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Sermon for March 1, 2015

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Texts: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Psalm 22:23-31

What do you imagine God wants for you that has not yet happened in your life?

                                    By What Name

         These two guys decide to go ice fishing. They head out, find a nice spot, cut a hole in the ice, and stick in their poles. Suddenly, a loud voice booms from above, "THERE ARE NO FISH HERE!!!"

The two guys look around, look at each other, and look up, and they don't see anyone. They figure the voice knows what it's talking about, so they get up and find another spot on the ice, cut a hole, and stick in their poles.  Once again, the voice booms from above, "THERE ARE NO FISH HERE!!!"

They look around, look at each other, and then look up. Again, they don't see anyone.  They find another spot on the ice, cut a hole, and stick in their poles.

Once again, the loud voice booms from above, "THERE ARE NO FISH HERE!!!"

They look around, look at each other, and then look up, again seeing no one.  One of them calls out, "Is this GOD???!!!"

The voice responds, "NO! THIS IS THE SKATING RINK MANAGER! THERE ARE NO FISH HERE!!!"

When Joe Namath made his fearless prediction of a Super-bowl victory for his upstart AFL team back in 1969, many people laughed. When a B-movie actor named Ronald Reagan from California began his campaign for the presidency, most people laughed. When a soft-spoken peanut-farmer named Jimmy Carter from Plains, Georgia entered the presidential race in 76, it was considered a joke. When David stood in front of Goliath with 5 smooth stones, the Bible tells us the giant laughed, but not for long.

Laughing can be a result of joy from a good practical joke, but it can also be a result of cynicism and disbelief, as was the case here in Genesis 17-18 with Abraham & Sarah. Abraham had been hearing about this promised child since he was in his 70’s. Now he was near 100 and Sarai was 90, at least in Biblical years. It had been nearly a quarter of a century since the original promise, a long time to wait for answered prayer by any account.

The writer of Genesis makes a point of telling us that Abram was 76 when God first came to him in Haran, promising an heir. Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born to his wife’s personal servant. Now God approaches Abram a third time with the promise that God will still make of Abram a great nation, and count his heirs as numerous as the stars. In the following chapter, three visitors arrive to confirm God’s plans for them, and Sarai, who cannot believe that God will still make good on this promised blessing, laughs. You can almost feel their cynicism and bitter disappointment as you read about this kind of laughter. “Seriously? We’re old people.” Abraham and Sarah laughed at God’s promise.

We do not know why it took so long for the promise to come to fruition. We do not know all the details of the ensuing years, but we do know this. This tent dwelling, middle eastern married couple, living in a world of multiple Gods, trusted signs and wonders that pointed them toward one true God. This story seals their future and ours in human history. God receives a new name, El Shaddai, heard first in the Torah in this story, and Abram and Sarai receive new names, Abraham and Sarah, as a sign and a covenant that would endure even to our own time. This God, whose name in Hebrew means, “I am the God Almighty”, takes Abraham and Sarah to be his people, in a parallel construct to marital vows, or to the covenanting that takes place when receiving a new name at baptism or confirmation.

They did not choose God, but God chose them. In this second Sunday of Lent, we consider how the waiting and testing of Abraham and Sarah for the time to be fulfilled parallels the waiting and testing of Jesus in the wilderness prior to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God made known through him. We enter this story in Lent, through our own Lenten practices, our own wilderness journey, and a snapshot of some greater aspect of our struggle to imagine that God will still fulfill some promise of our longing.  What are you waiting for? What do you imagine God wants for you that has not yet happened in your life?

Out west there is a man named John, whose wife of twenty years developed early Parkinson’s, a disease in this case triggered by a car accident. Early in their relationship, they felt that God called them to use their gifts as artists to document the history of the region so that the stories of the earliest pioneers would not be forgotten. Their disappointment at dreams cut short was palpable, as year after year her health deteriorated until she barely survived at about 86 pounds. What do you imagine God wants for you that has not yet happened in your life?

Then they heard about a physician doing research on brain mapping surgery that made it possible for the first time to pinpoint the area of the brain responsible for the tremors. The simplest of everyday tasks, from walking to the bathroom to holding a spoon had become impossible. After the surgery, Eva woke up from anesthesia to a world without shaking for the first time in a decade. The tremors had stopped. She left her wheelchair at the hospital and walked to the car, and a week later drove a car after being homebound for years. Never underestimate the power of what God can and will do.

We don’t all get what we want in such a way as this, of course. The point of the story is not that we get what we want, but that God makes good on God’s promises. Our world may not be at all what we hoped or imagined. The life of our dreams may seem as elusive as quick sand. We may have lost something or someone we can never recover. Nevertheless, God is faithful. God promises to care for precious and beautiful you, the one God knows by heart, the one God calls by name. You are worthwhile without proof, beautiful in God’s sight.

Where do you see signs that God is keeping God’s promises in your life and in the world? What is it that you are still hoping for?

There’s a story about two brothers who saw the world in very different ways. One was a pessimist. He believed he deserved more than he got, the other trusted that more good things would come to him than he deserved. The first brother always saw the glass as half full, and could never seem to be satisfied with what he had. The other brother saw the goodness of every moment, and seemed to be ridiculously optimistic whether the situation seemed to warrant it, or not. One day the parents decided to teach both brothers a lesson. They thought the first brother needed to be a little more positive and learn to be happy with what he had. They thought that the second brother needed to learn to be more realistic.

They gave the first brother a whole roomful of toys to play with, to enjoy to his heart’s delight. As expected, this brother complained bitterly. “Well these toys are very nice, but what I really wanted didn’t appear.” No matter what happened he was always disappointed. The other brother who always saw the best in every circumstance woke up that same morning to a room full of manure and a shovel. He happily set about shoveling out his room. The parent’s didn’t get it. How could this second brother be so optimistic? So they asked him why he was so happily and vigorously mucking out the stall of his room?

“Oh I’m really excited,” he said. “If there’s this much manure in my bedroom, there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

God fulfilled God’s promises for Abraham and Sarah. Even though they did not see evidence that the fulfillment of God’s promises were at hand, they trusted in God’s plans for them. What do you imagine God wants for you that has not yet happened in your life?

Whatever the circumstances of your life today, trust God and keep digging. At the end of your own wilderness walk, God waits to bless your faith with a new name and a new purpose known only to God. I don’t know what your future will bring, but God does. You are God’s beloved. Trust God, and expect a pony.

Amen