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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Believe - 03/17/2019

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 so they would 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 the land and its riches 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 has passed since that first vision and now God has come to him in another. Abram asks for some much needed re-assurance that an heir will be born to him and 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. To one side we have a beautiful and amazing image of the starry heavens, on the other the description of a strange and mystical burnt offering of a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pigeon.

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 every one of us, have had or are having our Abram moments. We wonder when some wound will be healed. We wonder when terrorism and mass shootings will become a thing of history books, not newspapers We wonder 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 dealing with dementia, or cancer, or someone who just keeps making really poor choices for themselves.

I hear it in the parents who sometimes feel overwhelmed by raising children, and working and managing complex calendars and trying to do their best to make sure those children hear the story of Jesus and feel compelled to love one another as he does. 

And yet all these people, I'm fairly certain, would be much like Abram … they would believe Lord. 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 sets me to thinking more deeply about belief and where it originates.

It's not something we can buy off the shelf at the hardware or grocery, or even a beautiful little shop offering the wisdom and insight of artists. 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 think I probably don’t know the whole answer to that, but I do feel confident in suggesting 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 whose 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 conspires to bestow belief anyway. That's part of what it means to be a steadfast and loving God.

So our task, it 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 many 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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