Faith in the Real World

Published: Monday, 28 August 2017

This sermon was presented at ABC by Rev Nguyễn Hữu Tri. It is the fourth sermon in our series about Abraham(Abram) and Sarah(Sarai).

Genesis 14: 1 - 24

Previously in the ABC preaching series on the life and faith of Abram and Sarai, we learned how God called Abram and Sarai to go from their country, kindred and their fathers house to the land that God will show them. (Gen 12)

In obedience to God’s call, Abram and Sarai received God’s promises; ofwell-being, security, prosperity, prominence, fruitfulness, peace…’[1] (Gen 12: 2-3)

While God promises to bless, Abram and Sarai were called to journey on, step by step, believing…

This was quite a challenge for this couple who could not have children, who only had a vague sense of where they were going and how on earth God was going to bless them…

While on the journey, their faith was put to the test when they encountered ‘a severe famine in the land’ (Gen 12: 10). It was so bad that they had to go all the way down south - to Egypt - to seek asylum. And there, fearful for his own life, Abram schemes up a risky plan, asking Sarai to pose as his sister, if anyone asks.

Abram may have acted according to the conventional wisdom of the day, but it was an action that goes against what God had promised. Everything could have gone terribly wrong here…

But fortunately God intervened - Abram and Sarai not only got off with their lives and marriage safe and secure - they were also loaded with provisions.

Just when it seems they were back on track on the road to blessings, conflict arose with Abram’s nephew, Lot. Having a conflict with Pharaoh is one thing, conflict with your own relations is quite another. (Gen 13: 1 - 13)

Here again Abram resolves the conflict with a risky plan, letting his nephew choose the direction and the land that he would inhabit – Lot chose the luscious well-watered plains of the Jordan. However, God shows up again and assures Abram that what God has promised God will fulfil, even when Abram fails to trust.

All the land - not just a choice between left or right that Lot had, but northward and southward and eastward and westward is open to him. Once again God calls Abram to lift up his eyes, look, see, to get up and ‘walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.’ (13:17)

But just when Abram moves about the land…

Our reading today, (Gen 14) opens with a new episode in the life and faith of Abram and Sarai. It reads like the HBO television series Games of Thrones - Abram and Sarai find themselves caught up in the political drama between the 9 kingdoms of Mesopotamia and Canaan, fighting for the iron throne.

9 kings are at war. 4 Kings from the north led by Chedorlaomer, of the Mesopotamia empire, embarked on a campaign to re-capture the 5 Canaanite cities of the Jordan Valley, which had rebelled, by refusing to pay tribute after 12 years of doing so. Chedorlaomer and his allies plundered and pillaged many others cities along the way south taking, all the people and all the goods with them.

Among the cities captured is Sodom, where Abram’s nephew Lot and family had chosen to settle. When Abram learns that Sodom had been captured, and his nephew Lot and all his goods are taken away as spoils of war, Abram gets involved. With 318 of his own people, plus members from three other local clans, they pursued and freed Lot and all who were captured from the mighty army of Chedorlaomer with the element of surprise, and they brought back all that was taken.

This is the script you could send to HBO and suggest them to do a TV series, when they have killed off everyone in Game of Thrones.

This is an interesting change in the narrative of Genesis – it’s the only account of a military campaign with details of all the kings involved, and it is the first we encounter of a battle in the Bible. But it’s a complicated narrative to read, not only with so many names hard to pronounce, but the way it is written. And the history of this episode is also difficult to trace… (If you want to know more about this period of history and about the culture and wars of the Mesopotamia empire, go and chat with O and E {two of our young adults}.)

Living with the reality of barrenness and shame, facing the loss of home and family, enduring the strain of constantly moving from one place to another, suffering famine, fear and embarrassments, enduring conflict and separation, and now terror and war.

The life of faith is not quite straightforward or easy as we would like it to be. It’s messy, costly and stressful. Sometimes we are not really sure of God’s presence, providing, or fulfilling his promises for us.

I am thrilled that some of you have written to me and have shared your own journey of faith, with all the challenges and changes that life brings; but in the midst of the stress and strife, you experienced the God who intervened and blessed… I am encouraged by your journey of faith.

I encourage all of you to consider writing and reflecting on your journey with me, it’s a good exercise, as well as an opportunity for me to get to know you more personally.

In the difficulties we encounter in our life of faith, we are always tempted to scheme our way out, ever tempted to stay put, seeking a much more safe, comfortable, stable, and easy way… we seek the good life: with a house and yard, with a partner, and a pup, a car or two…

Yet I believe God’s call to Abraham, to come out from living under an economy of greed, violence, exploitation, and disappointments… and to go, to be a people who would live by God’s promises and blessing is a call for all of God’s people.

We are called to come out and to come away from the comfort and stability, so we can depend on God and not on our own striving.

We are called to live into the promises of God and not to walk away and to separate - like Lot did - choosing to find refuge in Sodom rather to stay on the way with Abram and Abram’s God.

We are also called to practice God’s economy of sharing what we have been given, so others may have access to what they need.

Later on in Genesis, Abraham’s children and grandchildren find themselves once again in Egypt due to a famine… there they got comfortable, until the economy of Pharaoh ends up exploiting them and eventually making them slaves…

In the book of Exodus, God once again rescues Abraham’s descendants and leads them into the wilderness, where they had to learn again to depend on God and to practice God’s economy which ensures there are no slaves.

Last year, Cate and I decided to take a sabbatical; Cate was on maternity leave and I needed rest from a few difficult years of pastoral ministry. This was the 2nd time we had taken a sabbatical, and both times, it was not out of obedience to God’s command to work 6 years and rest in the seventh, but it was because we were worn out from striving to make ends meet and to make our service and ministry fruitful. Both of these sabbaticals we had not planned for… we could never have planned for them anyhow.

With no income, and no savings, we had to throw ourselves before our God and believe in God’s promises of provision for the sabbatical year.[2]

During the sabbatical year, I found it quite difficult to rest, to trust, and to believe in God’s promises. My default position was to stress about money, how we were going to pay the bills and mortgage… I was tempted to find just any old job, tempted to buy the lottery; I even found myself reasoning that buying from the deaf lottery was ok, because at least the money goes to a good cause… all of these thoughts burdened me greatly.

Yet our God fulfilled his promises of provisions for the sabbatical year. Money was made available to us to make our mortgage repayments, a friend dropped by our place on his way back from work, and shared a few buckets full of strawberries with us. Others came with bread and lemons… and so on. We had quite an interesting diet for the year…

It was not how we anticipated, but God provided, and God blessed our Sabbatical year more than we could anticipate or imagine. And then God whistles, time to pack and move across the Yarra. But Lord, we have moved 14 times already, we just want to settle on a farm, somewhere quiet, somewhere peaceful…

We are so hard wired by the economy of the world that we struggle to trust in God and to understand how God works to provide for us and to bless us. We struggle to let go…

Abram did learn to trust in God – after his successful attempt to rescue Lot and bring back all that was taken, Abram meets two kings: the king of Sodom and King Melchizedek of Salem. The name Melchizedek is linked to Jerusalem, to righteousness and peace,[3] and he represents God as a Priest - while the name Bera, the king of Sodom, is linked to evil and wickedness.[4]

Melchizedek brought out, not bread and water, which is the staple diet, but bread and wine (v. 18), which signify a royal feast, for Abram and all who returned from battle.

Melchizedek blessed Abram, recognising that God Most High, maker of heaven and earth has blessed Abram, giving him victory over his enemies. Melchizedek then blessed this God. Abram responded to this blessing by an act of worship, giving one-tenth of everything. While kings pillage and plunder, taking everything they see… Abram brings back and gives…

The King of Sodom on the other hand, ‘went out’ (v.17) in the similar fashion that he earlier ‘went out’ (v.8) to battle. He meets Abram empty handed, with no expression of gratitude for the rescue. What’s more, he came to demand of Abram to hand over the people that had been brought back. Even his offer to Abram to keep the goods hints at the king’s schemes to enlist Abram as an ally.

Abram’s response to this king’s demands and political games shows that he has learned to trust in God. He has sworn to this God who Mechizedek named as God Most High, a Canaanite name for God,[5] that he would not take, like others kings have taken. He will not follow the economy of human kings, but would follow God’s economy to be blessed and to give…

Abram is confident in God’s promises to give him, the Hebrew (which means the outsider), the land. In trusting solely on what God gives, no human could have a claim on him or make him subject to their ways. Abram choose not to take or lord over but to restore and to give - giving one tenth of everything.

Abram would only receive the hospitality of  Melchizedek with his young men, and spoke for the rights of the local clans to receive what is their share of the spoil.

The life of faith does not guarantee us from being caught up in the troubles and strife of our world. It does not shield us from the political games that our leaders play in the seats of power. It does not assure us that our lives and all we have is secure.

Faith in the real world is faith in a God who intervenes in history and in the person of Jesus.

Faith in a God who calls us, while in the midst of troubles and strife, to trust not in the conventional wisdom of the day, not in power or in wealth or the lottery, or in the kind of company that we keep, to protect, to save and to smooth out the stress and strain, but in God’s promises to care, to give, to bless and to redeem all that is lost and taken… 

In the person of Jesus, freedom is made possible, we have only to reorient our lives out of the yoke of the world’s economy, and be free to live into the promises, live into the blessing of God and become a blessing to others with what God has given us.

Abram could have stayed out of trouble, he could have let Lot suffer the consequences of his choosing, he could have said ‘good riddance’. He could have counted the cost of leading his young men to war, while leaving all his people and great possessions unprotected, and decided not to take the risk. He could have said, let the Canaanites in the land worked it out among themselves.

Abram reminds me of Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan.[6] A man got robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead on the road to Jericho. A priest and then a Levite both walked by, both crossed to the other side and walked on… What was so important, what was so urgent, what was so costly that they left the wounded man for dead?

A Samaritan, an outsider, hated and despised by the Jews, came by the wounded man, and moved with compassion, stopped, came over, took great care in cleaning the man’s wounds with water and oil, and bandaged him up. He didn’t leave the man there, but put the man on the donkey and took him to the nearest motel. He didn’t leave the man there either, but took great care of the man overnight. It was the following day that he continued on with his business, but only after paying all the expenses and promising to pay any further cost for the care for this injured fellow by the motel’s staff. This Samaritan had every reason like the Levite and priest to walk on the other side and continue on… but he stopped, for the other.

He stopped because what he saw was a person broken and dying, it mattered not if the beaten person was a Jew, a Muslim, a terrorist, a racist, or whatever…

You are the good Samaritan in your response to the needs of asylum seekers, providing shelter, care and hospitality. You are the good Samaritan in your faithful ministry to the needs of students, through the provision of breakfast, making space for students to gather and to just be. You are the good Samaritan in your open welcome to all people, particularly those marginalised by society. You are the good Samaritan and the Melchizedek in your hospitality, putting on a hearty meal at Hub every Thursday night.

Faith in the real world is putting our trust in God Most High, living into the promises and the blessing, so that we could be freed to be agents of blessing to others, in their suffering and cry for justice. May we continue to follow Christ, bringing out bread and wine, and blessing people with abandon, generosity and love.

These days I wake up with just two simple prayers - God have mercy and Jesus be Lord of my life today, and let no other things lead me to stray from you.

How are you at trusting in God?

How is Jesus Lord of your life?

What are some of things that hinder you from living into God’s promises and blessing?

May Luke’s gospel guide you and comfort you:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  

Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6: 20-23)

 

[1] Geoff Pound paraphrased

[2] Lev 25: 21then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years.

[3] Hebrew 7  (Heb 5: 6, 10,  6:20) also Psalm 110: 4

[4] Genesis 13: 13  - along with Gomorrah are know for their reputation

[5] El Elyon a generic name for God in Abram’s time 

[6] Luke 10: 25 - 37