February 17, 2008

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121:1-8
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

The scriptures for this Sunday seem to have a strong, common theme. Faith. Trust.

Abram and Sarai have to go without knowing what is ahead.
Nicodemus can’t seem to let go of his logic-based mind to grasp what Jesus is saying. Belief in God isn’t something we can “do.” It is a spiritual gift or discipline which must be received and cultivated.

It seems that the trick with preaching on these passages is presenting greater faith as an opportunity, not a missed exit. How do you help people see that they can be like Abram and Sarai rather than feeling like they are destined to be Nicodemus?


Pastor Richard Fairchild writes this about trusting God:
“When we trust God for our daily bread, in the back of our minds we already know how God will feed us, we know that if we go to work we will be able to bring home a cheque, just as we know that if we ask God to help us forgive someone, that it will most likely come to pass if we call up that person and try to talk to them.


But food for Africa – we don’t see how it is possible, just as the disciples couldn’t see how it was possible to feed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish; nor can we see how war might cease between the nations, just as many of the Pharisees could not see how it was possible for God to love sinners, and so we do not ask God to do the impossible, or if we do, we do not really expect God to do it, instead we look for God to do those things and to bless those things which already lie within our comprehension.”
Richard Fairchild http://www.spirit-net.ca/sermons/b-le02se.php

Here is one of my favorite interpretations of God’s call, from Rabbi Marc Gellman.


Gellman, Rabbi Marc. Does God Have a Big Toe. Harper Collins, 1989, pages 47 – 51.

“Most people do not realize it, but God put in calls to other people before finally putting in a call to Abram.

First God called Eber and said, “Eber, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
And Eber said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Eber said, “The God of what?” And God said, “The God of everything.” And Eber said, “Don’t be ridiculous, there is no god of everything. There is a god of the night and a god of the day, a god of the mountains and a god of the valleys, a god of the forests and a god of the deserts. If you ask me, you are a little late. Everything already has a god, and there is no god of everything. Maybe if you look hard, you can find something that doesn’t already have a god. As a matter of fact, I think there is no god of frogs at the moment. Why don’t you go check that out and then we can talk, because there just is no god of everything.”

But Eber and God never talked again.

The next person God called was Peleg. God said, ““Peleg, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
And Peleg said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Peleg said, “Where are you?” And God said, “I am everywhere.” And Peleg said, “If you are everywhere where do they put your statue so that people can bow down to you?” And God said, “I am invisible and no one may make a statue of me.” Peleg rolled on the ground with laughter. “Now let me get this straight! You are the invisible god of everything with no state, and you want me to leave my home and follow you to a place you will show me? Do you think I am crazy? Now look, why don’t you go to a good idol maker and have a nice sculpture made of your image, and then we can find a nice place to put it down where people can bow to it, and then we can talk.”

But God and Peleg never talked again.

Then God went to Serug and said, “Serug, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
And Serug said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Serug said, “What will you give me?” And God said, “I just told you.” And Serug said, “You don’t understand. I am not interested in moving anywhere or doing anything just so that my great-great-great-grandchildren will be a great nation. I want to know what is in this deal for me right now. Maybe if you showered me with some of those blessing up front I might be convinced. How about given me all the money in the world and the kingship of the lands? What do you say?”
But God said nothing. Then Serug said, “All right, let’s be reasonable. I will go wherever you want for most of the money in the world and the kingship of the five largest countries. How about that?” But God said nothing.

That was the last time Serug ever heard from God.

By that time, God was not sure about finding the right man. But God went to Abram and said, “Abram, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
And Abram said, “I will go, but there is just one thing I want.” God asked what that one thing was, and Abram answered, “I want to take my family with me.” God asked him, “that’s it? You just want your family to come with you? Don’t you want to see me?” And Abram said, “no.” And God asked, “Don’t you want to bow to a statue of me?” And Abram said, “No.” And God asked, “Abram, don’t you want anything for yourself?” And Abram said, “No.”


Right then God decided not to ask any more questions, and God let Abram gather his family and pack their things for the journey to the place that God would show them.
Right then God knew that the right man was going to the right place at the right time for the right reasons. God also knew that such things hardly ever happen.”

 

So. What are you thinking for this week?

 

28 thoughts on “Tuesday Lectionary Leanings- Trust me, that’s what this is edition

  1. I love this interpretation by Marc Gellman. It also fits perfectly for this week’s service in our little church. We have our Annual Meeting after worship, and we (collectively) need a dose of trust as we move forward. It’s hard to venture so bravely into an unknown future, but really, don’t we all do that every day – at least to some extent? Lent is such a great time to reinforce the discipline that it takes to put trust in God into practice.

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  2. I’m trying to follow along with Abram this week. Difficult, when I preach only quarterly, at best. I’m with Sue in that we all venture into unknown futures everyday. The task, perhaps, is to listen for God’s guiding word, and then, as the Psalm declares, look to those hills for help. I like this quote from TextWeek: “The Call of Abram,” from the Biblical Studies Foundation:”While what was to be left behind was crystal clear, what lay ahead was distressingly devoid of detail.”

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  3. I love the story. I’m preaching on Nicodemus and “Where the Streets Have No Name” this week. Where the Streets Have No Name is about a place where everyone is equal. I wonder whether a part of Nicodemus’ difficulty with understanding Jesus was in his not being able to give up his status as Pharisee. It sort of fits with the story in that Jesus does call us to give up our preconceived ideas about who God is and what God asks of us.

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  4. What a great story! Saturday is our congregational retreat, themed “Still doing a new thing” in which it is hoped we can encourage the congregation to look forward to a future that looks a bit different than the past. My sermon title for the Genesis passage is “It’s never too late” as Abram was 75 at the time. Both timely as we’re heading into the denominational transformation process right now and who knows where that will take us.

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  5. Thank you, LS, for this. I won’t be preaching it, but I feel like I am living it, and reading this was so encouraging right now! 🙂 So many people have asked, “Why would you leave a congregation that loves you when you don’t even have a place to go??” and it sounds so foolish to say, “Because God said to.” But, there I am. (((LS)))

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  6. “But food for Africa – we don’t see how it is possible, just as the disciples couldn’t see how it was possible to feed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish”- I think this is right, we don’t see how it is possible, but is that simply because in turn God might demand that we look carefully at how we live, that like Nicodemus we might face an uncomfortable challegnge?

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  7. I, too, love the interpretation from Gellman. That would have helped my sermon from 6 years ago (eek!) when I preached from that passage during my “interview” with the associate pastor nominating committee for my first call. I likened Abram’s call and journey to a Lenten call to discipleship and journey. It wasn’t too bad, but that interp was great!I am working with Psalm 121 this week, and will probably read the gospel along with it. I did some musing yesterday that helped me out. What I need to flesh out a little more is what it means to be vulnerable before God on our journeys, our pilgrimages. I’ll read more and play around with it hopefully today.We will have baptism this week, my first in the congregation.I also want to start finding some creative ways to use the psalms in worship. At this point all we do is read them and maybe sing the paraphrased version out of our hymnal. One of these weeks I’d like us to do a more liturgical responsorial psalm. I know that’s not creative to some of you, but it’s different for us. We’ll do an antiphonal reading of one, too. Anything else interesting you can think of? Ooh – – just had another quick thought about that journey protection stuff.

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  8. I have thought it before but I really have to get a copy of Gellman’s book. I love that midrash on Abram’s call.We are still off-lectionary asking questions. This week I am pondering Where and when is the church?Easy topic to give a quick answer to. Harder to envision something of sermon length…..

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  9. thanks for sharing the midrash by Gellman. I am planning on using it this week, and talking about the promises that we make, and the promises that God makes to us. It is Baden Powell Sunday here, so it seems to fit.

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  10. I love this story!I am preaching Abram this week as part of our Lenten series on “holy insecurity”–the obvious theme being that Abram leaves the things that would make many of us feel secure (his land, his kindred, his father’s house, probably a relatively good life and work, etc) to venture out into God’s future, with only a promise as security. I might work this story in…Now I need some hymns…oy.

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  11. The Gellman midrash is wonderful! Thank you for sharing it. I am going to be doing Nicodemus this week. I’ve decided to preach the great stories in John for the rest of Lent. I haven’t figured out an angle yet. But I may use Gellman’s midrash instead of just reading the Genesis text.

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  12. LS: You’ve inspired my sermon title: “Trust Enough To Follow?”Gellman’s midrash is fantastic. And I think it works for Nicodemus, too – because Jesus had been rejected already by the time Nicodemus came to him, and in the end, Nicodemus did come to believe enough to follow Jesus.Going to start by having some of our student community blindfold each other and move their way around our sanctuary – talk about trust!

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  13. thank you for this story! i am worried for this sunday – i am preaching the john lection and i am not quite sure what i will do. it is looking like preaching about the only way to do true community is through the trust in jesus. we will see what happens this week

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  14. This story from Gellman rocks! What typically playful Jewish midrash on the question of why God called Abram. It gave me a flashback to a confirmation class where an adult participant asked that same question. Thanks for sharing it!

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  15. Been noodling around this afternoon with the echo of Nicodemus’ question “How can these things be”, sounding remarkably like Mary’s reply to Gabriel at the Annuniciation in Luke. In both of these scenes, births of a (to put it mildly) rather remarkable sort are declared–one the birth of Jesus, the other “from above”. And in both instances, it’s the unruly action of the Spirit that does it.I don’t know if this is where the sermon is going, or if I’ve spent too much time at high altitude where the pneuma is thin, but I think it’s worth thinking about.(Of course, such exegesis would drive any seminary professor crazy, but…who cares?)

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  16. been thinking about Nicodemus God loving all the world. sometimes one sentence seems like a sermon. but I havent really been there long enough to get up, say, “god loves all the world. nuff said.” and sit back down. one day I’ll ahve the guts for it…

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  17. Our Worship Committee has decided to set aside the RCL for Lent and instead follow a Lenten program, “Shadows of the Cross.” I am on deck to preach this Sunday, and my assignment is to preach on “The Shadow of Servant Leadership,” using John 13:1-15 as my text. I have also been assigned to use a towel as a prop. (Shades of this past weekend, when I helped wash many layers of funk from Gertie the rescue pup.) One of the things that I want to do is de-romanticize the idea of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, a story that’s developed a kind of sentimental golden glow around it that obscures the radicality of what he did and said, as well as the fact that servant leaders don’t always get kudos and respect for what they do.

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  18. I am going with abram this week too because this is the scripture that helped me (actually more of the final push) into ministry so I am excited for this one! Iam also going to use romans as well

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  19. Love the midrash! I’m preaching the Abram passage, but I’ve been intrigued by the inclusion of Lot at the very end. It’s so weird. I wonder what its like to go on the journey knowing that you will not be the famous uncle, but the infamous nephew?

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  20. I too am going to have to purchase the book. Thank you. Likely I will preach on Nicodemus. Last Sunday was my 7 year anniversary of sobriety. In my imagination I equate Nicdoemus’ journey to God with mine to sobriety. We journey from knowing to unknowing, from thinking we have control (scrambling for pat answers) to letting go and letting God.

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  21. I am very late… but just in case I am finding myself being poked and prodded by the last verse in the lection: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.Almost like if more people believed that, more people might actually follow.

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