GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER
AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, AMEN.
“Once the bottom fell out of my life and ministry, and I became very discouraged,” Norman Vincent Peale remembered, “My wife and I decided to go to England to get away from it all. I was not thinking positively and kept telling her how badly things were going, how little I amounted to, and why did I ever get into this situation anyway. I filled her poor ears with so much misery.
Finally she sat me down on a bench and said, ‘Norman, I don’t know what to make of you. You’re my husband, but you are also my pastor. I sit in the congregation and listen to you talk about faith, about the power of the Holy Spirit, and what Jesus Christ can do in one’s life. Are those merely words for you or do you really mean it?’ ‘Of course I mean it!’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you’re not acting like it. You hold it as a kind of an intellectual belief but haven’t you really been converted?’ ‘Of course I was converted,’ I said. ‘Well, it sure has worn off,’ she replied. ‘Now I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to make you sit on this bench until you surrender your life, your church, your future, everything to Jesus Christ.’ Well, I did just as she said and suddenly I began to feel warm all over. I jumped to my feet and said, ‘Wow, something has really happened to me. I feel excited!’ Then I said to my wife, ‘Tell you what, let’s go home and go to work’.”
There are perhaps three morals to this story. One, ministers can get discouraged just like everyone else, maybe even more than others. At our Bethel Series workshop last week, the leader said that pastors preach to everyone else that they are saved by grace but believe inside themselves that they are saved by works, busyness. Instead of leaving salvation and church building up to God, the ministers think they have to do it all by themselves. The second moral is that God can use us even when we are discouraged and downhearted and can come into our lives with new excitement and growth. Third—behind every successful man there is a powerful woman and I would imagine vice versa too. Never underestimate the power of your wife or husband!
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “As a seminarian, I certainly do appreciate your materials. We have been assigned to write an exegetical research paper on this particular gospel selection for one of our professors, and I have spent a week poring through books to find the background material. Your exegesis for this text is most useful and supports what I have been reading. Furthermore my own rector has told me that since I am doing this paper, I can preach on that Sunday. Thank heavens for the inspiration found in your sermon! Just wanted you to know that your work is much appreciated!”
Resources to inspire you — and your congregation!
This morning I do not plan to talk about clerical discouragement or any more about the power of spouse or children. My clean-shaven face is evidence that in our house, Annie, our younger daughter pretty much sets the agenda. When she decided it was time for the beard to go, the beard went. What I want to talk about it God’s power and God’s faithfulness. In our lesson we have the story of Abram who was promised to be the father of a multitude. God had told him:
“Abram go from your country
and your kindred,
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.
I will make of you a great nation
and I will bless you and make your name great
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
and the one who curses you, I will curse;
and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
God promised to bless Abraham with offspring as many as the stars of the sky or the sands of the sea, a land and make his name great. He would be blessed to be a blessing. And he has been. He is a father in faith to Christians and Muslims and Jews. Abraham Abinu is what the Jews call him, “Abraham our father.” Our text says his faithfulness to God was reckoned to him as righteousness.
But Abraham had his doubts about God. His was discouraged in his faith. God might have said that he would have great reward but he was childless so where would all these descendents come from? He and his wife Sarah were advanced in age. She was beyond the time of childbearing and let’s just say that Abraham was no fireball at his age. I think Dear Abby put it this way to a writer this week, “You can fool Mother Nature, but you can’t fool Father Time.” Abraham and Sarah decided he could have a child by the slave girl Hagar, but Abraham lamented to God, “You have given me no offspring and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” The boy is Ishmael, the father of the Arabs and the one whom the Koran says carried God’s blessing. But the Bible says God promised more than a slave boy but that Sarah, the wife would conceive and this boy, Isaac, would carry on the blessing.
It is much easier for us to see the fulfillment of God’s promises when they have four thousand years to work out. Today more than half the people on this planet recognize Abraham/Ibrahim as their father in faith. Abraham and Sarah had their child Isaac and the children of Israel, Jacob the grandson of Abraham, occupied the Promised Land. After two thousand years in exile the people of Israel are again in the land. As Christians we have Jesus’ promise that we too are children of Abraham by faith and Paul’s promise that we too are reckoned righteousness because we have believed the promises of God for us.
The Bethel Series uses the covenant with Abraham as its overarching theme. It is God’s promise to Abraham that he was blessed to be a blessing that carries through the whole series—we too are blessed by God to be a blessing to others. The logo of Bethel is a ray of light going through a prism and breaking into the rainbow. In the New Testament book that ray of light becomes a cross. God’s blessing comes to us through Jesus Christ and then all the gifts and talents that we are been given are used in faithfully blessing others. The recurring theme is “Blessed to be a blessing.”
Abraham was discouraged and doubtful. From our vantage we can see how everything worked out and with the continuing tensions between Arab and Israeli and Muslims and Christians and Jews, one wonders why four thousand years haven’t brought peace to the children of Abraham. I guess God didn’t promise peace among his offspring but only many descendents, land and a great name. From a heavenly vantage point it may be that our troubles don’t look so bad. God can see the end of the story which is life and salvation and knows us not only as we are but as He created us to be.
For us now, we have to rely on God’s promises and believe. We have the promise that all who believe and are baptized shall be saved. We have the promise that Jesus Christ is our shield and guardian against the forces which assail us; that sin, death and the power of the devil have no power over us. Abraham remains a fit example of one who suffered and struggled, doubted and feared, but also believed and was faithful and reckoned righteous by God. God was faithful to Abraham and God will be faithful to us.
In the Bethel Series, you will learn that faith is three things. The first is notitia, content. We believe certain things that are revealed in the Scriptures, doctrines that are faithful to God’s Word. We do not believe any old thing but what God reveals to us to believe. Second is assensus, assent. We must agree to right doctrine. Martin Luther said that even the devil believed the Apostles’ Creed—the facts of the faith but certainly was not saved by them. We must assent to the faith and recognize it is true.
Last week, one of our long time members asked to be taken off the church rolls and asked that no one contact her. She simply could no longer recite the Apostles’ Creed or participate in the liturgy. She did not believe what it said. I commend her honesty. She could not pretend to be a Christian when she no longer believed it.
The third part of faith is trust, fiducia. It is not only saying the Creeds and acknowledging that they are true it is going the next step and trusting in God. It is resting in God’s promise. St Paul wrote to the Romans and Martin Luther and John Calvin to the people of their time to remind them that we are not saved by what we do but by what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We are saved by grace alone and our faith is receiving what God has done, trusting in God’s promise for us. Abraham believed in spite of all the evidence. He did have a child by Sarah, he did become the father of a multitude (that is what the name Abraham means), he is the father in faith to Jews and Christians and Muslims, and his descendents now again live in the land. He was blessed by God to be a blessing.
The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death. We do not have all the answers but we trust that God does. Like Norman Vincent Peale and Martin Luther and St. Paul and Abraham, we too can get discouraged. We believe and we doubt, trust and waver in that trust. It often seems that God’s promises are not being fulfilled. Yet God does not expect us to transcend our humanity. What God simply wants for us is to believe the promises given us. God wants us to grow in our faith and understanding. God want to be our shield and protector. In Christ, God gives us forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life. We need not fear for God is with us. “Do not be afraid, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” He says that to us too. You are blessed to be a blessing. Amen.
Copyright 2007, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.