Pr. David Fleener
September 20, 2020: Pentecost 16
About the time Advent rolls around, a lot of pastors roll out their yearly sermon about waiting. When Advent arrives, we wait not only for Christmas Day, but also for the return of Jesus Christ in glory. We wait, wait, and wait, and God seems to take forever, but we remember that God’s promises are certain and sure.
Except in the age of COVID, most of us have waiting fatigue. We are tired of waiting for the world to return to normal, for life to resume without the fear of catching a deadly virus, for the election to finally be over. We have endured this slow-motion disaster for six months now. Some pundits are saying it may be 2022 before society gets back to some semblance of normality, even with a vaccine. It’s one thing to be told to wait around Christmastime. It’s quite another to be told to wait when thousands of people die every day and millions wonder how they’ll pay rent or buy food this month. Waiting seems unendurable.
Today’s text talks about another man who had to endure an unendurable wait: Abraham.
In Genesis 12, Abram is living in Haran, in modern-day Turkey, where he has come from his birthplace in Ur, in modern-day Iraq. He is seventy-five years old. Ten years past Social Security. And God tells him, abruptly, to pick up stakes. Move to Canaan. The promise is this: God will make Abram a great nation and all the nations of the earth will be blessed in him.
By Genesis 15, a lot has happened. There’s been a sojourn to Egypt. A battle to rescue Abram’s nephew Lot. And here, God restates the promise.
But Abram needs to know more. How is it possible for him to be the father of nations if he doesn’t have a child? Presumably it’s been a few years since Abram first heard the promise. How much longer will he and Sarai need to wait?
God has brought Abram far from his original homeland. Then, at retirement age, God tells Abram to move again to Canaan, with the promise of not only descendants, but of being the means of blessing to the entire world. At this point, there’s nothing. No child. No heritage. No future. No hope.
As Psalm 13 says, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
In response, God shows Abram the night sky. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.”
If you’ve ever seen the night sky in a place far from any light pollution, you’ll know how amazing that sight must have been. Thousands and thousands of stars, as far as the eye can see.
In that moment when trust in God seems impossible, God provides the roots of deep faith. A faith that we know is fulfilled when Isaac is born.
It certainly takes a long time for God to bring the promise to Abraham and Sarah to fruition. Twenty-five years to be precise. And one might wonder why it takes so long. Why do they have to wait twenty-five years to finally receive the son they have been promised? And why does God make us wait so long? Why can’t COVID just go away? Why can’t an illness, a family situation, economic difficulties just go away?
How we wait says a lot about who we are and who God is making us to be.
Throughout the Bible, God’s timeline is clearly different from his people. Rebekah and Rachel, like Sarah, are unable to have children at first. Joseph endures great suffering in Egypt before being freed from prison to be Pharaoh’s right-hand man. The people of Israel endure 400 years of slavery in Egypt. They endure 40 years in the desert before entering Canaan. David has to spend years on the run from Saul before he can be king. The people have to endure 50 years of exile before they can return to Judah. Several hundred years pass from Isaiah and Jeremiah to the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. And we are in a long period of waiting now, waiting for Christ to bring in the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. While God acts in time, God is not bound by time.
God’s people have had to wait before. God’s people have had to endure before. And every time, God has shown himself to be trustworthy and true. God gives Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac. God gave Rebekah and Rachel children. The people of Israel were freed from slavery and eventually entered Canaan. Christ was born. He rose again from death. And God has brought light out of darkness in every contemporary situation we’ve been in. Wars, famines, pandemics, civil unrest and disorder—God may make us wait. We may have to endure suffering. But thank God, God does not leave us there. God’s light and love in Christ always overcome the world’s bleakness and hatred.
God is forming us into his people through our waiting. Patience is building our character in Christ (who likewise had to wait in the desert for 40 days). The apostle Paul had a lot to say about waiting in suffering, like many of us are doing today. From his letter to the Romans: “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (5:3-5).
Hope in God does not disappoint us. Because no matter what happens, no matter what occurs, no matter what we go through, know this: God is faithful. God is trustworthy. God is true. God showed great faithfulness to Abraham, so much so that John the Baptist told the crowds that descendants from Abraham could be raised up from the rocks around them! God showed great faithfulness to all creation in becoming human in the man Jesus, living, healing, proclaiming, suffering, dying, and rising again. And God continues to be faithful to us in the Holy Spirit, present here for you today in Word and Sacrament to enliven and strengthen your faith.
Let us pray,
Lord God, give us patience in suffering. Help us to wait well, trusting in your goodness. Show us your light in this bleak world, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
© 2020, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.