Monday, March 17, 2014

Lent 2 of Series A (Genesis 12:1-9)

“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Second Sunday in Lent comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ, Abram was an idol-worshipper, he was a pagan, he was a heathen. He and his family had fallen away from the true God and instead worshipped gods of their own making, gods of the sun and moon, wind and rain, gods made of wood and stone. Abram lived in constant and blatant violation of the First Commandment, given later to Moses, “You shall have no other Gods.” He certainly did not fear, love, and trust in the true God above all else. And so Abram, with his family and his nation, was condemned to eternal death. That is, until God called him. “Go from your country and your kindred, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Salvation is only found in following the God who promised a Savior, and with these words, God declares that he has chosen Abram, poor, miserable, idol-worshipping Abram, to be a part of that promise.

God promises blessing; He promises to make Abram a great nation; He promises to protect him from harm. There’s only one problem—those blessings are only found by leaving behind what he sees with his eyes. Even though we don’t see him in our text, there is someone else whispering promises in Abram’s ear: the great deceiver, man’s first enemy, Satan. What Satan promises is right before his eyes. Satan promises safety and security in the things of this world, he promises that if we put our trust in money and possessions, if we rely on ourselves, we will be blessed. Our eyes see a comfortable life, our eyes see stability. What a ridiculous command, Satan says. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”? God wants you to leave all that you know behind, all that has so clearly prospered you, all that your eyes see, to follow His empty, invisible promises.

Satan promises his own blessings, blessings Abram can see. He promises wealth, he promises honor, he promises power and influence. “I will bless you and make your name great,” God says? Well, I can make your name great right here and right now, and my methods have none of the inconveniences that will surely come from blindly following God. Study greatness, Satan says, and you will see that while some pay lip service to God, those who are truly great in this world are those who are ambitious, those who trust no one but themselves, those who know their goals and go after them with tenacity. The honor that your eyes see is achieved not by abandoning the things of this world, but by using them to your advantage. This world is your home, this is where you belong, and only by realizing that will you find success.

On the other hand, if we put our trust in God’s promises, Satan promises suffering and hardship. Our eyes see persecution, our eyes see death. God promised, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” That’s God’s promise, but what do our eyes see? Are those who dishonor the Church, who dishonor Christians, cursed? No, it seems more likely that they are praised, they are celebrated, they have all the glory. Open your eyes, Christians—your religion is waning, it’s loosing influence, and soon churches are going to be closing and persecution will be coming. You had better quit fighting against gay marriage—can’t you see the polls, it’s a losing game. Your bible, your morals, your antiquated teachings are mocked, they have no currency in your world anymore. It’s time to get off the boat, because it’s sinking. Christianity is done, its influence is over. No one’s listening anymore, and your congregations are shrinking. Those who dishonor the Church are on the winning side, and that’s all that matters, not some invisible promises of an invisible God.

Satan points to what your eyes see all around you. Do those who bless Christians, who trust in God’s promises, receive blessing? Our eyes tell us that much more often they are cursed instead. Your prayer list keeps growing, Satan says, and what’s on it? Cancer, afflicting young and old, Alzheimer’s, ALS, even children suffering disease and complications. And these are just a few of the many afflictions that attack God’s ‘blessed’ people. Christians lose their jobs, they need surgeries, they get into accidents, their homes burn down. And your Savior? He’s nailed to a cross. Does it look like those who follow this God of yours receive blessing? Don’t ask me, look at your own bulletin, look at that crucifix at your altar. What do your eyes see?

Our eyes do see suffering, our eyes do see hardship, our eyes do see the visible blessings that come when we put our trust in ourselves. Satan is right—to our eyes, those who curse us are blessed, and those who bless us are cursed. God’s promise was to make of Abram a great nation, to give him blessings and make him a blessing for this entire world. Satan’s promise was that if he stayed at home, he could continue his comfortable life, enjoying safety, security, and prosperity. One promise was seen, right there in front of him. One promise was unseen, out there in a vague future. To our human reason, to the judgment of this world, the answer is clear: trust your eyes!

But Abram didn’t. His eyes saw all that Satan promised, good and bad, but his faith, given by the Holy Spirit, saw the promises of God, and that faith clung to God’s Word. “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.” He left behind his family, his home, and most importantly his gods, and he became a sojourner, an alien, a wanderer in a land that God had promised him, but he never actually possessed. God told Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.” What God didn’t tell him, at least not at that moment, was how long it would take for this promise to be fulfilled. His eyes never saw the fulfilment of God’s promises, but yet Abram trusted. He saw not with his natural eyes, but with the eyes of faith. Martin Luther writes, “Faith apprehends the things that are not present and, contrary to reason, regards them as being present.” By faith, Abram saw another home; not the one he was leaving, or even the one his offspring would live in, but his heavenly dwellings. He would dwell in tents the rest of his life, but he saw a homeland that would endure, even more firm than the land of promise.

What Abram saw with the eyes of faith was Christ. God promised him, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Satan promises earthly, visible blessings. God’s promise is of blessings that endure, that stand, even when this earth passes away. God’s promise is Jesus Christ, the heir of Abram’s line. The One who blesses all the families of this earth is an offspring of Abram, He is true man. But He is much more than a man, this offspring delivers the offspring of Abram, this offspring is also true God. He comes to be a blessing by delivering all people from the bondage of sin and death. Satan wants us to be satisfied with worldly wealth and prosperity; what God has in store for us is heavenly treasure. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Our eyes see a man hanging dead upon a cross. Do you call that blessing? Satan asks. But what the eyes of faith see is the fulfillment of all the promises, for in the death of Jesus all the families of the earth are blessed. The promise to Abram comes to its fulfillment in Christ, who is given into death so that whoever believes in Him, as Abram did, should not perish, but have eternal life. God loved Abram because He loved the world, and One from the line of Abram would be the One to reverse the curse, to crush the serpent’s head, and to bring eternal blessings. He rises on the third day as the sign and seal that this promise is rock solid and true. Abram received this promise, still almost two thousand years in the future, and he believed. He received these invisible things as if he were holding them in his hands. That is what Satan misunderstands: through faith, we hold the promise already, even if we cannot see it.

We know, with absolute certainty, that Christ is coming on the Last Day in victory, and all of our enemies, all that threatens us, all that afflicts us in this world of sin, will be destroyed. With this promise, we can face each of the various maladies that attack us. Christ knows each affliction by name, and He will destroy each one when He takes you to Himself or on the Day of His return. On the Last Day, the promise to Abram will be fulfilled: “I will bless those who bless you, and Him who dishonors you I will curse.” Therefore, Christians live in this world as Abram did, in tents, not permanent housing, because we know that this is not our final home. We dwell in this world as strangers and exiles, conducting our business, serving our neighbor, but knowing who we are and knowing what this world is. This world is an inn, it is temporary housing; we know that in Christ we have a permanent homeland, we have eternal mansions prepared. 

This promise is invisible—you can’t see the forgiveness of sins, after all!—but it’s more real than anything your eyes see, because this promise endures for eternity. Abram was called out of sin and idolatry by the grace of God, He was given a new birth to a new life; he was a wanderer who knew his true homeland. We are called out of sin and death by the washing of Baptism, we are given a new birth to a new life; we are wanderers who know the homeland that awaits us. In the waters of Baptism, you are made an exile in this world with a Promised Land ahead of you; you are given a homeland and a mansion in the new heavens and the new earth. You receive the blessing that God first promised to Abram, for God is faithful to His promises, even if we cannot see them. We live by faith, not by sight, and the eyes of faith see Jesus alone. In His Name, Amen.

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