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Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, August 11, 2019

God Is Always Teaching Us

Text: Genesis 15:1–6

Last week Teresa and I were talking with our son, Ben. He was telling us that our granddaughters, Emma and Lily were not looking forward to going back to school. I didn’t realize that schools in Colorado Springs started the second week in August. Here in Northumberland County the schools start again on September 3rd. When we hung up the phone I commented to Teresa how glad I was no longer to be in school. Later on, as I was considering our passages for this week I realized that I am still in school and will be for the rest of my life.

I still have a picture of my first day of school in September 1960. My mother took the picture of me standing next to Alice Faye Hall, one of the children in my neighborhood. We were going to walk to Preston Park Elementary school together. I remember being excited at the prospects of being old enough to start first grade. That may be the only time that I was excited for school to start again.

When a child first starts school, the expectations are fairly low because they are starting from the beginning of the educational system, learning to read, write, and do arithmetic. However, as you grow older more is expected, as you build upon what you have already learned. If a child is allowed to move beyond what he/she has actually learned, then soon he/she will be unable to keep up with their assignments. When a student progresses from high school to college and then to graduate school the expectations grow commensurate with what has previously been learned. When the student is deficient in any area, it doesn’t take long for it to show up.

This principle is true in virtually every area of life: jobs, relationships and, most assuredly, in our life of faith in God.

Recently we have taken a look into the life of Abraham and how God continued to teach him more and more about what it meant to walk in faith. His story for us begins in Genesis 11:10–31 where Moses is teaching the children of Israel about their heritage and the names of their forefathers. In verse 31 they learn that Abram was the son of Terah, who was most likely steeped in idolatry, in the form of moon worship. At the end of Genesis 11, Terah dies and chapters 12– 25:11 tell the story of Father Abraham and his relationship with God. At the beginning of chapter 12, God introduces himself to Abram, who is 75 years old. However, as a student with God as a teacher he is entering first grade. Initially, God gives him very simple instructions,

Leave your country, your people and your fathers household, and go to a 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. 3 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.

Remember that Moses is writing this to the children of Israel as they are wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. They are also in school learning what it meant to trust God and to move in faith, believing that God was good. God called Abraham to migrate to a place he had never been so that he would receive blessings of land and many descendants and become a blessing to all nations. The patriarch responded in blind and faithful obedience. His call and response modeled for the Israelites the kind of response that they were to manifest as Moses led them.

Today’s Old Testament reading is another example of God teaching Abram to trust, even when he could not see how God was going to accomplish all that he was promising. God doesn’t explain the how but gives him a visual image of the enormity of his promise. Let’s look again at Genesis 15:5–6,

And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

In chapter 17, now twenty-some years later, God again renews his promise to make of Abraham a great nation and the father of kings and nations. This time God inaugurates the Covenant of Circumcision and tells Abraham that his line would come through Sarah. This time God is specific and says in Genesis 17:21, “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”

God is more specific this time and gives Abraham a time frame to add to his hope of God’s promise being fulfilled. God had been promising a son for Abraham and Sarah for 25 years and Abraham now knows the fulfillment is near. We can know that he was acting in faith that God would do as he promised by what happened next. Genesis 17:23–27,

Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

This was a very serious and painful thing to do but, Abraham showed himself faithful to the covenant by fulfilling his obligations immediately. Both Isaac and Ishmael received the sign of the covenant because they were both Abrahams sons. This what it would be what it was to look like to be in the family of God together.

Three weeks ago our Old Testament lesson was from Genesis 18:1–15. The scene was approximately 3 months later from our story from chapter 17. This is the story of Father Abraham who once again encountered God face to face and again his response reveals the intimacy of his relationship with Yahweh. I pointed out that this was not the first time for Abraham to encounter God. Genesis records four other times that he encountered God, once in a dream, and three times face to face. The stories that are in Genesis teach us a great deal about what it is to have a personal relationship with God, and to find Him faithful in keeping his divine word, even when it seems impossible.

They also show us a great deal about God as a teacher to his people. He invested time to get to know Abraham and then to expect more faith from him. Abraham grew to where he knew who was at his gate and Genesis 18:2–3 tells us,

He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.”

I love to watch videos of soldiers returning home from deployment and their family running to them out of love and relief, but for me, nothing can beat the times when their dogs first see them. They jump around and actually cry out of joy. I saw one video where the dog howled. They can’t stand still or seem to get close enough to their master. It’s as if they want to jump inside of them. Abraham’s joy at seeing the Lord was one of delight, familiarity and comfort.

In the 25 years since God first came to Abraham a lot of lessons had been learned and by the time Isaac was born the next year, it’s like Abraham graduated from college, with a degree in faith. However, the lessons of relationship and faith continued and in Genesis 22:1–2, the real test of Abraham’s faith came.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Can you imagine God coming to Abraham when they first met and asking such a thing as this? Some have asked why God made Abraham wait 25 years before he gave him Isaac to him and Sarah. I’ve heard it suggested that it was because it would be a greater miracle for Abraham and Sarah to have a child when he was 100 years old and she was 90, and I admit that reason is compelling and may be partially true. I’m thinking that God waited until Abraham was 110–15 years old and had 10–15 years with the son that he had waited for all those years. The test would be which one did Abraham love more, God or Isaac?

I find the next three verses of the story, chilling,

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So, they went both of them together.

How could Abraham bring himself to act with such complete and immediate obedience? What would he tell Sarah, what would he tell his clan? Hebrews 11:17–19 gives us a clue,

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

This is an example of someone who had been trained and taught by God and was willing to do something that made no sense to him at the time. In the story where God shows Abraham the stars and tells him that his offspring would be as numerous that, he is giving him a visual example that he could relate to. When God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, there was no explanation, only the command. His faith had grown, and his experience was that God was able to do whatever he wanted, so there was no reason to demand an explanation. Whatever God was doing was good and right.

Jesus’ disciples were trained in the same way, but one of their classrooms was on the Sea of Galilee in the midst of storms. Once they woke him up to save them from imminent drowning and he merely spoke to the wind and raging sea, and all was calm. Another time he sent them on ahead and again a storm was raging, but this time Jesus came walking on water to them. In both cases Jesus revealed his power and authority over the elements and his love and concern for his disciples. In both instances his presence changed the nature of the crisis and taught them foundational lessons about fear versus faith.

Over and over in the Bible we find examples of God teaching his people to trust in his love and provision. He wanted them to understand that fear undermines faith. The Lord still allows us to face terrible storms, but he is always there in the midst of the crisis. He reminds us that faith is the key to overcoming and keeping our eyes on him builds faith to the point that we can look at every obstacle as an opportunity to see Jesus come to our rescue once again. Our reading from Hebrews 11:1–16 is a litany of examples of those who lived by faith in God and were conquers even in situations where it seemed like they had lost. I love Hebrews 11:1–3,

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The rest of chapter 11 is a list of those in the Scriptures who lived by faith even in the direst of circumstances. It is a list of those who received the promises of God as true even though they didn’t fully receive the promises on this side. Abraham never took possession of the Land of Canaan, but his seed did. Moses never entered the Promised Land, but the children of Israel did. He did, however, stand with Elijah and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration which is pretty amazing.

Hebrews 12 begins,

Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Whereas I do see those listed in Hebrews 12 as a wonderful cloud of witnesses, I have developed my own list of those who have walked by faith in the promises of God, even when life was cruel and hard. I want to share with you one of those who I have recently added to my list.

When Teresa and I first went into full-time ministry, we served at Orchard Hills Church in Roanoke. Earle Clubb, one of the young men there, approached me and asked if I would be a spiritual mentor to him. To be truthful, I didn’t know what that would entail, but I agreed to meet with him as we investigated what that would look like. We met every Tuesday morning at 6:00 am to pray, discuss Scripture and basically talk about life. He had such a hunger to know God more fully and to be obedient to God in his role as husband to Cathy, father to Joshua and as a man of God in the community. Over the years their family has grown to five kids. Earle and Cathy have been models of how to raise children in the ways of the Lord.

I haven’t seen Earle in several years but right after we arrived here in Heathsville, we heard that Earle was diagnosed with liver cancer. Over the years we have stayed up to date on his treatment and progress. A few months ago, it was clear that nothing was working, and they were trying to get him into a trial program at Duke. Three weeks ago, they found out that he wouldn’t qualify for the trials they currently had. So, two weeks ago the doctors arranged for Hospice.

On August 2nd Earle and Cathy told the kids what was happening. I want to read to you what she wrote about that conversation:

Last night we told the kids about Earle’s health and why the nurse had visited that day. It was probably the hardest conversation that we’ve ever had to have with our kids. We thought about waiting till after Lydia’s birthday (today) and the big graduation party my folks are hosting at the lake for my niece from Japan on Saturday, but we decided to keep them in the loop because it is quite apparent that he is not doing well. We had told Ella Grace earlier in the day because she was packing to go to AHG camp next week. We guided her to make a decision to go or not, and we are so thankful she decided to stay home with the family. That’s the kind of decision no twelve-year-old girl should have to make. Joshua (14) quietly took the news in, and inwardly processing the reality that he had already been observing for weeks. Sarah (10) and Hannah (7) were in immediate tears in the conversation. Sarah passionately declared, “All we can do is pray!” Then she went on to plead, “Hannah and Lydia… you must cling to Jesus. Even if Daddy dies, we must all remember to cling to Jesus, and remember God loves us and He will never leave us.” I was absolutely humbled by her strong faith. It was perhaps the greatest parenting moment of my life, and for that I am blessed.

We had a day of prayer here at the church on Tuesday afternoon from 4–6. We prayed for Earle and Cathy and the kids but when returning home we found out that Earle had gone to be with the Lord Tuesday morning at 8:26. Cathy wrote of their final hours and then of the stillness of Earl passing away. She wrote “cancer gone—Jesus wins.”

How do you have that kind of response to losing the love of your life and the father of your five children? How could the children be such an encouragement at such a terribly sad and frightening time? I’ll tell how, they’ve gone to “Jesus School” and learned the lessons.

This kind of thing brings a whole new perspective on our gospel reading this morning. Let’s read again Luke 12:32–34,

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The Father has promised the kingdom of God to those who will follow Jesus in faith and obedience. Real wisdom advises that we invest in things that are eternal, and not seek to hold on to those things that will someday perish or belong to someone else. The last part of our gospel reading warns us to be ready and waiting for the Master to return at anytime or like Earle Clubb to be called home at age 43. On the day of his passing Cathy wrote in closing her announcement, “Earle graduated to Heaven this morning. The timing isn't ideal, but it never really is to lose a spouse or a parent. Through it all God is good. Earle is dancing with Jesus now.”

Are you ready? Let’s pray.

©2019 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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