In our Hebrew Bible reading Abram’s (later Abraham’s) patience is waning. Previously Abram had received great promises from God (land, descendants, a great nation) but the completion of those promises lacked one key element–Abram and Sarai (Abram’s wife) had no offspring. So when God came to Abram in a vision and announced that God was “Abram’s shield” and that “Abram’s reward would be great” Abram couldn’t believe it without first seeking an answer to the question of missing offspring. In response to Abram’s question God takes Abram outside Abram’s tent and has Abram look toward the sky and see the innumerable stars–“So shall your descendants be.” Comfort from God comes in way of a repetition of God’s previous promise. To his credit (sort of speak) Abram believes the Lord, and it is counted to him as righteousness.
Our Psalm lection serves as a response to the Hebrew Bible reading by repeating certain key phrases (e.g. by referring to God as “our help and shield”, and by describing the happiness of God’s chosen “nation” [vs. 20, 12]) and by picking up on the theme of waiting on God. The Psalmist ends with a declaration that describes Abram’s faithful response to God’s repeated promises–“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Our epistle lection retells the Abraham story. Hebrews eleven is often called the “Hall of faith” in that for the encouragement of its readers it describes the faithfulness of the great believers scattered throughout the pages of the Hebrew Bible. Abraham’s faithfulness is described by the Hebrew author in this way: “By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.” The Hebrew author goes on to say that Abram never saw the ultimate fulfillment of God’s prophecy (descendants as numerous as the stars and the sand) but only viewed a foretaste (“from a distance“–e.g. the birth of Isaac). The Hebrew author asserts that all God’s’ faithful had never yet fully realized the promise of God (which the Hebrew author describes as a “heavenly city.”) They were all wandering foreigners and aliens in a strange land. Interestingly it is because these faithful people could not find a home without God that God is “not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”
Luke’s audience was also waiting on the promises of God (we all are–which is of course where each of these texts meets us). One of the purposes of Luke’s gospel is to encourage those who experienced what was an unexpected delay in the realization of the long anticipated ‘Kingdom of God.’ Our gospel lection begins then with, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The author of Luke goes on to encourage the waiting Christians to live as if the kingdom in all its glory were present now, “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” The advice may seem crazy–especially as we glance in the rear view mirror at 2000 years of subsequent history.
Regardless Luke calls his flock to wait with baited breath–as a servant waits for a returning master. This is perhaps the hardest of all Christian duties–to wait (i.e. to live) as if what we are waiting for is already upon us–to be heirs to the kingdom that is here only in part (that we see “from a distance.”) Which one of us can look to the stars and take courage? It is difficult. We need the help of God. We need worship. We need each
other. The sad truth is that many of us will become distracted, and our focus will not be on the justice of the coming kingdom, but on the opportunties afforded us in the present world. We will be taken atop a high mountain, and we will be shown all the cities of the world. It will be a difficult decision, so we need to remember the plaintive words of Christ, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Celebration of Worship
Waiting means different things to different people. The experience of injustice comes in many forms. Our worshippers will have different experiences of ‘waiting.’ Some will be begging for justice, others will hardly know that justice is lacking. Some will be figuratively (and perhaps quite literally) “selling their possessions to give alms.” Others will be quite at home and see no eschatalogical event on the horizon (i.e. the kingdom will be as far away as ever.) A goal of worship this week is to awaken the need in all of us to be
expectant people who in our time of waiting faithfully call upon the steadfast love of the Lord. Another goal of our worship is to consider how Christians throughout the world (in myriad circumstances) might be patiently waiting for justice, and what that might mean for us as we try to live as if the kingdom were already here in its fullness. That is agressive agenda–I invite you to think about these things as you consider your prayers, thoughts, hymns, hearts, and minds for Sunday’s meeting.