Sermon for August 7
8/7/22 St. John’s
Most families have some lore – you know what I mean, stories that get told over and over again; and that are even passed down generations. How great, great grandma escaped from slavery, How grandma and grandpa emigrated from Europe or Mexico. How Mom held the family together while Dad was away at war. Stories about resilience and strength and faith, that help us remember who we are as a family, our roots, where we’ve been and maybe where we might be going.
And we know, congregations, which are like families, have stories too that get told and passed on. I’m hoping that as part of the transition process here at St. John’s we can share those stories, I think we can set up some time together that can help us see where God might be calling St. John’s. That will help in calling a pastor.
So, Jesus’ family, the people of Israel, had one particular story that was very important. It was a long one, that was about their spiritual ancestors, Abram and Sarai. We heard some of it in our first reading today. About their call from God to a new home and the long journey they took in answer to that call and how they became the spiritual parents of us all. Actually, in second reading from Hebrews is another telling to the very early church and so to us.
Just to catch us up, Abram and Sarai, just out of basically nowhere, have been called by God to leave their ancestral home, take a huge risk and leave everything: their family, their dwelling place to go somewhere yet to be named where God is going to lead them.
And remember, this is scripture and so God talked directly to people in visions or from burning bushes – in a way most of us don’t necessarily experience hearing God. Usually it takes us a little more discernment to figure out what God is saying to us.
So with Abram and Sarai, God has told them directly that they were to leave their home and that God will provide a new home, and furthermore, that even though they have no children and are now way past that age, God has promised them that they will have a child and that in fact their descendants would be so numerous that their family would become a great and powerful people. So now we see what God has in mind, God’s vision. Not their vision, they don’t really have a vision yet, they’re just following by faith, really, but God has a vision, which God usually does.
But in today’s reading, they are part of the way along and Abram is stumbling, he is anxious and losing confidence, he has doubts, he’s worried. This is not working. I don’t have a child, an heir. The closest I have is a servant boy named Eliezer, which is a terrific name you have to admit, but not what Abram had in mind.
And so this is what God does: God says “Don’t be afraid.” Now this is not good pastoral counseling at all. We would call this negating someone’s feelings if a counselor or therapist said it. But God is not a therapist; in fact, this is how a father or mother talks to a child who wakes up in the middle of a night having a nightmare. “Don’t be afraid, it’s alright. Daddy or mommy is here.” And maybe do something to distract the child – ‘here’s your Teddy or your favorite binky.” Everything is OK. This is not cognitive, this is emotional.
What God does is says Abram, come here and he brings Abram out of his tent in the middle of the night and boom. The inky night sky. The sky filled billions of stars and galaxies and constellations all of which God has created – there is no light pollution here and I imagine this is like the images the Webb telescope is sending us, an infinity of the firmament, stars so far away that their light was millions of years old by the time Abram even saw it.
Abram didn’t know that of course but with the image of those billions of stars reflecting in his eyes, he was fine again – his faith and hope and peace and trust was back. He was looking right into the eyes of God. Abram believed, the text says.
How could you not? I remember when I was a kid 11 years old looking up at the sky and seeing that it just hit me-, I had one of those mystical moments, – not believing it, but as Carl Jung said – knowing that there was a God. How could there not be a God? With this creation that surrounds us, this love that is everywhere.
And that faith saved Abram and Sarai, and they kept the faith and sure enough, they had Isaac
and let’s not forget Hagar and Ishmael
and Isaac and Rebekah had Jacob and Esau
and Jacob with all his several wives had the twelve tribes of Israel, the great people indeed who finally found their promised land; a family from whom was brought forth
Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the savior of the world.
It’s a long story, full of pain and anguish and joy and suffering, just like all our stories are. When God said to Abram and Sarai don’t be afraid, God did not promise that it would be easy. Just like we can’t promise to our children when we say “don’t be afraid” that’s going to an easy life. We know it’s not. We will do our best to shield them and protect them and beyond that we are trusting God to take care of them. We have faith in God, just like our ancestors Abram and Sarai: faith that life is stronger than death and hope is stronger than fear and love is stronger than hate.
So, in our gospel reading today, Jesus says to his followers, to us, his adoptive family, the same thing. Do not be afraid, little flock. They have been on their way to Jerusalem for quite some time now, and he has been telling them that it’s going to be bad. Everything is going to fall apart. He is going to be arrested and tortured and crucified. They are going to be scattered but Jesus can say, “Don’t be afraid” because he knows that no amount of suffering can keep him or them (or us) down because God is with them and in them and always will be. He knows the ending: infinite joy and peace and unity with God.
So that’s why we tell the stories over and over again. In the words of the old hymn, we’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in his holy word. He’s never failed us yet. Oh, oh, oh can’t turn around, we’ve come this far by faith.