Noah and kill everything. Then God disappears until the people build the tower of Babel, when God shows up to destroy it, scattering the people. God speaks only to the divine self that time, not to any humans. And then God disappears for a good 465 years or more until Abram is seventy-five. This God, who has been quiet for so long, for whom the only two post-Eden appearances so far were to destroy, pops up out of nowhere to Abram, who maybe didn’t even have any knowledge of God – were they passing on stories those 500 years? We don’t know – God pops up out of nowhere, and without so much as an introduction, tells a seventy-five year old man to move his household somewhere else because he and his wife are going to have a baby.
Abram doesn’t even bat an eye.
In fact, he doesn’t say anything. He quietly packs up his family and his stuff and he leaves. And I want to know, Why? Was he familiar with God? Did he know the stories? And if so, why follow such a destructive God? Fear? Or was it the promise – the promise of being father of a great nation? That’s a pretty compelling offer. Maybe he thought, “Im 75, what do I have to lose? Worst case, I get to travel for a while.” Was he just gambling? Was it faith? Something else? All or none of the above?
We only know he goes. And he travels for quite a while, and ends up in Canaan, the land that became Israel and is modern day Israel. God shows up again, says, “This will be your descendants’ land.” Pretty good! But then God adds, “But not yet.”
“How long, Lord?” “Not yet.”
He goes to Egypt, ends up in Mamre and spends a few years there, but still no child, and no sightings of God, either. God disappears for years at a time. God finally shows up again to deliver the promise one more time, “You will become a great nation, a blessing to the world.” God shows Abraham the stars in the sky, and says Abram’s descendants will number more than these. This is in chapter 15. And Abram finally talks to God. “God,” he says, “You haven’t kept your promise.” “I will,” says God. And then, 25 years after first calling Abram, Abram is 100 years old, God delivers, so to speak, a son.
Even though Abram complained to God a few times, and even though he and Sarai became impatient enough to have Abram father a child through Sarai’s slave Hagar, they find out that God does not fail at upholding covenant, even when we fail, and even if God waits a quarter-century to fulfill the promise.
How long, God? How long? lament the Psalms repeatedly. How long, God? How long? say we repeatedly in the face of unrelieved pain, or yet another earthquake, or tsunami, or nuclear disaster; or Libyans crying out for justice, or Bahrainians, or Chinese, or Egyptians, or kids being bullied at school, or adults bullied at work. How long, God? How long? The cry of the oppressed, the sufferers of injustice, and we who defend their cause, who speak for the voiceless, who petition the government on behalf of the weak and defenseless, who stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. How long, God?
And the answer that rings down through history seems to be: however long it takes. Which is a truly annoying answer, let’s be honest. We’d never accept this in a business transaction. But: frustrating as that answer might be, the other end of that answer is, “But it won’t be forever.” God does not abandon. Even as Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”, Easter was right around the corner. Easter is coming.
Our new banner represents it with rays radiating out at the top, right behind the cross, promising the coming dawn of Easter. How long, Lord? It’s coming! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
We live in a Lenten world: broken, places of wilderness, times of darkness, evil gets a free reign sometimes. But Easter is coming. In the Lent of their childlessness, Abraham and Sarah have a son and name him Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because they laughed at God for saying they would have a child. How long, Lord? How long? “In my time, not yours.” After Isaac was born, Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have born him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:6–7) How long, God? Be patient. Abraham and Sarah’s patient faith paid off. The last laugh was theirs. How long, God?
Easter is coming!
Let us pray:
Merciful savior, though like Nicodemus we seem to come to you most often in the night-times of our lives, we do so because we seek reassurance of your promise. Easter seems impossibly far away for so many of us, and for so many in your quaking, flooding, radioactive, violent, war-torn, hungry world. Remind us again that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived what you, O God, have prepared for those who love you” as we await in patience for the fulfillment of your loving promise in Jesus Christ, who came to save the world and laugh the last laugh here and the first laugh of your kingdom. Amen.
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