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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Life with Surprises

A Sermon Based Upon Genesis 18: 1-15, NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
February 25th, 2018

Dr. Van Murrell, my college New Testament professor, spoke so fast that by trying to record every word ruined my handwriting.   But even as serious as Dr. Murrell was about the New Testament, he had a great sense of humor.   He would often start his class by addressing us as his ‘buddies’ and his ‘scholars’.    Once, on a test about the geography of Israel, Dr. Murrell asked “How many fish are in the Dead Sea?”  He smiled as he handed out test results to those who tried to figure. 

My favorite memory of class was when we begged him to tell his infamous parachute joke.   The joke is about certain fellow who fell off a cliff toward a lake far below.   The poor fellow managed to grab a branch of a tree going down and was now hanging on for dear life.  “Please God, help me!”  He cried.  After a while, someone passing in a motorboat heard his cry.  They pulled near to offer help.  But the fellow declines the help saying  “No thanks.  God will help me!”  Then, a helicopter flies over offering to drop down a ladder.   “No thanks, God will help me!” He persists.  Then, again, someone hears his cry, comes to the edge of the cliff and offers to drop him a parachute.  He declines once more, “No, God will help me!”   In the next moment, the man loses his grip and perishes.  He awakes in heaven and makes a complaint:  “Lord, I’m grateful to be here, but why didn’t you answer my cry for help?”  The Lord answers, “But I did.  I sent you a motorboat, a helicopter and parachute, but you refused each time.”

What made Dr. Murrell’s so funny was that he couldn’t tell a joke.  He was too dry.  His timing was bad.  He would laugh before the punch line.   It was hilarious.  We loved watching him mess up.  We loved the break it gave us from our challenging lessons.   It made us love him, and the New Testament, even more.   Even his poor attempt at humor bonded us together.

Long ago wisdom said, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22).   Today science confirms scripture, explaining that laughter releases endorphins into our body to counter stress.  In other words, laughter is as good for you as eating your daily bowl of oatmeal.   Ironically, however, only two times do we encounter open laughter in the gospels.   Once we hear the mocking laughter of disbelief from the crowd.  Jesus showed up to heal a little girl after they had already started the funeral.   When Jesus spoke his healing word anyway, the little girl got up and the joke was on them (Matt 9:24).   The other encounter with gospel laughter comes from the Beatitudes according to Luke.   This is not the laughter of cynicism, but the laughter of reversal.  Jesus says: “Blessed are you who weep now, for (one day) you will for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21).  This is the heart rejoicing when things go better than you had expected.  And isn't this how most jokes work?  You think you’re going down one path and suddenly everything flips unexpectedly.  We laugh.  In the beatitudes Jesus drew special attention to the joy found in the unexpected grace of God.

Our Scripture today is the first mention of laughter in the Bible.  The text ends with 90 year old ‘Sarah’ overhearing an unannounced visitor telling her husband Abraham, “Your wife Sarah shall have a son” (18:10).  Hearing such a hilarious report, we are told that “Sarah laughed to herself” (18: 12 NRSV).   Sarah didn’t think anyone one could hear her in herself, but this visitor did: “Why did Sarah laugh…?” (v. 13).  In this moment of her life, Sarah had a lot more reasons to weep than to laugh.  Now, even when she is ‘as good as dead,’ she is laughing.  But when she is confronted by the visitor, Sarah denies it.  “I did not laugh”.  Then the visitor counters: “Oh yes, you did laugh” (18:15).

To Sarah and to us, this is not really a funny story.  But wouldn’t you laugh if somebody suggested you would have a child at 90 years old?   When we are young, a positive pregnancy report is a reason for rejoicing.  But expecting a baby after child bearing years are long over?   This is definitely not a laughing matter.  Yet, Sarah laughs.   We need to realize that Abraham laughed too.   In a previous announcement, God told Abraham that as a man of almost 100 years he would finally become a father.  Upon hearing this, we are told that Abraham ‘fell on his face and laughed’ (Gen. 17:17). 

So why is everybody laughing when this is not supposed to be funny?  You know it’s not good to play jokes on ‘old folks’.  Several years ago, we had a Senior Adult Day in the church where I was pastor.  I was in approaching age fifty.   I was already learning about aging.  So, during the message that day, I told a lot of funny stories about aging.  I thought we all needed a good laugh together.  Most everybody agreed, and laughed.  But I noticed that one lady wasn’t laughing.  After the service was over, she came up to me and said: “How dare you make fun of old people!”
          “Ma’am, I’m sorry” I answered, “but I wasn’t making fun, I was trying to help us laugh and have fun together.”
          “It wasn’t funny to me!  She said.   I thought you’d know better!” 
By waiting to fulfill the promise so late, it could seem like God was making fun of old people. You could, if you looked at it in a negative light, take this whole late, delayed, long-overdue fulfilment, and declare it to a very cruel joke.  How dare God make fun with this old people?  Why did he make them wait so long to have a child?  How dare God to have played upon their fears and draw out their faith with so much human drama and desperation?   Doesn’t this God of Abraham not know that life is shouldn’t be a joke?   Why would anybody want to anybody want to believe at all, when the difficulties we face, the challenges we have,  the disappointments that come,  can make God seem to be a player of cruel jokes?   Isn’t it this perspective that has Prometheus, Nietzsche, and now, our society too, crying out for the ‘death of God’

But now, let’s get back to the problem Sarah and Abraham had to face.   Among the most difficult things that can happen to us, being childless is definitely not a joke.  My wife and I experienced it firsthand.  We were unable to have a child naturally.   Back in the 1980’s our doctor encouraged us to go through In-Vitro Fertilization, when it was still at an ‘experimental’ stage.  When he told us there was a good chance we could have a child, we smiled through our fears and hesitations. 

At the time, most insurance companies didn’t cover the procedure.  So we saved over 10k and paid in advance.   As we went through the tedious process, the doctor who had promised to be there for on ‘that day’ wasn’t.    It was a weekend, and another doctor, coming in from a party, filled in for him.  After the procedure, he explained that “there were complications.”   When we finally got a negative result, it all seemed like such a cruel joke.  But I wasn’t laughing?    

The lesson I got from everything was this: If you think trusting God with your life can seem like a cruel joke, trust putting your trust in science.   Some think that technology or human advancement has better answers than faith, but does it, really?  No matter how you look at it, when you are a human being living on borrowed time, no matter what you hope for, life can seem like a cruel joke.  So, why should we put our trust in anything, or in any one, or in God?    

Strangely, and I do mean strangely, this story was told, not to focus on Sarah, or Abraham’s laughter, but to describe an unlikely visit.    Abraham and Sarah did not know who these visitors were, but we know.  The text begins: “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre… (18:1).   If you read closely, this story unfolds full of suspense and surprise.   It tells how Abraham ‘sat at the entrance of his tent,’ looked up, and surprise; there stood three men ‘near him.’   Out of nowhere, these visitors came.   Strange, right?  Then, following the rules of mid-eastern hospitality Abraham hurries to get a meal ready, though he only promised ‘a little water’ and ‘some bread’.   That’s kind of weird too, isn’t it?   Finally, as they are all finishing their meal, one of the visitors inquired about Sarah’s whereabouts.   Then, without waiting on her to be summoned, the visitor gave Abraham the results of the pregnancy test. 

The story gets even stranger.  One of the visitors now being called ‘the Lord,’ turned to Abraham and asked “Why did Sarah laugh?”   It is probable that Abraham didn’t answer because he didn’t hear anything.   Without pause the visitor surprises Abraham with his promise: "I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son" (Gen. 18:10 NRS).  Again, without warning, the dialogue switches back to Sarah, as if Abraham is no longer present.   Now the visitor concludes the conversation, just talking to her heart to heart even while she is outside, without physically leaving Abraham’s tent (Gen. 18: 12-15).   

The strangeness of this whole conversation reflects another odd thing I’ve noticed about the life of Abraham up until now.   Abraham’s story has been filled with promises that seem like they will never come true.   On almost every turn, these promises are being pushed forward again and again into the future.  When Abraham is called, he is given a promise to become a great nation (12:2), but even at the close of his life, he’s still just a small tribe (Gen. 25: 1-8).  When Abraham made a covenant with the LORD, he’s given the promise again, but still no nation, not even a single child of his own blood (15:3).   Then, when the promise is renewed at age 99, it is renewed with the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17: 24).   Did you catch this?  Abraham was circumcised at age 99!  No wonder he fell on his face laughing.  It wasn’t just cruel, but it is totally insane (If you thought childbirth at 90 was cruel).  This slow, unfolding, but deliberate disclosure seems to be with purpose and on purpose, but still no true heir.  Finally, we come to the birth announcement.  Yet still here, the answered promise is still at least 9 months away.  A lot can happen to a woman who pregnant and 90 years of age.   My mother had 7 miscarriages and she was in her 20’s and 30’s.

Besides all this waiting, deferment, and delay, Abraham made a lot of missteps too.  Abraham has faith, but he’s certainly not perfect.  Evidently, this Abrahamic faith was not to be defined by absolute perfection.  When Abraham wandered into Egypt during a drought, he fears for his life and lies about his wife, pretending she is his sister (12:9ff).  Later, when things look hopeless again, Sarah offered her handmaid Hagar, to Abraham as a surrogate wife (16:1ff).   After Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, this caused all kinds of complications of rivalry and jealousy (16:4ff).  It appeared that even these people who live by faith and promise don’t look so promising themselves.   Even while being faithful, faithful people struggle with impatience and shortsightedness. These stories, though so far removed from us, start to seem strangely familiar and reflect our own struggles with faith.     And what was the reason all this was happening?   It was this God, who was so deliberately slow to deliver on his own promise that things got terribly messy and complicated.  Why would Abraham keep believing, trusting, and placing all his hopes in a God that treated him like this?

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul picked up on Abraham’s struggle of faith.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, where it says “Abraham believed the LORD, and “faith was reckoned (or credited) to Abraham as righteousness” (Rom. 4:9).  Paul’s point is to avoid saying that Abraham was righteous, but that he was credited ‘righteous’ because, as Paul writes ‘no distrust’ ever ‘made him waver concerning the promise of God.’ (4:20). But how can Paul make this claim?   He makes this claim based upon Abraham’s faith, in spite of God’s all that did or did not happen to him.   Paul says that even when Abraham was ‘weak’, or ‘already as good as dead’ (19, he was ‘fully convinced that God could do what he had promised’ (21).  Abraham, he says ‘grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God’ (20) even as he was ‘hoping against hope’ (18).  Abraham’s faith was no make-believe, fairytale, or imaginary easy-to-believe faith, but Abraham’s faith was like our faith, like true faith, a struggling, but determined faith including warts and all.  Abraham’s faith was an example of what all faith must be: a struggling, enduring, unwavering faith lived against all odds which was ‘credited’ or ‘reckoned’ to him as the right or only way to live.  Abraham lived right, not because he had no slip ups, but he lived right because he stayed the course in the face of all that did happen, and all that didn’t happen, like he had hoped it would. 

Perhaps it is what Paul said last that is most important:  “Now the words ‘it was reckoned to him’ were not written for his (Abraham’s) sake alone, ‘but for ours also’ (23-24).    Did you catch this?   What was happening in Abraham’s experience of God, is what happens in all people with true, enduring, lasting faith.  Having faith, in spite of everything, is what righteousness, and right living means.   The ultimate expression of faith for the Christian, Pauls says,  is that God will also declare us right, when we believe in him (God) who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead…” (24).  

Abraham’s struggle of faith was not Abraham’s alone.  Abraham’s struggle was to trust life and this is the most basic struggle of every human being.   It was his journey and struggle with faith that made Abraham’s story the foundations of three major world religions.  It wasn’t because Abraham lived to be 175 or because he fathered a child at 100 and not even because his 90 year old wife Sarah had a baby.   No, the story of Abraham has remained with us because it is story about having and keeping faith, no matter what.   We all have to believe in something, because unpredictability and insecurity is a given of human existence. 

But isn’t it the loss of ‘having and keeping’ faith that threatens us today?   We see youth losing ‘faith’ in the world around them; challenging everything, but having little faith to be able to rise above their own situations.   We also see extremes in politics and religion, rising up to spread more hate than hope.   What is really going on?   Harvard philosopher Charles Taylor, named our situation ‘Our Secular Age’.   This ‘secular’ view of the world is the belief that this life and this world is all there is.  A secular world is not ‘enchanted’ with mystery or faith; it is not ‘full of surprises’ and does not need a creator, a sustainer, or a redeemer God to infuse this world with possibilities beyond what we can know, feel, or prove.   No, since there is nothing else, we must have it all now.  We are alive and entitled, now.   We can’t wait on God to fulfill his promises.   We don’t want to go this faith journey.  We don’t expect any surprises in this world, except the experiences we manufacture for ourselves.   It is this kind of self-determining belief that dominates today and it’s a very sad belief, isn’t it?  It’s might even prove to be more burdensome that a having a God who commands and judges because secular faithlessness leaves this world and our life and impending death, to be finally about nothing.  Without God there is no problem, no struggle, and no adventure, and that’s the problem.  The struggle does, and so does the meaning of life, because the faithless say life is going nowhere.  Life is only “… a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Shakespeare).

Is this nothingness what we will settle for?  Probably not.   I say this because of what I saw recently on the news as the rare solar eclipse was approaching back in mid-August.   A popular scientist was on CBS news, explaining how remarkable this event is.   The Sun is 400 times further away from us than the moon, and the moon is exactly 400 times smaller than the Sun.  These exact coincidences he said make a great moment for us to go outside, take a look at what is happening, and ‘commune with the cosmos’.  I though it amazing to hear how ‘religious’ this scientist sounded.   Everything we trust God for, he put his trust to find in rare, predictable, and physical cosmic event.   Is this where science is trying to take us?   Is where people find their hopes, dreams and faith, in the years to come?  Will we settle for the way things are, or will we allow this rare visitor to bring faith’s greater surprise?  

Interestingly our text expresses the way to have faith in this visitor, in the form of an unanswered question.   After the visitor heard Sarah laughing, he asked what will forever remains faith’s most important question: “Is there anything to hard (too wonderful) for the LORD?”  The whole point of this Abraham story is not what it seems; that God made Abraham struggle, endure and wait, but that in this very real, dramatic, human struggle and journey we call life, God showed up.  After Abraham’s father left Ur and settled in Haran, God called and showed up.  After Abraham struggle in Egypt felt all alone, God showed up and made his promise again.   Then, after Abraham and Sarah thought they would have to settle for Hagar and Ishmael, God showed up again.   And now, even when they are ‘as good as dead’, God shows up to accomplish what only God can do; bring his own promise to fulfillment. 

So, now this question forever remains with us, because it is still the human choice between faith or faithlessness, between hope and hopelessness, and between love: Do need to trust in a God who brings surprises, revelations, prospects and possibilities beyond what we now know?  Jesus himself answered this question for us, in the affirmative: “This is not possible with mortals, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 18:27).  Interestingly, Jesus made this statement in response to the question about “Who can be saved?” because, he said, it is ‘hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of God’  (Luk 18:25, Mark 10:25, Matt 19: 24).   Precisely because it is ‘hard’ for people who think they have everything to think they need God, is exactly the ‘impossibility’ that God can overcome.

In commenting on this impossible possibility of faith in God,  Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, ‘the question (of faith) does not linger with babies and birth stories (in the Bible), but it moves also to the impossibility of discipleship, the impossibility of faith, and the impossibility of a new community.  The right answer faith gave in Scripture, is the right answer faith still gives, when we have faith and keep faith, that allows God the freedom to be God and trust God to do what only God can do.   It is only by entertaining this kind of faith;  a faith in a God who still visits us with both promise and surprise, that we can keep faith in a world that has ‘frighteningly’ no future without a future in the possibility of God (See Interpretation Commentary, Genesis, pp 159-162)., 1982).

Speaking of possibilities only in Abraham’s God; as I wrote this message back in August, the world had again be disrupted by another devastating terror attack, now in Barcelona, Spain.  How in the world will a threat like this ever be stopped?   It’s seems impossible.  How will these extremist ever learn a message of love, not hate?   And it isn’t that much different when we see all the division and hate also going on in this country. How can we move beyond it all? But only two week before the attack in Barcelona, there was a surprising CBSN New report, about an 86 year old Texas born, Pentecostal evangelist, Marylyn Hickey, who was traveling and preaching, spreading the message of love in Jesus Christ, even in most Muslim Pakistan.  Pakistan is not only predominately Muslim, but it is also a hotbed of Muslim fundamentalism, where Osama Bin Laden had his final hideout.   But in this most strange report, reporter James Brown, told how this Pentecostal lady message of Christ love was being warmly accepted by a Muslim population, and she was not at all, deem by the masses to be a threat.  I could not believe what I was seeing, it was one of those ‘impossibilities’ becoming possible right before my own eyes that were glued to what I was seeing.   (

Could it be that there are still, among the ‘impossibly’ of this world, possibilities that only the God of Abraham can bring.   “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus said.   Are there answers and possibilities that have already revealed to us, but are not yet fully accepted by us, as they have been supremely revealed in the love of God through Jesus Christ?  
Fleming Rutledge tells of an article in The New Yorker about an CEO who boasted that his own multi-national company named Schulmberger was now able to do its employees and its customers ‘what religion had tried to do, but failed to do’.   He said his company is providing for people community, identity, and security just like religion attempted to do, but ‘religion’ he said, could not and cannot deliver on its promises.’  Religion, he said, can’t deliver, because religion is made up of only ‘human projections, wishes, fantasies, fears, and longings.’
You may be surprised to hear that I agree wholeheartedly with this CEO.  Religion can’t deliver anything.  Religion is a human way to approach God, appease God, please God, or even to invent God.   But this God of Abraham and Sarah, was not about ‘religion’ that any human can or would invent.   This is a story about a relationship with the God who is revealed in a relationship of faith, not in a religion.  “Before Abraham was, I Am,” Jesus said  (John 8:58).   My name is “I Am who I Am”, God informed Moses (Ex. 3:14).    This God who is the great “I AM” has been revealed fully in Jesus Christ as “the way and truth and life.”  

And finally, this God of promise and possibility has not been revealed to shrink our human potentials and prospects, but to expand them.   This visitor from beyond who brings us all our possibilities, still comes to through the Spirit of the Christ, who by living, dying, and being raised from the dead, has revealed the unlimited resources of God, through faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest resource for all our possibilities, then and now, and from now on, will forever be God’s love.    It is love that gives us, and restores to us, the joy of the salvation only God can give.  Amen.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Promise In a Name

A Sermon Based Upon Genesis 17: 1-7; 15-16, NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
February 18th, 2018

One of William Shakespeare’s most famous quotes has Juliet asking Romeo: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Juliet’s point was that it didn’t matter what Romeo’s family name was because they loved each other.

So, what is in a name?   When I started college I made a little fun with my name.  While introducing myself, I say something like, “I’m Charles Tomlin from a little village called ‘Charles’ and I grew up on a road named ‘Tomlin’.  With tongue in cheek I added: “My parents weren’t real creative.”  Of course, I was only joking.  Actually, I was named “Charles” after my father.  My middle name is Joseph, but my nickname is “Joey”.  The reason they didn’t call me Joseph or Joe was because “Joey” was the name I already had when my parents adopted me at nine months.   Sometimes there’s a lot that can be said with a name.

In our text today, Abram got his new name: “Abraham.”   As Abraham journeyed with God, he lived by the promise that he would give birth to a great people.   Today three major religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, go back to this “Abraham”.   We connect to Abraham through his most famous three sons; Isaac, Ishmael, and of course, Jesus who was born of ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Matt. 1:1).   What is most important, however, is not any kind of genealogical connection, but the spiritual connection we can have.  So, first, before we get to how Abram became Abraham, let’s review the most important spiritual details of this story.

This story of renaming begins, not with the renaming of Abraham, but with God making his own name crystal clear.   Perhaps, since Abram was 99 years old, he needed a reminder.  I already need a lot of reminding at this dear age of “60”.   But this is probably less about Abram’s need to be reminded, as much as, it is about God’s desire to reveal himself.   At the center of this story is one of the greatest of spiritual truths ever encountered:  We can’t fully know who we are, or what life means, without knowing this God whom we call ‘the one true God.’   “I am the Almighty God…” literally means, “I am the God of the Mountain top”, or as we might translate it:  I’m at the top of everything you imagine to be God.

For you see, Abram did not come from a land that was devoid of God, but he came from a land of many gods, many forms of worship, and many different religious understandings.   It was out of this ‘many’ that this one ‘Almighty God’ revealed himself.  This revelation did not come through a mere idea, but through a specific people who were called to live, to believe, trust, and to follow the promise of this God who would bless them, and by blessing them, would bless the whole world.   This isn’t a ‘bad’ vision of God, is it?   In a time when many people today have become afraid of religion, thinking of religious faith as a negative, harmful or meaningless, what if we could recapture this ‘vision’ or ‘revealing’ a God who blesses?

Again, Abram came out of a world where there were many gods: temple gods, national gods, local community gods, and household gods.  Hardly anyone in that day would have dared suggested that there wasn’t a god.  There was, on the contrary, a god for just about any occasion.  Giving a mind, soul, or personal name to nature or other unseen powers was the way that ancient people made meaning for their lives.  They believed that appeasing and pleasing these gods would help to control their own destiny.  Today, few would name all these invisible powers ‘gods’, but we name them mother nature, random situations, or specific circumstances.   And even though some ‘circumstances’ seem to have a mind of their own, fewer people today think they need an understanding of many gods or any God, for that matter.  While the Hebrew Psalmist wrote that “Only a fool says in his or her heart, there’s no God (Psa. 14:1, 53:1, Luk. 12:20),”  the direction of most people’s thinking today is exactly the opposite, “Only fools still say there is an “Almighty God.”

The popular Welsh philosopher of the last century, Bertrand Russell explained how modern people shouldn’t base their lives on a “God who can’t be proven”.  This was is the evolving, advancing norm for thinking people, since the European Enlightenment.  And Russell and the Enlightenment thinkers are right: The Bible never once tried to prove the existence of God.  It does not prove God, but assumes God.  The problem today is not that God has been disproven, but that belief in God is being ‘discarded’ or ‘displaced’ by people with either money of power. But even this decline of faith in God, the basic questions of life still remain ultimately unanswerable without faith.   

The most specific question that still remains is: “Do people live better and die better by the facts, or do people live better and die better when they they have ‘hope’ beyond the ‘facts’?  Interestingly, when a woman in Great Britain heard this philosopher explain that she shouldn’t believe a God who wasn’t provable, she decided to keep going to church to worship God anyway as an ‘act’ of her faith.   And the woman was right to do so.  Most philosophers today admit they don’t really live just by the facts either.  Since God can’t be proven or disproven, you simply express a specific kind of ‘faith’ when you say that there is no God.   For just as Abraham followed God by faith (Hebrews 11: 8ff), not by sight, so we who choose to have faith, we follow in Abraham’s footsteps.  The real question in our lives is not will I have faith or not, but which kind of faith will we have?  Will my faith include the revealed faith, or will my kind of ‘faith’ exclude the revealed faith with a hope that replaces God.  This is why the Biblical question is not, do you believe, but which God will you serve,  God, or Money?  Whether you admit it or not, you will still have a god. (

Several years ago, in 2001, I flew to Boston, Massachusetts twice, to interview for a position as pastor of a Baptist Church in one of the nearby suburbs.  Interestingly, I flew in and out of Logan Airport, the same Airport terrorist flew out of, only four months later.   One day, during my visit, I went into a local book store and came across a book written by local Harvard Professor of Psychiatry, Armand Nicoli.  For thirty-five years, Dr. Nicoli had taught the most popular class at Harvard.  This book was based on those lectures entitled, “The Question of God”.   Public Television had made a Documentary about the contents of the book.  The class lectures were based on arguments of the Oxford professor, C.S. Lewis who converted from atheism to Christianity, compared to the arguments of the Austrian Sigmund Freud, a Jew who became an atheist, who is thought of as the founder of modern psychology.   If you have any ‘questions’ about God, you ought to read that book, or check out the documentary.  Without making one single argument, and without making one single conclusion, by the time you finish that book, you’ll understand a great distinction between a life lived by a person of faith moving toward God, verses someone running away from having faith in God.   What is that distinction? (

Perhaps the greatest distinction between a faithful and faithless person, is whether or not they actually live their lives based on the moral command of this ‘Almighty God’.   This is exactly what it meant for Abram to become Abraham; the father of all revealed faith.   Abram was never given any kind of explanation, proof, or theory about God, but he was ‘commanded’ to live a higher standard of morality by this God.   

I don’t want to get into a deep discussion about proving God, but I do think it is important to understand, that what we see happening in this moral command that is being placed upon Abram, ‘to walk….and be blameless’, is precisely what C.S. Lewis wrote about in his greatest writing, Mere Christianity.   Lewis said that: “The human conscience reveals to us a moral law whose source cannot be found in the natural world, thus pointing to a supernatural Lawgiver. (  The point is, where does our sense of ‘ought’ come from?  Does it only come from ourselves, or does it come from the God who created us, and commands us to live before him?   I realize that there are many who would argue that human morality is merely evolutionary; that morality is simply a way that humans try to protect themselves.  But how can loving your enemy protect you?  How can turning the other cheek, protect you?   How can giving your life for another person, protect you?   There are so many ways that human wish or will does not explain the high moral potential of the human person.  Personally, I think that the greatest moral sense is as a result of nothing less than the command and call of God.  That’s exactly how it came to Abraham, and it is still the highest calling ever placed upon humanity is to rise above ourselves and to live the command of God.  

And this is exactly what frightens many non-religious people today.  Many see religious faith as being very dangerous, because it is not based on logic, on mere reason, or on the facts or good that can be proven.   When a suicide bomber blows up innocent people, many of them are also claiming, not only a connection back to Abraham, but they are saying that they have been ‘commanded’ by God to ‘walk before him’ and ‘to be blameless’.  But to be ‘blameless’ as they interpret it, is to do what God says, no matter who gets hurt. 

While we can agree that religious faith can be dangerous; so can natural gas, fire, water, wind and too much air.   Anything in this world can be abused, and the greatest abuse of true religious faith is to miss the main point of ‘why’ Abram was called to ‘walk before God and be blameless’; Abraham was to be blessed to be a blessing.   When we make religion only our own private pipeline to God we’ve missed the main point of what faith in God is all about.  Faith isn’t merely about being faithful to God or responding in faith in God on our own account, but faith in God is both a call and command to ‘walk before God’ so we can ‘walk with others’.  As one Old Testament Scholar, Terence Fretheim has said, “This God who calls Abraham is a missionary God.”  This God of the Hebrews is the God who not only commands that the children of Abraham follow and love him, but he is the true God who calls and commands Abraham to by a standard of morality that enables him to bless others. (See Genesis, NIB, Abingdon Press, 1994, pp 457-461).

What we see in Abraham’s life; is not a perfect, sinless person, but he is a very moral person.   He gave his nephew Lot the first choice of the best land so there would be no scabble (Gen. 13:8ff).  When Lot was later kidnapped, Abraham got a small army together to rescue him  (Gen. 14:12ff).  After the battle was over, Abraham refused to get rich from the battle.  Instead, Abraham gave thanks by worshipping ‘the most High God’ and paying a tithe (a tenth of all he had) to the very mysterious priest, Melchizedek (Gen. 14:16ff).  And even when God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for its degradation into sin, it was Abraham who tried to talk God out of it (Gen 18:17ff).  Whatever you want to say about Abraham, you must say that Abraham is depicted as someone answering the command to a higher moral life—a kind life that is blessed to be a blessing. 

People whose lives are bound to God, can have an inner strength that ties loose ends of hearts and minds together.  This idea comes from the great psychiatrist and student of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, who disagreed with Freud’s skeptical atheism.  What Jung observed in his own study of human minds and emotions, is that people are ‘loose ends’ of feelings and commitments, without a calling, command, or loyalty to the mysterious truth of God, who is more than their individual selves ( See Interpreter’s Dictionary of Bible, Genesis, p. 608, and C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Brace & Co., 1933, p. ).   

Perhaps the most important part of Abraham’s life, was that after God called and commanded him, he did not live his life trying to live up to his own name, but as Abraham he lived his life toward the promise in the name God gave him.   There really isn’t that much difference in this name, Abram, or Abraham, in its spelling; but there is all the difference in the world the meaning; between living your life only for yourself, or living your life for the God who has called you by name to be more than you can be alone.   Living toward God’s promise is what makes Abraham’s story for us too.  As Christians, we are also a people given a ‘new name’ when we are baptized ‘in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts. 2:38).”   This is what the Apostle Paul meant on two occasions, once when he asked: ‘Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20 NLT).   In the very next chapter of this first letter to the Corinthians, he repeats this calling and command, making it even clearer that God commands your life, not to take it from you, but to give it back to you on better terms: God paid a high price for you, so don't be enslaved by the world” (1 Cor. 7:23 NLT).

At the heart of good psychology, philosophy, and good theology too, going all the way back to Abrahamic faith, the kind of ‘name’ you live up to determines your life  (There are even studies going on today to prove our name can impact behavior,   In Christian terms, the name you are given by God in Jesus Christ, (which used to be the name given at Christian Baptism), symbolizes the power only God can give which he promises to redeem us from sin, death and destruction.  But you have to let God give you his name.   You must not only believe on his name, but you must also live in his name, “in Christ” (Rom. 8:10; 12:4, 1 Cor. 1:2, 30, Eph 2:10, , Col. 1:27), Paul says over and over.   You must determine to live our lives by this ‘name that is above every other name,… (Phil. 2: 5-11).   It is this ‘name’ that saves us by giving us a new name (Isa. 62: 2; Rev. 2:17, 3:12).

There is an old story about two young brothers who were caught stealing sheep. The punishment back then was to brand the thief's forehead with the letters S.T., which stood for sheep thief. One brother subsequently left the village and spent his remaining years wandering from place to place indelibly marked by disgrace. The other remained in the village, made restitution for the stolen sheep, and became a caring friend and neighbor to the townspeople -- an old man loved by all. Many years later, a stranger came to town and inquired about the S.T. on the old man's forehead. "I'm not sure what it means," another told him. " It happened so long ago, but I think the letters must stand for saint." God has a myriad of other names to describe his beloved children, but his favorites are names that describe a person who fulfills his purpose after he gets a name change  (From a sermon by Paul Kummer, From This Day Forward, CSS Publishing, This and the final three stories also come from his sermon).
It was this ‘new’ name that was given to Abram that put God’s promise on continual display.  As Abraham submitted to his new name, he was given promises, not just passively, but actively, because they commanded and expected Abraham’s participation in the promise:  “This is my covenant with you  (v. 4); I will make you the father of nations….(v. 4), I will make you fruitful….(v. 6),… I will give you a land,… (v. 8),…  I will be your God (v. 8).   The whole idea of promise was not just a promise that God made, but a promise that Abraham also made to live into and toward the promises of God.

After all these promises were made to Abraham, God said to him: “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility (Gen. 17:9 NLT).  The outward sign of Abraham’s willingness to live up to his responsibility of the covenant was ‘circumcision’.  In the New Testament, as a very Jewish Christianity became a world movement,   was only a spiritual form of circumcision that was required; a ‘circumcision of the heart’ (Rom. 2:29), which has always been ‘faith’ (Rom. 4:11ff).  To receive the promises of God today, as it was then, what matters most is what happens in the human heart, as a person decides to live life ‘by faith’, not only by sight (Heb. 11:1ff).  This means that we come to understand that our own life is given to us as a ‘trust’ between us and our creator, who also promises to be our redeemer with hope, through Jesus Christ.   Now, since we receive the fullness of God’s promises through the name of Jesus, we are called to live up to the ‘name’ we’ve been given ‘in him’ (2 Thess. 1:12, 3:6).

How well are we living up to the name God gave us: Christian? Once, when Alexander the Great was reviewing his troops , he walked along the straight lines, he found one scruffy, untidy, disheveled soldier. Standing directly in front of the soldier, he barked at him and said, 'What is your name, private? "Alexander, sir!" came the reply.
Staring even more sternly at him, the Emperor asked again, "What is your name?"
Again the soldier said, "Alexander, sir!"
 Without hesitation, the Commander in Chief once again asked him, "Private, I said, what is your name?" Bewildered, the soldier meekly said, "Alexander, sir!"
The leader then replied, "Well, private, either change your conduct or change your name!"

In another famous story, Francis of Assisi invited a young monk to join him on a trip to town to preach. Honored to be asked, the monk gladly accepted. All day long he and Francis walked through the streets, alleyways, the byways, and even the suburbs. They saw and interacted with hundreds of people. At day's end, the two headed back home. Not even once had Francis addressed a crowd, nor had he specifically talked to anyone about Jesus. His young companion was deeply disappointed and confused. "I thought we were going into town to preach." Francis replied, "My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!"  
As we walk with Christ today, just as Abraham also walked with God by faith, we also live toward God’s promises, as we live our lives ‘in Jesus name’.  And it is not just by words that we live, but it is also by deeds.  As Jesus said, “Many say Lord, have we not preached in your name….”,  but “I never knew (them)’ (Matt. 7:22).  A life lived in Jesus’ name, must be more than words, but also deeds.   A final story told from World War II, is about a church in Strasbourg, France, was destroyed and little remained, but rubble. When that was cleared, a statue of Christ, standing erect, was found. It was unbroken except for the two hands, which were missing. In time, the church was rebuilt. A sculptor, noticing the missing hands on the statue of Christ, said, "Let me carve a new statue of Christ, with hands." Church officials met to consider the sculptor's proposal. His offer was rejected. A spokesman for the church said, "Our broken statue will serve to remind us that Christ touches the hearts of men, but he has not a hand to minister to the needy or feed the hungry or enrich the poor except our hands." 

This is the calling of Christians (little Christs) and saints: to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. This is what is meant by bearing ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ of Jesus (Gal. 2:22), so that we live by his good name (Acts 10:38) and so we can keep ours (Phil 4:8; 1 Tim 3:7).   It was this same kind of calling that Abraham and Sarah had, and it is why God called Jacob, Saul, and Peter by new names.  To answer this calling for us today is to declare with Paul and Peter that in our lives, there is ‘no other name by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12) because we have found our life in his name (John 10:10).   Do you have the promise of this name?  Amen.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Faith As a Journey

A Sermon Based Upon Genesis 12: 1-9, NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
February 4, 2018

Most of you recall that wonderful opening scene in the Sound of Music, where the camera’s begin with a grand panoramic view of the Alps, but then slowly zooms in on one particular mountain top, where Julie Andrews whirls around and around and begins to sing, “The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music!”  I’ve been to those Alps and they are as majestic as the pictures, even more.  

That unforgettable scene of the Alps opens up a romantically told story about the motherless Von Trapp family, a former nun, and how she leaves the convent to marry into the family, and they all end up barely escaping the rise of Nazi Europe.  While Hollywood took liberties with the story, the basis is true.  The Von Trapp’s are a very musical family, the former nun did marry the decorated Sea Captain, and they did leave Austria for the United States under the shadow of Hitler’s rise to power. 

Part of what fascinated American audiences about the Rogers and Hammerstein musical story was how they escaped world that was falling apart, to find hope and promise in a new world called America.   And of course we America’s love such stories, because we can relate.  Most of our ancestors and forefathers and foremothers came here on a risky, perilous journey too.  America is filled with many celebrated journey stories, like the stories of the Pilgrims, the Pioneers, and others, like the explorers Lewis and Clark, who paved the way for other to “Go West, Young Man!”   And what about some of those fun “Road Trip Movies”, including the first one I ever saw when “I Love Lucy” went to Hollywood on Route 66?  The Sherriff of Mayberry once travel to Hollywood, but became disillusioned and homesick for Mayberry.  

In our text for today, when Abraham (then called Abram), heard God’s call to leave his home and go on a journey of faith, the text says he ‘went’, and he never looked back.   Abraham’s journey of faith is foundational in the Bible, and its story is shared by three major religions; Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  For the next few weeks, we are going to be traveling with Abraham on his journey of faith; and at the same time, thinking, reflecting, and considering our own faith as a journey.   After we travel a bit through Genesis, we will turn to the New Testament and consider how this very Jewish Abraham, is one of the most important biblical figures for Christians, and Muslims too.   The Old Testament book of Isaiah and the New Testament book of James both refer to Abraham as ‘a friend of God’.  Could it be that Abraham’s story and journey invites us to become God’s friends too?   But how can it be, that we could be even contemplating that the powerful force that created this great universe, as infinite as it seems, could also be a personal power we might befriend?  This could make the most devout among us, at least dumbfounded, if not at most, secretly skeptical, couldn’t it?
Back in late July, a doctor recommended that I go and have a ‘sleep study’ done at Wake Forest Baptist Health.  The study was done the basement of the Old Hawthorne Inn, located between Winston and Salem.  The young man helping to ‘wire me up’ and conduct my study was from Mt. Airy.   He was a pleasant young man, engaged to girl working on her PHD in microbiology.   He was to take her to the airport the very next day, where she was attending a research conference in Munich.  She was working as a research student at Wake Forest on the Mitochondria, in hopes of finding a way to slow aging.   

After we chatted about her visit to Germany, the young man, Jose I’ll call him, told me how his Father was Mexican Catholic and mother was a Jehovah’s Witness.  When I asked him about whether he was Catholic or Jehovah’s Witness, like his mother, he told me that he, like most young people his age, has little need, or use for religion.  Maybe he would return to it someday, he said, but today ‘it’s not where he is’.   

Like many of his generation, Generation X or “Next”, Jose does not have any need for religion.  The truth is that most of the young people his age, are leaving organized religion in ‘droves’.   For the first time in American history, most Americans are deciding to go the journey alone, without God.   And though some of them just don’t see any need for God right now (because they are young), many of them don’t believe that having any kind of faith in God is a credible, viable, or worthwhile option.   Pew Research gives many reasons for the decline of religion in America, as it has been in Europe.  But one of major reason cited is the problem of book of Genesis.  They just can’t get their parents, churches, and Sunday School teachers to talk honestly or intelligently to them about God, Genesis, Creation, and Evolution.  No one has helped them resolve all the questions they have about Science and Faith, so they have chosen to drop ‘faith’ and go with ‘science’.

We are not going to talk about the Creation/Evolution question from Genesis, but we are going to talk about another ‘faith’ question, that is just as puzzling, to many thinking people today.  That question has to do with this ‘call of Abram’ or ‘Abraham’ that is revered among three major, revealed, traditional religions.  If you go to Jerusalem today, you can go visit the great Muslim shrine, the “Dom of the Rock,” towering over the center of Jerusalem, Mt. Moriah, where Abraham was ordered by God to offer only son as a sacrifice to God.  We’ll speak about that story from Genesis 22 later, but right now, we need to see that, for most young people today, this story about Abraham being told to sacrifice his only Son, has the same problem the Creation story and this “Call” story does.  In other words, how did Abraham know God told him, called him, and how did Abraham know there was only one God to answer,  when there were so many gods and idols to confused his journey of faith?

Whatever the story of Abraham means, it refers to a life that answers one unique God, who calls people to a life of faith.   And as one Jewish Harvard scholar, James Kugel clearly noted: “What seems to be worth considering here (and many other passages in the Hebrew Bible), is what Abraham does to bring about this encounter with God: absolutely nothing.   He does not pray, he does not fast, he indulges in no acts of self-mortification such as those practiced by mystics and seekers in later times.  Presumably Abraham is just walking along one day or sitting somewhere when God starts talking to him…  From text’s standpoint: God spoke to Abraham and that was all that mattered (The God of Old, J.L. Kugel, 2003, p. 38-39).”  

So is the problem of faith today because God has stopped talking, or because we aren’t listening?   Now, that’s a relevant question, isn’t it?   And I don’t know who can answer it, as least for those who don’t, can’t or won’t hear God’s voice.  There are quite many people who still say ‘this or that’ is what God is saying, but not all of them are reliable.   For this reason, much of our society has decided no religious belief can be that reliable.   This is why ‘God’ and ‘religion’ has been neutralized in public places and confined to personal space.   As one pastor started politely praying, “To that great force beyond”, until he learned better and returned to the God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Jesus (Willimon).   Since the ‘voice’ of God can’t be proven, can’t be recorded, nor can it be properly categorized, except by a psychiatrist at a mental hospital who might file it under ‘irrational’, then who can definitively say, when, how, or if God speaks or actually calls people today to take a journey called faith?

The situation of reviving and revitalizing faith seems helpless, if not hopeless, except for one problem:  The problem for both antagonists; who oppose or care less about faith,  and for protagonists; who think they have God all sewed up in their own understanding.  Here is the big problem in two words:  ‘Abram went.’  In other words, we have 4000 years of a Jewish story goes back ‘a wandering Aramean as it’s Father’.  We have a Christianity that acknowledges Abraham’s children with one of Abraham’s children saying: “Even before Abraham was, I am.”   And lastly, we even have Islam, albeit a ‘step child’ of faith, but a child of faith nevertheless, still crying out in the wilderness to be part of the ‘blessing’ of faith.

Abraham went, but where did he go?  Does his story still mean anything for us?  Can his story still show us what it meant and what it still means to ‘hear God’s voice’ and ‘answer God’s call’?   And if Abraham was called a ‘friend of God’, as he is in both Testaments, how do we continue to be a ‘friend of God’ in our time, that is, how do we have a relationship with God, and can or does it matter?  Does it matter that we might still ‘hear’, ‘answer’ and ‘go’ like Abraham, went?

When I was going through missionary training, I was the only pastor/preacher in our group.  So, they asked me to bring the devotion one day, and speak about our common ‘call’ to international missions.  I preached on Abraham.  There were almost 30 different people in our missionary group, and we were joining over 4,000 others, along with almost 5,000 Home Missionaries, meaning almost 9,000 people that Southern Baptists had employed in world missions. How did all these people get there?  What moved in all those different folks to cause them to leave comfortable jobs, loving families, sell all their belongings, and give up their lives back home?  And why were some of these missionaries going into very dangerous places, where they not only could get sick or diseased, but where they could be robbed, or even killed?  Why where they all, like Hebrews says of Abraham, “He went, not knowing where he would go?”  Were all these people delusional?  Of course, they were Baptists.  Baptists do tend to get edgy at times.  Where all these good folks mistaken or misinformed?  They were surely not doing it for the money, because their salaries were meager.  Many of those salaries would rise and fall with the exchange rate.  The Southern Baptist Convention, in that day at least, was a great institution, that tried to take care of its missionaries, but as I learned, while living in Europe during the Gulf War, one day when a letter arrived for me from Richmond; mission headquarters:  “Our nation is at war and that war may spill over into Europe.  Please attempt to look less like an American.  If you are kidnapped, please know in advance, that the International Mission Board, nor the State Department, pay your ransom.  You are in our prayers.”

When I entered Eastern Germany as a missionary, to work with a German congregation, and develop Christian youth ministry in a once communist, atheistic area, one question that always came from those who learned about me, both from the newspapers, or from the schools and churches was this;  “Why did you come here?” “Don’t you have friends and family back home?”   This was the question we were asked over and over, both at home and abroad, as it had a possible answer many simply could not understand in their own lives.  “Why did you come, or go?”  It meant few, either Christian or non, had any context of hearing God’s voice or answering God’s call.  Do we?

One of the most surprising things about Abraham’s own call, at least as we know of it, is what we are told just at the end of chapter 11.  Abraham’s father Terah was already on a journey headed to Canaan, before Abraham heard God’s voice.   Terah had already left Ur of the Chaldeans, but had settled in Haran, never making it the whole way.   All we are told is that Abraham’s father died there, in Haran.   But it was in the land where Abraham’s father had ended his journey, that God called Abraham to begin his.   We don’t know if God had spoken to Abraham’s father before.  We know they all came out of a land of many gods, and many approaches to truth.   All we know is that after Abraham’s father died, it was the journey had stopped, that the journey began again,  and this time God called, Abraham answered.

What is new in Abraham’s journey of faith was not the journey, but the promise of the journey.  It is the promise that made it a matter of faith.  God said:  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.   I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”    The journey of faith is not to be a curse, but a blessing.   Abraham was to be made great, not for the sake of being blessed, but for the sake of bringing a great blessing into the world, because as God told him, through him, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

Is this another one of those ‘far-fetched’ ideas?  Who ever heard of gaining a ‘blessing’ so that you could ‘be a blessing’?   Most of the people in this world seem to be in it just themselves. Even in the church, we make it about ourselves,  blessing our family, or our own group.  Who ever heard gaining a blessing to be a blessing?   Isn’t this all so foreign, strange, and unheard of in this ‘dog eat dog’ world?   We live in a world where it’s sink or swim, kill or be killed, as the heavy metal song goes:    “Release the warrior within,  No choice, no way back,  Survivor philosophy, Dead end, to kill or be killed,  Take charge, no ruth for the weak… ….It’s useless Soul’s broken, ….It’s sink or swim…. Get up Get up now Get up, Don’t stop fighting …. Own this war…. Those who live are those who fight …. you’re big as you’ll be Tonight, we praise your success,  Glory, to your name,  Greatness, awaits you back home,  Your tale will always be known, Mighty, hallowed be thy name Legend, you have become.  It’s sink of swim, kill or be killed….”

In the letter to Hebrews, we find the Christian commentary on what it meant that Abraham ‘went’ and followed the beat of a different drum, when it says,  “By faith Abraham obeyed when he set out for a place…not knowing where he was going”  (Heb. 11: 8).  At least in the Christian mind, the Abraham ‘strange’ faith was obedience to the voice that was not his own.  It goes on to say that he ‘looked forward to the city that has foundations, who architect and builder is God…’ (Heb. 11: 10).

This is the kind of ‘faith’ that called, motivated, moved Abraham.  It was a call from to move beyond himself, toward blessing and being blessed, all because of his faith in one, true God. 
But maybe you aren’t there yet?  Maybe you’re are one of those troubled about whether this call to have a faith journey is real, or really matters enough to give your life to.  Maybe you’re saying to yourself, I don’t know God like that, or I can’t know God like that, or maybe even, you are like the skeptic who says, no one ever really knew God like this, and it’s just ancient story that was told to motivate religion wasn’t true, but just human imagination based upon fear.  Maybe this is where you are, or maybe you are just another polite listener who likes what you hear, but believes that this is a call to a faith journey is meant for someone else, but you can’t go there, won’t go there, dare not go there.

But I ask you to consider this text once more.  At least in one version of the Bible, th New Revised Version, a more modernized, more accurately interpreted version of the ancient Hebrew language, we find a word of encouragement that is meant just for you, whoever you are.    The text tells us that when Abraham journeyed… he went in stages, but not all at once.  God spoke to Terah, but he could only go so far.  Then God spoke to Abraham.  He went, he obeyed, but he could only go ‘in stages’ too.  This journey of faith is never a journey you make all at once, or once for all, but it a journey where faith mean, you walk by faith, and not by sight; you walk one step at a time, and not all steps at one time.   It is a journey where you are on a journey, and you never reach the final destination, until the journey is over, and the faith journey is never over, until faith becomes what only faith can become,  the realization of faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these, even greater than faith itself, is the love and the hope that is shared on the journey, so that faith is never about the destination, but it is always about the journey, that can only be lived, taken, and known, by faith.

Now, I know I’ve said too much here, so let me conclude with a window that lets you and I look into the window that is faith, ours and Abraham’s, which is still one and the same, no matter that we are at different times or different places.  This window into faith is the window we all look through all the time, whether we are atheist, scientist, believer, church goer, young or old.   The truth is, we all live by faith, whether we realize it, baptize it, or acknowledge it at all.   It’s like I was sharing with the young man at the hospital, who said he didn’t have any time for religion right now.  I didn’t really ask him for any details; all I could do it try to plant a seed; a seed of faith.   I found this seed, when I was watching a Science show, perhaps NOVA, on PBS.  After they told about the immense vastness of the universe, millions and millions of lightyears across, and still expanding; then they said something I’ll never forget.  They said that all of the elements of this big universe, no matter how far away it seems; almost all the stuff that makes up this big space, all those stars, and all those planets; even the ones that might have, or don’t have life on them; all those elements out there, are just like 97% of the elements we find on earth.  In other words, we are all, everything, pretty much made of the same stuff.

This the same kind of thing Missionaries believed when they risked their lives, to go to far away places to love people they’d never met.  This the same kind of belief, doctors had when they started running experiments, believing that if they helped some people, they were helping all people.  And this was the same kind of belief that people like Martin Luther King had, when he believed when he hoped for a time, even in America, when people would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.   Who could believe stuff like this?  People who had faith.  And whether your realize it or not, for the most part, at least in the civilization we know, it all started when Abraham believed, and went out on faith.  Amen.