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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Trust Your Belief - 02/21/2016

There are so many directions one could go with the texts before us this week.

Within the gospel alone … we have Jesus calling Herod a fox and then lamenting over the brokenness of his beloved Jerusalem and the people within its walls. People who he knows will have a hand in nailing him to a tree and killing him in their uncertainty over the radical, power-shifting message that he brings. Jesus illuminates this beautiful image of God as mother and nurturer when he says he feels like a brooding hen who desperately wants to gather his chicks up and protect them from Herrod the fox, maybe even from themselves.

And then there's this little snippet out of Paul's letter to the Philippians where we get a glimpse of this community in Christ he holds up as a model for us to imitate and observe in our own identities as people of faith. A community where together we expect our Savior and the transformation he sets in motion. A transformation that is evident among us now as we gather together to break bread and remember the freedom we have in Jesus' life, death and resurrection ... and as we prayerfully and mindfully seek forgiveness and feel ourselves renewed in this season of Lent. And a transformation of things to come knowing that we are gathered into God's loving care when we die and that Christ will come again to complete the transformation of this world into the fully realized Kingdom of God.

But it is this story of Abram and one little phrase that really seems to capture a Lenten imagination this week.

Abram was 75 years old when God told him to leave all the familiars of his homeland. He was 75 years old when God said he and his wife Sarai would be the start of a great nation, that God would honor a covenant with them... that God would be their one and only God in a land of many, many false gods … that God would care for them with strong and steadfast love and would bless them to be a blessing to others.

Abram was only 75 years old and didn't know what exactly was ahead of him … a brutal famine in Egypt; separation, hardship and imprisonment within his family; battles with kings who wanted to possess more of the resources hidden in the land where Abram and others were making their lives. He did not know that in God's way, his first child would be born to a servant in his house. The boy was named Ishmael, and he would become father to a whole other nation of people who worship the one true God. Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born and he would be 100 years old when Issac was finally born to him and Sarai.

It must have seemed like an eternity to Abram. And we can only imagine the nights he must have laid awake wondering … turning over in his mind the words God had first spoken to him when he was already an old man. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God said to him. “ 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.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

Where we meet Abram today, a decade passed since that first vision And God has come to him in another vision and Abram asks for some much needed re-assurance that an heir will be born to him Sarai. God brings him outside to gaze at the sky, crowded and heavy with stars – count them if you can, God says … this is my vision for those who will come of your legacy. It will all start with a child born to you.

And then we come to it … a little phrase in the middle of our story today that almost gets run over by the fantastic visions on either side of it – a beautiful and amazing image of the starry heavens on one side and the description of a strange and mystical burnt offering of a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pigeon on the other.

In the midst of this, our story tells us, “and (Abram) believed the Lord.”

Despite his age, despite Sarai's age, despite everything that has happened since God first called Abram and made those promises to him and despite everything that is still to happen before these two actually hold their newborn in their arms and feel the warmth of his skin, hear his cry and call him Issac...

Despite all of that, Abram “believed the Lord.”

That's astounding, isn't it? And I think it's highly relate-able. We all, each and everyone of us, have had or are having our Abram moments. We wonder when some wound will be healed, when justice will be dispensed for all people, when we will truly feel relief from a difficult time in our lives. I hear it in peoples stories wherever I go …

I hear it in the worried tones of a caregiver who wonders if she can protect and watch over the one in her charge well enough.

I hear it in the voice of someone who is working so hard to lovingly and realistically walk with someone they love who is physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually ill.

I hear it in the resigned comment “that's how life goes,” from a woman heartbroken over the death of her spouse, a woman quietly battling her way through grief that is complicated by her own diminishing capacity to remember what she did that morning or how long she has been living in that nursing facility.

I hear it in people's comments about the race for the White House regardless of what party or policies or issues are important to them. They wonder what the heck is going on with our political process in this country and if there is any hope of bringing it back to the point where everyone can say our democracy is for the people, by the people and of the people.

And yet all these people, I'm fairly certain, would utter these same words as Abram, despite all the uncertainty in life, despite not knowing exactly what comes next  – they believe the promises of God. They believe that the promise to Abram still holds true for them – that God sticks by them, that they are blessed to be a blessing to others, that despite our tendency to sin and worship other things, God always stands ready to welcome us back into God's way, into God's rich and full idea of what life in this creation is meant to be.

This sense of belief in God is a thread through all the texts today too. As Paul says, “stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” (Philip. 4:1) This thread got me to thinking more deeply about belief and where it originates.

It's not something we can buy off the shelf at Menard's or order from Amazon. Belief isn't something we can obtain like a degree or award or new skill. And although we can witness it in the lives of others and sense it in ourselves, we cannot really give it to another person. I can't walk up to someone and say “_____, it seems to me you have a great deal of belief in God – could I get some of that from you?” As much as  ______ may want to, he/she cannot simply reach into a pocket or a cupboard somewhere and dispense some of that belief to me.

So where does it come from?

I suggest to you that belief is part and parcel of our faith and our faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on all of creation. It's one facet of God's Grace-filled gift to us. And for those who's hearts are hardened, or who cannot recognize that gift yet or who remain convinced that other worldly ways are the better ways to go, God continually works to bestow that gift. That's part of what it means to be a steadfast and loving God.

So our task, its seems to me, is to trust our belief, just as Abram did.

That can be a really tricky thing for us sometimes, thanks to all the other voices in our lives trying to shout over that trust. Those voices come in many forms.

...the manipulative voice of fear that tries to convince the caregiver that he or she must forego self care in order to be everything someone else needs them to be.

...the judgmental voice of taboo or hopelessness in the face of illness of any kind.

…. the rude voice of dismissiveness in response to human grief and loss.

… the apathetic voice of division in our present state of politics and civil discourse.

I'm certain there are any more examples of this noisiness that tries to overwhelm our sense of trust in our belief. Sometimes it wins.

And that's why we gather in communities like this, and let the words of these texts wash over us. It's why we sing the songs of our faith and bring ourselves to the font and the table.

God has given us great faith and wondrous belief and here we gather to embolden one another to trust that belief as Abram did. Here we build each other up in strength and inspire one another to show the world what it is to live trusting that belief. Here we repeat the words of the Psalmist and carry it in our hearts everywhere we go, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living./ Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:13-14). And here we finally trust our belief enough to shout back with and resounding “Yes!” and “Thanks be to God” as Jesus gathers us up and protects us like a brooding hen ready to die for her chicks.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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