Scripture – Genesis 15:1-6 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 18, 2016
I don’t know when it started. Maybe it was there all along. Maybe it ebbs and flows throughout time and history. I do know that we live within it right now: an indisputable climate of mistrust. We don’t trust anybody: doctors, lawyers, agribusiness, banks, Wall Street, pollsters, insurance companies, the government, climate change scientists, people over 30, people under 30, the news media, big box retailers, the Internet, the U.S. mail, used car dealers, new car dealers, health studies, organized religion. From corruption to cover-ups to special interests to special treatment, we have become quiet jaded in believing any information which comes our way and even more pessimistic that the folks in charge will do what they’re supposed to do. Last poll I heard the two major presidential candidates were pretty much tied at most of the electorate not trusting either one. But, interestingly, we do trust our own doctor, our own lawyer, our own congressman, our own investment advisor, and probably most of the people we actually know both over and under 30.
Our passage this morning about God’s first covenant with Abraham (when he was still referred to as Abram) tells us that God promised Abram descendants numbering as great as the number of starts in the sky. And verse 6 begins: “And he believed the Lord.”
Georgian Methodist Richard Puckett reminds us that the Hebrew word for “believed” can also be translated as “trusted”, which he prefers and maintains is a more relational term. We may “believe” the latest health study directing us to reduce our sugar intake; but we “trust” our doctor when she gives us the same direction. You may believe that the new teenage driver in your house will stick to the speed limit, but trusting your child to obey the rules of the road reveals something more, an intimate relationship. Believing God and trusting in God are not quite the same. The latter suggests a relationship.
And, goodness knows, by now Abram and God have a relationship. Beginning back in Genesis Chapter 12, Abram answers God’s call to “go” from country and kin so Abram packs up his wife and his nephew Lot and all their stuff and throughout travels and struggles and battles and settlements and re-settlements, God continues to command Abram throughout to keep going, promising blessings and prosperity and lots of offspring. In Chapter 13, God says: “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.” That many. When we meet Abram this morning, we need to keep in mind that when God first called him to “go”, he was seventy-five then. He’s been through a lot by now and no offspring yet. So this time instead of instantly hearing and believing and obeying as he has up until now, Abram, upon hearing from God, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great,” Abram utters the equivalent of ….now, wait a minute, really? What reward is it because I continue childless, without a blood heir. So God brings him outside and says: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord. He trusted the Lord. When we’re in a trusting relationship, we are able to question without punishment, we can ask for reassurance and be understood and receive that assurance and go on continuing to trust. And he believed the Lord. And he trusted the Lord.
But the verse doesn’t end there. “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Dictionary.com defines “righteous” as something characterized by uprightness or morality. Synonyms include: good, virtuous, upright, upstanding, decent; ethical, principled, moral, high-minded, law-abiding, honest, honorable, blameless, irreproachable, noble; saintly, angelic, pure. But in our passage this morning, and throughout the Bible, the word for righteousness, the quality or state of being righteous, is nuanced a bit and interpreted as “being true to one’s social obligations and commitments” ; “acting appropriately or justly within a relationship.” Sounds to me like doing the right thing, keeping up one’s end of the bargain, keeping one’s word. Abram believed, trusted, God. By doing so, Abram stayed true to his commitment, acted appropriately within the relationship, and “the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
And the Lord kept the promise. Countless descendants. We are the evidence along with billions of Jews, Christians and Muslims who over thousands of years have claimed Abraham as the root of their “Abrahamic traditions”, “inheritors of the promise.”
But as Jesus says in our first passage this morning from the Gospel of Luke, you guys are a dime a dozen. “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” God loves us but we need to keep our end of the bargain by loving God back and that means trusting.
Believing in God and trusting in God – not the same thing at all. For the most part on most days most people will say they believe in God. But trusting…trusting in God is pretty hard. I daresay we’re more apt to trust the shady home improvement guy who makes a cold call at the front door offering a free estimate before we’ll trust in God. I mean really trust in God. We’ll wring our hands and stay up at night worrying about all kinds of things before we finally let go and truly trust that God will provide. Somehow, some way at a time we cannot determine.
But that doesn’t mean we need to silently submit and never question or never lose our patience or never call upon the Lord with a complaint or two. As soon as we cease to regard almighty, omnipotent, all-knowing God as a distant, nameless institution who simply regards us as a bunch of dust, and, instead, we open ourselves up to a one-on-one intimate relationship, we will discover a trustworthy God, One whom we may not understand, but One in whom our faith will grow.
Back a while ago I received a small gift: a laminated postcard-size keepsake which has printed on one side Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I have to admit that it became part and parcel of the disarray of random slips of paper and post-it notes on my desk at home; usually making its way under the stapler or under a pile of periodicals or flipped over by the desk lamp. But after a while I noticed that it would surface at the oddest times: when I needed it. Now it sits tilted up and resting at the base of my monitor because I need that reminder every day, particularly right now in our current climate of mistrust.
We all need that reminder today as after church we learn the results of our church-wide assessment taken this past June – not that we can’t trust the survey results. I can assure you that the instrument has been tested and is reliable and… you do trust your own minister, I hope, even if you don’t necessarily trust organized religion. We can trust the results; what we need to be reminded of is to trust in God for the direction we’ll need to act upon them. To listen today for the Holy Spirit who spoke through each one of us as we sat for the survey and who is still speaking to us as we lean on God for direction for the future for God’s church here in Mystic.
In the face of external events and messages to the contrary, Abram trusted God and God delivered. May we, too, trust in the Lord to restore our faith in a God who invites us to look toward heaven and count the stars, for so shall our blessings be. Amen.