Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reach! God's Love Reaches Through Abraham

Well, I went to the gym this week and found out all of Tyler bought a membership on January 1st. I ordinarily park near the front door. This week, however, I had to park here in the church parking lot and walk 2 miles to get in. There were a lot of people this week, I learned, that made a New Year’s resolution to get into better shape. I’m confident I will have my parking spot back by February!

So many folks have such good intentions…in the beginning. Before long, however, we forget what our resolutions were in the first place. It doesn’t take long for something really good to go south. Take the story of our world, for example. In the opening pages of the Bible, we are presented with a beautiful picture of our beginnings. God creates order in the universe, brings light into the world, and separates light from darkness. Somewhere in there, I know we do not have record of it, but somewhere in there God made homemade vanilla ice cream. It says all through Genesis 1 that creation was “good.” I cannot think of anything better than homemade vanilla ice cream! The point is, everything in the beginning was good, really good! It doesn’t take long, though, for something really good to go south. Genesis 3:22 says…

Then the LORD God said, “See, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”—therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Can you think of a moment in human history that was worse than that moment? In reality, however, this moment was only the beginning of our trouble. Not long after Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, their son, Cain, killed his brother Abel. Years later, after many children had been born, this Bible says this…

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.

Did you hear how emphatically the text makes the point about our nature? Our wickedness was great, every inclination of our heart, was only evil, all the time. It was so bad, in fact, that he decided to start over.

Genesis 6-9 records the story of God’s recreation. This time, God starts over with just a handful of animals and one family, led by a man named Noah. Just as God’s Spirit moved over the face of the deep during the first creation, God’s Spirit moved above the flood in the 2nd creation to dry the ground. Everything was new! This time, surely, humanity would succeed. This time, surely, the good would last. But it didn’t. Not long after the flood, we see the people trying to build a tower to the heavens to make a name for themselves. At the end of Genesis 11, one thing had become apparent. No matter how much God wanted us to love Him, no matter how much God wanted for us to make good decisions, no matter how much God desperately wanted for us to choose Him over ourselves or anything else in this world, we just couldn’t do it.

So, at that moment, God initiated a plan to help us stand up again…

God reached out to man named Abram and believe it or not, this reach of God changed everything. If God had not reached out to Abram, the world would still have no hope. Here is how it happened…

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 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. 3 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 shall be blessed. 
Genesis 12:1-3 NRSV

So, God decided to extend His love to Abram, maybe Abram would do what Adam and Eve and Cain and Noah or the people at Babel could not do. But, no, Abram was just as weak. We often hold up Abraham as an icon of faithfulness, but he was human just like the rest of us. Twice he tried to pass his wife, Sarah, off as his sister. He believed if some powerful men thought they were married, they would kill him and take her. So, instead, he told his wife, “Pretend you are my sister! Sure, they may put you in a harem…but at least they won’t kill me.” Ladies, doesn’t that endear you to Abraham! Abraham also continually doubts God’s faithfulness to His promise. “Come on God, we aren’t going to have children now. We’re too old. You say our descendants will be more numerous than the stars, but we don’t even have one child!”

How could God’s plan work when its vessel was such a weak, faithless person? Because God’s promise is not contingent upon our faithfulness. God is faithful even when we are not. God’s plan succeeds even when we fail. That is the message of the Bible. Despite Abraham’s lack of faith, children are born in old age. A nation is born from this single family and in time, that nation will produce a baby that will change the course of history forever.

Some say God’s grace doesn’t appear until the New Testament. Really? The entire story of Genesis is really a story about God’s grace and love. God could have wiped everything off the face of the earth with the flood, but He didn’t. God could have thrown up His hands and burned the earth to nothing after Babel, but He didn’t. God could have looked at Abraham’s lack of faith and thought, “Here we go again,” but He didn’t. God was patient. God offered grace. God reached out with His love in spite of our repeated, habitual sin.

God’s love in the Old Testament is actually quite powerful. If the story of Abraham teaches us anything it is this: God’s love can accomplish quite a bit through a single individual or a single family. Did you know that? God’s love reaching through this single man helped birth the nation of Israel. It helped lead billions of people toward God. It even, whether you realize it or not, changed the trajectory of your life. You were lost and without hope, but because of what God did through Abraham, a family was born, a family of which you are a part, the family of God. This family, our family, continues to bring light to a dark world, and this family continues to extend the reach of God’s love to a world dominated by hate and loneliness.

And if God’s love can accomplish that much through one man, Abraham,
it can also accomplish quite a bit through you…

Some of you think you are a failure. Your family is not perfect. You feel trapped in your job. You make the same mistakes again and again and again. You may have addictions that no one else knows about. You feel like a fake sometimes and you hope desperately that no one ever finds out whom you really are. Did you know that God’s love reaching through you could literally change the world? Yes, you are imperfect. So was Abraham. So was Noah. So were Adam and Eve and David and Mary and…

The beauty of God’s love is that it is powerful enough to change lives in spite of the imperfections of its vessels! If you give your children the love of God, they may not only affect your relationship with them, it could change the lives of their children, and your love to them could plant seeds in the life of your great, great grandchildren. If you give the love of God to your neighbors and co-workers and strangers, you never know how God is going to use you to change them and the world!

Some of us fell ill equipped to extend God’s love. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable with people. Maybe you do not feel like you have the tools to enter into someone’s life in a time of crisis, because that is where God’s love often times most needed. Let me share a resource with you. On January 31 and February 1, Allen Thyssen will be helping to conduct a seminar here at our building. The title of the seminar is: “Ministry in Times of Illness & Loss.” Allen, as most of you know is using his tremendous gifts as a chaplain here in our hospitals in Tyler. He is tremendously gifted. This seminar is really all about helping people learn to share God’s love with those around them. Look for information about this event in the coming weeks. Talk to Allen and get more information. This is just one way to refine the gifts given to you by God to extend His love to the world.

I want you to remember something this morning. Sometimes we read the Bible as a book written to people long ago about people who are already dead! Remember, this is our family album. These words were to you and your children, and the promise made to Abraham all those years ago was also a promise made to you. As I read this promise again, insert your name in the place of Abraham…

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 shall be blessed.

How has God made your family into a great nation? How might you bless those around you with God’s love? All nations of the earth will be blessed because of you. Now that is quite a calling! Will God’s purposes be accomplished without you? Yes, Scripture has proven that! Nevertheless, what a wonderful opportunity, to participate with God in extending the REACH of His love into this world!

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