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02.11.18 Legacies Lived and Left Genesis 23, 25 Sermon Outline

by on February 12, 2018

In the past six weeks, we’ve made a number of discoveries about God through our Walk of Faith with Abraham and Sarah. Rituals (like altar building) are important reminders to us of God’s calling and faithfulness, and to God of his promises. Laughter is evidence of God’s presence. Even when we say we “can’t believe it!” it means we’re thinking about it. Joy is an eternal, divine quality. Laughter is the temporal intersection.

Gratitude looks like generosity. When Abraham defeated the kings in battle, he tithed to Melchizedek. When Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham, he accompanied her with a generous offering. Forgiveness paves the walk of faith. When we let the past be the past, and humans be human, we are free to look ahead to God’s calling.

God makes promises and reveals himself in stages. God draws us in through ritual like covenant making and renewal. And he deepens our relationship of faith through trials like waiting.

For these reasons and many others, Abraham and Sarah are recognized as the patriarch and matriarch of faith for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The Christian testimony of this honor stretches all the way back to the Bible. Jesus commends the faith of Abraham. Paul bases his theology on it. And in the catalog of the greatest faithful, chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews, Abraham and Sarah occupy 1.5 paragraphs; Moses comes in second place with 1 paragraph.

Here’s how the tribute begins: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.”

In the narrative of Abraham and Sarah, their burials serve to summarize the main point of Hebrews. Again, from chapter eleven: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Hebrews helps us recognize that the journey aspect of faith includes continuous walking, exploring, and unfolding. Faith is not a doctrinal assent (“I believe Jesus died for my sins”) but a way of life. Abraham and Sarah exemplify this.

Hebrews goes on to say of the faithful: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland . . . they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

Abraham had to purchase land for burial when Sarah died. The story would have us believe that 100 years have transpired since God first called Abraham and Sarah when Abraham finally dies. At the time of Sarah’s death, he still had no land. It’s a symbolic reminder that all of life is borrowed, and all of life gets returned.

Hebrews continues: “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better . . .”

Some are tempted to conclude from this exaltation of the faithful that this earthly life doesn’t count for much. But Abraham cared deeply about this life. That’s why he mourned Sarah’s death and why he purchased the land and why he was buried there also. He didn’t have the attitude that “the afterlife is better than this life,” or that “the soul is more important than the body.”

Still, Abraham maintained another perspective. He kept in view the legacy he would leave, and how the promises of God would yet be fulfilled after him. All those stars, those descendants of Abraham whose names we wrote and posted on the sky, represent the ongoing fulfilment of God’s promises and Abraham’s faith.

This is why Hebrews continues: “God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.” Since the promises are still being fulfilled, the walk of faith begun by Abraham and Sarah goes on. We are the legacy. We carry the faith. We live in this world bearing witness. This is why there is always hope for parents and grandparents who lament that their children and grandchildren are not walking in the faith. The walk isn’t over. Until God fulfills the promises completely, and won’t “apart from us,” the walk isn’t perfected. It isn’t complete. There is hope.

For now, God is calling us. And when we answer, God is glorified. So Hebrews transitions from the catalog of the faithful to one of the most famous images from all of scripture: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Each calling is unique—from Abraham and Sarah to Jesus to Peter to you. Each calling is unique but there are contours of God’s calling that are similar. Hebrews chapters twelve and thirteen provide some of those contours, including: Welcoming trials, pursuing peace, listening for God’s calling, showing hospitality, worshiping together, and listening to church leaders.

As we conclude our walk of faith with Abraham and Sarah, may faith guide your life as it did theirs. May your years be good and full as was theirs. May you hold loosely but faithfully to this life. And when we are gathered to God’s people, may the world mourn, and the heavens rejoice. Amen.

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