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Pentecost 9C Sermon
Genesis 15: 1-6,
Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16

11, 2019


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Genesis 15:1-6

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.

Hebrews 11:1-3; 8-16

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

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

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I consider Jesus’ words to his disciples as the foundation for Christian faith. We can quote familiar passages about faith … like the one from Hebrews 11 which is widely known – “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” – but when it comes right down to it, faith is a free gift from the Holy Spirit to each one of us, and our response to God for this free gift is to use it! But how …

Our first lesson is an episode out of the story of Abram, who would become Abraham, the father of God’s ancient people. God called Abraham from a comfortable life in Ur, to wander with God at his side, until they would settle in a land that he is promising him. Abraham heard that call, and surprisingly enough, he left Ur with his wife Sarai, their nephew Lot, and many other people and animals in their party. They had faith; oh, I am sure there was a good bit of fear mixed in as well, but Abraham used the gift of faith to travel in spite of his fears … and in spite of his own shortcomings … and in spite of the threats around him … and in spite of the fact that the one promise from God that Abram was most anticipating would be fulfilled – that of a child to be an heir of all he has – had not come to fruition. So in this passage, God comes back to Abram and reiterates his promise … especially the part about having an offspring even in his advanced age. To emphasize the point, God take him outside of the tent, has him look to the sky, and promises that his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars of heaven.
My own interpretation of this scene is that God is asking Abram to use his imagination; imagine what your future might be like if God is faithful to this promise! Imagine what might happen if you trust that promise! Imagine what it will look like when God accomplishes what God has promised to do. Just imagine!!!

Faith begins with God’s promises – that what God has done for God’s people in the past, God will do today, for us now. Faith then produces fruit when we use our imaginations and consider what life would be like if… no, what life WILL be like WHEN God fulfills those promises. For faith is firmly rooted in God’s generosity and desire that we all experience God’s Kingdom now in part, and one day in its fullness. Faith is not mental “yes-nod” to the question of the existence of God; faith is a way of life that recognizes the generous blessings that we have from God, and follows the call to be a blessing to others so that they can be blessed as much as we are.

My family and I have been part of this congregation for fifteen years now. Fifteen years is considered a long-term pastorate in this day and age. I will be honest with you, one of the major reasons for moving my family back to this area was so that my children could have time with their aging grandparents here in Columbus while they were in relatively good health. And they were blessed with ten years with them. Even though I grew up not far from here, I was a bit nervous coming to this situation. A church in a setting like this is much different than the one I served before. For instance, out of about 18 first year catechism students in a typical class in my previous call, probably 16 or 17 of them went to the same school! My first catechism class here was 4 students going to four different schools in three different school districts!! Community, which I value very highly, was going to be very difficult to build in a setting like this. I had gotten used to the small-town life where a traffic jam was five cars stuck behind a large farm implement on a two-lane road! Lucy discovered that difference the hard way our first fall here when she thought she could buzz down 315 on a Saturday morning, only to find herself in the middle of Buckeye Football traffic. Some call it culture shock, but the adjustment was a little bit difficult those first couple of years. There may have even been a few times where we feared that we might have not made the best decision on listening to God’s call to move here and to be part of Clinton Heights.

But faith is that imagination of what things can be like when God’s promises are fulfilled. And even though we have faced many changes, including the fact that there are fewer folks here every Sunday than there was fifteen years ago, we have lived into the imagination of God’s promises by following God’s calls to be a servant church in a community that needs more servants. What a blessing to be here with and for my parents as they lived out their final years as faithful Christian people. To be closer to my own family, many of whom are here this morning to worship with us. Much like the passage from the letter to the Hebrews I can go down a whole list of how, “by faith,” we have lived and served together these last fifteen years.

By faith we have grown in our worship life, to sing and pray together; to increase in our appreciation of the sacraments and their meaning for our lives, and to be inspired by the word of God that we share every week together as a family.

By faith we have reached out with the love of Jesus to the hungry and hurting of this community in service and fellowship, partnering with the Clintonville Resource Center, Lutheran Social Services, Jacob’s Porch, Faith Mission and so many other agencies and ministries that help us from turning our concerns too much inward on surviving, and look outward in love.
By faith we have made and continue to make our building better suited for ministry today so that we can house the summer and after school programs of the CRC, and a mission church of people of African descent.

By faith we have sought to welcome a diverse community of people that may challenge long-held standards, but help us to expand our understanding of God’s beloved creatures.

By faith we have welcomed and said farewell, married, celebrated and mourned together. There have been a little over 80 funerals of members and friends over these 15 years, and that is a ministry that is often overlooked. To be with people during their time of grief to not only speak God’s promises of eternal life, but as a community to walk with them is a true blessing. There have been 35 baptisms in this same time period, and 17 weddings, many of which have been non-members. Funny how 70 & 80 year-old folks aren’t getting married or having babies much; you’d think that they would want to be like Abraham and Sarah!!

By faith we have committed ourselves to the life of this church family, doing the mundane but necessary things like electing council members, passing budgets and addressing repairs. There are still challenges. I still have fears that we are not doing the right things sometime, especially when I consider the closing of NCLC and the rapid growth of congregations like Scarlet City; I admit that I have doubts about how relevant I am as a pastor, how relevant our worship life is, how relevant our congregation is for members of this community. There are at times frustrations, resentments and feeling like we are in a rut. But that is what it is to be a pastor and a member of a church family. All in all, what keeps me going is that promise … that the Father has chosen to give us the Kingdom. Remember that promise, for it is the basis for the gift of faith to you, to me, and to our entire congregation – the assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen. Together let us look to the stars and imagine what life is like as God is faithful and we trust in his faithfulness. Amen.