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02.24.13 Assurances of our Salvation, Genesis 15.1-18 Sermon Summary

by on February 25, 2013

In the Bible, Abraham enjoys quite a reputation for his faith. What most people don’t realize is that the testimony about it is selective.

Summary Points

  • Review of Abraham’s faithfulness
  • How true faith asks questions
  • The way we grow in faith
  • Questions for discussion and reflection and some suggestions for Lent

Throughout the Bible, Abraham is celebrated as a man of faith. He is the father of THE faith (that is, Judaism). Paul considers him the father of saving faith. He refers to Abraham as the “man of faith” (Galatians 3:9) who “hoped against all hope” (Romans 4:18). The book of Hebrews commends Abraham because he “waited patiently” (11:17).

In the chapters leading up to today’s lectionary passage, Abraham’s faithful obedience was impressive. Initially God promised he would be a great nation with offspring, and told Abraham to leave his country, kinsfolk, and his possessions—which Abraham did. Famine forced him into a detour to Egypt where Abraham became rich. Upon his return, there wasn’t enough land to support his family, and he allowed his nephew Lot to choose the better portion of the land while Abraham took the leftovers. He then had to rescue Lot from captivity to four war-tested kings, and was blessed by the mysterious figure Melchizedek, priest of God.

All along the way the Bible tells us that Abraham erected altars to worship God. Abraham’s most famous demonstration of faith was his obedience to God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). This willingness, the New Testament author James says, proves Abraham’s righteous faith.

Saints lives, like that of Abraham’s or those chronicled in books like Butler’s Lives of the Saints, are intended to inspire us. But just as often, for me anyway, they are an occasion for discouragement. Comparing myself to such exemplars of the faith, I always fall short. This is why I thank God for Genesis 15, which gives us a more complete picture of Abraham than the caricature we normally get. Like me, and like most of us, Abraham had faith, but he also had questions.

“What will you give me” Abraham finally demands of God, after years of faithful obedience. And after God answers, Abraham pushes even further: “How will I know?”

Even though Abraham had questions for God, like I do, his questions are different than mine. My questions are more accurately complaints, like “Why aren’t I more faithful?” Or expressions of impatience: “When will I be more faithful?” Or frustration: “How can I overcome my envy?” These may be faithful questions, but they’re not like Abraham’s.

My questions are self-centered whereas Abraham’s are God-centered. The only thing self-centered questions reveal is my faithlessness. God-centered questions like Abraham’s reveal God’s faithfulness. God assured his faithfulness through the sacraments of the burning torch and smoking pot. It took a long time: Abraham had to sacrifice the animals, chase away birds, and wait well into the night darkness. But God revealed his faithfulness.

It is out of Abraham’s belief that God is faithful that Abraham questioned God. And it is these kinds of questions, in this context, that make Abraham righteous.

Abraham not only questioned, but he grew. His life was one of obedience, followed by questions, followed by obedience. Or in other words, trust, followed by questions, followed by trust. Or yet again, faith, followed by doubt, followed by faith. And Hebrews 11:13 concludes rightly about Abraham and all people of faith, that they “died in faith without receiving the promise.” The only land Abraham owned upon his death was the plot of ground he begged to purchase to bury his wife.

We grow through this same formula of obedience, questions, and obedience. It may require us to wait through ritual and religion, like Abraham, taking sometimes years before it “clicks” for us. We may experience delays, disappointments, and severe challenges, like four kings waging war against us. But with faith like Abrahams, we can be righteous before God as we question and grow. Or in the words of Psalm 27 appointed for this day, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident” (verse 3).

The heart of Psalm 27 is a heart of faith. It says to us, “Seek God’s face, behold God’s beauty, and inquire of God in the temple” (verses 4, 8). In other words, if we will, this Lent, listen to our hearts—long enough, silently enough, alone and in community—they will direct us to God. This is what Abraham did. This is how he had faith—not a faith without questions, but a faith built with questions. A faith that believed God is faithful. A faith that epitomized the conclusion of Psalm 27: “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Describe some of the questions that have marked your journey of faith. How has God answered them? Which still remain? What questions do you have today?
  • Think about your attitude towards worship. Are you willing to make a costly investment in it of time and effort, as Abraham did, in order to discover God’s faithfulness?
  • What does your heart say to you? If you feel the desires of your heart pull you away from Christ, you need to listen longer, more silently, and with the help of others. Through prayer, fasting, and worship, your heart will speak God’s word to you if you make the investment. Do something in this direction for Lent.
  • In today’s lectionary passage, Paul exhorts us not to be enemies of the cross, with our bellies being our god and too preoccupied with earthly things. This Lent, fast and give alms (charity to the needy) to help you grow in your faith, trusting as Abraham did that God is faithful to provide for your needs.
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