This is the second Sunday of Lent, a time of reflection as we prepare our hearts and lives for the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This is a time to intentionally think about our lives, the way that we live them and perhaps also the things that we should change to bring them more in line with the way God calls us to live.
Last week, we looked at the need to admit the past and see how far short we have fallen from God’s intended glory. If we aren’t willing to be honest about the past, then we will never be able to make the changes that God wants us to make. Unless we can recognize our sinful behaviours, we will never live the righteous lives that God calls us to live. To look at that theme, we used the passage from Genesis 9 where God made a covenant with Noah that the earth would never again be destroyed by the waters of the flood.
Today we’re going to move away from a focus on the past and seek to look forward into the future with hope. To do that, we are going to be using another covenant story in the book of Genesis. This one is found in Genesis 17 and is the story of the covenant that God made with Noah’s descendant Abraham. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham lived sometime around 1,800 BC. That’s almost 4,000 years ago. In Genesis we learn that his original name was Abram. In Genesis 12, God called him to leave his home in present day Iraq and set up a new home in present day Israel. Note that when God called him to do this, Abram was seventy-five years old. But Abram did what he was told. Today’s story happens a few years later. Abram is no longer a young man but God decides that it’s time to make covenant with him about what he can expect in the future. What we will discover is that this covenant is one that fills Abram with hope for the future and hope is certainly a key word for today.
YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD
When I think about hope, I think of a man called Billy Graham who went to be with the Lord this week at ninety-nine years old. Billy Graham spent seventy years preaching a gospel of hope. I had the pleasure of hearing him preach at a crusade in Hamilton at the old Ivor Wynne Stadium back when I was a teenager. The place was packed to capacity and Billy Graham’s voice thundered over the PA system. “If you have not been to the cross, there is no salvation and there is no forgiveness. If a man dies, shall he live again? That is the question that is being asked tonight and the answer from the Bible is a resounding yes! I’m going to heaven because of Christ and you can go the same way because, you see, we’re saved by grace. Come to the cross and find forgiveness. Come is the invitation of the whole Bible.” So many people were touched by his ministry in which he preached to 100’s of millions of people in person and billions over the TV and radio. His constant message was of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Billy Graham also wrote more than thirty books. His last one published in 2015 is appropriately titled Where I am; Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond. His second last book published in 2013 is titled The Reason for My Hope.
It is not the least bit ironic that Billy Graham’s last two books were on hope and heaven because those two things, for Christians, are inextricably linked together. One goes with the other. We hope for heaven because of our faith in Christ. Yes, we hope for things in this world as well. And why not, because our salvation begins the moment we receive Jesus Christ into our hearts. It begins now but our hope is also for our final destination with is the kingdom of God.
Billy Graham’s faith was one of practical Christian ministry here on earth but also the hope for eternity before God in his heavenly kingdom. That’s the kind of hope that we’re talking about in this story and it begins in Genesis 17:1-2 (NIV) which says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.'”
Note that Abram is ninety-nine years old, the same age Billy Graham was when he died. But Abram is not about to die. In fact, God has plans for Abram which reminds us that no matter how old you may be or feel, God may still have some amazing things for you to do, so be open to his call. You may not be able to do what you used to do but that only means that God will get you to do something different. You might retire from you job. You may get too old to keep up with the young kids on the church baseball team. You may not be able to sing like you used to. But you never stop being a Christian and as long as you have the breath of life in you, God isn’t finished with you.
In know that I’ve told you the story of Marg Bonar before but it’s been a while so I’m going to tell you again. Marg was part of my first pastoral charge in Welwyn, Saskatchewan. Marg was about as old as dirt and had done all the things that women did in a country church from teaching Sunday School to singing in the church choir to being the president of the UCW. It was in our first year there that Marg had a stroke which laid her up pretty badly. Despite doing all of the therapy and rehab, she was unable to go back home again and would spend the rest of her days in nursing home bed or in a wheel chair. I remember going to visit Marg and asking how she was doing with her new reality. In typical Marg style, she said that she was doing great. She was well cared for and the food was good. She enjoyed watching TV and reading her Bible. Her family visited her often and snuck her all kinds of goodies that she wasn’t supposed to have. She believed that everyone was most kind to her and she was so blessed to be where she was. That was Marg, always positive, always hopeful.
But then I asked her how she was coping with not being able to get to church on Sunday morning. She said that she missed going and worshipping with all of her friends at our little country church. But she also said that she still had a ministry. With a twinkle in her eye she said, “You know Kim, I can’t do what I used to do. I can’t help out the way I’d like to. The next time I’ll ever get back in our little church will be for my funeral. But that’s okay because God has given me a ministry. It’s a ministry of prayer. And so I pray. I pray every day with everything I have. And I pray for our church and I pray for our little town and everyone in it. And I pray for you Kim. Every day I pray for you and the ministry that you do among us.
And I felt so humbled because I felt Marg’s prayers. I felt their strength and their power and what God was doing through those prayers. And that was one of those times when I learned again, that we are never too old to have a ministry and to live in the hope that God is with us and will act through us.
Abram was ninety-nine years old when God made a new covenant with him. And his covenant was simply this, that God would greatly increase his numbers. What that meant was that Abram would have many descendants.
GOD CHANGES ABRAM’S NAME
The story continues in Genesis 17:3-5 (NIV) which says, “Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.'”
Two important things are going on here. The first one is that Abram falls facedown. Why? Probably because he is completely flabbergasted at what God has just said. There’s a significant problem with what God’s promise to Abram. Abram’s wife Sarah is also very old. In fact, she’s just ten years younger than Abram and had never been able to bear a child. Not only has she never been able to conceive, she’s also gone through the change of life and as far as anyone knows, she will never be able to conceive. But despite all of that God says, “I will give you many descendants.” God also says that Abram will be the father of many nations. Not only will his wife bear a child, that child will be the seed through which entire nations will come into being.
Abram has always been a man who did what God told him to do. Remember that he left him home and family and moved to a new place he had never been before because God him to. He had always done his best to follow God. And he did that because of his sure and certain hope that God would follow through on his promises. It says this in James 2:23 (NIV): “’Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” Abram believes God because he lives with the sure and certain hope that God will do what God says he is going to do. Abram has not idea, of course, how God is going to work this one out. He is old. His wife Sarah is old. But still he trusts. God had always done what he said he was going to do and Abram is content to hope that God will not let him down this time.
Abram believes that God will do what he said he is going to do and overcome the obstacles. That’s the first thing to note. The second thing is that, as a sign of this new promise God changes Abram’s name. He changes it from Abram to Abraham. That’s significant because back in those days name were not just the monikers by which people were known. They were also considered to be descriptive of the person. So, to change someone’s name was to indicate that a profound change was about to take place in the person’s life.
Let’s look at these two names. What does Abram mean? In Hebrew, the name Abram literally means, “exalted father”. So, even from the beginning, God had Abram pegged to be a father. But now God ratchets the promise up by changing his name to Abraham which means not just “exalted father” but rather means, “father of many nations”. Now it isn’t just that Abram is going to be a dad. Now Abraham is going to sire entire nations.
This name change is significant because it is a sign to Abraham that God is going to again do what God says he is going to do. This change of name signifies a change in the life and ministry of Abraham.
Billy Graham began his ministry at First Baptism Church in Western Springs Illinois. Back then, he was just a regular pastoral minister in a church. But then God called him to do something else. God called him to be one of the greatest evangelists of the 20th century. Billy Graham did not ask God how he was going to do that. He just stepped forward in faith. You may not know, so let me tell you how it happened.
Billy Graham had a good friend, Torrey Johnson who had a radio ministry called Songs in the Night in Chicago. One day he told Billy Graham that his show was about to be cancelled due to lack of funding. Billy Graham decided to take it over with the financial support of his congregation in Western Springs. He launched his new programme on January 2, 1944, continuing to call it Songs in the Night. He also recruited a new man as the director of this radio ministry. That person was a baritone by the name of George Beverly Shea. And so began a relationship that would continue until Shea’s death in 2013 at the age of 104.
But continuing on… in 1949, Billy Graham scheduled a series of revival meetings in Los Angeles. He took the unusual step of erecting a circus tent in the middle of the parking lot which attracted national media attention. The revival meetings were scheduled to last three weeks. In the end, they went for eight weeks and Billy Graham became a national figure. From humble beginnings and by the will and power of God, Billy Graham went from being a simple congregational minister in Western Springs, Illinois to being the pastor to the world. From very humble beginnings, God did an amazing work. Billy Graham never would have guessed how God was going to do what he did. All he did was step forward in faith to see what God would do.
It is quite permissible for us to ask God what he is going to with our lives. But we never need to ask God how he is going to accomplish it. Because if we knew, it might just scare us half to death. Better to look forward with hope and do what God calls us to do, where God calls us to do it and when. By all means, ask God what he intends for your life. Just don’t worry about the how. Leave that to God.
God has a way of taking our humble beginnings and turning them into amazing ministries. Not all of us will be like Billy Graham. In fact, I can be certain of it when I say that none of us will ever be like Billy Graham. There are very few men like him on the face of the earth. But we can still hope for the smaller blessings that God does through us when we walk in his way and put our faith in Jesus.
HOPING FOR THAT WHICH WILL NOT BE SEEN
The story ends in Genesis 17:6-7 (NIV) where God says: “I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
God is taking his covenant with Abraham one step further. He is saying that not only is this covenant good for Abraham, it will also extend to his children and his children’s children and their children after them. It is a covenant that will extend through the generations into the future until Jesus returns again at the end of time to usher in the new heaven and the new earth.
That covenant, in fact, extends right to us for, although we may not be genetic descendants of Abraham who was a Semitic person, we are descendants in the faith. The covenant that God gave to Abraham is now our covenant as well.
The interesting thing about God’s covenant with Abraham is that Abraham never saw it fulfilled. In the end his wife Sarah did have a baby and they called him Isaac. And Isaac became the father of Jacob and Jacob became the father of twelve sons and each of those sons became the patriarch of one of the twelve tribes of Israel which eventually formed the nation of Israel. But Abraham saw very little of this during his life. It says in Genesis 25:7 that Abraham lived to be one hundred and seventy-five years old which means that Isaac, his son, was seventy-five when his father died. We also know from Genesis 25:26 that Isaac became the father of Jacob when he was sixty years old which means that Abraham knew his grandson Jacob. But he never knew Jacob’s sons because, if you do the math, you discover that Jacob was only fifteen years old when his grandfather died.
Abraham saw his son and his grandsons and that was it but he still looked forward with hope that God would fulfill his promises even though Abraham would never see those promises fulfilled in his lifetime
That, to me, is amazing. It is amazing to think that someone could look forward with hope to something that he would never see. And yet, is that not what we are called to do? Jesus said that he would come again and that, when he does, he will complete the kingdom that he began when he first walked this earth 2000 years ago.
That is the day for which we hope even though we may never see it in this life. The Bible is very clear. We do not know the day or the hour. We do not know when Jesus will return. In fact, the Bible tells us not to even guess at it.
But the Bible also tells us something else. It tells us to that Jesus calls us to live as though he is coming back tonight. If we would just do that, can you imagine how different our lives would be? If you lived as though Jesus was returning tonight, what hurts would you forgive? What broken relationships would you mend? What old grudges would put aside? What activities would you stop? What words would you stop saying? What hatred would you confess if you believed that Jesus was coming back tonight?
I have news for you. Jesus may or may not come back tonight but this very night there are those who will go to meet him. And when they see the Lamb and the Lamb opens the book of life, they will discover if their names are written in that book or not. And they will discover if they spend eternity in the kingdom or not.
During Lent, we seek to understand
how we can be the people whom God has called us to be and live the lives that
he has called us to live. We are called to look forward with hope to that day
when he will call each of us to our heavenly homes and hear him say, “Well
done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I
will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
(Matthew 25:21 (NIV)) Although I don’t know for sure, I expect that those were
the words that Billy Graham heard on Wednesday when he went to be with the
Lord. Our hope is that we will hear those same words when, in the fullness of
time, it is our turn to meet the Lord. And that is why we can look to the
future with hope.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Blessed are you, Gracious God, Creator of Light, Giver of Life, Source of Love. You guide the sun, cradle the moon, and toss the stars. At your word, the earth was made and spun on its course among the planets. You breathe life into us and set us among all your Creation in a covenant of love and service.
O God of Peace, we praise you for your love revealed to us in Jesus. He journeys with us as our Wisdom and our Way, sharing our joys and sorrows, healing the sick, feeding the hungry and setting the captive free. He walks among us and leads us down the path that you, in faith and caring, have set before our feet.
We thank you, O God, for the passion with which you come to us. In the acts of Creation and Cross you have shown your love in immeasurable ways. In the Spirit, you continue to live around and within, filling us with life and wonder. In our inadequacy, help us to sense your mystery and feel your presence. Give to us the passion that we need to do your work with joy and faithfulness all of our days.
We would lift up in prayer our American cousins as they try again to come to grips with the gun slaughter in their nation. We ask, O God, for wisdom and courage and strength for those seeking reasonable and enforceable laws that will protect innocent people so that they can life without fear.
We pray, this morning for the sick of our congregation and community. Comfort and heal them with the touch of your indwelling Spirit.
We lift our prayers to you who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Enable us to discover the ministries that have been placed before us. Give us the courage not to shirk from our duties. Give us the wisdom to know what to do. And the love to do your will with compassion, gentleness and grace.
All of this, with praise and thanksgiving,
we pray to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 25, 2018 / Lent 2
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; John 2:13-22; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: The heavens declare the glory of God;
ALL: the earth proclaims Christ’s faithfulness.
ONE: God looks upon creation from the throne of grace;
ALL: and guides us into the way of peace.
ONE: We come, as servants, to worship our Creator;
ALL: We come to honour Jesus who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Your glory fills the sky, O God, and the heavens declare your glory. Glory to you, who made all things. Glory to you, who makes all new things possible. Glory to you, who looks upon us and cares what happens to each and every one of us. Glory to you, who lifts us above our sinfulness and places us upon the rock solid ground of faith. Glory to you, God of love and compassion. Only you can hear our prayers. Only you can see our worship. Only you can, in love, answer us when we call upon your name. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We call to you in the midst of Lent. We seek in this time, O God, to draw closer to you and to discern your will in our lives. We have fallen short of your glory. We have failed to live with the faithfulness that you have set before us. Like our ancestors, we have turned our backs and run from your call, forgetting your promise to provide for our every need. Forgive us, O God, when we fail to follow. It is only by your mercy that we are healed. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The joy of faith is that wherever we walk, we have the assurance of God’s love and presence with us. Even when we journey into sin, God is there to lead us back on the path of righteousness and bring us peace and reconciliation. Thanks be to the Christ for the amazing and gracious gift of life.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
All that we have and all that we are is symbolized by these, our gifts. Give us the courage, the wisdom and the insight to use them wisely, not only this portion but all that we have. We offer ourselves for your work and glory, in Jesus’ name.
We have worshipped and given glory to God. As we leave, may our praise
continue. May our worship enter into every aspect of our lives that we may live
in prayer and faithfulness every moment of every day. Go in peace to love and
serve the Lord.