September 1, 2019 [Pentecost 12]  Genesis 15:1-6  J.D.Roekle

 

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

 

Do Not Be Afraid

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          In order for me to stand here before you today, I had to overcome glossophobia – a fear of public speaking.  I can still remember a day I was scheduled to give an oral book report in around the 6th or 7th grade.  I was scared to death of getting up in front of my classmates.  Speaking in front of people didn’t come naturally to me, but through the proper training in college and the seminary, I was able to overcome this fear. 

          Do you have any phobias you have struggled with or are still struggling with?  In order for you to be sitting here right now, you may have had to overcome homilophobia – a fear of sermons.  Some people don’t like the idea of being preached to.  Just coming to church may be a fear you have to overcome if you suffer from agoraphobia – a fear of public spaces or crowds.  Of course, your fear may go well beyond that.  You may have a fear of death.  A fear of losing your faith.  A fear that you’ve done something that not even God can forgive. 

          Whatever your phobia is…whatever your fear is…remember that we all deal with fear.  That was even true for the great patriarch Abraham.  Abraham is known as the father of our faith.  Think of some of the remarkable things that Abraham did by faith alone.  God told him to move to Canaan – which was the Promised Land where future generations would live, but at this point he was a stranger surrounded by heathens.  But when told to move, he did.  And perhaps the thing we remember Abraham most for is what he was asked to do with his son.  He was asked to sacrifice his son – his only son – Isaac.   And he was willing to do even that.  In fact, he came within moments of carrying that out.  God stopped the test and had Abraham sacrifice a ram in the thicket nearby instead. 

          When you look at someone like Abraham, you might be tempted to think that there was something different about him than the rest of us.  Something special.  We may tend to put him in another category.  He’s way up there.  We’re way down here. 

          Before we put him on a pedestal, let’s take a closer look.  By telling Abraham not to be afraid, God was indicating that Abraham suffered from a phobia.  God’s words to him were just what Abraham needed to express his fear.  His fear was that he was going to die childless. 

          Now certainly, his fear wasn’t totally without reason.  Abraham and wife Sarah were getting up in age.  Time was running out.  And besides that, God had given so many other promises that were contingent on Abraham and Sarah having a child.  God promised to make him into a great nation. How would that be possible without a child?  God promised that all peoples on earth will be blessed through him.  Again, with no descendants, that promise appeared to be in jeopardy.  And the way in which all people would be blessed through Abraham is that his line was the line of the Savior.  With no children, how would this be possible?

          It would be possible, because nothing is impossible with God.  Wasn’t that what Abraham was missing?  He failed to recognize that the hope of having a child was not based on his and his wife’s ability.  Rather, it was based on God’s power.  God made the promise.  And God always makes good on the promise.  And so, what is fear for the Christian?  It is doubting what God says. 

          You and I are born as God haters.  Even when God brings us to faith through the Gospel, we still have our sinful nature that hates God.  It leads us to doubt that God is good.  It leads us to doubt that God loves us.  It leads us to doubt God’s promises. 

          So what does God do?  He keeps coming at you with assurances regarding his promises.  Here he came to Abraham and reinforced his promises to him.  Your heir will not be your servant, Abraham.  Your heir will be your own flesh and blood, Abraham.  The countless stars in the sky will be a visible reminder of my promise, Abraham. 

          Consider what God did to Abraham here.  He coddled him like a parent coddles a child.  You’ve all experienced it in one way or another.  A young child is having fun, and then something happens and the child gets hurt.  It’s not a life-threatening injury.  It’s an injury that requires a little medical attention.  But what does the mother do?  She scoops up the child in her arms and carries him with her as she reaches for the first aid kit.  She gently applies antibiotic ointment and then puts a band-aid over the injury.  The whole time she is calming the child.  It’s okay.  Mommy’s here.  We’re going to take care of this.  It will be okay.  Her words and actions assure the child that indeed, it will be okay.  The heavy breathing and the sobbing stop.  The child has been calmly reassured. 

          Isn’t that what God does with you too?  As your mind lets fear get the best of you, God reaches through the promises in his Word to pick you up and reassure you that it will be okay.  God says:  My child, your sins are ALL forgiven.  My child, nothing can separate you from my love. Nothing!  Not even death itself!  My child, no one and nothing can snatch you out of my hand.  You are mine, now and always! 

          Remember that it is God who has brought you to faith, and it is God who keeps you in the faith.  And it is through faith we grasp onto God’s promises which tell us that there is no need to be afraid.  There is no need to be afraid because Jesus Christ has made everything right for us.  He took the weight and guilt of our sins and removed them as far as the east is from the west.  Even further, the LORD: has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10)

          Think of what that means.  It means that you don’t have to try to rely on your own good deeds.  That’s a good thing!  Without God, you and I are spiritually bankrupt.  But it is as if God has set aside a special bank account for you.  You have put nothing into it at all.  In fact you can’t.  You can only take out of it.  And the funds in that account never run dry.  Christ has covered all your needs. 

A family adopted an older child from a horrific orphanage in another country. When they brought her home, one of the things they told her was that she was expected to clean her room every day. When she heard about that responsibility, she fixated on it and saw it as a way she would earn her family’s love.  Based on her experience in the orphanage, she thought that’s what she had to do.  She feared that if she didn’t, they wouldn’t let her stay. So every morning when her parents came in her room, it was immaculate and she would sit on the bed and would say, “My room is clean. Can I stay? Do you still love me?” Her words broke her new parents’ hearts. 

Eventually, the girl learned that her fear of being rejected by her new family was unfounded.  She came to understand that they loved her unconditionally. She was always going to be a part of this family.

May we understand that God’s loves us unconditionally.  That being said, may all our fears – no matter what they are – dissipate in Christ.  Amen.