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A Growing Promise
As you can see by the banner, we're in a growing place this Lenten season--the time of spring, the time of new life, the time when flowers, grass, trees, and vegetables start to grow. Growth is a sign of vitality, vigor and strength. A growing place is a far more preferable place to be than a dying, stagnant place. Our church is a growing place. We see signs of growth around us, growth in our church and in the lives of people. I rejoice to see growth! Growth is inspiring. Praise God for a growing place. Praise God this morning for a Growing Promise. We gather together and celebrate God's promises. We stand on the promises. We build our lives on the promises.
God makes promises. God entered into covenant with his people, and God made certain promises as God's part of the covenant. The promise grows as we begin to realize the significance, extent and depth of God's promise, and begin to see and experience signs of the promise being fulfilled.
The promise began with Abraham. Paul, in the Epistle Lesson read this morning from Romans 4:16-25, discusses the promise God made to Abraham, and explains why Christians can claim the promise. If you'd like to follow along, I'm working with the passage on p. 145 in the back section of the pew Bible, beginning with 4:16.
God's promise to Abraham, who lived some 1,800 years before Christ, was made to Abraham out of grace--the unreserved, unlimited, expansive love of God. The promise was made by God, not because Abraham earned it or deserved it, but because of God's grace. The promise was made by the God in whom Abraham believed, the God who gives life to the dead, the God who calls into existence the things that do not exist, the God who calls life into being.
The promise made to Abraham is guaranteed to all his descendants, and Abraham's descendants include not only those who claim Abraham as a biological ancestor, not only those who keep the law, not only the Jewish people who call Abraham their father, but the promise is also guaranteed to those who share the faith of Abraham. Therefore, you and I--who also believe in Abraham's God, the very same God who raised Jesus from the dead; the Jesus, Paul says, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification--are indeed the descendants of Abraham and, thereby, share in the promise.
Paul, in this passage, emphasized how important, how crucial, was Abraham's faith in receiving the promise. God made the promise. Abraham received it, cherished it, and lived in the promise, lived in the constant hope of the fulfillment of the promise.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, a great people. Abraham believed the promise and lived in the faith that indeed his descendants would be a great nation. Paul points out that Abraham's faith did not weaken in spite of his old body. Abraham might have been over 100 years old, and hadn't yet had children! But he believed. Evidence that he would be the father of a great nation to the contrary, he believed God's promise.
Paul goes on. Abraham's faith did not weaken even though Sarah had a barren womb. She too was old. She had never had a child. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would give birth to a great nation. Evidence to the contrary, yet they believed, and Isaac was born to them. Paul says Abraham grew strong in faith. "No distrust made him waver." When you doubt yourself, when you doubt God's promise, remember Abraham. "No distrust made him waver." Instead he "gave glory to God," convinced God was able to do what he promised. When you flounder, when you vacillate, when you waver, when you doubt, praise God, give glory to God in the faith God indeed keeps promises!
Therefore, Paul concludes, Abraham's faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness." Righteousness in the Bible means "right relationship." Abraham was brought into right relationship with God, with the God who calls into existence the things that do not exist, the God who gives life, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Abraham was brought into right relationship with God because God made a promise, and Abraham believed the promise. Abraham based his life on the promise.
Now, what is the promise God made to Abraham and his descendants? What is the promise upon which you can base your life, the promise that might orient, order, direct, and inspire your life? Wouldn't you like to live your life in right relationship with God, with a sense of direction and support, with the certainty that you are indeed Abraham's descendant, the recipient of God's promise? What is the promise?
We need to back up a few verses. Go back a few verses in chapter 4 to v. 13, and there we read that God made the promise to Abraham and his descendants (and descendants includes you) that "they should inherit the world."
WOW! Inherit the world! What a legacy! You daydream about winning the lottery, and roll in the millions? You'd like to go to Tahoe and pull the handle at the right time and swim in coins? You fantasize about how some distant relative you don't even know you have, names you in the will? Hey, you're inheriting the world! What more do you want? Today the promise is growing, as we finally begin to realize the extent, the significance, and the depth of the promise; and today we are seeing signs of the promise being fulfilled.
But, yet, we don't quite know how to appropriate God's gift. We don't quite know how to receive the promise, because of sin. The biblical word "sin" essentially means to be separated, separated from God, separated from one another, separated from ourselves, and separated from the world. Matthew Fox says our western culture is morally and spiritually bankrupt because we've cut ourselves off from the world, from the cosmos, from our roots, from God.
As a culture we have favored the left side of the brain over the right, and are cutting ourselves off, separating ourselves, from the child within us. The famous J. Robert Oppenheimer once said, "There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago." Jesus took a child to teach adults about religion, about God. As you rediscover the child in you--the playful, curious, vulnerable child in you--you will reclaim the promise and get in touch with God and the world.
We've lost touch with other people, separated from others. A lecturer from Australia toured Africa. On one stop his speech was translated in the Swahili language. He made the statement, "The #1 spiritual problem in Sydney is loneliness." The translator paused and asked him to repeat. He did. The translator asked him to explain what he meant. Finally the translator consulted with two or three others, and concluded that the word "loneliness" could not be translated into Swahili. They had no such word, and no such experience! Some people whom we like to call primitive have not been separated or cut off from either the world nor one another.
Speaking of Australia, which is celebrating its bicentennial this year, the natives of Australia, the Aborigines, have lived in Australia 40,000 years in communication, dialog, in a love relationship, with the land. When the whites arrived in Australia 200 years ago, they found a land rich in minerals, plant life, and animal life like no other continent; a land of beauty, mystery, and wonder. When the whites are through with the land, what will they leave? Lest we get too self-righteous, the first Americans, the native Americans, have probably lived here some 60,000 years. What have we done with the land and its resources which we so arrogantly took? In what condition will we leave the land for our descendants?
We've been cut off from ourselves--from the child within us. We've been cut off from other people. We've been cut off from the land, Mother Earth. And we've been cut off from God, separated from the spiritual energy by which all things were called into existence. Wondrous and marvelous things are happening today with the growing promise, as we realize the extent and depth of our spiritual natures. We are again beginning to tap, to unleash the divine energy, appropriating divine energy by drawing on the spiritual river that runs beneath cultures, civilizations, and religions. We call the river the Word, Wisdom, the Christ, Spirit. Picture a river running underground, and through prayer, through worship and meditation, we plummet the wells to tap the mighty river of God's Holy Spirit, God's divine energy.
I had such an experience last weekend. Several of us participated in the Walk to Emmaus. Pat Yowell, Suzanne Williams, and Eleanor Norris went on a Women's Walk in Fresno, and I went on a Men's Walk in Wilmington, Ohio. The Walk to Emmaus is a weekend experience--a spiritual walk--that proved to be the most moving, powerful spiritual experience I've had in years. With 55 other men, I wept tears of joy; I laughed, I shared and I prayed. Much of the time, like my Grandpa used to say, the prayers don't seem to leave the room. But last weekend my prayers tapped the well, and I drank deeply from the river of God's Spirit. Another spiritual experience I had was the trip to the Holy Land and Egypt last spring. Several from our church are leaving this week on a similar excursion. Let us pray for their safety and spiritual renewal as they explore the roots of our faith and our civilization.
Yes, we've been separated, cut off from God and his creation, but the promise is there. God's people will inherit the world. But, for what purpose? To enjoy? Yes, there is great joy when you are in touch with the cosmos, the world, with divine energy. There is a sense of peace, a sense of connectedness. Besides enjoying your inheritance, there is one other response. In the first chapter of Genesis, the creation story tells us God gave us the world and put it in our care, gave us dominion over the creation, to take care of it, to be stewards of the world. In Genesis 12:2, God made the covenant with Abraham and promised that God will "make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing." That's the full promise. Get in touch with God. Get in touch with God's magnificent creation. Tap the resources, the divine energy. Why? So you can be a blessing to people around you, so you can touch others; so you can be a blessing to the world. Volunteer and support those causes which promote world peace, justice, the environment. We are called not necessarily to feel good, but to do good.
God makes promises. You and I, as descendants of Abraham in faith, share in the promise to inherit the world. May you enjoy the promise, drinking deeply from the river of divine energy that flows beneath us, and may that divine energy which we call the Holy Spirit, inspire you and sustain you as you seek to be a blessing, a blessing to the world and the people who live in it.
ã 1988 Douglas I. Norris