The Second Sunday in Lent
St. Mary's Episcopal Church
Mr. David Wilcox
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18, Phil. 3:17-4:1
March 17, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
In today’s old testament lesson, we enter into the story of Abram, who would later be renamed as Abraham…you know the one “Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham…” You’ll have to excuse my horrendous attempt at singing, but every time I think of Abraham, I hear that song in my head and I can’t help but sing or hum along(so I suppose that Sunday school did its job!) If you’re not familiar with the story it begins a few chapters before we enter it today, in Genesis 12. God appears to Abram in a dream and calls him to leave his homeland of Ur with all his family and possessions and to follow Him. He calls him to begin a great journey to a land far away which God says that he will give to him and his descendants…I should also point out that at this point in the story, Father Abraham isn’t a father and he has no sons, so, God’s promise of descendants and a land to call their own must have seemed outlandish. But, Abram stepped out in faith and began the journey. All God asked of Abram is that he trust him. And, that’s where we pick up today.
You see in today’s reading Abram has been on this journey for a little while now and he still has no descendants, and he wasn’t a young man, and his lovely wife wasn’t any younger. Abram was having a bit of a hard time doing what God had asked and trusting in what he told him…you might even say understandably so. This Unknown force who didn’t have a body had appeared in a dream and told Abram to leave all he had ever known to follow him down an unknown path…It’s a bit crazy if we think about it. Abram had such a hard time trusting God that he’d even created a backup plan, he’d made a will, so to speak and he had entrusted all he had not to the descendants that God promised, but to Eleazar of Damascus…so when God appears to Abram in his dream he begins with the most frequently heard passage in the scripture “do not be afraid” God then goes on, not to scold Abram for his failure but to remind him of his promise. Abram believes and this is accounted to him as righteousness. As a sign of his promise God creates a covenant with Abram, (It’s the bit with all the animals being chopped in two) in which he is mirroring a practice in which two kings would enter into a covenant with one another. The greater King would cut the animals in two and the lesser King would walk through them. In doing so these two kings were recognizing that if the lesser King broke their end of the covenant the greater King would do to the lesser what he had done to those animals. But, in this covenant between God and Abram is different, Abram is asleep and God promises that even if Abram(and his descendants) fail to uphold their end of the bargain God won’t punish him will fulfill the covenant himself. Abraham’s journey wasn’t an easy one and there were many trials that he had to endure, there were many times he failed to do what God called him to do but in the end God fulfilled his promise delivered Abraham to the promised land.
I wanted to go through the trouble of summing up Abraham’s story because in a way Abraham’s story is our story, for, ever since God called Abram out of Ur so many years ago, he has called all who would know him to journey with him as well. We both as a group are his children and heirs spiritually, and as individuals. Each one of us is called by God to leave behind our homeland, our identities, and old selves and to follow him into an unbelievable promise. Like Abraham we are called to embark on a journey which is risky, costly and takes an unbelievable amount of trust.
All our journeys started at different points in our lives. For some it started as an infant in the waters of baptism, for others it started later in life you felt prompted to explore faith and came to know Jesus. For some the journey has been relatively straightforward and easy, and for others it has been long and winding embracing much pain and adversity. For many there may have been times when the journey no longer seemed worth it. And, for all of us at one point our another there are things in our life that keep us from focusing on the journey, things that cause us to veer off the path and lose sight of God who is our guide, and sometimes we may even encounter things which make us give up on the journey for a time. When we fail in these ways it may seem like there is no hope and that we are lost forever. And, if we walked this journey on our own that might be true. God knows that we are dust and that all of our efforts will fail without his assistance.
God’s covenant with Abraham, his promise that he would fulfill both his own part and ours was accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and it is through faith in him that we are able to continue in our journey in spite of our failures. When we fall away Jesus is waiting at the side of the road telling us not to fear for he has gone before us and he will walk beside us no matter what the journey will bring and all we have to do is keep getting up and trying again.
In this Lenten season, the Church invites us to continue with renewed vigor our Journey to God, following in the footsteps of Jesus. And she gives us good and helpful tools for the journey, prayer fasting and alms-giving. But, too often we look to these as ends in themselves and fall into the delusion that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and that these tools can help us overcome those things that hold us back, too often we let ourselves be tricked into believing we can save ourselves. In the epistle to the Philippians St. Paul warns us to beware of the enemies of the cross, those who are of the world and would tell us that we can do it on our own. So, in this Lenten season, I want to encourage you to use the tools the church has given and let them point you towards your brokenness and your need for a savior, But I also want to invite you to take time to simply be and to rest on the promise of God that he will do all that is needed and all we have to do is believe.
In just a few moments as we receive Holy Communion, we will be given food for the journey and as we do I invite you to thank God for the gift of Jesus Christ, without whom we could never reach the journey’s end.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!