September 16, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
Due to technical difficulties, this sermon currently has no recorded version.
See the written version below.
Title: “Promise Moves Towards Us”
READING FROM THE STORY OF GOD (Part 2 of 40): Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-12, 17-18
Intro & themes:
In each of my past 4 Septembers here, I’ve tried to offer a theme to frame our 2 semesters (our academic year) of life together:
2008: Ambassadors of Love, Light & Peace (think Prayer of St. Francis)
2009: Year of Living Christianly (Nouwen: pray/confess/think; Wisdom: short/truth/generous dialogue; Up w/ blessings & Down w/ curses
2010: Year of Living Radically (rootedly): Radical Welcome, Generosity, Reverence
2011: Year of Preaching Biblically: This was our Luther Seminar Biblical Preaching Project. . . we examined what Biblical preaching is or Is NOT and the hope was that you as a congregant on a Sunday morning might be introduced to this Bible of ours as living story – – we don’t preach topical sermons here (ie. how to be a better spouse, parent, citizen – – or how to have a prosperous life). We preach biblical sermons here, biblical in the sense that we believe that the story is enough and the invitation is to dwell in the world of the story and then live OUT of that story.
And now, 2012 – – The Year of Living Storying-ly (Learning and Living the Story of God)
Now for those of you who like framework, the year of living storying-ly includes:
5 Acts in the Story of God: Creation/Fall/Israel/Jesus/Npog (new people of God)
As we move from Genesis, to the early church, each of the 40 sermons we preach, will belong to these 5 “acts”.
And in the midst of finding ourselves in the stories of these 5 acts, I’m also going to offer 3 themes as a WEEKLY “so what” launching point for living OUT of this story:
PROVIDENCE – – TRANSFORMATION – – RESTORATION
Here’s how it might “work” . . . from the whole, 5-act, Story of God we will learn of a God who continually PROVIDES for us (often in generous and seemingly impossible/improbable ways).
As we encounter and dwell in the story of this kind of God, we become (are becoming) a TRANSFORMED people who then are continually sent out to be
“co-RESTORERS” with this God who is with us (in us through Christ, empowering us by the Holy Spirit) and is making all things new.
So for example:
You might reflect on the sermon from last week and ask:
What was the PROVIDENCE of last week’s story? [ie: in the midst of judgement and expulsion, God was merciful!, God made a good creation, we are made Good]
Is there a TRANSFORMING experience that we can have with that providence? [ie: when our lives feels full of judgment and we feel condemned, that’s NOT the heart of God! God doesn’t work that way! God moves with grace! And a generous grace!]
How might I live as a “Co-RESTORER” with God in the wake of this TRANSFORMING experience/encounter? [ie: Are our hearts bent on judgement & expulsion in these days? Is that really a life-giving way for us to follow Jesus for the good of the world? What would it look like for us to join God’s heart of mercy for the world, and go to the places that God sends us today/this week/in this season?
Does this make sense? Now there are 200 “co-RESTORING” stories on the go in this congregation today and you won’t hear us preachers telling you how to live your lives with words of manipulation/shame. . . but we will do our best to tell/preach the story of God in such a way that you might encounter the “living Word” in this living word and be cajoled, convicted, comforted, surprised and sent to be this NPoG that God is using to bring GOOD NEWS to a world in dire need of good news.
So today we enter ACT 3 of the God story. And for the next 13 Sundays we’ll be in ACT 3 which is the “ISRAEL” act. In Genesis 1-14 we read of a God who is moving on the MACRO level with creation and humanity. . . it’s a glorious story, it’s a messy story, it’s a wild story – – From the creation story of last week, there is the story of Cain & Abel, there is the crazy story of some Giants (Nephelim) who roamed the earth preflood, then the story of Noah, the tower of Babel – – These are stories of God with humankind & relating to a people who willfully obey or disobey him – – and then these humans, these dirt-beings (earthlings) live with the consequence of their desire to make rules for themselves VS allowing God to be God and following the way of God’s care and compassion for the earth and one another.
But then in Genesis Chapter 12, the story shifts from the macro to the micro. It zooms in on one person, one family. God chooses to work the plan of restoration, this plan of making all things new, through one person, and this person (ABRAM) would then represent 1 nation: ISRAEL.
ACT 3 Begins!
12:1-2 The Lord said to Abram, “Go. . .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.”
We do not know why Abram is chosen. . . in fact, his back story is pretty minimal: son of Terah, migrated from Ur (south of Bagdad, Iraq) to Haran (southeast part of Turkey), and he was married to Sarai who was “childless and not able to conceive” (11:30).
In Gen. 12, Abram was 75 years old. For 10 years he has labored & lived with this “great nation” promise and I would imagine that his life is filled with doubt and disillusionment. . .so at 85 years old the Lord comes to Abraham in a vision (see Ch. 15):
GOD promises a PROVIDENCE: “Do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward” (15:1)
And what is Abram’s response? Joyful trust? No way! DISTRUST.
“Sovereign Lord [insert sarcastic tone here] what can you give me since I remain childless and another will inherit my estate?” (15:3)
GOD again promises a PROVIDENCE: “A son coming from your own body will be your heir.” (15:4)
And this time it’s not just words of PROVIDENCE but an object lesson of PROVIDENCE: “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – – if indeed you can count them. . . So shall your offspring be” (15:5).
And we don’t know what Abram said to God in this moment (or moments) but we read of his belief:
“Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness” (15:6).
MSG version: 6 And he believed! Believed GOD! God declared him “Set-Right-with-God.
And the object lesson of providence and generosity doesn’t end there. . . God promises descendents, but God also promises land for Abe and the generations to come. . . and Abram again asks for more proof: “Sovereign Lord, how can I KNOW that I will gain possession of the land?” (15:8)
[In other words, Abe’s thinking: “I’ve let you off the hook for 10 years with your first promise. . . uhhhhh, there’s no way I’m waiting another 10 years for a sign about this land promise!]
And God sets up another object lesson.
In an act of ancient covenant keeping, Abram is told to cut in half the bodies of a heifer, a goat and a ram. And in this ancient “covenant making ceremony” of his time, both parties would be expected to walk through this bloody passage way of sealing their promise to one another – – in essence saying: “If either of us breaks this promise, may our fate be the same as these animals.”
As the sun goes down, Abram falls into a deep sleep that is filled with dread darkness. In this UNFOLDING drama of providence, God is doing spooky, mysterious, and wonderous thing.
Live into (and imagine) the tension of this moment. . . he’s set out the carcasses, he’s pushed back the buzzards. . . and he waits for a sign from God on what to do next. Fleming Rutlege, the brilliant and wise Episcopalian preacher points out in this story that in circumstances where one partner in the covenant is in authority over the other, it is the lesser partner who is obligated to walk through the bloody passage way. . . thus our hunch in this story is that Abraham is waiting for God to give him the cue to walk through “animal alley.”
And in his waiting, the intensity of the moment and the exhaustion of the anticipation overwhelm him [physically exhausted too!]. . . Abram falls asleep!
And in the middle of the night, in the darkness, bleary-eyed. . .he wakes up & sees a bright light. . .
Is it a bright like showing the way he should walk through the bloody carcasses?
NO! It’s a smoking firepot with a blazing torch. Not showing the way for Abram to go, but instead GOD IS WALKING the way of the “lesser party!” The covenant has been sealed. Not by both partners as equals, but in an upsidedown economy kind of way, where the one who is theoretically the higher power, takes on the role of the lesser power, and moves through the pieces of animal blood and bodies.
And we read in v. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
This image of a God who “condescends” to us, reminded me of that great hymn found in Philppians 2, where Paul writes to the NPoG in Philippi – –
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Last week I challenged us in a practice that I hope we will learn well in our 40 Sunday’s in the God story. Where’s the good news in these stories from our sacred text? Whether it be a first testament story, a psalm, a gospel or an epistle. . . where is the “proclamation of good news”?
For instance, we’re not supposed to get caught up in the blood and gore of today’s story, instead we are to locate God’s living presence in today’s text and SEEK OUT the good news that emerges when we lay this story alongside our lives
+ I’d like to connect it to the 3 themes that we talked of earlier in today’s sermon:
Providence / Transformation / Restoration
Q: What is the good news of providence?
[ie: God moves towards us, and if we find ourselves in the story alongside Abram, we are not expected to be experts in faith but we are to believe that God will provide for us even in our weakness & doubt]
Q: How might this good news of providence be transforming us?
[Our hearts are not changed by trying harder or generating righteousness from ourselves. . . our hearts are changed as we receive God’s “reckoning of righteousness” from God’s self]
Q: How might this PROVIDENCE and TRANSFORMATION inform the way that I live as a part of the NPog this week. . . a “co-RESTORER” with God as I follow Jesus for the good of the world?
*God is moving towards us all. . .will we have eyes to see, ears to hear, the wherewithal to JOIN IN on God’s good work in the world? “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) The promise moves towards us. . . and we are MOVED by the promise!
As we listen to the God story in these weeks and months, I hope it will bring to life other parts of the God story. . . and thus you might recognize how a writing in the second testament echoes (or is “re-proclaimed) in a writing in the first testament (or viceversa).
For instance, this week’s text in Gen. 15 is “re-proclaimed” by Paul in Romans 4:
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Our lives or our world might be in a bloody mess…
The seeds of our hopes and dreams might feel like they are dormant / dead…
The tasks before us in these days might seem impossible…
And yet we are called by God. . .
DO not Fear. . .
. . .by Faith.
And we, the daughters and sons of Abraham are promised blessing!
WILL WE DWELL in the world of BLESSING today?
In her preaching of Gen. 15 & Romans 4, Fleming Rutlege reflects on a life of blessing:
The truly blessed person. . . is the person who recognizes that in the sight of God he/she has reached the limit of his/her human potential and in solidarity with the rest of the human race is one (who has fallen short of the glory of God).
And in that moment of truth, you will find that the Holy Spirit of God has moved upon you and that your faith is reckoned to you as righteousness. And that if you have little faith, God can create faith where no faith exists, and that you are already being built into the new creation that is fashioned by God, the God who raises the dead and calls into existence those things which do not yet exist.
(time for silent reflection and prayer)