The Promises of God - Sermon 02 - Abram & Sarai, Part 1
The Promises of God - Sermon 02 - Abram & Sarai, Part 1
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Jan 15, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Cultivating Faith to Receive the Promise and the Promise Giver
We are in the midst of a new sermon series, called “The Promises of God.” I opened the series by introducing again and expanding on “the seed, soil, and harvest” metaphor I’ve been working through. I tied the metaphor to the idea that our lives are similar to the life-cycle of a seed before the harvest. Like a seed, we all have to shed our protective coat and be planted in nutrient rich soil, in order to come to life.
Jesus puts this way in John 12:24-25
24Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24–25)
Our invitation to die is our way to join with God and break our solidarity with the powers that were unleashed when the first humans took what didn’t belong to them in the garden. Since the powers of sin, death, and evil were unleashed, God has made a promise, “I will take care of the powers you unleashed; will you trust me as I lead you into life?” This is the question God asks over and over again with varying results, and the promise has a pattern that goes a little like:
God makes a promise. The receiver has to decide to believe both the promise and Promise Giver. Then, there’s a period of waiting (often with some pain, suffering, and even a loss of reputation) before the receiver is able to see the promise fulfilled, followed by the receiver blessing God.
Abram and Sarai Receive the Promise
In the story of Abram and Sarai, God starts with a promise:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1–3)
As the receiver of the promise, Abram has to make a decision, “Am I willing to die to everything I know to accept the promise and the promise giver?”
God calls Abram and Sarai to leave behind everything they know to go to a land that God will show them. We don’t get much of an inner dialog from Abram as they consider the promise and the promise giver, all we get is what they do.
Genesis 12 through 25 contains the story of Sarai and Abram, I’m going to summarize parts of their story and make some observations as the story unfolds.
4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. 6Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
Immediately, we see that Abram and Sarai along with their nephew Lot and all of their possessions leave their country of origin and head to Canaan, the land that God promised Abram. Abram and his family arrive in the land, but there’s a small hiccup, there’s no food to eat.
You can imagine Abram’s dilemma: “I have this promise, but things aren’t the way I expect them to be, so what do I do? How can I become a great nation like I was promised, if my family and I starve to death?”
Waiting on God to fulfill his Promises
What do we do when we are waiting on God to show up to heal us, to deliver us, to fulfill us, to bring his kingdom and everything else that we need like peace, grace, mercy, and forgiveness?
Often, we take matters into our own hands. See, it’s one thing to receive a promise and its quite another thing to have the promise fulfilled. Imagine the betrothed after receiving a ring, a tangible representation of a promise without ever getting their betrothed to agree to set a date for the marriage. Or the high school student who been offered admissions to college without an acceptance date. Or when you are disputing unauthorized charge to your checking account and the bank keeps giving you the run around about when the charge is going to be reversed and your account will be credited. Or the waiting you have to do for the repair person, maybe the cable repair person, who keeps promising, to show up, forcing you to take time off work, but they they never show because they had other appointments.
Solomon through the Proverbs, gives us some insight here, consider Proverbs 13:12,
12Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)
The scripture says that all the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus.
20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
But what do you do in the meantime as you are waiting for the promise to be fulfilled?
I have a quick reflection: Have you had an experience where you took matters into your own hands instead of waiting on God?
This could be as simple as a reluctance to cast all of your cares on God as Psalm 55:22 commands.
Paul has this encouragement for us,
“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
How might our relationship and connection with God be impacted if we were willing to share with God the things that affect us instead of trying solve all of our problems alone? This might be an opportunity to check your trust meter.
Returning to Abram and the issue of the famine, here we might be able to enter into Abram’s story with a little compassion, he had a family to take care of. Maybe, Abram thought that this unproven God was confused about the promised land, maybe this God would work out the promise another way, but in the meantime, Abram is like everyone of us, he did what most of us do, he took matters into his own hands. In one sense, you can understand why, when we standing in the gap between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise, we have to decide what to do.
“Am I willing to die to everything I know to accept the promise and the promise giver?”
We will never know what God would have done because instead of waiting on God to solve the problem of the famine in the promised land, Abram heads to greener pastures. He moves his family to Egypt to avoid the effects of the famine.
Now the story gets more colorful because Abram decides that he will pass his wife Sarai off as his sister, instead of his wife, when they arrive in Egypt.
Abram doesn’t do this to protect Sarai, he does this to protect himself. He doesn’t want to be killed because someone thinks Sarai is attractive and wants to take possession of her! Abram’s plan is disastrous because the Pharaoh takes Sarai into his harem, bringing God’s curse on the Pharaoh. Abram, Lot, and Sarai get kicked out of Egypt. Lot heads to Sodom. Abram goes back to Canaan the place that God commanded him to go to in the first place.
Now, a lot has been said by theologians, pastors, and authoritative interpreters about what Abram does here, but again, we might be able to enter into Abram’s story with compassion. What do you do with your fears? How do you live in the tension of your fear and your trust? We see what Abram does, but it’s often unclear what we would do because in the same situation, it’s possible that we too would lie to protect ourselves.
One of the biggest observations that I have in this story so far is that transformation takes time. It’s magical thinking to believe that we will be fully transformed all at once. It’s like our struggle with our weight gain, it happens a little bit at a time, a pound a year, then we realize that we are bigger than we want to be, we make a plan to lose the weight, but just like the process of gaining it, it takes time to lose it. See this is where “the seed, soil, and harvest” metaphor is helpful. When a seed first falls to the ground, it has to shed it’s protective coating (Jesus says it has to die) before the dormant life can emerge.
As we return to the story, remember Lot goes to Sodom, Abram and Sarai to Canaan. In Sodom the kings go to war and capture Lot, Abram’s nephew, so Abram rescues Lot and meets Melchizedek, who blesses Abram.
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18)
In this interaction, we have this mysterious King of Salem, which also happens to be the ancient name for the city of Jerusalem, this King of Salem just appears, blesses Abram, and brings out two key elements: bread and wine. We can think of these elements as “a type and shadow” of something that will come into a greater focus later. When they show up later in the story, they will have new meaning and importance, which is why I bring them up now. Abram, in response tithes a 10th of all he has to this King of Salem.
Why does Abram do this? I believe that Abram tithes a tenth of his possession because he recognizes that this is a sacred meal and God is present. He’s learning about this unknown God, the promise giver. Instead of leaning out, Abram decides to lean in.
For Abram, this becomes an act of worship. Jesus tells us that worship is the act of giving of our whole selves to God “in spirit” and “in truth.” We can think of the “in spirit” as the internal response to God, this is mostly invisible, a private interaction between us and God. The “in truth” is what we do: our actions and our deeds. The interesting thing is that one cannot occur without the others.
Abram recognizes the sacredness of this meal with Melchizedek and responds by worshiping through giving. There was space created for Abram in this sacred meal, space to recognize that all he has belongs to God. You start see that Abram is starting to trust the promise giver, if everything already belongs to him, then I’m free to give away what I have already received from him. I think that recognition that everything belongs to God, created a freedom, a response to let go, instead of horde. Our shared sacred meals can do that for us, they can create freedom, liberty, welcome, and peace.
As you come forward for communion this morning to participate in this sacred meal, imagine all that you have – this includes your relationships, job, reputation, and problems! If you feel a seed of trust budding in this space with your Creator, the Giver of All, then try giving responsibility of all of these areas of your life to Him. Receive his freedom and peace as you begin to trust. Try this exercise daily this week especially when worry and anxiety pops up.
We will linger with the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God by trying to experience every moment as a gift of God. As we increase our awareness of God in our everyday, this allows us to become aligned with God as we look for God’s presence and activity in our everyday. This also sets us up for being grateful people. Helping us develop an attitude of gratitude. Our cultivation of gratitude starts with realizing that our lives are a gift from God.
There are lots of ways to cultivate gratitude, let’s start with recognizing the love and generosity that’s presence in God’s care and provision for us.