Sunday, February 24, 2013

standing on the promises--a sermon for Lent 2C

Rev. Teri Peterson
Standing on the Promises
Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18, Luke 13.31-35
24 February 2013, Lent 2C (Rooted in Love, Growing in Faith 2)

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
 Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’

God has made some lofty promises in God’s day—from proclaiming all creation good to promising to care for the world and not let anger rule the day to the sweeping statement “I will be your God and you will be my people.” It’s enough to prompt us to pray: “happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers, but their delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.”

Quite a promise! Does it sound familiar?

Was anyone able to work on internalizing this promise of God this week? How did that work for you?
How about hearing the story of Jesus in Mark’s gospel? What was that like?

Last week we talked about getting rooted in God’s word—hearing and telling and reading God’s story, letting it live in us and finding ways that we can live in the Word. Starting with Mark allows us to get in on the action of Jesus who lives out God’s promise, embodying God’s presence with us in both words and deeds. If you didn’t have a chance to read Mark out loud last week, I encourage you to do it this week—not only will it deepen your own life with God, the shared experience will deepen our life as a community as well.

Because the thing about life is that sometimes it’s hard. Things don’t go the way we hope, or we feel alone, or we wonder just what God is up to. Abram, for instance, had done everything God asked—when God said Go, Abram went. God promised many children, and Abram believed. But now we encounter Abram, still traveling, still childless, and beginning to ask questions. Where is this promised land? Where are these promised descendants? Is God really a faithful keeper of promises, or is this God just as capricious and volatile as the other gods worshipped by the people Abram’s met on his journey? At some point, the promise begins to sound a little ridiculous, and people’s opinion changes from “Abram is so faithful!” to “oh, silly Abram, still waiting on God…he needs to get out and do something about this situation for himself!”

photo by TrombaMarina
Abram does what many of us have probably done: he looks around at his situation, and he looks at God and says “umm, God? I’m trying to be faithful over here, but I’m starting to get discouraged…” And God looks back and gives Abram something to hold on to: “look to the stars, and take courage.” Looking up at the multitude in the heavens, seeing the Milky Way streak across the sky, the stars and planets twinkling in their place, light coming from billions of miles away, Abram’s spirit was lifted and he was able to go on, standing on the promise of God.

It’s not always that easy, it seems. Sometimes we get discouraged, we wonder if faith and hope and work and prayer are in vain. Looking at the stars seems a mediocre option designed to remind us of our smallness, not God’s faithfulness. Besides that, the forecast is for clouds and snow this week. So this week I’d like to challenge you to look for a sign of God’s faithfulness. Take a photo or write a few sentences describing where you see God’s promise. If you’re on facebook, post it on our church page. If you’re not, send me an email and I’ll post it for you. Or bring a photo in to the office. As we get more grounded in God’s promise and faithfulness, our own faithfulness also grows—and what better way to encourage others in the body of Christ than through sharing our visions of God’s promise with one another?

These are the kinds of things that help us stand on God’s promise even when things seem dark. Even Jesus relied on the images of his community when he looked to his coming task. He knew he had a hard road ahead, and there was a fox in the henhouse. Herod and his cronies had plans not just for Jesus, but for their people. Herod was a king only in name—his lavish lifestyle was financed by his Roman puppeteers, and he liked it that way. It gave him all the power with none of the responsibility, and the people suffered. Rather than learning to be faithful, they learned the path of least resistance, keeping the call of God inside the synagogue while letting the political powers push people into poverty and hopelessness. They had learned well that getting their hopes up led to crushing defeat and worse oppression, so they kept their hope under wraps. But Jesus is the fiercest mother hen there is, and he wasn’t afraid to pull his people under his wing and proclaim that the fox doesn’t have the power we think he does. Jesus was able to hold on to God’s promise in a way that the people couldn’t. In some ways, he held on to the promise for all of us—when we couldn’t believe, he was faithful anyway. He called up the same images the prophets used in the old days, he leaned on the stories of God's call and God's love, and shared them around so that all could be strengthened by the reminder that God keeps promises, every time.

It’s easier said than done to reach our roots down into God’s promise. Because sometimes the promises feel like they’re far away or for another time and place. And sometimes things happen that make us wonder if God is in fact good all the time…or if God is powerful enough to do anything about our situations. It can be hard to keep our eyes on the promise when our vision is filled with urgent worries and needs and hurts. Sometimes we can’t see what God is doing. And while I’m not quite willing to say that bad things are actually good in a bigger picture, I am willing to say that God has promised a future with hope, plans for our welfare and not our harm, and that God does not break promises. I am willing to say that God is love, and while our understanding of love is woefully shallow it still gives us a glimpse of the goodness God wills for all of creation.

God’s promise doesn’t come easy. Our call is to look to God’s faithfulness in order to grow in our own. Nowhere does God ask us to create faith from a vacuum and build it up with our own power. Instead the scripture says that we love because God first loved us. It says that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit. And over and over and over, it says that God is faithful and just, loving and compassionate. Then, having learned who God is, scripture asks us to be mirrors of God’s grace, reflecting love and hope and light into the world. We are called to be like trees, planted by streams of water—growing and producing fruit that gives others a glimpse of the glory of God. We are promised that God will never leave us nor forsake us, that love will be the foundation of all our days, that abundant life is possible, that streams of living water will flow through us and we will be both filled and ready to offer living water to others. If we live as if God’s promise is true, we might find ourselves to be a part of the new thing God is revealing, slowly but surely. We might discover that, however briefly, we are living in the kingdom of God even now.

So this week, look to the stars, or the snowflakes, or the word, or wherever you see God at work, and get more grounded in God’s promise, so that we, like Abram and like Jesus, can be focused on God’s will and become living good news to the world.

May it be so. Amen.


  1. Really like the invitation for people to "snap a photo" of God's faithfulness...and then to share it. While I did not do #rethink photo challenge I've really enjoyed seeing it through the eyes of other people.

  2. I loved this sermon today and felt the beginning you were speaking directly to me!!! I am totally an obsessive planner - guilty of being frustrated when it doesn't turn out the way I've PLANNED! Thanks for this great message.