When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, God said to him I am the God of your father, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Exodus 3.6. When Jesus was arguing with some people who didn’t believe in the resurrection, he quoted this verse to them, and said God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
This term I want us to meet these Patriarchs, they are not perfect people, but they are our ancestors in faith. Ad I believe they have a great deal to teach us even today. I also want you to talk about them with our kids and your youth.
I want to start with Abraham today. Jews, Christians and Muslims all look to Abraham as our father in faith, we have different stories, but we all believe that this common ancestor had a powerful encounter with the living God, and in today’s world we need stories to help us build bridges.
We live in a world of instant, Instant news, Instagram, Instant meals; Check the news on your phone, quicker transport, bullet points. But I believe God wants to say to us today Good things take time. Good marriages take time, good friends take commitment, good families take investment, good ministries require gestation. And what God started with Abraham took time. In fact it took a lot of time,
As we begin to meet Abraham, I want to pose you a thought. It’s very different to our surrounding culture. “What if the most significant thing God wants to do with you, won’t happen until you are 90 years old? We’ve got a couple of 90 years olds. George what if the most significant thing God is going to do through you hasn’t happened yet. What if your 90 years has all been preparation? Kath the same for you, consider perhaps in the next year God has something for you to do that your whole life has been preparation for? It’s a sobering though for those of us who are younger and go getters, perhaps we’ve got good things to do now, but actually the great task lies a long way out in the future, and what God is asking of us is a long faithfulness? Those of you who are 60 or 70, perhaps God hasn’t finished with you yet? Winston Churchill was 66 when he first became Prime Minister.
In our time we worship the young and put a huge burden on them. The youngest politician, huge burdens on young athletes, PhD by the time you are 25. What if the most powerful thing God wants to do through you hasn’t happened yet? And what if the one of the requirements for him to use you powerfully, is for you to be faithful over a long time, even a very long time? Now I’m not saying the most significant thing in your life, because that’s meeting him, and that might have happened when you were 7 years old. God uses teenagers and children all the time, so I’m not talking about living and loving and ministering with God. I’m just posing the question, what if God has good things for you to do all your life, but he’s got something special to do with you towards the end if you remain faithful?
That’s Abrahams’s story, he sticks with it. He does good things with God, but God has a plan to found a special nation, a people dedicated to God through him and he has years and years of waiting. When he is 100 years old he becomes the father of Isaac and onto the world scene a dynasty is born that changes everything. We can’t all be Abraham, but maybe God has something special for you to do this year. Good things take time.
Abraham starts his journey with his father, somewhere around 4,000 years ago. Terah takes his lad and heads off from Ur, that’s the big city – the cosmopolitan oasis and heads out into the wildlands. Genesis 11.31 Terah takes the family and head out towards Canaan, the promised land but stops at Harran. Harran meaning Main road, a city in the north of the fertile Crescent.
God loves us as individuals and God loves us as families, sometimes God has to wait a generation to fulfil a destiny, because we get stuck. My message today is about how God waits, will we wit on God? I was near Whangarei over the summer and I read the story of Norman McLeod and a group of Scottish settler families. They left the highlands of Scotland in 1817 after the highland clearances, and they sailed away to find a new place to live. They thought they had found it in Nova Scotia in Canada (New Scotland) and they made homes for themselves there. But here’s the bit that amazed me after 40 years they decided this wasn’t the right place,a nd they moved on again. It hadn’t quite worked out. Imagine the investment in the land, the personal connections. Imagine being a leader that says – time to move on? But they moved on, they built ships and they sailed and they finished up at Waipu, where they stayed.
When you read about the Patriarchs, O Matou Matua – our fathers, you don’t hear about the story of Terah, because he got stuck. You hear about Abram, because he responded when God told him to keep going Genesis 12.1 leave your country, your hapu, your father’s household and go. And Abram obeys. The story of Abram starts with his father. Has God spoken a word to your ancestors, do you know? In a sense we are al first generation Christians, but God also works with families; do you know if your parents or grandparents had faith, and did God have a word for them? Do you know if there might be a family calling hiding in the background for you to step into? God is very patient. He is the God of the instant and of the long term. Peter says, With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
Question One, Is there a promise waiting for you in your family story?
In Genesis 12 Abraham hears God’s voice. “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” My friends, Do you put yourself in a place to hear God’s voice. Are you quiet long enough to hear God’s voice. God speaks, the problem is that we often aren’t listening. Even our quiet times can so often be full of our own noise, so full of our own noise that there is no opportunity to hear God speak.
We don’t know how, but somehow Abraham quietened himself down and was listening when God spoke to him, and then he acted. I feel that God is speaking to us church, and that he doesn’t have a new vision for us, but a renewed vision for us, and that vision starts with prayer.
Faith formation, Family focus, Life together, Community engagement and Global mission
As individuals, as families and as a church are we listening? Abraham was listening and when he heard God’s voice he acted. He got the family together and they went. Have you ever got your family together to pray to God about direction? I’m not taking about being manipulative, but seeking God’s direction together? Abraham received the promise that God was going to build a great nation out of him and that all the people of the earth would be blessed through him. You see God likes to bless through people.
I think God speak to us more than we realise, about big things and about little things, but are we listening? So often we are the ones talking and asking and almost demanding, but God doesn’t march to our drum he is waiting for us to listen. Perhaps you are waiting on an answer or a direction, have you laid out your plans before the lord, career, partner, direction – but he isn’t quite ready to give you an answer yet, perhaps he’s unsettled you and got you ready, but the fullness of time is not yet here. Good things take time. Are we waiting on the lord ready to hear what he wants to say to us as individuals, as families, as a community?
Many years later, and after some adventures in Genesis 15 Abraham is still waiting and God gives Abraham a sign, he repeats his promise to Abraham and give him a sign. And in Verse 6 we read why Abraham is a model of faith for us. Here is Abrahams faithfulness. Here is the central idea of the whole bible and the whole of Faith, this is what it is all about. Abraham believed the lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.
So this is the spiritual work that human beings need to do to please God. We don’t have to give money, or make sacrifices, we don’t have to be perfect in our relationships, we don’t have to say all the right prayers. WHAT HE WANTS OF US IS TO TRUST HIM – TO HAVE FAITH IN HIM and that’s a deep trust.
Abraham believed the lord, The construction of this phase is a little unusual, normally it would be the imperfect, meaning an action – but the writer uses the perfect form of the verb aman – which seems to have a sense of repeated action in the past. Abraham kept believing in God.
And what this sentence sums up so beautifully is that God took that trust and he credits it to Abraham and to us as righteousness. Credited or counted – now this verb is often used for sacrifices that counted for something else – where a lamb is sacrificed in place of a guilty person. Righteousness is a legal term, it is applied when someone is found innocent, often it relates to actions – when someone is blameless, God like or God pleasing. But what the verse says is that Abrahams faith was enough – that God was willing to accept his faith in place of blameless behaviour. This is the dilemma we all have, we are not blameless, but God is willing and able to substitute our faith in him, for a actual innocence. As Christians we see that enacted on the cross, but it’s here loud and clear in the Old testament. And then God confirms his promise with a covenant. Moses cuts up representatives of the animals that will alter be used in sacrifice, and rather than build an altar he leaves them on the dessert floor, and it is as if God himself moves between these pieces – authenticating the sacrifice. The Hebrew word for making a covenant, is to cut a covenant – and this action clearly reflects that usage. A fire pot was an earthenware pot that they cooked in with a flare above it – this symbolised God’s presence, and looks forward to the time when God would lead his people with a pillar of fire by night.
God says that when we trust him, deeply trust him, put our future into his hands based on that trust, and keep on trusting him, then he will credit us with a restored relationship. Ultimately he did that through Jesus Christ, living a perfect life and being the final sacrifice, and the apostle Paul tells us that God was able to bypass time and Jesus’s sacrifice was as effective for Abraham as it can be for us. Holding onto faith is worth Gold to God.
Genesis 17 verse 1. When Abraham was 99 years old. This is where we see Abraham had persistence. Faithfulness. Man I might have given up. God comes again and he repeats the promise and changes Abrams name, and give Abraham a sign of the promise. Circumcision, a sign on Abraham’s most private part, promising a reproductive miracle that will be a blessing to all. What Abraham doesn’t know is that the time is getting close. I wonder whether these encounters with God and signs, and timed for when Abraham is just about to give up.
We live in an instant world, but God is a God of process and gestation. A seed needs to germinate and the grow. A baby is conceived and then grows in secret for a long time. In our lives God wants to gestate things that are deep and long lasting.
I heard Mary belski use the analogy of an old film camera recently. Do you remember cameras where you used film, and you would manually set the exposure, that took time, and then you would take a single photo, and then that photo would stay on the reel for some time and then perhaps a month later you would finish the film and then take it to the chemist and drop it off and they would take it into a dark room and put it through a series of chemicals, and then they would print your pictures on small pieces of paper and you would get the packet and go through hoping that one or two had come out well. When God wants to do an important work in us, often he takes his time. He could do things quickly but then we would not be changed
We are so used to instant, but in the days of film, if you wanted a good image, you spent time with a light metre, maybe with a tripod, you would go to a good pharmacy, because you wanted it all to go well. Abraham waits, and I think that God was doing something in Abraham as he waited. God was building a man of great faith. Are you willing to wait to let God make you into a person of great faith?
Turn over to genesis Genesis 18 and the story continues, this is a favourite chapter of Mine but I’ll need to skim over it, 3 angels come to Abraham and tell him the time is now. 1 year from now the promise will be fulfilled. And I love this scene because Abraham has this great mana, and we have learnt that his silence is a mark of faith, he just believes, he transcends his doubts but Sarah is level-headed and grounded and she knows. She hears the promise again and she laughs. Quietly to herself - There is no malice in it, she’s not in the wrong, she just laughs. She knows she is infertile, she knows she’s been through menopause, this is not going to happen not matter what these funny men say. But she gets caught laughing and the Angels ask her the eternal question; is anything too hard for the Lord.
In my first parish I had a friend who was easily forty, she was divorced and there was no boyfriend on the horizon. A friend of mine did a summer in in that parish the year before I went there, and she told my predecessor that the Lord had told her she was going to have a baby. My predecessor came to me with the story, not laughing but saying you’ll need to provide support for this lady, she’s very spiritual and she’s had this word and she’s going to be so disappointed. From a human point of view he was right, this was crazy. But I’m sure you can guess why I am telling you this story. By the time I met her my friend had met, married and conceived a child with a lovely young man all within 12 months. Her years of yearning had been transformed. Our time is not God’s time. Good things take time.
In Genesis 21 we read of that Isaac is born! Fulfilment and Isaac begins a family line that traces all the way to Jesus. And Sarah laughs and laughs she is so pleased and Abraham who has believed for so long is vindicated. I want to finish this story of yearning and faith and hope, with the fact that God keeps his promises, and if you are holding onto a promise – Don’t let go. In fact now is the time to remember God’s promises
Good things take time and persistence. I want to finish with St Peters. We have a history of service in this church. We have a history of people coming to faith and being baptised. We have a history influencing our community. This church is like a fabulous decked out SUV, and as pastor I have the privilege of steering the truck, with the encouragement of the elders and managers as they read the map, or we swap drivers for a while. But you are the truck and God needs every one of you to be playing your part. What is your part this term?
I believe that God is calling us to return to our roots. Prayer, whanau, and mission. Mission to tell the good news about the living God who wants to have life changing encounters with people. Mission that is caring for people and seeing changes through Childcare and St Peters house. And mission as speaking out to the nation. Speaking God’s words about caring for the planet, about caring for the unborn, about caring for the elderly, about caring about the treaty. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal 6.9. Let us learn persistence from Abraham.