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Pentecost 12C Sermon
Luke 12: 32-40, Genesis 15: 1-6,
Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16

August 7, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Somewhere in my past I remember watching a sketch comedy television show which had a skit called, “A Day of Reckoning.” Two dusty old cowboys are sitting on their horses in the blazing sun in the old west, and the one says to the other, “It’s a hot one, isn’t it?” And the other says, “Yep, I reckon it is.” “A cold drink of water would be good right about now, wouldn’t it?” “Yep, I reckon it would.” “Think we can find a place to stay in that town up yonder?” “I reckon we can.” It was a day of reckoning, indeed!
I must admit that I don’t use that word, “reckon” too much in every day conversation. It seems that there are many different ways it could be used, though: Like in the skit, to state that you believe that something is true or possible; or to describe a time when someone will get their justice due them as a “day of reckoning”; or to calculate and balance accounts, to express one’s opinion about something’s truth, or even to agree with something someone just said.

In our first lesson from Genesis 15, we jump into the story of Abram and Sarai kind of “mid-stream.” God has already come to them and called them to leave their home countries and go to Canaan. They have travelled there, moved on to Egypt to avoid a famine, returned, split up with nephew Lot, and had to rescue him from an enemy king; Immediately before this passage, Abram receives a blessing from the mysterious High Priest and King of Salem, Melchizedek. Now, God comes to Abram in a vision and makes him promises that seem contrary to what Abram has experienced in his already long life.
The promises center around his descendants. Already we have been told that Abram and Sarai are well advanced in years, and they have been unable to conceive and bear children all this time. In a rather comical way, the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that, “from one person (Abram) – and this one as good as dead – descendants were born as many of the stars of heaven and as innumerable as the grains of sand by the seashore.” I imagine Abram as one of those men who everyone looked at with admiration and envy – he had been blessed with extended family and flocks and wealth … but there was one thing hanging over his head: the disappointment of not having any children. He felt incomplete without this blessing. Already he was in his 80’s, so that dream was all but dead!
And so, into this situation God promises Abram that his own child will indeed be his heir, and that his descendants will be more than the stars in the sky. And then a most remarkable thing happened – an old man who yearned for a child for years and years hears this far-fetched promise made to him in a dream, and HE BELIEVES IT! Yes, it is his faith in the promise of God’s word that causes the author to say that the Lord “reckoned it to him as righteousness.” There it is – reckoned.

To understand the full power of the use of this elusive word in this passage, you have to know that the Hebrew verb, “reckon” also had a significant meaningh in Israel’s worship life. Whenever a person would bring a sacrifice to the temple altar – a sheep, a bird, whatever the sacrifice was – the priest would receive the sacrifice for whatever it’s intended purpose was – a sin offering, first fruits offering, whatever. When the priest declared that this offering was proper and acceptable, it was known as a reckoning. So just as a priest reckons a sacrifice acceptable and the person restored in God’s eyes, so also Abram’s faith in God’s promise has been seen and heard, and so is acceptable to God as proof that Abram is a faithful person.

We tend to hear stories of the heroes of the Bible and raise them up to superior status- people who we could never be like. But this story of Abram and Sarai should be one that encourages us to believe that God can and does use everyday, flawed, inperfect people like us to be his presence and power in the world today. In Hebrews 11, the word, “In Faith” are found more than 20 times if you consider verses 4-7 which are snipped out of our second reading, and verses 17 and following to end the chapter. The author of this letter goes through a long litany of the heroes of the faith, beginning with Abel, Enoch and Noah moving from Abram and Sarai, through Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, and Moses, then including Joshua, Rahab (who was a prostitute, by the way), Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. Lest we think that these people are remembered for their own acts of courage, Hebrews pounds it into our heads that everything they did, they did, “by faith.”

When I remember the stories of all of these people, I also remember how God comes to them and the first thing he usually has to say is, “Do not be afraid … have no fear … fear not” or something like that. Jesus even says that to his disciples in our Gospel lesson for today as he calls them to faithful lives on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified and resurrected. Immediately before this teaching, Jesus reminds them to consider the lilies of the field, how beautiful they are, and how God loves each of them even more. God’s promise to us over and over again is his presence with us in the midst of all of our life experiences – fear, grief, sorrow, disappointment, loneliness, illness, confusion, poverty, joy, success, worship, victory and prosperity.

Many of us are like Abram and Sarai – envied by others because we have material blessings or seem to have the perfect family or have our act together. But when it comes down to it, each of us has something about our lives which makes us feel incomplete. For this elderly couple in Genesis, it was their inability to have children thus far in life. For you, it is probably something that weighs heavily on your mind and may or may not be a big deal to you family and friends. In the midst of those things, God comes to you and promises you that you are loved and valued, and that God can and will do wonderful things through you for all of his creation.

Do you believe that? I hope that you do. Because by believing that promise, God reckons you as his own child, beloved, gifted, and worthy of being God’s own heir. May your life be like Hebrews 11 – may we be lost trying to count the times which we say the words, “by faith” when we recount all that you have done. And may the God who called and led Abram and all of those Biblical heroes, continue to visit you through our Lord Jesus Christ, to do great things. I want to close with a prayer which could be said every morning of our lives: “ Lord God, you have called me, your servant, to ventures of which I cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give me faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where I go, but only that your hand is leading me, and your love supporting me; through Christ my Lord, Amen.