By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Genesis 12:1-4a
In July of 2008 my father-in-law became ill. Britt traveled to Cincinnati to accompany his dad to the doctor, at Lloyd’s request. Just three short days later, Britt called me to confirm our worst fears: a glioblastoma brain tumor. Because of Lloyd’s medications, they weren’t able to biopsy until later that week. The area of the brain affected by the tumor controlled Lloyd’s emotions and judgments. My once nearly stoic father-in-law became, overnight, an emotional wreck. His speech, incessant, was a jumbled mess of anxieties, frustrations and obsessions. The afternoon of the biopsy, his pastor came to pray with us. After the prayer, Britt and the pastor walked out to the lounge area to talk together. I stayed with Lloyd and endured that constant painful loop of anxieties, frustrations and obsessions. I tried to listen, but not take to heart, what was being said. But one thing touched me deeply. Lloyd tearfully said to me, “I promised Pat [Britt’s mother who was already deceased] I’d get Britt through. I’d see him through his Ph.D.” Britt’s mom loved scripture. She wrote her own bible study curriculum and her adult Sunday School Classes at the Bethel UMC were standing room only. So you can imagine her excitement and delight that her only son was going to be a bible scholar. I think, for her, it was the best blessing a parent could receive. And so that day in the hospital, for as poorly as Lloyd’s brain was working, he was still able to recall and be pained by the promise he had made – “I promised Pat I’d get Britt through his Ph.D.” – a promise he would now break.
There is great power in promises. Perhaps someone once made a promise to you that placed a blessing within your grasp. Perhaps you once made a promise that powerful to someone else. Or perhaps you have been on the receiving end of a broken promise, a lost blessing, that caused you to doubt and question everything you ever believed and trusted in.
There is great power in promises. But for a promise to be reliable, it requires two things on the part of the promise maker. One: integrity. A promise made flippantly stands little hope of withstanding the test of time. The promise maker must have a true desire and sincere integrity. My father-in-law had that. Lloyd was no pushover. He could drive a hard bargain. But once he’d given you his word, it was as good as done. His word was his guarantee. But, the second thing required of a promise maker is that of power. A promise maker must have the power to keep their promise. And, on that point, Lloyd failed. Try though he did, his body could not overpower his cancer. And so, his promise was broken.
This morning’s Old Testament story is a story about the one and only reliable promise maker and the promises that bless and transform our lives and our world. Father Abraham is a pretty popular guy. Stories about him and references to him weave their way through scripture. Although Genesis, chapter 12, reads like the beginning of a new story, it is not. For Abraham’s story, which continues into the pages of our New Testament, finds its origins in the beginning of time. Since the genesis, since creation began, God has desired – above all else – to be in close and intimate fellowship with his creation and to fill their lives with blessings. The first story of Genesis concludes with the creation of humans and the declaration that “God blessed them.” It is and has always been God’s nature to promise and to bless.
Abraham, though far from perfect, is willing to change the direction of his life – quite literally – in order to embrace God’s promise and blessings. He will be blessed. His name will be blessed. His descendents will be blessed. All the families of the earth will be blessed by his willingness to trust the promise. “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…”[i]
People of God, we become Children of Abraham by trusting in the promises and blessings of God. Anyone can SAY they trust God. But faith, despite all grammatical convention, is not a noun. Faith is a verb. Faith means trusting God enough to take risk so that God’s future not only for us but also for others might be fulfilled. We are all Children of Abraham. As the apostle Paul proclaims, we have inherited the promises. We have inherited the promise of blessing and we have inherited the call to extend God’s blessings to others.
Preacher Justin Tull puts it like this[ii]…
If we accept Abram's call, what would that mean? Could we be asked to take some risks, make some sacrifices? Perhaps. Even at age 75? Possibly. Would more be required of us than simply keeping a running total of our blessings? Yes, more would be required. It’s not enough to count our blessings. We would be asked to share, to give, even when it’s risky, even when it seems absurd. Would we be expected even with limited talents and resources, to be a blessing? Yes, we would and, yes, we could. "But I want to be blessed," we might say. Well, so do others. "But I like my comforts." Still we hear God’s Word, "You are blessed in order to be a blessing?" "But,” we object. “I am barren. I have no life in me. I have nothing to offer." Well, God promises new life. And God empowers us to be a blessing.
Friends, this past week I had a conversation with some Trinity members about why they support our church. They affirmed that giving to Trinity supports what is of value to them. It reflects and expresses their values. Giving to Trinity, through our time, our talents, our money is part of what it means for us to be partners in fulfilling God’s promises and extending God’s blessings. It is a way in which we are blessed to be a blessing. We can offer a cup of blessing to a thirsty world.
Friends: we’ve received multiple notes from educators who felt so cared for and encouraged when they received one of Trinity’s educators’ cards this fall. They were blessed by our willingness to pray a blessing over them and our commitment to continue to uphold them in prayer. And, this morning I am delighted to report the grand total for our Serving Our Neighbors in Need Initiative. Are you ready? $7,894.43. That is money that will put food in the bellies of hungry children. That is money that will put a roof over a homeless family’s head. That is money that will give a child a safe place to go after school. That is money that may save the life of an LGBTQ youth contemplating suicide because their family has rejected them and turned them out. Your financial contributions to Trinity are consistently transformed into acts of blessing for those in need. Your giving of your time and attention as you call to check in on someone you haven’t seen in a few weeks can be a life-sustaining blessing for them. Your support of Fusion, through participation and financial giving, provides what is, for some within our community, the only space of safe gathering, the only sense of community in this COVID time of isolation and intense loneliness. What a blessing.
We stand in the lineage of Father Abraham. We offer a cup of blessing. We are blessed in order to be a blessing.
[i] Gen. 12:4
[ii] I believe this quote comes from the book Wrestlings, Wonders and Wanderers: Sermons for Sundays After Pentecost: by Justin Tull; C.S.S. Publishing.
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