In God's Good Time
June 25, 2017
As I explained last week, we are covering Genesis stories for the foreseeable future. We read the creation last week and we jump ahead to Abraham and Sarah in today's reading. There is lot's of ground in between and I will cover the approximately 2000 years in between Adam and Abraham in the next five minutes or so.
First, Julie told me this little story from the garden of Eden. The oldest computer can be traced back to Adam and Eve. It was an apple. But with extremely limited memory—just one bite...then everything crashed.
Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel which most of us know. But the genealogical line from Adam to Jesus actually went through their third son, Seth.
Abraham is called by God. We read of this in Genesis 12: Now the Lord said to Abram, (remember, Abram and Sarai's names get changed later on in the story) “Go from your country ... to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; Abram took his wife Sarai and all the possessions and the persons they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.”
Up to this point, God had not really chosen a people to call his own, this is the call of Abraham to be the father of many nations. But time passed, the years rolled on and no son for Abram and Sarai.
The Lord came to Abraham again, we read it in Genesis 15, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless. (God) brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And (Abraham) believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” This faith of Abraham is highlighted in the New Testament, three separate times writers point out that when Abraham believed God, he was credited with righteousness. And it follows from there that when we trust in God by believing in Jesus as Savior, we are credited with righteousness.
God keeps promising and Abram and Sarai keep waiting; but no baby. It says Abraham believed, but Sarai wasn't so sure. So Sarai did what many of us do when our prayers aren't answered in our time. She took matters into her own hands. Chapter 16, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, 2 and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So Sarai, took Hagar the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. And she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.” We tend to think of surrogate motherhood as a recent concept. Sarai thought she knew better than God and came up with this plan to insure that Abram's promised progeny would be fulfilled. But as so often happens in our planning to get around God's plan, it didn't work out the way she'd planned. Hagar became excessively proud of her status as the woman who was carrying Abram's child and “she looked with contempt” upon Sarai. And Sarai saw that and was angry with Hagar and sent her away. It a rather complicated soap opera but to make a long story short, God blesses Hagar and her son, Ishmael, and another line of descendants forms from Ishmael—the Arab nations. And like with Sarai and Hagar, the fighting has never stopped! Actually, we hear more of these two women next Sunday.
We move on, another 13 years after the birth of Ishmael and the Lord comes to Abram again, “ “I am God Almighty; I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” Yet another promise, and still no child with Sarah, who also gets a name change.
Finally, we get to today's reading, where Abraham gets three visitors. Who are the three? There has been a lot of speculation about this. My first thought is it is the trinity. But most dismiss this possibility, as reading ahead, we discover two of the men are angels. The identity of the one seems to be a manifestation of God. We read in verse 13 that “the Lord” said to Abraham... This would indicate that God was there; was it Jesus? The Father, or Holy Spirit? We don't know and we don't need to know. Abraham was visited by representatives of God and/or God in person. And promised yet again, a son.
Sarah and Abraham were nomads; they were tent dwellers. These three appeared at their tent. They treated them with great hospitality. And as the men visited, Sarah overheard the promise, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” Other translations say “in a year”, Sarah will have the son. And it turns out she does. A son they named Isaac. That is a significant name as it means “laughter” for the time Sarah laughed at God's promise. OK, that's a lot of history. What is our message from the story of God's continued promises to Abraham for a son? For me, I see that God's timing is not always the same as our timing. I said in last Sunday's sermon that we all have a sense in our own mind about how God should treat evil and injustice. We also have a sense in our minds about how and when God should answer our prayers. But God's timetable is not the same as ours. And as impatient as we might be, when all is said and done, we usually see the wisdom of God's timing. And we don't always know best. Often God's plans for us are much better than we'd dream. As God said to Abraham, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? “
Just this week I was visiting with a parishioner about a family member who was at rock bottom two years ago. She really didn't see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. In the interceding two years, she worked hard to find her dream job and a man who treats her well and life is good.
Julie and I had supper with a friend who is trying to retire, but delays with a contractor keeps pushing his retirement back. So he keeps working with the belief that God's timing is such that the delay will be a blessing and not a curse.
Most of us can look back over our lives and see times when it seemed God was not responding, when in fact the response was “Wait for my timing.”
And yet, we are not told to wait passively. Abraham and Sarah's mistake was going against God's specific word. But as we wait, we are to work for God's will as if it is all up to us. We trust in God's timing and God's answering our prayers, but we work at achieving God's will in our lives. And it is true that we grow and mature in faith and learn to trust while struggling to find that perfect will in our lives.
I read two stories last week about butterflies. The point of each was that waiting for the proper time to emerge is part of their development and the key to their ability to fly. I share this one by Jennifer Wake: “A science teacher by trade, I’ve taught many levels of science over the years. One year I was teaching about butterflies. I had a large group of caterpillars in chrysalis, which would turn into butterflies at the right time. My lesson plan called for the butterflies to emerge on a specified date.
Unfortunately, my butterflies had another plan. So being a good science teacher, when they did not emerge on the correct date, I followed my lesson plan, cutting one chrysalis open to show my students the butterfly. Because I cut open the chrysalis instead of letting the butterfly work its way out, the butterfly could not fly. It had the ability to move its legs and wings but it could not fly.
God has designed the butterfly to work hard to get out of its chrysalis. This makes the wings strong enough to fly. When I forced the timing, the wing muscles never developed, so my butterfly could not fly. In our lives, sometimes God’s timing involves waiting so we can develop our spiritual muscles.”
We are reminded in today's story of Sarah and Abraham that waiting is more than getting what we want. It is the process of becoming what God wants us to be. What God is doing in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for. Waiting, biblical waiting, is not a passive waiting around for something to happen that will allow us to escape our troubles. Biblical waiting is also growing.
Elizabeth Sherrill in Guideposts writes about her sister learning piano. She quotes saying, “I'm so tired of playing scales, I want to play Back, Schubert, Chopin.” That was many years ago. Now Sherrill writes, “Today, as I watch Caroline's fingers skimming swiftly over a Schubert prelude, I think about the early stages of any skill worth learning: music, sports, cooking, language. Laying foundations takes time.” And so it is often with the things of God, growing faith takes time; time of waiting and trusting.
Our impatience with the wait may come down to whether or not we really trust God. Our verse of the month has this word from the Lord, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29: 11 The God of the Old Testament can seem mighty scary, and yet we are assured that God's plans are good. Jesus came to earth so that we might know that we are valued by God. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” We are valued children of God. We can trust that God's faithfulness is greater than our impatience or our doubts or our questions. Let us live with anticipation as we wait for God's promises to be fulfilled. Promises to give us hope; promises to be with us always, promises of the Lord's great faithfulness. Amen.
Great is Thy Faithfulness 276 PH