Walk Faithfully & Wholeheartedly Before God
The Promises of God - Sermon 05 - Walk Faithfully & Wholeheartedly Before God
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Feb 05, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Introduction - An Invitation to Die, In Order to Come to Life
We are in part five of “The Promises of God” sermon series. We are working through the idea that our lives are similar to the life-cycle of a seed before the harvest. Just like a seed, we all have to shed our protective coat and be planted in nutrient rich soil, in order to come to life.
Picking up where we left off last week in Genesis 16:1-13, you will remember that Abram and Sarai have concocted another plan to fulfill the promise of God, again without God.
Sarai convinces Abram to sleep with her hand-maid, Hagar to produce an heir. Hagar conceives, which creates a rift between Hagar and Sarai. Sarai blames Abram, Abram tries to extract himself, and releases Sarai to do what she thinks is best. Hagar is mistreated as a result and runs away. Well, their plan fails and God has to intervene again to redeem the mistake they make. As I noted last week, it really boggles my mind that Abram and Sarai would allow Hagar to leave their presence. She’s carrying their heir, the key to unlock their promise, yet we don’t see their concern.
This is what happens when we try to do life on our own. We plot, plan and scheme, hoping to accomplish what we want, then we get it, and realize that it wasn’t what we wanted after all.
So God intervenes to rescues Hagar, God redeems the mistake that Abram and Sarai make, then God invites Hagar and her heir to participate in the promise.
From here, we have a 13 year gap in the story. When God speaks again in Genesis 17, a lot unfolds. Abram is commanded by God to walk faithfully and wholeheartedly before him and God changes Abram’s name to Abraham. A new conditional covenant that increases the inheritance land is established and this covenant requires that all of the males living with Abraham to be circumcised. Sarai gets her name changed to Sarah and then there’s the kicker... because God then tells Abraham that his wife Sarah will have a child. “But wait, they already have an heir,” I hear you saying.
In response, “Abraham laughs.”
There’s so much to unpack in this response by Abraham. You could start by leaning towards Abraham because maybe he’s just overwhelmed, his internal emotional responses getting the best of him, or maybe it’s his doubts and fears again, or maybe he just thinks that God is funny, you know, a comedian.
Either way, Abraham is having a hard time as he receives this new and expanded promise from God. If you contrast Abraham’s initial response to the original promise– the one where he asks no questions and just packs up everything and everyone because God promises to make him a great nation, a blessing, the one where God promises to give him land, a home, an end to his nomadic wandering to his current response, you would be forgiven if you are now confused by Abraham’s response to God.
Really, what has changed?
A lot. God has really come through for Sarah and Abraham on at least three occasions, once in Egypt, once in Sodom, then God rescued their heir, Ishmael, by sending Hagar his mother back to them. God has already on two occasions expanded the original promise and God has protected Abraham, so why this continued lack of faith and trust?
Sometimes, our emotional responses reveal what’s really going on within us. Our emotional responses have a way to telling the truth about us and what we are feeling.
“No way, God!
No way are you going to bless us with a child, certainly not this late in the game!
No way, God!”
Implicit in the original promise that Abraham received was an heir, you can’t be a great nation, if you have no heir, that’s been the nature of the back and forth between God and Abraham all along this story, but somehow the idea that God will give Abraham and Sarah an heir from their union is impossible. That’s laughable!
Why is this all of a sudden impossible? Why was it possible in the first place that God would bless this wandering nomad? Why was it possible in the first place that God would bless this couple? Why was it possible that God would be Abraham and Sarah’s shield protecting them and blessing them? But a child from their union, that’s impossible. That’s laughable!
It’s impossible because it doesn’t go with the plan that Abraham and Sarah have already created to fulfill the promise that God originally gave them in Genesis 12. “There’s no need for Sarah to have a child,” Abraham says, “just work with our existing plan, God. The plan that we came up with God will work out just fine for you and especially for us. We don’t have to wait on you, and you don’t have to do the miraculous. It’s already settled. Just bless the plan that we have established and we will be okay.”
Except this plan of theirs doesn’t require them to do anything more than they have already done. It doesn’t require that they live at the edge of their comfort zone because they have already planned the outcome. They don’t need to have faith because they have already created a solution. They don’t have to develop trust in God because they have already fixed the problem. All they need for God to do is to bless what they have already done.
There’s this way that our lives are just like Abraham and Sarah, we pray, hope, wait. God answers our prayers, then we reject God’s answer. Why? In one sense because it’s outside of the possibility of what we think is possible. We have to expand our understanding of God and what God is capable of doing. Some of us need a breakthrough in our lives, we need healing, restoration, forgiveness, but we have given up asking because we don’t think God will come through for us. Don’t give up, press in! Let’s lean in towards God together, assuming He’s a good God who is at work for our benefit.
Are you internally laughing at the ways that God could show up in your life? Have you already excluded the possibility that God can work a miracle in your life? I know that I have. I often assume that God won’t do the impossible, and not just the impossible, but also that God won’t do the difficult. I assume that the responsibility is on me.
STORY: The first summer after I became the senior pastor of our church was the hardest so far, we were near the brink, we had almost depleted our already meager cash reserves and we were already in the down period of the giving calendar. I came up with a plan, actually, a series of plans to fix the problem. Let me just say that I was also praying, daily asking God to intervene, but I’m also a planner. Every plan that I executed failed. I remember what Shaun (our worship director) said when I told him about the failed plans, “Bummer. But hey, God will provide!”
Where does faith like that come from? It comes from knowing that God will provide because you have an experience of God showing up. If we returned to the metaphor of seeds, remember this takes some cultivation and development. The kind of faith demonstrated by Shaun comes not just through experiencing the goodness and provision of God, but also through absorbing and treasuring that provision. It takes attention and gratitude for the ways the Spirit is moving through each moment of our lives. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been focusing on the practical tip of practicing the presence of God. This week, we will continue to press in to this practice. Try offering all of yourself to God for the day ahead. Throughout the day ask yourself if you are still living your intention to be in God’s presence. Do not be discouraged when you stray from your intention to live in his presence; simply begin again. God loves for you to turn your heart back to him.
But what happens when you do everything “right” and there still isn’t provision, or at least the provision you were hoping for? That’s where I was. I was doing everything I believed that God, the congregation, and the Board had asked, yet things weren’t getting any easier. I remember the stress, pain, and disappointment I experienced.
I want you to build your faith and trust in God. I’m not inviting you to participate in magical thinking, I think it’s deeper than that. I want you to develop faith and trust that allows you to live outside of what you think is possible. In past sermons, I’ve called you to activate your “prophetic imagination.” Imagining a reality that is infused with God’s loving presence and mercy, transforming the way that you see yourself, and yourself in the world. Opening your hands to what you are holding on for life that isn’t God (self-image, pride, money, ego, etc.)
Right before giving up and giving in, something happened. We got a call from a local church that was growing and needed more space. They were wondering if we would be willing to rent our building to them. Then a food-truck vendor that I had talked to earlier in the summer asked me if he could rent our kitchen in the fall for a new business venture he had. Then another church called and asked if they could rent space from us. This coupled with some improvements in our day care center was exactly what we needed to weather the financial short-fall. Talk about God coming through just in time. There’s this well-worn phrase in the black folk religion that goes, “God may not come when you want him to, but he’s always right on time.”
Abraham tells God that what God proposes is impossible. Listen,
17Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” (Genesis 17:17–18)
Abraham is convinced that there’s no need for God to do anything else, they already have an heir. There’s no need to do the miraculous. Can you imagine? You’ve been begging God for an heir, you’ve been plotting and planning, you’ve been scheming to get what God has promised, then God shows up and says, your plan is not my plan. Let me show you what I plan to do, and then you say to God, “no thanks!”
Can you imagine?
STORY: Before I became a full-time pastor, I worked full-time for IBM. The one thing that was keeping me from becoming a full-time minister was my fear of being poor again. I grew up poor, the son of a single mom, who had to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. I had already made it out of poverty once and I had no desire to go back. I had this false belief that following God as a full-time minister was going to return me to poverty, so I was running from God. It was hard for me to imagine how God was going to take care me and my new bride because taking my first job here at the church involving accepting an 80% pay cut. We agreed to the pay cut, and I took the job. The first week of our married life together, we discovered that we were $1,000 short. It looked like I was going to have to get a second job. In the mail that had collected while we were on our honeymoon was a scholarship refund check, (let me say that I hate these checks in the mail stories because before they started to happen to me because they only happened to others. I hate these stories, but here’s mine.) In the mail was a scholarship check for $983. Who gets a scholarship refund, no one, that’s who.
How are you limiting God’s ability to God in your life this morning? How you limiting God? How are you internally laughing?
There’s also this idea that Abraham has that says he already knows what God is able to do. What I learn from this interchange between Abraham and God is God isn’t limited by our limitations that we impose on him. I think things are definitely better when we decide to partner with God, but God isn’t limited by us.
18And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Again, “God, no need to intervene, just bless the plan that we came up with to help you fulfill your promise in our lives.”
19Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. 21But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” (Genesis 17:19–22)
This is how God works, instead of punishing Abraham for his mistake in trying to fulfill the promise himself, God blesses Ishmael. God had already told Hagar his plan for Ishmael; however, this is the first time that Abraham hears what God plans to do. I’ve said it already, but I will say again, let’s not limit God.
And lest you think that Sarah in the face of this news would fair better, let me relieve you of that thought because in Genesis 18, God sends his messengers to Abraham and Sarah to test their hospitality after they receive the covenant. Abraham passes the test and while they are together the messengers mention that when they return in a year’s time, Sarah will have a son. Sarah overheard the conversation, laughs to herself and when confronted, she does what we all do when we are caught, she protects her ego, the image she has of herself, by lying.
11Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” 13Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” 15Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:11–15)
Remember what Jesus says, 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)
This is our invitation from Jesus to die to our sins and to our ego and break our solidarity with the powers that were unleashed when the first humans took what didn’t belong to them in the Garden of Eden. We do this when we surrender to Jesus and follow Jesus through the narrow gate into life.
Let’s take a moment together right now to remember a dream or a longing that you have had at the some point in your life.
Once you have it, try holding it before the Lord as an offering to Him, in a sense of dying to your plan(s) for your life. How does that feel? Are you willing to let go of your plans without knowing what God’s plan for you is?
Open yourself to hearing what the Lord wants to bring to life in and through you. The most important thing you can do is to stay in a receptive and open posture, like the Old Testament prophet Samuel said, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”