Second Sunday in Lent, year C, 2016 (preached 2/21/16)
first reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
second reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1
gospel reading: Luke 13:31-35
Poor Abram had a long wait before him.
In our first reading this morning, God makes Abram a promise – “your very own (child) shall be your heir.” God even took him out at night, had him look at the sky and told him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.
God would repeat this promise to Abram more than once. But a lot of LIFE happened between this first giving of the promise and it becoming a reality. Abram and Sarai would wander and settle. Out of desperation Sarai “gave” her slave Hagar to Abram so he could have a child with HER. God would give circumcision as a sign of the covenant, and would change their names to Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham would bargain with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. At one point, as they heard again the promise that they would have a son, Sarah LAUGHED. Indeed, when their son was finally born, they named him Isaac, which means LAUGHTER. In Genesis 20:6-7, Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”
All told, they waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled for almost TWENTY FIVE years. Like I said, a LONG wait for God to keep the promise.
I’m sure there were times when they thought all hope was lost. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann sums things up: “Why and how does one continue to trust solely in the promise when the evidence against the promise is all around?”
We live in a world of promises. People make them to us, and we make them to others. In fact, we’re in the middle of a season of promises now, as the presidential campaigns are in full swing. Candidates in both parties are practically promising us they’ll bring Eden! Jobs, more money in our pockets, free college, less crime on our streets, the final collapse of terrorism – you name it, they’re promising it. “All this can be yours if you just elect ME!”
Problem is, many of those promises won’t or can’t be kept.
But we make promises too. Sometimes we make a promise KNOWING we can keep it, other times HOPING to keep it, and other times sadly, knowing we WON’T keep it.
We make BIG promises like the ones we make to our spouse when we get married, or the promises we make to God when our children are baptized. We make LITTLE promises – or little to us, that may be a very big deal to the recipient. A promise to take a child to the movies, a promise to call a friend, a promise to meet someone at a certain place at a certain time. Or a promise that we’re telling the truth.
Promises are a big deal. They are an earnest, sincere, SERIOUS statement of our intentions, or of another’s intentions toward us. In a world where someone’s “word” still means something, promises require trust, and should not be made lightly.
In the end, Abram had faith, was able to trust God, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy in those 20+ years of waiting. I’m sure Abram and Sarai had moments of doubt.
In our culture of instant gratification, waiting is barely tolerated – waiting for over 20 years for something is unthinkable. And when we experience a delay we might not only get frustrated, we may also start to believe that maybe God has broken the promise.
But we need to remember that God is not beholden to our timetables. God keeps promises on God’s time, not ours. We also have to be careful. We need to distinguish between what God actually promises and what we simply want from God. Those are two VERY different things.
Sometimes we get angry thinking God hasn’t kept a promise, when in reality it’s just that God hasn’t given us what we asked for. Again, two very different things. Here’s what God has NOT promised us:
God has never promised that we would have an easy life, a pain-free life, a life free from anxieties or suffering. God has never promised that we would be respected, or successful, or wealthy, or happy, or that our home life or work life or community life would be smooth sailing.
You know what St. Paul would call people who tell us that God ever promised things like those? ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST. He does so much in our second reading.
“Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ…. Their god is the belly; and their glory is in shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”
In reality, God has promised us very little. But what God HAS promised us is HUGE. And we, like Abram, trust and believe, even when the promise is only in the future, or not clear to the naked eye.
God HAS promised the savior, Jesus Christ. God HAS promised that the Holy Spirit is in us. God HAS promised that God loves us. God HAS promised that God is present with us always. God HAS promised that our sins are forgiven. God HAS promised that there is a place prepared for us in heaven.
Now, these promises may not do anything to immediately solve our money problems or health problems, or relationship problems – and that may disappoint us. But really they do MORE. They give us a source of comfort, strength and courage to face the difficulties of this life. They give us a foundation that steadies us no matter what comes our way.
This is what the cross is all about. It’s about God understanding our suffering. It’s God being WITH US, Emmanuel, in our suffering – walking through the valley of the shadow of death WITH US.
God’s promises may not give us those “earthly things” we WANT, but they give us more than we could ever dream of – they give us everything we NEED.