Radical Faith – February 25, 2018

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25Mark 8:31-38Psalm 22:22-30

A burglar was ransacking a house in the dark of night in pursuit of any valuables or cash when all of a sudden he heard a voice in the room: “Jesus is watching you.” Stunned, he moved to another room to see what he could steal. Again, that voice: “Jesus is watching you.” He thought he must be imagining it but he moved on to the living room to see if he might find some expensive electronic equipment.

Once again he heard the voice: “Jesus is watching you!” This time it totally freaked him out and he threw caution to the wind and put on the lights to see who was there. It was a parrot. “What’s your name,” the burglar asked. “Moses,” responded the parrot. “Moses,” the thief said, “what kind of an idiot would name a parrot ‘Moses’” The Parrot said, “The same idiot who named the attack dog ‘Jesus’.”

Our name is an important piece of our identity. We learn something about that in today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures. God visits Abram and gives him a new name. Now Abram’s ninety-ninth birthday wasn’t the first time these two met.

Remember that it was twenty-five years before when God came to Abram and told him to pick up stakes and move to a foreign land—a place lacking the civility, culture, and comforts of his homeland. And Abram did it!

Abram and his wife Sarai had always hoped to have children but it did not seem to be in the cards for them. God, however, kept interrupting their lives with this promise that to their offspring God would give all the land northward and southward and eastward and westward. But there remained one big fly in the ointment: Abram and his wife still had no children and they weren’t getting any younger.

This dance with God went on for years until this day, Abram’s ninety-ninth year, when God does something really significant. God gives Abram a new name—Abraham—“father of multitudes” and thus designates him to be the ancestor of a huge number of nations. Furthermore, God announces that his wife Sarai—whose name will now be Sarah—is going to bear him a son.

How believable is that?  Even with all the advances in modern medicine and fertility treatments, it’s pretty farfetched as a possibility or contemporary life, let alone in a time when life expectancy was probably about 30.

It may be one thing that a man and woman would pull up stakes and move half way across the world to a place where they don’t know a soul, give up a life of comfort, familiarity, and cultural enjoyment, and live in some third world kind of environment—all because God told them to o— but that this old, old couple would be able to have a child and become ancestors to a multitude of descendants?

This is a story that challenges us to live in radical faith and believe in God’s promises.

Whether or not we take the passage literally—which is really a huge stretch— the fact is that God asks Abraham and Sarah to do and to believe what no rational, intelligent, sane person would do or believe.

Even Abraham resigns himself to the fact that he cannot grasp any of this. It is completely beyond his human ability to comprehend God and God’s reasoning but his response is “why not?”—why not go on this wild adventure, why not entertain the possibility that he could still have a son and be ancestor to a multitude. It is so utterly ridiculous yet Abraham steps out of the box of reason and into the theater of the absurd, albeit a divine drama.

I wonder if a good definition of faith is the opening and expanding of our mind to the abundance of possibilities in God’s inventory —even those that seem unreachable —rather than struggling to get the answers to our questions about life. Faith draws us to the shocking truth of God’s abundance and how God promises that sometimes extraordinary things will unfold for us even when our common sense tell us that we must be crazy for thinking they might.

Episcopal priest and author  Barbara Brown Taylor says this about Abraham’s story: “It is hard to believe in a promise—to live by it, day after day, to see it in the night sky and hear it in your name. It’s hard to believe in a promise with no power to make it come true. Everything is in the future tense—the land, the son, the blessing. Everything will happen, by and by, but in the meantime what is there to live on now?”

In the wake of the murder of seventeen people in a high school in Florida, how do we muster up the ability to trust, to see that there is a new road on which God is leading us? What if this tragedy and so many others before—and likely to follow— could usher in what seems to be an unattainable possibility that we can become the bearers of a new creation promised by God?

What if there is promise here of the opportunity for an entirely new future that seems hopeless at the beginning? And what of those situations in each of our lives that feel barren, bleak, or unproductive? Where might God be leading us through those experiences? How might they be opportunities for renewing and refreshing God’s covenant relationship with us? How is our own dance with God challenging us? Will we step out of the box of reason and into the theater of the absurd, embracing a bit of divine drama?

Faith: the opening and expanding of our mind to the abundance of possibilities, a faith in the shocking truth of God’s abundance and God’s promise that what seems unattainable will unfold around us even when our common sense tell us that we must be crazy for believing. To believe like that is to discover that the promise is not future but now.

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