Second Sunday of Christmas (A)
Sunday, January 3, 1999
The Best Gifts
By this time, the presents have been unwrapped and some Christmas toys may already have been broken while others — hardly out of the box, will be put on the shelf never to be seen again. Children begin thinking in late summer about what Santa Claus might bring them. With maturity and the onset of years, we lose our sense of anticipation about the presents under the tree and instead delight in seeing the joy that Christmas brings for different reasons. Presents are nice but the older we get, the more we realize that there are other things that are much more meaningful than a new tie or the latest best-seller or even some new power tool.
I. The Gift of Sonship
There is an age at which children understand that it is impossible for Santa Claus to visit every single home on the face of the planet and distribute toys to boys and girls. They reach an intellectual point where they come to understand that what Santa has supposedly brought them was really brought by their parents. It’s a privilege of being their parents’ child. I have been blessed by a mother who, by her own admission, enjoys going a “little overboard” in buying Christmas presents for her family. Whenever I decided on some “big” item that I really wanted for Christmas, I usually got it, though I still haven’t seen that pony.
While I was born into my my parents’ family, I became a member of God’s family when I placed my faith in Jesus Christ. The eternally pre-existent Light came into the world and I was given the grace to be able to recognize Him and respond to Him. It’s tragic that there are many people who reject the Light. Yet when we accept Jesus the Light as God the Son come in human flesh, we are adopted into God’s family.
My mother, with her imperfect love, likes to shower gifts upon her family. How much more then does a perfect Heavenly Father delight in showering His children with blessings that will result in His glory and our good?
II. The Gift of Grace
There is a definite process we had to go through in becoming the children of God. Parents who want to adopt a child have to go through rigourous examination by social workers and those who manage adoptions. In order for us to see and to know this God to Whom we are called to respond, He had to reveal Himself to us. He could have chosen a thousand different ways to reveal Himself — impress Himself upon our conscience, write His name in the stars, impart visions to prophetic oracles who would then tell us about Him. None of these would be adequate.
Instead, He chose to “pitch His tent” among us and live in human flesh as we do so that we might see Him and that He might identify with us. It was a manifestation of His grace that He would choose to allow us to see Him in that way.
III. The Gift of Revelation
John the Baptizer recognized that Jesus was the One to Whom all loyalty and worship would be due. John was temporal, Jesus was eternal. Jesus did not come merely to impart a new religion. He came to show us the grace and truth of God. It is from the fullness of the grace that God gives us one gift after another. None of us has any right to claim anything from God in and of ourselves. God graciously chooses to give us blessings — pri-marily the gift of a relationship with Himself. This relationship is possible because God, through Jesus Christ, has chosen to give us knowledge of God.
I don’t remember all of the gifts that I received for Christmas through the years. Sweaters and shirts have been outgrown. Christmas ties became stained and out of fashion. Toys and gadgets either wore out or lost their attraction. There’s one gift I’ve receive though that captures my imagination more and more every day. That is the gift of a relationship with God through the Word made Flesh. (Mark A. Johnson)
Baptism of the Lord (A)
Sunday, January 10, 1999
A Gospel for All
The Promise Keepers organization has nurtured a phenomenal movement. At the time of the first stadium rally, Bill McCartney hoped that once, maybe just once, they could fill the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field with 50,000 men for a time of worship and focus on what it means to be a godly man. Phenomenally, those expectations have been surpassed many times over. Promise Keepers is a movement that God is blessing for many reasons. One exciting and hopeful element in the Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper is the emphasis on racial reconciliation. Promise six says, “A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.” At the Stand in the Gap event in October 1997, each man was encouraged to come with a man of a different race.
It is interesting, if not tragic, that this is somehow seen as something new and trendy. God has been trying for a long time to persuade us that the power of the gospel can transcend any barrier.
Peter would appear to be an unlikely “poster boy” for racial reconciliation. He was not one who was disposed of his own accord to reach out to anyone who wasn’t Jewish. Yet, he had a vision and argued with God about what should be called clean and unclean and how he ought to relate to what is clean and unclean. Only grudgingly did he allow himself to be drug to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile — something he had never done before.
By the time he arrives at the home of Cornelius, he’s had time to process the vision he has seen and the visit by Cornelius’ men. Never has there been a group of people more prepared to receive the gospel message. Peter preaches essentially the same message to the household of Cornelius as he would preach to a Jewish audience, yet with a few significant alterations. He refers to Jesus Christ as Lord of all. This Jesus whom Peter loved so much is available to all who will call on His name. Surely Peter understood this when Jesus said, “You will be My witnesses in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Peter heard the words that day but it took some time for them to register.
If the gospel is to be taken to the ends of the earth, it must be because Jesus Christ is Lord of All. This man, Jesus, went about throughout all the region of the Galilee and He was able to bring healing of all kinds because God was with Him.
Peter explained the basic facts of the gospel. He was an eyewitness of the many miraculous and powerful things that Jesus did. He also was there when the authorities — both Roman and Jewish — nailed Him to a tree. Because He was raised from the dead, He was vindicated as God’s Messiah.
During the time after the resurrection, he appeared to many witnesses whom God had chosen. It must have been a revelation, though, for Peter to say, everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness through His name.
If we were to vote on the proposition, “The gospel is for everyone,” it would pass overwhelmingly. There would be little or no intellectual disagreement with that statement. I wonder though about our practices. Do our practices indicate that we believe the gospel is for everyone? Do our actions or our lack of intentionality in reaching out to any certain group of people — racial, ethnic, or walk of life — indicate that we don’t believe the gospel is for them? (Mark A. Johnson)
Second Sunday Of Epiphany (A)
Sunday, January 17, 1999
A Witness to the Lamb
Of the four Gospels, John presents what we call the “highest Christology.” From the outset, the Gospel of John presents Jesus as “… the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (v. 1). No mention is made of Mary and Joseph. No shepherds came from the hills to behold the baby Jesus, and no wise men came from afar to worship Him with gifts. While John recognizes the humanity of Jesus, this Gospel writer wants us to understand very clearly, “Jesus is the Logos” (Word), and this Word is God.
Yet, there is a problem with certain people’s recognizing this. We can understand the enemies of Jesus not seeing. The revelation of God seemed to make them more entrenched in the old traditions and more averse to Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. What is more complex is trying to understand why some of those who would be disposed to follow Jesus did not respond immediately to this revelation of God.
Take some of the disciples of John the Baptist. Throughout the Gospels, this John makes clear that he is the forerunner pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God. In spite of eccentricities, John the Baptist seems to be a charismatic, captivating figure. As sometimes happens, some folks become drawn to the messenger rather than the message. “Isn’t John wonderful,” you can almost hear people say. “I know he dresses funny and eats a strange diet, but he’s so courageous and self-assured.” Without intending, John the Baptist had developed his own congregation.
This problem needed to be faced. Jesus was God. People were to follow Jesus not John the Baptist. So immediately after the prologue, the Gospel of John addresses this problem. Verses 29-42 deal with who Jesus is and through the figure of John, who we are in relation to Jesus.
In verses 29-34, John the Baptist makes dear his confession of faith. Alluding to the baptism of Jesus, John says he saw the Spirit of God descending from Heaven. Twice John points out that this Spirit “remained” on Jesus. Jesus was different from other charismatic figures. The Spirit did not make occasional appearances in the life of Jesus. The Spirit and the Son were inextricably intertwined. Picking up one of the emphases of John’s Gospel, Jesus was “abiding” in the Spirit, and the Spirit was “abiding” in Jesus. This was a strong argument for the uniqueness of Jesus. Through the revelatory event of the baptism, God had confirmed that this Jesus “… was with God and was God.” John the Baptist expresses his own deep conviction in verse 34, “And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Vss. 35-42 continue the theme by focusing on how two of John’s followers became disciples of Jesus. John the Baptist sees Jesus walk by and exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God. “With those words, these two men leave John to follow Jesus. The conversation between the two and Jesus seems a little strange. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks them. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” me disciples respond. In other words, these two men answer the question of Jesus with their own question. “Where am I staying?” Jesus then says, “Come and see.” All we know is that after that, they spent all day with Jesus. We finally learn the two men are Andrew and Simon Peter.
What happened that day to bring them to follow Jesus is not the most important thing. What is important is they followed, and like John, they became witnesses. Andrew’s testimony to his brother is the key, “We have found the Messiah” (v 41).
People have different ways in which they have found “the Way.” The particulars of each of our stories are different. What is important is we discover the only One who can give meaning to our stones. To that “Lamb of God,” we then spend our lives as a witness. (Charles B. Bugg)
Third Sunday of Epiphany (A)
Sunday, January 24, 1999
Traveling Without a Map
Several years ago a Unitarian minister in Michigan set a record for the longest sermon ever preached. He moved through the entire Bible saying a little bit about a lot of things. The sermon lasted 22 hours. Several of his parishioners braved the whole thing. One account of the story said that when he was finished, one brave soul shouted, “So what’s the point of the sermon!”
With Jesus’ preaching, nobody ever had to ask that question. In one crisp statement Jesus summarizes the thrust of his proclamation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” When we look at these words it is important to notice several things:
I. First, to whom is the message addressed?
In a word, Jesus’ message is for everyone. Matthew uses the device of quoting Hebrew Scripture to reinforce his position: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” The good news of Jesus was not just for Israel. We are talking about the enveloping love of God for all humanity. To whom is Jesus speaking? You, me and everyone.
II. What is the message?
In v. 17, Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” The Greek verb “has come near” is in the perfect tense and may be translated “is here.” Matthew wants his readers to know Jesus’ message was here and was life-changing. In a way different from any other way before God had sliced into the middle of history, and something radically big was happening. The Gospel is not about smoothing out a few rough edges in our lives and making us nicer people. This Gospel calls us to be new people.
That is why Jesus uses the word “repent” to describe the way we should respond. Repent is a whole new orientation to life, a whole different way of viewing life. Jesus becomes our focus. The kingdom becomes our passion. Nothing is ever the same again. Past, present and future are forever altered because God is changing us in the most profound ways.
III. How does the message of Jesus change those who hear it?
In vss. 18-23 we have acted out what it means to repent and live as people of the kingdom. Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee. He sees two brothers. Simon and Andrew are fishing. Up to this part the scene is ordinary. However, Jesus transforms it quickly “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” Jesus doesn’t explain His call. In fact, according to Matthew, these two simple fishermen are given no map for the journey.
Yet, Simon and Andrew respond not reluctantly or hesitantly, but “immediately they left their nets and followed Him” (v. 20). The word “immediately” is repeated in v. 22, and the sacrifice of these two disciples is accentuated, “Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.”
During this season of Epiphany, the Gospel of Matthew wants us to understand there is a costly response to the revelation of God. Some people want to see God, but Matthew says, “Think about it for a moment.” We are talking about our lives being forever different. We are called to follow the One who gives no maps for the journey and who says our primary calling now is “fishing for people.” This is discipleship that costs. But let’s understand, Matthew is saying this is the only kind of discipleship. (Charles B. Bugg)
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany (A)
January 31, 1999
What Does God Require?
What does God expect from us? In answering this question, it’s easy to slip over into legalism, on the one hand, and into libertinism, on the other. Legalism is the idea that there are some standards we have to meet in order to convince God to love us. Libertinism is the view that, since God’s grace is free, we have no responsibilities at all. What does God expect of us?
Legalism says, “No matter how much you try to do, it won’t be enough.” Libertinism says, “Nothing at all.” Neither of those answers is biblical. We are free, not to do as we please, but to do the will of God. Christianity is the way of responsible freedom, and grace makes responsibility possible. Grace makes us “response-able,” empowering us to live in glad obedience and joyful surrender to God.
So, it is not a retreat to legalism to ask the question, “What does God expect from us?” The question, of course, is suggested by Micah 6:1-8.
The text reads like a court transcript. God filed suit against the people of Judah, because they had not been faithful to their covenant with God.
The earth itself was summoned to jury duty: “Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.” The earth had been witness to the long history of God’s relationship with Israel; the mountains and hills had seen enough to render a fair verdict.
God’s charge against the people was lodged in the form of a question: “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” God indicted the people for growing tired of faithfulness. The weak and the poor wondered what good faithfulness was doing them. The strong and rich chafed against the limits which faithfulness placed on their power and greed. The people were tired of God and God’s demands.
God was wounded by their deepening faithlessness. How could they turn their backs on a God who had done so much for them? How could they forget? “I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
The people could not avoid the verdict. They had grown forgetful of God, and the results were seen, as Micah described in the rest of his book, in oppression, greed, and corruption. The institutions of government and religion were for sale to the highest bidder. Public officials were bought off with bribes, and religious leaders said whatever the rich hired them to say.
Though the people knew they were guilty, their first response was a cynical attempt to bribe God, just as they were in the habit of bribing public officials. “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Burnt offerings of year old calves or of thousands of rams? Rivers of oil? Even a firstborn son?” None of these bribes, masquerading as sacrifices, was what God required. Micah knew that they would be a sham. Instead, he said:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Here is what God required: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Those words are likewise a good summary of what God expects from us. (Guy G. Sayles)
Fifth Sunday of the Epiphany (A)
Sunday, February 7, 1999
A Community of the Epiphany
Epiphany is the season of manifestation and mission; we reflect during this season on the ways Christ is made known to the world. The church is a community of the epiphany: through our life together, Jesus is revealed.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers two metaphors for the church on mission — two ways the church can manifest his presence. The church is the “the salt of the earth” and “a city set on a hill.” As “salt of the earth,” the church is on mission by way of involvement. Salt only does its job when it is mixed in with other ingredients. The salt metaphor speaks of our “being with.” To use the terms of H. Richard Niebhur’s Christ and Culture, the salt metaphor points toward “Christ in Culture” or “Christ Transforming Culture.”
This is the way of Mother Theresa, who lived among the poor, offering her presence and her love. This is the way of the business person who lives-out his or faith with integrity in the workplace. It is the way of any Christian who is “in the world” without losing his or her distinctive identity as a follower of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ time, salt worked as a preservative, and the church is a preserving presence in the world. It serves to prevent the decay and deterioration of culture by sharing the healing, redemptive, and restorative gospel of Jesus Christ.
As “a city set on a hill,” the church manifests the presence and power of Jesus Christ by serving as an alternative community. It provides a contrast to the cities in the valley. It is city of light that shines in the darkness, shining with the brightness of another way. Again, to use Niebuhr’s terms, the church as a “city on a hill” presents “Christ Above Culture” or even “Christ against culture.”
This is the way of the desert monastics, the earliest fathers and mothers of the church, who withdrew from the cities of the Roman empire to the wilderness of Egypt in order to keep the faith pure and vital. It is the way of Clarence Jordan, who, in 1942, started Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA; this integrated and communal farm showed the racist south that blacks and whites could live and work together in Christian peace. It is the way of any Christian community which feels called to withdraw from the world for the sake of the world.
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, in Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, p. 83) have said: “The most creative social strategy we have to offer is the church. Here we show the world a manner of life the world can never achieve through social coercion or governmental action. We serve the world by showing it something that is not, namely a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.” We serve the world, by showing it what the “city of God” looks like, in contrast to the cities of human making.
By the way we live in the world and by the ways we live which set us apart from the world, the church is an epiphany, a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Guy G. Sayles)
Transfiguration Sunday (A)
Sunday, February 14, 1998
The Incomparable Christ
I occasionally had nightmares when I was little. Scary things. Left me trembling and screaming until my mother would run into my bedroom to assure me that everything was alright. Sometimes it took awhile to convince me. After all, some nightmares are scarier and more realistic than others. Nightmares are not created equal. I still remember one that I found particularly terrifying. There wasn’t much to it but it was so vivid that the experience still leaves its imprint in my memory.
In the quiet dark of a summer’s night, I rolled over in my bed and there standing in the doorway was a human-like figure four or five feet tall. It had no features. From head to toe it was opaque. It was as though it was made of glass filled with smoke slowly curling and twisting. And this creature glowed as it stood there a few feet from me. With all the courage of a macho six year old boy, I screamed at the top of my lungs for my mother to save me.
I remembered that nightmare and began to reflect on the incident described in our scripture text. Imagine, Jesus and two other men glowing in the dark in front of the amazed apostles Peter, James, and John. I can’t think of the experience being anything less than frightening. A lot of unusual things took place during Jesus’ ministry on earth. But still this incident is among the strangest. What did the apostles make of this odd and awesome event? What are we to make of it?
Jesus was full of surprises. Not only did He work wonders, He claimed to have power to forgive sins, something that is the exclusive prerogative of God. Without batting an eye, Jesus told a number of men and women that their accounts were settled, the slate was wiped clean, they were absolved of guilt. And when others heard of this they would ask, “Who is this man who can do such a thing?”
The question of Jesus’ identity was not always voiced by admirers. Some people were scandalized by Jesus’ behavior and in their mouths the question was, “Who does this guy think He is? By what right does He offend us?” Speculation abounded. Some detractors said Jesus was a blasphemer, or worse. Others thought of Him as a great prophet. Six days before the event described in our scripture text Jesus asked the apostle Peter who he thought our Lord was. Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus commended Peter for His answer.
But then He did something Peter never expected: He began to teach the apostles about His impending suffering, death and resurrection. This appalled Peter. Rejection, execution, these matters did not fit into His scheme of things. When Jesus insisted that His own destiny was inseparable from suffering, a monkey wrench of sorts was thrown into Peter’s confident answer about Jesus’ identity. Maybe He’s not the Son of God after all.
Six days after Peter confessed His faith in Jesus as the Christ, the strange event took place high on the mountain. As the scripture puts it, “Jesus was transfigured … and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light. And, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. This brilliant vision declared the presence of God with Jesus. The fact that the great lawgiver Moses and the mightiest of the prophets Elijah appeared, served to show that Jesus’ work was in harmony with the law and the prophets. Jesus was the culmination, not as His enemies contended, a contradiction to those people of God who went before Him.
That’s not all that happened. A bright cloud appeared and a voice spoke, the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.” Words of assurance to bolster the faltering faith of those following Jesus who struggled with the idea of a suffering Son of God. Words of truth for those who were perplexed by the confusing voices which came front all around them in the world, each claiming to be right. When the apostles heard this, they were overcome by holy dread; they fell to the ground and hid their faces. And when they finally looked up, Jesus alone stood before them.
In this spectacular event, God answered the question, “Who is this man?” The answer is that He is beyond comparison. There is none like Him. He alone is the final and ultimate embodiment of the truth of God, worthy of our utter, unqualified devotion. He is God’s beloved Son. “Listen to Him.” Amen. (Craig M. Watts)
Lent 1 (A)
Sunday, February 21, 1999
God’s Word and Temptation
I can offer you an anti-crime program that will be 100% effective if it is implemented. The abolition of crime could take place without spending a dollar more on for more police or bigger jails. The problem of crime can be dealt with by means of a fairly simple solution. Rescind all laws. Where there are no laws there can be no crimes. Law is crime’s prerequisite.
Likewise without a divine commandment there can be no sin. Sin can exist only if God restricts or directs God’s subjects. But as soon as God says “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not” the stage is set for sin. Of course, sin does not necessarily follow from a divine commandment. Obedience is as possible as disobedience. Between obedience and disobedience is temptation.
Every relationship has its expectations, its limits, its rules. This is true of husband and wife, student and teacher, employer and employee or friend and friend. When the expectations’ limits or rules are violated, it is not a matter of legal infraction so much as an offense against the relationship itself. The very structure of the relationships makes it possible for it to go right or wrong. Paul Tillich once wrote, “Possibility is itself temptation.” In fact, it is only forbidden possibility that opens the door for temptation. It was not the possibility of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that created the occasion for temptation. Rather it was the fact at God had spoken, forbidding the eating of the fruit of that one tree.
If all acts are equal there is no opportunity to live faithfully or sinfully. The threat of rebellion is abolished with the absence of all law. But so is the joy of fidelity. There would be no way to distinguish our desires from God’s will without a guiding word from God. In issuing a command God allows us to see what is good for us. At the same time God allows us to reject that good. That is the nature of temptation.
The fruit was the object of temptation for Adam and Eve. There are things “out there” in the world that help trigger the desires but the seat of temptation is within. My longings for pleasure, my fear of suffering, my desire for power, myself at the center. Without that nothing outside has the least bit of power to entice us.
The fruit of the tree and the divine Word forbidding the eating of the fruit left the first couple fantasizing about the secret pleasures the fruit contained. They could look upon the fruit and fondle the thought, “What if?” “What if?” Martin Buber remarked that the human heart “designs images of the possible, which could be made into the real.” Temptation calls us down the road toward the wrong reality, a false reality full of promise but empty of lasting satisfaction.
There is a Hasidic Tale that describes temptation as being like a man who raves about the world always teasingly holding out a closed hand. He captures the imagination of people by seductively asking, “What do you suppose I have in my hand?” And every person thinks that the closed hand contains the one thing that he or she most wants. And so everyone runs after temptation. But when he finally opens his hand, it is empty. Unfortunately we deceive ourselves into believing it is God who has the empty hands and so we must seek our satisfaction elsewhere.
In times of temptation there is no way to win without reasserting our trust in God’s Word, though that Word opened the door to temptation, faithfully cling to that Word can keep us from going through the door that leads to our destruction. When Jesus faced the tempter in the wilderness, his greatest defense came in recalling God’s Word. Temptation reveals our own weakness and our need for God’s strength. And for us, God’s strength is found in God’s Word. (Craig M. Watts)
Lent 2 (A)
Sunday, February 28, 1999
To Be a Blessing
In the list of significant scriptures, nearly everyone can quote John 3:16 (God so loved the world …), Romans 8:28 (All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose), and Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd …). Those are scriptures that bring hope, comfort and an understanding of the gospel in a nutshell. Is there a scripture that is foundational to all of these others though? I would submit that we are looking at it in this passage about the call of Abram. I could well be said that the rest of the Bible is the playing out of this promise that God made to Abram and the obedient faithful response of Abram and his seed.
I. A Call to Follow
Abram lived the life of a nomad. There have been some attempts to say that there was nothing extraordinary in Abram leaving one place to go and live in another. That belies the fact that Abram did what he did in response to a call from God. God thought so much of Abram’s lifestyle of obedience which began with this initial call that He called Abram, “my friend.” He is also called “the father of the faithful.” He was called to leave everything familiar and go to a land that God would show him.
That may be okay for someone who is a “young buck,” full of energy and dreams for the future. Abram was a 75 year old man, though. At an age when most settle down, Abram was beginning a new, unprecedented venture.
It would be interesting to know how Abram had sensed God’s direction that it was time for him to leave Ur of the Chaldees to move up the fertile crescent to Haran. Then how he knew God was calling to leave his family and his familiar surroundings to go to some mysterious unknown destination. It’s fun to speculate about how that call may have come but it is sufficient to say, Abram knew and trusted God’s voice and followed Him. The motto of his life became “Tent and Altar.”
II. A Call to Be Blessed
God’s first purpose for Abram was to bless him. It’s interesting the shape that blessing takes sometimes. There were promises to him and to his descendants. As we trace out the rest of Abram’s life, we notice that the majority of the promises were confirmed to his descendants. What he may have lacked in his lifetime was more than made up for in the lives of his descendants.
God said, “Abram, I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.” Further, He says, “Whoever blesses you, I will bless.” God’s blessing usually is seen in human prosperity and well-being — not to be confused with a “health, wealth gospel.” Long life, wealth, peace, good harvests, and children are items that figure most frequently in lists of blessing. Is there any higher blessing though than the presence of God walking with His people? There was a price to be paid, though. Abram would have to leave all that was familiar and trust God to give him the unknown land. He would have to live off of the promises of God.
III. A Call to be a Blessing
Abram was to be a blessing. In today’s term we may think of that as sharing our prosperity with those less fortunate. Indeed, that is a noble cause. Abram’s primary blessing would be a legacy of faith. Because of his trust, he was the integral figure in God’s plan. Out of the chaos of sin and rebellion that characterized the first 11 chapters of Genesis, God found a man in a place called Ur who would follow Him. Because of that, he became known as the “father of the faithful” and the “friend of God.” His obedient example has been a source of blessing to all who have followed after him.
Abram never received the things that were promised. He only welcomed them from a distance. The epitaph of his life reads though, “God is not ashamed to be called his God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Mark A. Johnson)
Sermon Briefs for this issue have been prepared by Mark A. Johnson, Managing Editor, Preaching, Jackson, TN; Guy Sayles, Pastor, Kirkwood Baptist Church, Kirkwood, MO; Charles B. Bugg, Professor of Preaching, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Richmond, VA; Craig M. Watts, Pastor, First Christian Church, Louisville, KY.
Second Sunday of Christmas (A)