Journey From Doubt to Belief.

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent; Genesis 15:1-12,17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

 

When this morning’s story from Genesis opens, it has been a long time since God promised Abram an heir and land. Actually, God has made the promise the second time (Gen 12:2 and Gen 13:16). It has been a long time, and there is still no heir. So, Abram has made arrangements to ensure that his belongings and his memory will be secure. So, when God shows ups again, making the same promise, only this time actually increasing it, Abram’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. It is reasonable for Abram to have a hard time believing God’s promise; after all this time of seeing nothing done (Bratt) (Yarchin). So when Abram asks “How am I to believe?” we understand, we get it.

Some commentators note that trust in God always comes through God’s self-revelation. This time, that revelation is in the midst of that strange sacrifice we read about. The fire pot and torch, which is in Abram’s dream, are opposite of darkness, reveal the presence of God (Sakenfeld) (Harrelson) (Gaventa and Petersen) (Ashley). We did not read a couple of verses, that detail the five-hundred-year journey of the Hebrews through Egypt (Walton). Perhaps the details provide some assurance to Abram. All this happens when Abram is asleep, making the covenant completely God’s responsibility. Another thing we know is that when he awakes, Abram believes. Now, just in case you are not completely familiar with the time sequences in Genesis, Abram’s trust does not last. Some years later, in the midst of year another long time of divine silence, Abram and Sarah scheme again. Doug Bratt notes that it may have been a thousand years for Abram’s descendants to number as the stars in the night sky (Bratt).

Some seventeen hundred years later Jesus is headed to Jerusalem (Walton 25). On his way, he is revealing the presence of the divine kingdom through exorcising demons and healing the sick. We are so used to thinking of the Pharisees as opponents, even the enemies, of Jesus, that we might be a little taken aback when they warn Jesus Herod is out to kill. Some commentators note that Luke has a different view of Pharisees, and they may actually be allies, at least at this point (Harrelson) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Other think this is a ruse, the Pharisees want to get rid of Jesus; because they see that he is a threat to their power and privilege, and what better way, that to blame it on Herod. But trying to scare Jesus off shows us that they have already decided they are not interested in the Kingdom Jesus is offering (Bratt). Jesus is headed straight for the seat of Jewish and Roman power, which has always been a dangerous place for prophets. Jesus doesn’t care; he knows the power of God’s promise and presence. And remember from last week, that knowledge is not from his divine nature, he knows about divine power because he grew up knowing the story of God and Israel.

The Pharisees’ warning does give Jesus an opening to expose Herod for what he is, a fox, a sly, cunning, calculating, brutal hunter.

Even though the picture on the cover of this morning’s order appears all warm and cuddly, when a fox is present, the hen broods her chicks and then bears her breast to the fox who must kill her to get to the chicks (Ashley). Jesus knows what he is walking into.

The bit about today, tomorrow and the third day, does have resurrection implications. It also tells the Pharisees, Luke’s audience and us, that Jesus controls timeline of his ministry. Together with the image of the hen, we know Jesus ministry will not be stopped, even by death (Reese).

Jesus’ proclamation that a prophet cannot be killed except in Jerusalem does not pass scriptural muster; there are several accounts of just that. There are some books, from the time between Micah and the Gospels, that are not in the canon, that tend to give credence to what Jesus is saying; but, they are more subtle and complex than what we want to get into here. Suffice it to say, Jesus is referring to himself. (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Jesus’ journey to the capital of the powers and principalities, his refusal to be cowed by Herod, his longing for the people of God, and identification with a brooding hen, is Jesus projecting strength in vulnerability (Ashley).

So, now it has been right a two thousand years, way longer than Abram waited to see Isaac, twice as long as it took for Abram’s descendants to be as numerous as the stars and we are still waiting. God hasn’t been totally silent; but, in whatever form you may believe it is coming, the rapture is not here yet. I don’t think it is when we will, so much as it is how we will share Abram’s doubt. The Lenten question is how can we share in Abram’s journey from doubt to belief, from doubt to faith (Bratt). For Abram, the journey involved a really strange sacrifice. Jesus’ belief, in part, emerges from the story of God’s self-revelation, that he learned from his family and community. We have the same story, plus Jesus’ story. They are both old, very old. And it is currently waning in its influence. In spite of the opining of Steven Pinker, Leif Wenar and others about our increasing humanity toward each other it is easy for us to get seduced by the harshness of the world. Abram asks “How do I know?” We may ask “How are we to know our religious faith has any meaning?” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). We may want to know “How do we overcome the fear response the principalities and powers intentionally cannily evoke?”

I do not have any answers. But, what I passionately, believe discerning what it means to be in covenant with a vulnerable God, and how we can suffer rejection, and face death as we provide healing even to our enemies is a worthy Lenten discipline (Reese) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Ten days ago in the Ash Wednesday Liturgy invites us to the observance of a holy Lent by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word (BCP). Fasting is my least favorite option, which likely has something to do with my face first encounter with the sanctuary floor, as an acolyte. Nonetheless, there is value in fasting; it does invite us into silence and into contemplation of the divine. Fasting reminds us our real hunger, whether we know it or not, is for God (Winner 102). It turns out fasting has far greater implications than the ability to go without bread and water. It is one way, as are all those disciplines we can learn to trust God.

These are hard questions. And I don’t ask them to cast doubt anyone’s faith. We should not be afraid to explore serious questions by fasting or any discipline listed in the Ash Wednesday invitation. And I ask them because it is okay if we do not get it quite right. Remember Abram didn’t; as of today’s Genesis story Ishmael has yet to be conceived. It is okay if we don’t get it quite right, God has it covered. In addition, to Abram’s story we heard today, we have today’s story of Jesus encounter with the Pharisees. Through that story we know Jesus is in charge; and that no one, not even as brutal as Herod, will get in his way, that tells is that our salvation is in good hands. We also have the image of brooding Jesus’ desire to safeguard us, from the world, and from ourselves. Moreover, it matters that you are here, which demonstrates that you are willing, to at least start.

And now, as you continue your Lenten discipline:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done (Ashley).


 

References

Ashley, Dannae. “Loving Like a Mother Hen, Lent 2(C) – 2016.” 21 2 2016. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Lent 2C Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. 21 2 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. 21 2 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 2 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Lent 2 C Luke 13:31-15. 21 2 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 2 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Love and Belonging. 21 2 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Pinker, Steven. Better Angels of Our Nature. Viking, 2011.

Reese, Ruth Anne. Commentary on Luke 13:31-35. 21 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer. 1979.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1978.

Wenar, Leif. “Is Humanity Getting Better?” New York Times (2016). <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/24/science/what-is-einsteins-general-relativity.html?&gt;.

Winner, Lauren. Mudhouse Sabbath. Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2003.

Yarchin, William. Commentary on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. 21 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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