Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost–Sermon
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This past week at the NALC convocation I got the chance to reconnect not only with colleagues from Iowa, old friends from seminary, but also a couple of my professors at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, where I attended, who are now teaching at a new branch of the new NALC seminary system. One of my mentors Dr. David Yeago was there earlier in the week at the theological conference giving a presentation. Having missed the conference, I was glad that he was one of the first people that I got to see when I pulled into the hotel an hour and half later than I had expected to. Getting to converse with him brought back some of those wonderful times of sitting at his feet and listening to him teach the faith. It also brought back some of those one-one-one moments when he would impart a bit of personal wisdom upon me and other students. One such nugget has always stayed with me.
Alicia and I returned from internship in Huntsville, AL in a completely different state than we went. We were single at the time and she dotingly followed me to Alabama as I began my third year of course work in the parish setting. That summer we got engaged and at the nudge of my internship supervisor we got married in November. Four months later we found out about the coming advent of our Paige. Coming back for my senior year and preparing for fatherhood with all my fears, Dr. Yeago shared a bit of wisdom with me. He told me, “It surely is the sign of a good, gracious, and trusting God that he gives to parents His children to nurture and raise without including an instruction manual.”
And He doesn’t. We parents for the most part have to figure out things on our own and learn all the tricks of the trade. Feeding. Changing diapers. Forging an iron will against the manipulation and cuteness of a demanding 2-year old. All of parenting comes with trial and error and the wisdom of other generations. When we think we are imparting education to our children they also impart education to us on better parenting skills. The dynamic at work in any loving relationship. Hopefully anyway Alicia and I have learned to pick our battles. We have learned child speak. And we have learned the proper time at which to announce things to our children. As naive parents we thought kids needed to know things at the precise moment we did. So at first it made sense to tell them a month in advance we were going to Grandma’s. As we learned….NO it didn’t! Maybe a weeks notice would be better. Wrong again! And in order escape the daily, if not hourly inquiries of whether or not it was time to go to Grandma’s house, we now tell them when the car is already packed.
The anxiety and excitement prevalent in the unending questioning of children—“are we going to grandma’s today?”—is a naturally occurring anxiety in humanity. Even more so now we are bread to expect and demand immediacy. Have it your way and have it right now, is the backbone of every ad-campaign. The gratification of instantaneous reward is the drug upon which our culture feasts and our current market thrives on. There is no way else to explain the deep frustration when we find our iPhone, tablet, google searches taking longer than the 1.35 seconds to upload than normal! And forever let Dial-up internet be accursed! I don’t want to wait for my Netflix to download at a snails pace. Yet technology is only one facet of anxiety and frustration with things not moving quickly enough in our time. The extra minute we have to wait at the drive through line while getting are not so fast, fast-food. The long lines at the grocery store, which delays going about our day’s business. We want it, we want it our way and we want it right now. And growing up in this culture I too am thoroughly infected by it. Our flesh longs for instant gratification of whatever or whoever it is we want, desire, and lust after. We have all breathed deeply from the ether that whispers “quicker is better” and “now is best.” A whisper not unlike that first one spoken in man’s ear in the garden, “Did God really say…?” We hear a promise and we want it now.
Yet what is it we learn from the biblical witness. What do we see in the life of Father Abraham? You know the hero of that silly children’s song by the same name. Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had father Abraham. He was given a word and a promise from the Lord, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them, so shall your offspring be.” A promise to make Abraham the father of many nations with many descendants. Yet how many sons did he have by his wife? One, Isaac. Not too hard to count. Well then surely that promise was fulfilled in Isaac’s life time. How many sons did he have? Two. Jacob and Esau. Okay so the numbers are doubling. Well within Jordan’s counting ability. Surely it was fulfilled through Jacob’s birthright then, right? He had 12 sons forming the 12 tribes, but even 12 with their children are not more numerous than the stars. Not in Abraham’s lifetime. Not in Isaac’s or Jacob’s life time. Not even in the heyday of Israel’s time is God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled. So when is it then? Thousands of years later when as St. Matthew calls him the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, defeated death, descended into hell smashing its gates asunder, and rose in everlasting victory. Only in the victory of Christ does that silly kid’s song find its refrain, I am one of them and so are you. So lets all praise the Lord. Through Christ, Abraham’s descendants are indeed immeasurable and His promise is being fulfilled to this day.
Abraham models what faith and our life with God is. A firm belief and hope in the Word of the Lord, in a promise given. As we hear in Genesis, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” A first sounding of our reformation cry, the righteous live by faith. You and I baptized in the waters, made children of God, descendants of our forefathers in the faith are given daily the promises of God. He is with us always to the close of the age and the pledge of that is ours in Word and Sacrament and seal of the Holy Spirit upon us. Though we fail, He never does. Though we walk through the valleys of the shadow of death, His rod and staff accompany us. To beat back the wolves and to keep us in His path. He has given His promise to us and He has given it to this parish. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Christ has spoken His promise and he has His plans for our parish. A promise which we may not fully realize in your lifetime or mine, but one that is well within His. A promise we will only fully see standing on the other side of the grave. For it is that eternal and everlasting life which is the fulfillment of His promise given to us and which we receive and live by faith.
There is another old or saying that I’ve found to be true in my own life, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Every time I’ve tried to declare my plans to God, He’s laughed and said in not quite so many words, “nice try, son, but think again.” We can not fully plan out God’s plans for us in this place and we are not called to do that. Though we try, just as Abram did. But what God invites us to do rather is to trust Him and to live by faith in Him and daily pray, thy will be done. For His will is far better than any of our own, because it is eternal. Resting in His life, we live out our salvation here in this place by faith. Faith, which is sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. He calls us to faith, because only faith can hear the promise of Christ, receive the Kingdom given, and answer all our fears. Amen.