Sunday Sermon 28th Sunday
The chosen hymns for this week, Great is thy faithfulness and O God you search me and you know me can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
I was reading recently about a story Max Lucado, the writer, told. It’s a story of being dropped by his insurance company because he had too many speeding tickets and a minor bump that wasn't his fault.
After that, he received a letter in the post, asking him to seek coverage elsewhere.
As he thought about how he wasn't good enough for his insurance company, he thought about those who feel the same with God.
Max Lucado writes, “Many people fear receiving such a letter [from God]. Some worry they already have.”
Imagine what such a letter from God would be like.
He then goes on to write such a letter.
Dear Mrs. Smith,
I'm writing in response to this morning's request for forgiveness. I'm sorry to inform you that you have reached your quota of sins.
Our records show that, since employing our services, you have erred seven times in the area of greed, and your prayer life is substandard when compared to others of like age and circumstance.
Further review reveals that your understanding of doctrine is in the lower 20th percentile and you have excessive tendencies to gossip.
Because of your sins you are a high-risk candidate for heaven.
You understand that grace has its limits.
Jesus sends his regrets and kindest regards and hopes that you will find some other form of coverage. (Quoted in Brady Boyd, Sons & Daughters, Zondervan, 2012, page 40; www.PreachingToday.com)
Yes, it’s an exercise which amuses, but there will be some who feel this way.
Some who feel they are not good enough for heaven,
that they are unworthy,
that they are not up to the mark,
they are not good enough Christians to win God’s favour.
But there is good news for those who sometimes feel like this. In our reading today God gives some guarantees and assurances for the believers’ future.
Today we hear of the Covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah.
Genesis 17 tells the story of the election of Abraham as the patriarch from whom many nations would descend, and who became the first father of three great faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
It also tells the story of the selection of Sarah as the woman through whom Israel, the chosen people in their telling of their own story, will be born.
But this is not the start of his story – here he is 99 years old, but Abram began his journey with God at age 75 and God was with him until he died aged 175.
And in that century of journeying with God, God spoke to him only 7 or 8 times:
Genesis 12:1 God speaks to Abram at his Initial Call (At the time of his Commissioning) Genesis 12:7
God speaks to Abram when he built his first altar in Sichem (at the time of his sanctification)
Genesis 13:14 God speaks to Abram after Lot leaves him (at the time of his crisis)
Genesis 15:18 God speaks to Abraham when He makes a covenant with him. (at a time of reaffirmation)
Genesis 17:1God speaks to Abraham after Ishmael was born (at time of redirection)
Genesis 18:13 God speaks to Abraham when Sarah laughs at the promise of a child (at a time of visitation)
Genesis 22:11God speaks to Abraham as he offered up his only son Isaac. (at a time of great sacrifice)
So here is something we can take heart from. Most people – even the great patriarchs of the faith – don’t hear God clearly very often. God very often seems like the silent partner.
Secondly, when we read of Abram’s story in Genesis chapter 12-22, he and Sarai don’t come over as saintly characters. They do some things we would find dreadful:
Early in the story, Abram departs from God’s plan and goes to Egypt, and got into a bit of trouble there – claiming his wife was his sister, lying to Pharaoh, and selling his wife – not once but twice.
Sarah too has serious character flaws. She forces her slave Hagar to marry and have sex with her husband and she abuses Hagar as violently as the Egyptians would later abuse the Israelites.
So, even flawed characters can find favour with God – there is hope for us too.
And it is here we come to the heart of today’s reading.
At the heart of Mac Lucado’s story is a very human fear.
That fear is that what we do defines a person. We are too busy counting the bad things we have done or the good things we have failed to do to gain God’s favour.
It is the persistent human assumption that works define the person.
It is an assumption which persists despite the teachings and warnings of St Paul, Martin Luther and even Jesus himself.
We are not saved by our works, but by God’s grace through faith. It is not our work that saves, but God’s.
God made a covenant with Abraham. He knew Abraham’s heart. He recognised his faith.
And this covenant was to be everlasting – down through the ages to all his descendants and people of faith.
Abraham, one of the most revered and important patriarchs of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, did not receive God’s promise to make him the father of many nations through the law or his own goodness and works.
Rather it was through his faith.
Abraham believed that God is able to accomplish that which God promises.
Yes, Abraham was imperfect and sinful, but he also knew exactly where to place his faith and trust, and that made all the difference.
It continues to make a difference for us today, as we look to him not as a picture of perfection but rather as an example of lived faith.
These saints of God were not perfect people; in fact, they could be real horrors.
But then so can we. None of us are perfect. As Martin Luther observed, we are righteous and at the same time a sinner.
Look at the things in you and see what Jesus is doing through you because of your faith.
Look at those little acts of kindness.
Look at those times you did what was right.
That’s not you.
That’s God at work in your life, and that’s God’s guarantee that he will complete the work he started in you.
That goes for all who seek to follow God. In their lives we catch glimpses of hope that we, too, are heirs of the promises of God. We too are heirs of God’s covenant.
No matter what your circumstances, God will keep His promises to you as well.