Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Since Martin Luther first posted his 95 Theses 500 years ago, five principles have emerged which summarize the Protestant understanding of the Christian faith. They are five Latin phrases known as the Solaes or Slogans of the Reformation. Sola Fide by “faith alone”: Sola Scriptura “by Scripture alone”: Sola Gratia “by grace alone”: Solus Christus “by Christ alone”: and the sola most popular among musicians, Soli Deo Gloria “to the glory of God alone.” For Luther, faith alone was always the most important. But faith for him was not simply a spoken confession. It was always an action based on trust. This morning we continue our sermon series exploring the faithful actions of the Old Testament characters mentioned in the Book of Hebrews. We have now heard the stories of Abel’s better sacrifice, and of one of scripture’s oldest men- Enoch, who walked with God. Last week, we meditated on Noah and the Great Flood, the master builder who constructed an ark to save his family. Today we turn to Abraham, the man who left his own country, to build a new home.
From Hebrews 11:8-10
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
There are advantages and disadvantages to old age. In old age, you can be inconsistent. It’s the time when you complain that your grown-up children don’t visit enough; but when they do visit, you can’t wait for them to leave. Old age is subtle and coy. You try to live one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack you at once. And when you look depressed, people remind you to keep your chins up.
Perhaps no man or woman in scripture understood the advantages and disadvantages of old age more than Abraham and Sarah. They had grown to know that time may be a great healer, but as a beautician, it was not so hot. They were as good as dead. Yet, they lived with a promise, that their descendants would be as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Unfortunately, they had no child. And so we read that by faith, Abraham left home and travelled to a new land.
According to rabbinical tradition Abraham’s father Terah lived in the city of Ur, and it was there that he fathered three sons, Abraham, Nahor and Haran. The city of Ur which is believed today by scholars to be located in modern day Iraq was the center for the worship of the moon god Nanna. Archeological evidence shows a well-designed, wealthy city, with houses of brick, whitewashed or plastered on the outside. The city of Ur also featured an impressive ziggurat. Abraham’s father Terah was a wicked idolatrous priest, who produced and sold idols. Abraham was not. In one ancient legend, Terah left Abraham to mind the store while he was away. A woman came with a plateful of flour and asked Abram to offer it to the idols. Abram then took a stick, broke the idols, and put the stick in the largest idol’s hand. When Terah returned, he demanded that Abraham explain what he’d done. The boy told his father that the idols fought among themselves and the largest broke the others with the stick. Terah didn’t believe his tall tell, and Abraham responded then you shouldn’t believe in idols.
When Abraham was 75 years old, the Lord called him, “Go from you country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.” So Abraham together his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, and his entire household departed, and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in the promised land, they discovered that it was by no means empty. There were a number of inhabited cities. None the less, the Lord appeared to Abraham and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abraham built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord.
It is not easy to live and walk by faith, especially when the present is so uncertain. Abraham certainly knew this. Somewhere along the way, many of us have developed a terrible idea that the faithful life is to be a carefree life without trials? Indeed, when trials do come, we act as if God is out of town on vacation. We question God: Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? Perhaps, Abraham and Sarah weren’t exactly convinced by God’s word either. But in spite of the tears and years of waiting, they remained disciplined and followed. The happiest and most patient people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. Happiness waits for those who cry, for those who hurt, for those who have searched, and for those who have tried. As I often jest, people are a bit like tea bags, you have to put them in hot water before you know how strong they are.
Yes, Abraham faced one challenge after another. There was a great famine in the land, and so he and his wife, and their household, were forced to become refugees in Egypt. Tensions grew within his own family, as he later parted ways with his nephew Lot. Then Abraham was caught up in a rebellion between the Canaanite cities of the Jordan River. After 10 years, living in the land he had been promised, Abraham and Sarah wondered how he would ever become a father of a nation. They tried to take things into their own hands with a slave women named Hagar, but this only complicated matters. A son was born to him named, Ishmael. Thirteen years later, when Abraham was ninety-nine years of age, God declared once again, that he would be the “father of many nations.” And they wondered, how could this be? But a year later, Sarah gave birth to their son Isaac.
Unfortunately, Abraham’s trials and testing never seemed to end. After 25 years of faithfulness, the Lord said to Abraham, “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 that I shall show you.” It was a horrific, agonizing moment for Abraham. As listeners to the story, we wonder how poor Abraham could even entertain such an idea. But we read that, “Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. And on the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Those 25 years of wandering in Canaan with God, had taught him something which few of us can understand. Abraham trusted that God would be true to his promise. He would be a great nation through Isaac. He wasn’t sure what God had planned, but he knew that all would be well. We glimpse this confidence in Abraham’s command to the two servants. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Yes, he said, “We will worship, then we will come back.” Abraham then took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
When Abraham and Isaac came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. He was prepared to be faithful to God, still not knowing what would happen. But then as he had hoped, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And the angel said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
My friends, it is not easy to live and walk by faith, especially when the present is so uncertain. This is what Abraham experienced year after year of waiting, but he never lost faith. You see, God’s “no” in your life, may not necessarily be the final word. The new word maybe, “So what’s next?” For Abraham, “he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” What allows men and women, like Abraham and Sarah, to pursue God’s course and journey to that goal? What allows men and women to walk by faith and life, even when they know that they will never reach their final destination? I rather suspect that it is knowing and trusting in God and daring to go out in the wilderness.
A little boy was seen standing on the sidewalk in the middle of the block. He was obviously waiting for something. An older man spied the young lad; the approached him and asked what he was waiting for. The lad confidently told the older man that he was waiting for the bus. The man laughed and said the bus stop was in the next block. The boy acknowledged the stop, but insisted that the bus would stop for him right there. The older man became annoyed at what he thought was insolence. He raised his voice and told the boy he’d better start walking if he hoped to ride that bus. The boy politely turned down the suggestion and said he would wait for the bus where he stood. The man fumed at the little boy and starting walking off. Before the man was too far away, he heard the screeching of brakes. He turned around and couldn’t believe his eyes. The bus was actually stopping for the little boy. The bus door opened and the youngster started to board. Just before he did, he turned toward the man down on the street and yelled, “My daddy is the bus driver.” God cares for his little children of all ages in ways that seem impossible to believe to those who don’t understand his love. But to those who believe, something new is always waiting.
According to scripture, Abraham outlived his wife Sarah, and remarried a woman name Keturah. They had six children together, but still Abraham’s entire inheritance was passed on to Isaac, the son he loved. Abraham lived to 175. In the book of Genesis, we read that Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, and old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him beside his wife Sarah in the cave of Machpelah on a piece of land he had purchased- because the promised land had never become in his lifetime.. He lived and died by faith, by the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Yes, Abraham kept his eye focused on a city whose architect and builder is God. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.