“Free tickets to meet the Boss”
In the reading from Genesis we are told of God and the certainty of His promises when he makes a covenant with a man we know of as having great faith, Abraham.
In a vision, the Lord came to an ageing Abraham without children to announce that his offspring would be in number like the stars in the sky-and in his trust of God’s words, in his faith in God he was a righteous man. Yet ironically this man of great faith who trusts God with this miraculous promise, when told by God that he will possess the land he stands upon asks “how am I to know that?” And far from telling him to get a grip, God acts by giving Abraham a covenant in a manner known in the day where the participants would cut animals in half, then walk together between them as a pledge that such a fate would befall any of them who breached whatever the covenant or promise was between them.
Yet here, by walking through the animals alone, God puts all the responsibility upon himself. He gives Abraham a promise that he, God the Father cannot even break no matter what may take place in Abraham’s life from that point on. This is a big promise. There’s no only if you do this or don’t do that’s. This is God’s Word set in stone irrespective of circumstances. What’s more, God makes his covenant with Abraham while he’s in a deep sleep. A covenant with Abraham, a covenant with his descendants and a covenant that has flowed through to us while we slept when in Romans chapter eight verse five, we hear that:
“God demonstrated his love for us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
Abraham was called to faith and given an unbreakable promise due to his faith alone.
Christians are called to faith and given forgiveness and eternal life due to faith alone.
After Abraham received his promise and though this Holy man also made many human mistakes along the way-God stuck by His Word.
We have received our promise in Christ, and though we make our mistakes-Christ remains resolute in his promise that in faith alone are we saved, and like Abraham, the apostle Paul and the repentant King David, bow to our knees in the realization of the amazing grace we have received and pray that we too can be his messengers. His messengers to those like us who know doubt, loneliness and hurt. But his messengers who know the peace of grace amongst the chaos. His messengers who with Christ go into the chaos that others may too may see and be guided by Christ’s light on their travels.
In 1982 Bruce Springsteen released his fourth and critically acclaimed album titled “Nebraska” One such critic wrote that “The songs deal with the ordinary, blue collar characters that face a challenge or turning point in their lives”. (The last song on the album) “Reason to believe is like the others which are largely of a bleak tone. Reason to believe is a complex narrative that renders its title phrase into mocking sarcasm and unlike previous albums, very little salvation and grace is present within the songs”.
Bruce or the “Boss” as he is known truly seems to understand life’s struggles and that his songs on this album, and if fact that most of his songs are of the ordinary and marginalized I do not argue. But I was a little thrown by his understanding of “Reason to believe” as lacking in the presence of salvation and grace because it was one of the first songs that attracted me to his music-because to me that was what it is about.
It goes like this:
“Mary Lou loved Johnny with a love mean and true. She said “Baby I’ll work for you every day and bring my money home to you. One day he up and left her and ever since that she waits down at the end of that dirt road for young Johnny to come back.
“Take a baby to the river Kyle William they called him. Wash the baby in the water, take away Kyle’s sin. In a whitewash shotgun shack an old man passes away. Take his body to the graveyard and over him they pray. Congregation gathers down by the riverside. Preacher stands with his Bible, groom stand’s waiting for his bride. Congregation gone and the sun sets behind a weepin’ willow tree. Groom stands alone and watches the river rush on effortlessly.
Lord and he’s wonderin’ where can his baby be. Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe”
That Baptism and a Christian funeral are mentioned and yet is described as lacking grace and salvation is perplexing for any Christian and why that critic would view this as a song of mocking and sarcasm can only be based on the book-end lyrics where we hear of a lady who gives everything to her love only for him to leave her, and of a young man that is abandoned by the love of his life at the marriage alter. Yes, if we were in these situations it would be easy to join the critic in doubting our Lord’s governance or at the very least, thoughts of “why or where are you know God” might come to pass.
Yet far from sarcasm I would suggest this is deeply theological when we see how these two people respond to such great hurt and abandonment, not with anger or rejection toward those who have left them, but with hope.
“One day he up and left her and ever since that she waits down at the end of the road for Johnny to come back” and “The groom stands alone wonderin’ where his baby can be”.
Is this not the love and hope that a parent would feel for their runaway or lost child? Is this not the biblical story of the father who waits for his prodigal son to come home from in the big city in despair, and is this not our Lord who sees us taking every wrong direction away from him, yet never turns away, but works and lives in the hope that his children will return home.
Jesus Christ our Saviour walked to the cross so that he can walk with us and guide us home, that God the Father who waits at the end of our dusty tracks sees us coming and welcomes us with his words from revelations chapter seven:
You have come out of the great tribulation and been washed clean in the blood of the lamb. Never again will you hunger. Never again will you thirst. The sun will not beat down on you nor any scorching heat and I have wiped every tear away from your eyes”.
And these are not flimsy words; these are of an unbreakable promise as given to Abraham for God follows in the book of Revelations with dire warnings for anyone who adds or detract from these truths.
Washed clean by the blood of the lamb and justified in faith in Christ alone is your covenant. A promise that no humans, forces of darkness nor God himself can break. A covenant promise to you today and a covenant promise that Christ wants others to know when he says: “Come, let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life”.
Ten or so years ago over a few beers and a couple of music DVD’s I introduced a friend of mine to the music of Bruce Springsteen and that night after I professed my desire to see him in concert if he ever comes to Australia again my friend said, when he does we are both going. A few months ago Bruce’s Australian concert tour tickets became available and while considering going I thought of the price, if I’ll have time and even the effort involved and decided I will forgo the last opportunity I would have to see him live. Then my friend rang me and reminded me of that night ten or so years ago.
So on the 22nd of March we’re off to Sydney, after mind you he travels from South Australia just to get to Dubbo. A man of his word, that has kept his word at far greater cost than me and I know that through him I’ll do what I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time and while if it wasn’t for him I would have missed my opportunity- it cannot make me feel better of him because I don’t think that is possible.
And so the Lord to us. He loves us before our good works, but he also loves those that wait yet to know him, who need to know the grace and hope he offers.
The Lord heard our cries and came to us, the Lord hears the cries of our neighbors and though in faith we are already saved, invites us to travel with him that while on our journey, others may see his light and be guided home to meet the loving Father.
On his death bed, John Newton the author of amazing grace farewelled his earthly life with these final words “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour”. That is true for us, and true for those that Christ asks we shine his light upon.