I know a number of you have gone in to the outback. How would you express what you saw, or if you haven’t what word would best describe the outback? Barren. Yes, the outback can seem a God forsaken place, where nothing lives, where many dreams have failed, lives have been lost and hopes dashed. Many have tried to make a future in the outback, brought with them sheep and cattle, families and workers, but were only turned back by the bareness of the country. Barren, it is a word that describes hopelessness, emptiness, and the end of the line. I want you to keep this image in your mind.
And when bareness becomes a part of our lives, when all looks to have come to an end, we begin to look for a way out, and for many, the first way out is to reject God; to see him as the cause rather than the solution to our problems, or to make him irrelevant and non-existent.
Richard Dawkin’s search to prove that God is real came to a barren end, he could not find proof that God exists, so he concludes there must not be a God and so rejects him and religion as a whole saying ‘A case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the small pox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion’.
Dawkins believes its up to humanity to better our own lives, there is no God, faith is the wall which stops us from being in control of our destiny; faith hides reality. Really? Well our world is littered with the remnants and legacies of past generations’ attempts at improving our life by rejecting God; thinking we have the power to better our lives. The remnant and legacy we have been left, speaks for its self; war, starvation, tyranny, loneliness and depression.
Does this sound like a better society? Does this sound like we have things in control? Billy Joel wrote a song about this called ‘We didn’t start the fire.’ In it he lists all the failures of the world, and he ends with ‘JFK blown away what more do I have to say’, we didn’t start the fire, its always burning, since the world’s been turning’.
Yes, the first few chapters of Genesis sounds like it could have been written by Billy Joel. We didn’t start the fire, the world’s been burning since the world’s been turning ‘Adam tries to better his own life, rejects God’s word and ends up kicked out of the garden. Cain tries to better his life, rejects God’s word and kills Abel; whole nations want to better their lives, reject God and are drowned in the flood.
The whole of humanity wants to better its self, builds a tower to heaven, only to end in confusion. Yes, we didn’t start the fire against God, but we are certainly part of it, stoking it with our failures to trust his word.
Perhaps there have been times when you and I have found, as Dawkins did, that we need to take control of our own lives, why wait for God to act. Why wait for a future promise that may never come true, why wait for evidence that God is real in our life, why wait to see his blessing when they may never happen, live for now; act now, before it is too late. Leave faith in God to those who are afraid to take control.
When we begin to read the story of Abraham, we begin with the genealogy from Adam to Noah and then the genealogies from Noah to Abraham. And when this concludes, we realize that Abraham had every excuse to take his life into his own hands; to leave faith to those who are afraid. There is no proof God had things in control. You see, his family line concludes the list with ‘Abram married Sarah, who was barren.’ It stops there; at a point of hopelessness; no longer can the family line go on.
What does this tell us? Humanity can go on for ages and ages, but it will end in nothing, unless there is divine intervention, grace. It tells us, Humanity, you and I, have nowhere else to go. Barrenness- be it war, devastation, destruction- is the way of human history without God. It tells us, there is no foreseeable future, only hopelessness. Human power, apart from God, cannot create or even invent a future for its self.
But the story doesn’t stop there. No, this is the pivotal point in human history. The point in which God, in the face of bareness, despair and hopelessness, breaks into the world with a word of hope for humanity. And its also a story about faith and trust in God, who by his grace, restores hope in the bareness of Abrahams life. What seems to be an end is actually the future for God’s people; our future.
God says to Abraham ‘go to a land that I will show you and I will bless you and make you into a great nation’. Wow! What a word; what a promise…what a contradiction. Abraham saw bareness and hopelessness, an end of an era; God saw a start of something new. By making Abraham’s wife Sarah, barren, God was showing that he was closing off the old, ending the human tragedy of sin and death and assuring in a new way, a new creation, a new people who will be his own, who will live by faith, not by sight.
Abraham, as in previous generations, could have rejected God’s word. He could have looked at his situation, looked his hopelessness and did as Adam did and said ‘God, you must be joking, I’m doing it my way’; but he didn’t. Adam chose disobedience, Abraham chose faith. He believed God where Adam did not. He trusted, despite physical evidence to the contrary. And as St Paul writes ‘His faith was credited to him as righteousness;’ that is, he is in God’s blessing because he trusted his word. He received because he believed.
Abraham stepped out in faith and anticipation of the future. God’s word of promise seemed imposable, yet because it was God’s word it seemed plausible; plausible enough for Abraham to stake his life on it. He believed enough to trust that at some point in the distant future, final confirmation of the promise would take place. In the mean time, he is perfectly prepared to live with the unresolved tension. He lived and thought as if the promise had already happened, even thought he knew only future generations would have the luxury of knowing and actually living in the promise.
You and I have the same promise of God, to bring you into the Promised Land. Jesus says to you in your baptism ‘you are part of God’s family, you are my child of the promise, arise from this barren way of life, and I will take you to the Promised Land.’ And if you have not heard the promise for a while, here is. The promise straight out of today’s gospel ‘”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Let’s say that together…..
This is the promise for you, given at your baptism ‘you shall not perish but have eternal life’. This is the word of God to you, the same word of God Abraham heard and trusted. Is it plausible enough for us to believe? Plausible enough to stake our life on it? To trust that at some point in the distant future, final confirmation of the promise will take place. Are we perfectly prepared to live with the unresolved tension of living now, yet for eternity? To live as if the promise had already happened?
This is the question of faith, stepping out on a promise. Dawkins is right, there is no proof, only the word and promise of God. The scriptures say ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.’ So let’s live today as Abraham did, as if the promise has been fulfilled. Leaving the bareness of our own ways, leaving the emptiness of life without God and his word, and live as if in his presence; listening to him, studying his word and loving and serving each other.
Let us live with a hope so strong that everyday we hand over our life to him. For we know, that the same word of God, who had the power to raise Jesus Christ from the grave, is the same powerful word that will bring us into eternal life; the fulfilment of the promise. Amen