Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Lent 2 Year C
Bishop Charles Duvall, retired bishop of our neighbors the Central Gulf Coast spoke at clergy conference one year and he said, “Being made in the image of God is being a partner with God in creation. When the angels ask God if the world was done at creation, God replied: “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask my partner.”
“…The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision…” At this point in the Genesis story, God and Abram go way back… we might even say they are partners of long standing. Back in Chapter 12, the Lord came to Abram, and we see God’s first call to Abram to leave his country, kindred and father’s house to go to the land God will show him, and in return, God promises Abram descendants, land, and blessing. So Abram goes.
When he gets to Cana, God appears to Abram and says “this is it—the land I will give your offspring. Abram and co then have a brief (and bizarre) stint in Egypt because of famine, and he and his kinsman Lot part ways. Then God reiterates the promise of land and descendants to Abram, and God tells Abram to walk through the whole length and breadth of the promised land. (Scripture doesn’t tell us the outcome of this, but I think it is safe to assume that Abram follows God’s command…) Then Abram has to go rescue Lot, and we pick up our story for today. Thrice before in the preceding chapters, Abram has encountered God. God makes God’s initial promise and confirms Abram has found the promised land when he does what God asks of him; God reaffirms the promise made to Abram, and then our reading picks up for today.
But today’s piece of the story is different. First, it is not just the speaking of God to Abram like the instances before. Today’s reading says, “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.” (It’s a line laced with the Mysterious and not nearly as straightforward as God appearing and/or speaking). And for the first time in Genesis’s story of Abram and God’s ongoing partnership, Abram balks. We actually hear his responses to God when God reiterates the promise of Abram’s reward: Abram says, “Yeah…, about that…..I’ve done what you asked, but still I continue childless. I’m gonna need some proof that your promises are good.” God says, “Ok,” takes him outside and shows him the stars in the heavens, and reiterates the initial promise in more poetic terms: “so shall your descendants be.” And scripture says that “[Abram] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” In believing God’s promise, Abram is true to his obligations and commitments to God (that’s what it means to be righteous).
Then God reminds Abram of their existing relationship, and Abram asks God about God’s promise of land—“how am it to know I shall possess it?”. God instructs Abram to act, and they cut a covenant by which only God is bound (not the usual terms of being in partnership…) And finally Abram seems satisfied that God’s promises can be trusted.
Who knows what makes Abram question God at this point, after all this time? Who knows why he chooses to believe yet another promise of God when asked to number the stars? Did you notice that God still doesn’t offer him the hard, cold proof that he’s asking for? Maybe it was irresistible, being in the presence of God, participating in the vision of God, being invited by God to trust God’s promises and enter into a covenant based on their existing relationship. Maybe there was something especially mysterious and life changing in that deep and dazzling darkness that left Abram with all his doubts resolved, all his questions answered?
Episcopal priest (now actually a bishop) Porter Taylor writes about this incident in the life of our faith story in his book of sermons titled To Dream as God Dreams. Taylor explains Abram’s resolution and writes, “[Abram] believed in the Lord, not in some carefully laid out strategy. [Abram] fell in love with God; [Abram] wanted to align his life with God’s activity in the world.”
Abram experienced the reality of a God who continued to draw near to him, a God who continued to pursue him, to woo him, a God who longed to be in relationship with him. Abram experienced the reality of Jesus’ words about God and God’s deep longing to be a mother to us, even when we are most headstrong and wayward.
Taylor continues, “Like you and me, [Abram] lived in a time when the world seemed to say ‘no’ to all he desired: no kids-no lands-no dreams, and God came and said what God always says, ‘In a time of No I am asking you to say Yes…Faith is saying yes in a world of no.”
Today we gather as one congregation to hear our Vestry’s vision for the ministry of St. Peter’s in the next 3 to 5 years. The Vestry has worked together over the course of many hours with our facilitator, Aletha Burge, to articulate the strengths of St. Peter’s, to give voice to our vision for the church, and to shape a budget that would reflect that vision.
I cannot speak for the members of the vestry, but I know that in that process, I have felt the Word of God drawing near to us again and again. Our work has been done in a spirit of enthusiasm, a spirit of creativity, and a spirit of hope that I believe are evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe that each vestry person has been deeply aware of the sacred trust that you have placed in them by electing them to that position of leadership in this church, and all of our work has been done in a spirit of gratitude for the importance of the people and ministries of St. Peter’s in each of our faith journeys.
Our world today is not so different from Abram’s world. All around us people are talking about budget cutbacks, layoffs, challenging economic times. It would seem that the world around us is saying No. Even in the face of what might seem to be an unsurmountable “No” St. Peter’s not only survives but we are thriving! And we believe that is because God has given us so many gifts and has invited us to be God's partners, to participate in the vision of God for St. Peter’s, a vision that compels us to share the spirit of generosity and the sense of warmth and welcome that are the essence of this faith community. We as a Vestry are taking a step forward in faith and saying yes to God in a world of no. And we ask you to say yes too. Search your hearts. Remember the creative partnership to which God has called each of us in our baptism. There is much work still to be done. Dream big dreams with us, and join us in saying yes to God in a world of no.