God’s ‘New York’ Minute
Sunday, August 13
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Whitby
Genesis 15: 1-7
Genesis 17: 1-8
Genesis 22: 1-14
The sermon title for today is a cliché: interpreted as: quick, fast-paced, rapidly changing & evolving; same day, just on time delivery; we need that asap; ‘some overtime required’; fast & pre-packaged, pre-cooked food, so we can work it all in & eat at the same time; we look for instant results and feedback; we can get instant news, information, and images at any time, day or night: it all suggests a rapid, sometimes chaotic way of thinking & living: unfortunately a largely necessary one: ‘it’s just the way things are’. We expect our days will be largely like this, & we expect the people we interact with, in the settings we find ourselves, to be & do the same.
Like anything else, this ‘way’ has it’s pro’s & con’s: we’re sharp & flexible: able to ‘think on our feet’ & adapt: but many things don’t fit into this mindset: a beginning & a quick resolution: an end; a result: & in such situations, it can feel very stressful if things don’t happen just like this: we like to know or find out quickly & act & resolve or create quickly: the ‘time is money’ thing.
This can be (& has been) a particular issue when it comes to faith & our journey of faith. True, sometimes the ways of God are instant: consider Jesus healing the centurion’s ear; calming the storm: but many times they are not like this: & handling those times can be a real ‘test of faith’: things we don’t understand go on for too long & God is not moving at the speed of light to answer prayers in the affirmative; to act the way ‘we know he should’: Moses certainly dealt with this: over 40 years! God doesn’t always answer right away & sometimes the answer is ‘no’. I’d like to invite everyone, whether you consider yourself to be a country music fan or not (here it comes) to listen this week to a Garth Brooks song called ‘Unanswered Prayer’: & because many won’t have time to work it in this week, or might forget the title, I’ll skip to the end & tell you that the main line says: ‘Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayer’: meaning a prayer where the answer is ‘no’.
The people in the passages we read today had great doubts about what God was saying/promising to them. They thought them even laughable & took matters into their own hands because God was either taking too long or wasn’t going to follow through at all: but they found out that: God was with them at all times; that God can do anything; that God doesn’t make empty promises; that God cares for His creation; that God works in mysterious ways & sometimes practices ‘divine New York minutes’: which are a little longer than ours. The trick of faith is to get to this point faster & realize that much strife could have been avoided: ‘what needless pain we bear’, the hymn says.
These people, Abram & Sarai (name change coming shortly) lived some 4000 years ago & were directly linked to God’s plan of redemption for us, through Jesus: these are His ancestors: God was putting His plan into motion & it took 2000 or so years to complete.
Here’s how it happened: before chapter 15, God had made a promise that Abram would have many descendants, who would form a nation: yet old Abram & his wife were childless: how could God’s promise from Chapter 13: 16 of ‘many descendants & a great nation’, come true? To them, God’s promise had stalled: so they adopted a servant boy, to be their heir, to ‘move things along’: they thought they had to do something. But in verse 4, God said, ‘this one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body…then God took him outside & showed him the stars: ‘if you are able to count them, so shall your descendants be’: & Abram believed in the Lord. At the end of our reading from this chapter, God said, ‘I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit’. Sounds similar to God saying, ‘this is my son, listen to him'.
In chapter 17, we read, ‘when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him & told him, I will make my covenant between me and you & I will multiply you exceedingly’. Then God told Abram that from now on he would be known as Abraham: the father of many nations, from whom kings shall come: including our’s: Jesus’; also, his wife would now be known as Sarah: ‘I will bless her and give you a son by her, and she shall be a mother of nations, from whom kings will come’. This son, Isaac would be the one: the one promised: the heir: part of the road, our road to Jesus: no small detail. (& you thought there was no New Testament content today).
Verse 17: ‘then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said in his heart, shall a child be born to a man who is 100 & to Sarah who is ninety?’ A ‘faith fail moment’? Abraham, the ‘father of nations & kings’, is human, and an old one, to boot! Yet God, as He has done with so many people & prophets over the years (like Jesus did over & over with his sometimes troublesome disciples who didn’t always ‘get it’) didn’t cast Abraham out for his ‘faith fail’: or work out His plan through someone else.
The story continues: Genesis 22: like sermon titles, this passage could have several names: ‘Abraham’s faith tested’, ‘Abraham’s faith confirmed’, ‘A boy’s trauma’, ‘A boy’s faith’ ‘A father’s agony’, ‘God’s provision’. This chapter is kind of a ‘wow’ chapter, given all that went on before it & what is at stake: remember, this is part of God’s plan of redemption: this is the miracle child: the heir: our heir, through Christ.
Here it is: (listen for some New Testament sentiment here too): ‘God said to Abraham, Abraham’. Abraham said, ‘here I am’. Then God said, ‘take now your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah: (the site on which Solomon’s temple would eventually be built), and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I shall tell you’. Is it sinking in? After all the time & promises; the doubt, the laughter: & then the miracle for an old couple: the father & mother of many nations, through Isaac. This doesn’t make sense. This is not logical. This can’t be happening. (Read again)
But Abraham ‘rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, split wood for the fire, and went to the place of which God had told him’. Reminds us of Mary, whose life was a little shaken up by an announcement from God: ‘I am the Lord’s servant’. Reminds us of Jesus, whose response to His pending crucifixion was, ‘May Thy will be done’.
We can’t always know or see or understand God’s plans, or our role in them: we may even not see them through to completion in our lifetime: all we can do is to do & to have faith: Abraham said to the young men who accompanied him & Isaac: ‘stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’: in spite of what must have been going through both their minds, Abraham had faith that God would keep His promise that Isaac would be the heir. That God could raise Isaac from the dead, if it came to that. Jesus too, believed God, unlike many (disciples) who thought the crucifixion was the end.
Verse 7: ‘Isaac spoke to Abraham: My father: here I am, my son; Isaac asked, where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Burnt offerings were ‘of the proscribed best’ & ‘whole’.
Read verses 8-14: imagine the storm of emotions & thoughts going on right now.
The Lord will provide: & it went from there. Abraham & Sarah didn’t live to see or experience the final outcome of God’s promise to them: neither did Isaac or Jacob; & we weren’t there in the months leading up to Jesus’ birth & ministry & death & resurrection & all the recorded scripture of those events. From Abraham to now has been around 4000 years: God is still working out His ‘divine New York minute plans, in & through us): all this time, every day,
>God is with us & is involved with us and our journeys, even though we sometimes make that involvement & communication difficult & when we think He isn’t
>God guides us & makes promises, that He Will keep: we sometimes respond to seemingly impossible events as ‘not in my lifetime’: could be true, yet valid.
>God cares about His creation: us: no matter what: even when we stray, have doubts, laugh & think or say ‘yeah right’ about God’s promises: even Jesus asked, ‘why have you forsaken me?’
>God works out His perfect will: (that demands our faith), sometimes in divine New York minutes: after all, God has been working on humanity and our faith, through Christ, for over 2000 years.
May we follow in the faith and footsteps of our biblical ancestors: only God knows what our story will look like & what our ultimate legacy in His ‘quickly unfolding plan’, will be.