Sermon from August 14, 2011


Destined Blessing: Why I Have Hope

Genesis 12:1-3

It was a piercing question.  It was at a holiday dinner.  I didn’t know the lady who asked me all that well.  We had been talking in general about the shallow selfishness in much of today’s culture and the daunting social problems confronting the world.  And she said to me, “Is there any hope for the next generation?”  It brought me up short at first, because it wasn’t just a rhetorical question.  She wanted me to give reasons why I have hope for the generations to come when all the evidence seems weighted against it.  However, I did recover myself and answered yes with some specific reasons.  This was several years ago and I want to share with you this morning that that conviction has only deepened this summer and to explain to you why.  And it has to do with the continuing effects of this promise to Abraham.

Last week one of our young people shared with me this quote from Anne Frank, “How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment. We can start now, start slowly, changing the world. How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make a contribution toward introducing justice straightaway. And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!”  The question for us becomes this – how do we live like that and thereby give hope to the world, and the generations to come?

Well, I want to invite us to do things with this passage that relates to that.  I want us to understand something, and to risk something like Abraham did.

First we need to understand something.  We need to understand God’s particular/universal strategy of blessing (and our role in it).  What we have here is an incredible promise of blessing from God to Abraham and his response to it.  It is a universal promise of blessing – in you all the families of the earth will be blessed, but given to a particular person at a particular time – God said to Abram I will bless YOU.  You see the scriptures throughout the old and new testaments witness over and over again to this thing about God.  It is this unrelenting unwillingness to give up on the human race.  With unconditional, unfathomable love, not compromising his absolute holiness one iota, God keeps on with this unrelenting unwillingness to give up on us.  The first eleven chapters of Genesis are about God’s frustration with this.  So beginning in chapter 12 God embarks on this new strategy, he concentrates on a particular guy and his particular family, NOT in order to bless him exclusively and consign everybody else to Hell, but rather in order to spread a blessing to the entire world.  It’s like a divine conspiracy to infect the world with good beginning in small particular ways.  It is God’s particular/universal strategy of blessing.

God’s circle of concern here in this Abrahamic blessing is the entire world.  But he concentrates his blessing at particular times on particular people and relationships in order to spread that blessing outward.  It is Jesus not neglecting the masses, but concentrating his time and energy on the company of 60 or 70 disciples who traveled with him, especially the 12, in order to bless the world.  It is when a couple decides to get married and to concentrate their love in this commitment not as an end in itself but in order that they might more effectively love their neighbors better than they could individually.   The rest of the bible makes it quite clear that this Abrahamic particular/universal strategy of blessing is still in operation.

And so this blessing is deeply personal and particular, but it spreads out from there to include others, and keeps multiplying.  Two weeks ago I asked you to think about loving the 10-12 persons upon whom you have the most influence with God’s unconditional love.  That was not so you could say to heck with everybody else but rather so you could most effectively bless the rest of the world in this particular/universal strategy.  Genuine Christian spirituality is never me and Jesus and maybe a few buds and to heck with the rest of the world, but rather me and Jesus and those closest to me FOR the rest of the world.  Self preservation of any relationship or institution is never the end all and ultimate goal within the Abrahamic covenant of blessing, because God remains unrelentingly committed to all humanity, all creation.  And so we, with Abraham, love all by concentrating on a few.

Back in 1870 shouts were heard echoing down this very street outside because of a tragedy that befell this very building in which we sit today.  Bloodcurdling cries of fire, fire were heard as this building crumbled to near ruin.  The congregation at the time was faced with a challenge.  They had only erected the first sanctuary on this spot less than 25 years earlier.  Socially, it was a challenging time of reconstruction following the Civil War.  Economically, what later became known as the Long Depression would soon be upon them.  What would they do?  Would they scale back and think only of themselves or would they love one another in ways that looked beyond themselves.  What did they do?  They figured out how to build back slightly bigger and better.  They blessed themselves – that is part of the promise, yet they also built blessing beyond themselves.  They added on the section on the back of the sanctuary that includes the choir loft and the Matthews room.  I was thinking the other day of all the blessings I have felt in the Matthews room alone – in that room.  I didn’t even arrive until over 13 decades after it was built.  I made a calculation that I have drunk at least 300 cups of coffee with the Methodist Men in that room.  I thought of all the times at the conclusion of a Bible study or meeting I’ve held the warm, loving hand of particular person on my right and on my left in a circle and we’ve joined in Jesus’ prayer and that was my most uplifting closest moment to Christ during that week – and it happened – in that room.

Why do I have hope for the future generations?  Because I think I’m just beginning to understand the tip of the iceberg of this particular/universal strategy of blessing God has unleashed.  And I know that we’re part of it.  Understand the blessing.  But there is something else I want you to think about doing today.

Among young people especially, but in our entire culture in general there is a growing distrust in ‘organized religion.’  It’s popular to say I am spiritual but not religious.  To me the legitimate aspiration there is a profound openness to God and even Jesus, and a healthy desire to avoid any dead institution whose primary reason for being is to perpetuate itself.  If that is all we’re ever doing than what we end up doing is wasting time and energy and money that could be better used elsewhere.  But here is the thing, if we want to be part of the Abrahamic blessing, and if we are followers of Jesus by definition we are, we have to risk, among other things, journeying with less than perfect people.

Understand the blessing, and risk journeying with less than perfect people.  Abram as he was known at the time knew God wanted him to travel to move out to this unknown place, but he still had to go with Sarah and Lot and a few others.  It is interesting, the blessing has 5 verbs and only one has Abram as the subject.  God does all the rest.  Step out in faith; go; move out.  That’s it.  It seems like 85% God and 15% Abraham, but actually it is a bazillion % God, he gives all and more, and Abrahams 15% really takes all of him too.  Yet he travels with others.  As you continue to read in Genesis we find that Abram and Sarah and especially Lot are far less than perfect, they continue to mess up; they basically don’t know what they’re doing, but the one thing Abraham does despite his own and others imperfections and misunderstandings, he believes God and keeps moving.

Last week on vacation I went on a white water rafting trip with my extended family.  It wasn’t really rapids, more like calm ripples.  But we were in one of these inflatable rafts, five of us to a boat and the guide said we had to choose a captain to tell everybody else what to do.  They appointed me because everyone else refused.  Do you know what it is like to have to act wholeheartedly, without absolute certainty?  Step out, move out, go God said to Abram.  Do you know what it is like to be in a situation where you don’t know exactly what you are doing, everyone else is also imperfect and uncertain, but you have to act wholeheartedly and decisively because if you don’t you’re going to either get swamped or stuck on a rock forever.  Folks, that is faith.  That is whitewater rafting.  It’s also church.

Later though I was reading this piece about rafting on the Zambezi River at the base of Victoria Falls.  There the guides tell the rafters, when, not it, but when your raft flips, stay in the rough water.  You will be tempted to swim over the stagnate water at the edge of the banks.  Don’t do it.  That is where the crocs are waiting for you; they are big and they are hungry.  When the boat flips because of your imperfections, stay in the rough water, climb back on and continue your journey.  Stay in the rough water.  You know, sometimes as a church of imperfect people, its tempting to swim over to the stagnate waters of self preservation.  Yet God tells us say out in the rough waters of mission and shared blessing with Abraham and your imperfect crew.  Stay in the rough waters of building bigger and better for yourselves and future generations, stay in the rough but blessed water of continuing to feed the hungry and clothing the needy.  Stay in the rough waters of outreach to people we haven’t reached yet and offenders coming out of prison and veterans returning from overseas.  Folks there are blessings we have to share with this community that this community can’t do without.  Stay in the rough waters of building up the faith of young people so they can multiply that blessing for years to come.  How do we do it?  Understand God’s universal blessing and your particular role in it.  And risk journeying there with less than perfect people we and our fellow church folk will always be.

And because I see people understanding, and I see people risking I have hope beyond my years, for this church, this community and beyond.  I want to close this morning with another example of the Abrahamic blessing moving through our midst in a particular way.  This is a part of a reflection from Brittany Wilson, a high school student, member of our church, who participated in the youth mission trip this past June.  She shares:

“When I first decided to go on the missions trip to Cincinnati, Ohio, I never could have imagined just what an impact it would have on my life. One week away from my family, my home, and my usual everyday life- but closer to God than I had ever felt before. For one week, the youth involved set their own egotism aside and dedicated their hearts to those who were less fortunate and had yet to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. I could feel the Holy Spirit in that church, smiling upon all the youth there who were reaching out, looking to serve Him.

I was stationed to serve in an inner city Cincinnati Boys and Girls Club. I wasn’t really sure what this meant, or what the job entailed, but the name itself was a bit intimidating. The drive there was not at all reassuring; the streets were lined with boarded up houses, graffiti seemingly on every building, and people, so many people living out on the streets. Believe me when I say, we are truly blessed.

Walking in, it was all a little overwhelming. There were children of all ages running around in what seemed like complete chaos. I had had babysitting jobs before, but none of them even came close to comparing with this. But despite all of the raucous, I knew that I was where I was supposed to be. And by the second day, it didn’t seem like chaos anymore. It was the norm. And there was no place else I would have rather been.

On the outside looking in, it would be easy to assume that God couldn’t possibly exist in a city so full of crime, poverty, and violence. Like somehow, He has forgotten them, and the city remains in the shadows, with no hope of revival. But when you look into the faces of those children, it becomes clear God exists in even the most derelict of communities and the most broken of hearts. And maybe there is something we can learn from that. God was there when that little girl took me by the hand, asking me to read her a story. He was the one who gave me the words to say when that little boy needed comfort. He gave me the patience to handle tricky situations with grace. Those moments, along with all of the children, made a difference in my life in one way or another. And even though I don’t remember all of their names anymore, I remember their stories, the stories that opened my eyes to realize that even on my worst day, there is someone out there who has it a million times worse. My whole life, through the ups, the downs, the loop-da-loops, God will always be there, even if I don’t realize it, and he will see me through.

Before Cincinnati, I had always prayed that opportunities would come up when I got older, that someday I could travel to minister unto others, so that the world would grow to love Jesus Christ just as much as I do. Now I know I was searching in the wrong places. I never realized how much of a difference I can make right here, just by being me. I don’t have to go anywhere special or wait until I’m older. All I have to do is pray that God will put me in the right place at the right time. There is no age requirement to be a disciple for Christ.

Just imagine the difference we could make if we could learn to express love like the children at the Boys and Girls Club; the kind of love that reaches out for the hand of a complete stranger and leads them to open up their heart to take a step closer to the Lord. If we would go out of our way to help those who are less fortunate, just a single prayer like a ray of hope in their lives. If we could just set aside a few minutes in our day for quiet meditation with the Lord, it could make all the difference. I cherish the time I spent in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I know that it has forever changed my perspective of life, love and the Lord.”

Understand the blessing.  Risk moving out with less than perfect people.  Why do I believe there is hope for the generation to come?  Why do I believe that they will face down every challenge with a heart full of courage and an ocean full of love?  Read Genesis 12.  Read the testimonies of your own youth.  See if you agree.  Understand the blessing.  Risk loving – with them.

Rev. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church, Smyrna, Delaware

August 14, 2011

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