Gen. 17:1-7; 15-26; Romans 4:13 - 5:5
Raise your hand if you have ever sung while driving in the car? You know how it goes. You’re heading down 44 and your favorite song comes on the radio. You lean over and turn it up a bit louder. Your head begins to move and before you know it, you are on stage rocking out a tune as if you are on a world tour. You don’t have a care in the world how loud you are, or how bad your voice sounds. No one but God and your windshield can hear you. Best of all, there's no one there to correct you if your lyrics are a little off.
Has that ever happened to you? You’re singing and someone says, “um… Dude, that’s not what they’re singing.” And you’re like, “what are you talking about, it totally is.” And then you Google the lyrics and realize that it’s not “Smashed up like a truce, another burger in the night.” In fact, I would find out the song has nothing to do with grilled meat. Many years ago, I was caught singing that song...“What if God were one of us.” Only I could have sworn it went “What if God ate one of us.” There's a big theological difference there. I still sing "what if God ate one of us" because it makes me smile just to think of God happily gobbling up all our goodness.
As we continue our Lenten series on Hope and Resurrection, we also celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Table. For it is at the table where the hope-filled promise in Jesus’ resurrection is remembered. It is at this table that we gather to share this sacred meal, and feed our spiritual hunger.
You will notice I’ve titled this sermon “God’s hunger will not cease.” And in keeping a food theme going...my question this morning is this: “If God were to feast on you, would God be filled with your righteousness?" In other words, what do you have to offer that is fulfilling and pleasurable? Love? Kindness? Generosity? Trust? Friendship? These are all great qualities...one's that even an atheist can possess. Therefore, let's think about the specific thing God desires most of all. Abraham’s story gives us some food for thought. In Genesis we read that God reckoned Abraham as righteous, that is to say Abraham walked right with God. It appears that God has an appetite for righteousness.
Now had we read the entire story, we'd see how Abraham was not sinless or without guilt. He put the covenant promise with God in jeopardy a few times. Not only did he lie about his wife being his sister, he also had a child with his slave Hagar, instead of waiting on God to deliver on this promise. And as Sue read this morning, when God told him that he and Sarah would have children together, Abraham actually laughed in God's face. Yet he was reckoned righteous. I find this hard to swallow.
In his letter to the Roman churches, Paul believes Abraham was righteous, and thus the heir of the covenant, because he simply believed. That’s it. Abraham simply believed in the righteousness of God...and of God's word. Paul writes, "Hoping against hope, he believed in order to become the father of many nations. Abraham believed God, even when the stuff that God was saying sounded a little far fetched and completely unrealistic. Because of this, God made a covenant with Abraham.
The Christian church affirms that God's covenant has continued through the generations through Jesus Christ, who is our hope and our salvation. The righteousness of God has been manifested in Jesus Christ. God came into a sin filled world to be with us so that all who believe will be justified by their faith in him. Abraham believed and received the covenant promise. We are called to believe if we want to receive it too.
But is it really that simple? Just believe and you're all good with God? Well, kinda-sorta...You can believe that your eyes see words on a page but to believe that those words mean something to the way you live your life takes having faith in the words themself.
Belief is the start. Belief leads to faith. And faith as you have heard me say before is active. Active faith leads to some kind of action. Abraham's faith begins with believing that God is who he says he is...the Great Almighty. And even though he laughs in God's face Abraham's faith in God's crazy promise remains steadfast.
Paul tells us it was "strong and unwavering." This does not mean he never doubts, or never tries to take matters into his own hands, but because at the end of the day, Abraham faithfully trusts in God’s covenant promise. This trust allows him to step out of his comfort zone, to take great risks, and do what God has called him to do. At age 75, when most are enjoying retirement, God calls Abraham to leave his family, friends, and security. Instead of taking I-75 south to spend his golden years in the Sunshine State, Abraham faithfully obeys God to go out into a land yet unseen...to begin a new nation.
Forty years further into his story Abraham is prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac (and all the future hopes attached to him) just to prove his faith in God. While there have been times I have wanted to kill my own kids, (like last night) I am not sure I could do it even if I really believed God told me to do so. Who remembers the horror movie "The Omen"? Towards the final scene Damian's Father has him pinned down on the alter. With the sacred knife in hand, the father cannot kill his own son...even though he knows he is the Anti-Christ. He loses faith which will cost him his life.
Of course God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. And keeps his covenant with his faithful servant. Abraham’s story shows us God's hunger for righteousness will not cease. Neither will God's covenant with us...even if it means God has to give his own son as a sacrifice for our sin. And so I ask the question again, do you have what it takes to satisfy God’s appetite? How far do we put our faith and trust in a God that, as Paul puts it, “gives life to the dead...and calls into being that which does not exist?” It takes faith to believe in things hoped for, And hope is more than just being optimistic.
We live in a time where not believing is so much easier than believing...It's easier to put your hope in nothing...than it is having your hope and faith crushed. I know too many faithful believers who keep their faith to themselves. They don't want to be singled out as a religious fanatic. They just want to blend in. Like the good atheist, they are content with being seen as a nice person, who does nice things for other people. But do you think God wants us to privatize our faith?
Was Jesus afraid to go public? No. Jesus publicly endured hostility by those who despised him, rejection by those who loved him, he endured the cross, and even death itself...for everyone to see. Jesus was not simply obeying the law by doing good things, Jesus was faithfully living and fulfilling the righteousness of the law...from his birth to his death and resurrection. This is where our hope begins. God came to us...God lived with us in public to give us hope even in the face of death. So why are we afraid to proclaim it?
I admit, I'm guilty of this. When I meet someone new who shares my love for music or who has my dark sense of humor, I often hesitate to answer the inevitable question of, “So what do you do for a living?” I hesitate to tell them I am a minister because I fear it will end the conversation. I fear they either think I’ll try to convert them or guilt them into coming to church. I too need to be reminded that I am a believer and my faith is risk I chose to take. It is in this action that God finds our righteousness. Our righteousness must never cease...because God's hunger never does.
For the last few decades, churches around the country have spent valuable time and resources to entertain faith instead of feeding it. Too many churches say they offer the Living Water of Christ, when in reality it’s more like diet soda. They say it taste like the real thing, but with none of the guilt. The common belief has been, the church needs to offer a light version of the gospel, so people feel good about themselves and keep coming back.
I believe Jesus wants us to feel good...but as his disciples would discover...to get to that peaceful joy, requires us to face some uncomfortable truths about who we are...and who we want to become. Likewise, too many churches have enabled congregations to binge on a feel good gospel like they do on Monster Energy drinks. They pump people up and send them out into the world. But this kind of rush is often short-lived. Without proper spiritual nutrition people's faith crash and they burn out on religion. And then God does not get fed.
Lent is not just a time to fast. It is also a time to feast. A time receive nourishment and be strengthened by the truth and righteousness of Christ Jesus, who, like Abraham, did not waver in unbelief, but grew in faith, always giving glory to God. To believe is to have faith in God. To have faith means we must trust God. When we trust God enough to love God, our faith grows and our righteousness is strengthened.
Our hope is more than optimistic thinking...It is the building block of our covenant relationship with God. As our love for God grows stronger, we overcome the fear that stops us from loving our neighbor. When we love one another, we no longer judge one another, we no longer desire to kill or to cheat one another. We no longer desire to horde our resources from those less fortunate. Our hope is building a covenanting community with one another...And with our God. When we come together in love, the hope and promise of God’s covenant comes alive. When our love is right with God, God is well fed. And so are we.
(move to the communion table)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”