|Text: Hebrews 11:8-9a
It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him. He left his own country without knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as a foreigner in the country that God had promised him.
Who likes surprises?
There are good surprises and there are bad surprises.
A good surprise might be a bigger tax refund cheque than you expected;
an unexpected visit from someone special;
a surprise party to celebrate your birthday.
The following conversation between two young children was overheard in the playground:
“Close your eyes and open your mouth. Guess what this is?” as the little girl popped something into the mouth of the little boy.
“Is it jelly bean? Red I think,” came the answer after the first taste.
“Nooo.” was the reply from the little girl, “Try again”.
After the second taste, “Is it a chewy bear?”
“Nope. I’ll give you a clue. It isn’t something people eat.”
Yes, surprises can be unpleasant. You’ve had them in your personal lives and no doubt you are thinking about recent unpleasant surprises in your congregation and school communities. These are the kind of surprises that no one wants. But they come anyway.
In today’s readings we have heard a lot about Abraham. Now there’s a man who had to cope with surprises – most of his surprises were very unsettling. They included having a child when he and Sarah were very old and then being told to sacrifice that child. Today I want to focus on his first surprise. Out of the blue God said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to a land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1).
Now Abraham was a very successful man. He lived in a very rich, sophisticated and civilised part of the world. He was very wealthy with a great amount of pasture land, sheep, cattle, camels, goats – you name it and many servants. God was asking him to leave this beautiful land behind and go to a foreign country, live in tents, become a nomad, and head off on a journey that will take him only God knows how long and to a place a place that only God knows.
Abraham could have easily said, “No way, God. You want me to leave all this and go across the desert to some unknown foreign land for an indefinite time. It’s clear you have some kind of grand plan but give me a hand here, God. Can’t you give me some kind of reasonable explanation why you want to turn my life upside down?”
But we don’t hear of any kind of conversation like this between Abraham and God. We are simply told, “He left his own country without knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8).
Why was Abraham able to simply take off to an unknown place?
Why didn’t he stay in Haran where life was so good?
Simply put – faith – faith that led to Abraham to trust God and so confidently do as God had said.
We are told, “It was faith that made Abraham obey God”.
“By faith he lived as a foreigner” in that strange land, always on the move.
Today we heard God say to Abraham, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward.” Then we are told, “Abram put his trust in the Lord”.
When our life takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns, it is this same kind of faith that enables us to view everything differently. We can be in strange and uncertain circumstances but still be full of hope, confident and strong in the face of everything that’s happening. The apostle Paul expressed this kind of faith when he said that he can face all kinds of trouble through the strength that Christ gives him (Phil 4:13).
What do we mean by faith?
Faith is trusting in the promises of God. Faith is trusting a promise made by God no matter how weird it might be (like a couple of geriatrics, as Abraham and Sarah were, becoming parents for the first time). Faith believes that a promise is a promise.
When God promised Abraham, “Do not be afraid, I will protect you” (Gen 15:1), he trusted God to keep his word.
When God promised that he would give Abraham and his descendants a new home, Abraham trusted him, even though he never saw this happen in his lifetime.
Faith trusts that Word from God that says, “I will not forget you. I have written your name on the palm of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16)
Faith simply takes God at his word even when we can’t see around the next corner of our life’s journey and we don’t know where we are heading.
Faith believes the promise that we are his dear children and that he will always be watching over us as we travel the ups and downs of life’s journey.
Faith in our loving heavenly Father leads us to obedience even though we can’t see where God will lead us. We are told, “It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him.”
One day, Zac and his father were climbing on some rocks that lined the seashore. Suddenly Zac’s father hears a voice from the top of a big rock, “Hey Dad! Catch me!” Zac had jumped and then yelled and was sailing through the air straight at his father. They both fell to the ground.
When Zac’s father realised what had happened he gasped, “Zac! Can you give me one good reason why you did that?”
He responded with remarkable calmness and simplicity, “Sure, because you’re my Dad.”
Isn’t that a story about the faith of a Christian? Whatever life might throw at us and whenever the sharp bends and unexpected corners catch us unprepared, we can throw ourselves into the loving arms of our heavenly Father with complete confidence knowing that he will always be there to catch us. Just as Zac trusted the love of his father, we too can trust the love of our God.
That’s all very good you might be saying, as I have, “But I’m no Abraham”. Maybe these words sound familiar to you, “But God, this is all so unfair. I know you’re there and that you love me but at this moment this does nothing to take away the pain and the hurt and the grief. I’m sorry, God, but it seems you’ve left me in the lurch to deal with all this by myself. I can’t help myself when I say, ‘You aren’t being very fair’.”
We aren’t told if Abraham had any struggle with God’s command to relocate but we do know of another man who lost everything and struggled to understand God. That man was Job. He came to the conclusion that it’s not God who is unfair. Life is unfair! It’s the world we live in that is unfair.
It is sin that causes trouble and crime in our community, on our roads and wars among nations.
It is the frailty of our bodies that brings sickness and pain and disease and the need for hospitals, surgery and medicines.
It is death that causes us anguish and grief and heart ache as we are faced with the loss of loved ones from this life.
It’s the economic events in this community that has caused the grief and heartache in this church and school.
It’s life that is unfair.
We may not understand the trouble that is happening in our lives and we may be overwhelmed with doubt that everything that is happening is so unfair and that God isn’t playing by the rules of what we think is fair, but the last word in all of this is the Bible’s call to see beyond all that is happening and see in faith the love of our God and his call to eternal life where all the unfairness of this life will come to an end. “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see”, we read in Hebrews. This is what Job meant when he said, “The Lord gave and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!” In other words, “I have been subject to some extremely unfair treatment in this life and even though I don’t understand why, in faith I can look beyond all that (right now and in the life to come) and see God’s loving face”. Job trusted God regardless of his present circumstances.
This kind of confidence and praising of God in the face of all kinds of tragic circumstances is not unusual. Some people may think it strange to be able to praise God in the face of trouble, but it does happen. Even when the journey ahead is unclear and seems to be full of trouble, in faith you are able
to trust God as your loving heavenly Father; he made you and he knows you personally and intimately. He knows what you are going through at any time.
Faith leads you to believe that God really loves you as shown in his Son, Jesus, and that this love is as strong for you as ever;
Faith enables you to be confident that even in the most confusing and troubling times and things don’t make any sense, you are held in the hand of God who loves you so deeply.
The Bible never belittles human disappointment or the agony and trouble that we have in this life but it does add one key word – temporary. What we feel now, we will not always feel. Trusting God we are given the ability and strength to rise above the troubles and anxieties and leave all our worries in the hands of our Saviour.
In Jesus, we see the perfect example of what it means to have faith. He faithfully carried out his work in an unfair world, opening the path for each of us to have eternal life. When we are weighed down with worry and our sinfulness and we feel like giving up and feel as though he has let go of us, in truth he has his arms firmly wrapped around us. “I am your good shepherd. I know you. I love you. I will not let you go. Together we will walk into the future”.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy