God's Unceasing Faithfulness
A Homily for 8 Trinity
August 11, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Genesis 24:1-27
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Sometimes it feels like God is slow in acting – why has he not provided that which we so long for? I think we all know that feeling of longing for God to provide that which we desire – whether it be for our lives to change, for freedom from a sin we’ve struggled with for ages, for peace in a season of tumult, for something we’ve worked hard for and yet our efforts have been met with disappointment. We wonder “when will God do this thing we’ve hoped so much for?” I think this longing is especially poignant in a small church. Either we do not care if we grow – and we’ve lost our zeal for Christ, or we long to grow without compromising our theological integrity and yet it seems so slow. This leads us to wondering when will this growth come, will it ever or is our hope simply vanity?
Today we meet with Abraham yet again. I was not intending to work through the major stories of Genesis, but I realized by happenstance or providence that we had started to this, and I think its important to see it to the end. So, here we are yet again with father Abraham.
We need to remember several chapters earlier that Abraham was promised, as a relatively young man, that he would be the father to a great nation. Then a few weeks ago we learned that it wasn’t until he was in his nineties that he and his wife have their only son Isaac. Then last week we met Abraham as he is taking the boy Isaac to be sacrificed. In this we saw how Abraham demonstrated radical obedience, just as we are called to radical obedience.
Now as Abraham has reached the end of his life we see him yet again acting in faith. In the previous chapter Sarah, Abraham’s long suffering wife has died, and we also know that Isaac was approximately 40 years old when this story takes place. If anyone were to grow discourage, it would seem Abraham had every right to. Surely, it must have seemed that God would not fulfil his promise to make him into a great nation. In these type of situations it can seem as if God won’t provide. It may seem that since we are a smaller, mostly older congregation that the work we do is insignificant in the view of the kingdom. Yet, there is nothing done for the glory of God that is insignificant and although we dare not define the Lord’s will – it is good, and He will bless us when we remain faithful.
I think for us, it can be helpful to count our blessings, as it may have been helpful for Abraham as well. For it is not insignificant that the author notes that Abraham was blessed in all things. But what does this mean for the Christian to be blessed in all things?
For the Christian, to be blessed in all things is to live fully in the fruit of the spirit. To be growing in: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – is to be truly blessed. That is to say – to be blessed, is to grow in knowing God.
The puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs states this particularly well in his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment: “The gracious heart has cause to say, it is in a good condition whatever it be. In the house of the righteous is much treasure; his house, what house? It may be a poor cottage, perhaps has scarcely a stool to sit on; perhaps he is fain to sit upon a stump of wood, a piece of a block wood, instead of a stool; or perhaps he has scarcely a bed to lie upon, or a dish to eat in; yet saith the Holy Ghost, ‘in the house of the righteous is much treasure.’”
Let us treasure the spiritual fruit over the things of the world, let us count these as our riches, let us see ourselves as blessed as we see ourselves growing more loving, more kind, more fruitful in the ways that God has told us are good that by the grace of Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit we would be growing in righteousness and holiness and in that be truly rich.
We know that Abraham was blessed in all things but perhaps Abraham was even thinking as we might: “well, maybe God has decided to use someone else, maybe he’s just going to bless me and use another family to fulfill His will.” But we are reminded – that even when it seems that God has grown quiet – he is working, he is growing us, he is drawing us nearer to him, and preparing the kingdom of heaven so that one day we will rejoice the with the angels and archangels, singing Holy, Holy, Holy to the Lord God almighty.
If Abraham has grown to be skeptical, he does not show it, instead he takes action. It would have been Abraham’s responsibility to find a wife for His son. I do wonder why it took Abraham so long to act – perhaps he was hoping that God would simply send a woman knocking on his door, or some other reason that we will never know. Regardless, of the cause, Abraham finally does his duty and acts in finding his son a wife.
While we contemplate this – we recognize that Abraham, while called the man of faith was not perfect. While he does demonstrate for us time and again what it looks like to walk by faith instead of sight he also blunders along – he is misleading about who Sarah is to him, and he takes advantage of his wife’s maidservant just to name two ways in which he does not live a perfectly up right life.
Abraham’s faults can be an incredible encouragement to us – for we too are imperfect vessels. We too often prefer our sin, and our selfish desires to righteousness, and dying to ourselves. We too often live by fear, we too often fail to live as we are called. Yet – God calls us to live by faith. Yes – flee sin, but more importantly, live by faith. For living by faith in Christ, through the Holy Spirit we will be sanctified. We grow, ever so slowly over time – but we grow because we live by faith, not because we commit ourselves to being better people.
Despite this – we are called to pursue lives of purity, a part of this is who we marry. For the Israelites – it was a perpetual temptation to intermarry with the Canaanites around them. And why this seemingly legalistic prohibition? For the Israelites, in marrying the Canaanites, they almost always fell into worshiping the false god Baal. Abraham knows that he must protect his offspring from the temptation to wander from the living Lord for even at the time of Abraham the surrounding nations were worshipping that rather fierce but false pagan God Baal. So, to remain faithful to God, Abraham sends a servant to find a wife for his son from amongst his own people.
Abraham sends his most trusted servant to do this task. The text tells us that he is his eldest, and therefore he would have seen all the ways that God had worked in Abraham’s life but he is still nervous to make such an intimate vow with his master and worries – what if she is unwilling to come with me?
Here again Abraham reveals for us his faith and tells his servant – that he is freed from his covenant if the woman will not come. Abraham believes that if his servant goes, he will find a wife for Isaac, and that she will come with Him.
Although, we know that Abraham hasn’t lived a perfect life – his faith is growing. He is learning that God will provide what he needs in order to do this. We too are called to continue in this same faith.
And now it is the servant’s turn to act by faith. He undertakes the 500 or so mile journey northward to the land of Abraham’s people. Perhaps, despite his doubts some of how God has provided has sunk in, perhaps he is more faithful than it first comes across.
But like the servant, as we look back upon our lives, as we look at how God has provided for our church, how God has blessed us when we walked by faith – then we, like the servant, can survey the histories of our lives and know that God will provide in order for us to reach the end of the calling set before us. This is one of the things that has proven helpful to me, when I grow discouraged or weary – I can look and see what the Lord has done, and know that if he has done this so far – he will not abandon me in my time of need, even if it seems like an impossible dark night to get through.
The servant arrives at the end of his long journey, it would have taken him a little over twenty days to arrive in Abraham’s homeland. He is undoubtedly tired, and nervous about what the Lord will do. Will the Lord bless my efforts, or will it have been all in vain?
So, we can cautiously take the servant’s actions as an example. We are called to be constantly in prayer. The servant does just that, he prays to the God of Abraham and asks for guidance. Whenever we face a major choice, a fork in the road, or a confusing situation, it is always wise to give these things over to God and trust that he will work them out.
However, it is worthy of caution for what the servant does is often called “putting out a fleece,” a term from Gideon in Judges 6:36-40 where Gideon literally puts out a fleece on the ground to test whether God will do something or not.
There are three reasons that we must be careful about doing such a thing – first in the case of Gideon he is clearly testing God by saying “God if you do such a thing, I will believe that you will do this other thing.” We are never to test God’s faithfulness towards us but rather to trust and believe that he is calling us into good things. I will in a moment explain a better way than this constantly testing.
Second – as human beings we are profoundly good at seeing what we want to see. “Lord,” we pray, “if it be your will that I change jobs, let my pencil fall off my desk,” we might set as a fleece, and then mysteriously our pencil falls off the desk, maybe with a little help from my pinky finger. I know this is a little bit of a silly example – but if we are looking for a sign, nine times out of ten, if we are really convinced we want to see that sign then we will see it.
Finally – we are called to live by faith. If we are constantly fleecing God, our ability to trust that God will ordain good things for us will never grow. Our ability to grow in our love and knowledge of God will always be looking for Him to do some great and miraculous thing, when the reality is, we grow the most in His grace, when we are simply doing the ins and outs of what God is calling us to.
Now, we have seen the bad way of doing this – what is the good way. Someone once said – and regrettably I cannot remember who – I think it was St. Augustine or Martin Luther – but it could have been a country parson who has long since been forgotten – that we are to love God, and love our neighbor and then we may do as we please.
On the surface level this seems like an exceptionally flippant approach to this question of doing God’s will – but I think we have talked enough about these things that as you meditate upon that statement you’ll realize how deep and all-encompassing it is. It is so simple – yet as we go through the slow process of sanctification we can see how much that encompasses.
So we love God first by becoming saturated in His word – we read it daily, we read it like a deer who is thirsty for water, or a starving man who has finally been given a morsel to quench his hunger. We read it with a hunger as if it is the only food that matters to us. Consuming it deeply and letting it shape our hearts and minds.
We give ourselves over to prayer – a bought of anxiety, or doubt, or impatience, or frustration we offer it to God. A quickened heart, the joyous moment, a beautiful sunrise, a lovely drive through the forest – praise God from whom all blessings flow!
We love our neighbors as ourselves – we learn what it means to love well – we do not take advantage, we do not steal, we do not covet another’s wife, we recognize that our actions have consequences not only for us – but for others as well and so we seek the best for all involved. Not putting our desires first, but discerning what will be loving and a blessing to all whom we interact with.
Once we can safely say we do these two things well – then we can do as we please. Do we wish to move to Hawaii, then mover to Hawaii, do we wish to preach the gospel in Africa, then to Africa we shall go, do we long for a deeper education, then enroll in school. But first – read, worship, pray, partake in the sacraments – and love your neighbor well, and the rest will fall into place. If our desires are not in God’s will – he will prevent them.
Now back to our dear servant – while, I would caution everyone about “laying out a fleece,” the servants action is commendable, for he takes his worries and his fears before the Lord and he asks that the Lord would make clear what he is to do next. And the Lord provides, even before he finishes praying – the Lord brings the right woman Rebekah, the woman from whom the nation of Israel will start to be born. What a good and glorious thing we have witnessed. God has been faithful to His people, it seemed impossible – Sarah is dead, Isaac is getting older, Abraham is on the eve of his death, and the fledgling nation is surrounded by pagans. Yet – there is hope again for God has provided.
As we wrap up – I want to flesh out the take aways for us as a church – and for us as individual Christians – most of these have been spelled out throughout the sermon, but it is important that we walk away with a firm understanding of God’s faithfulness, so we neither attempt to abuse it, and so that we live more fully in it.
First – there is this basic principle that we often forget. As, by and large, moderately successful Americans, we like to think that we are needed – our jobs need us, our families need us, our friends need us – perhaps this is true, perhaps not – but what I am about to say is a truth that can be hard to stomach – God does not need us. We were not created because God was lonely – he has sufficient community within himself in the nature of the Trinity, he did not create us because he wanted to run some experiment to see how it would go, or because he was bored and wanted entertainment. Nor did God save us from our sins because he needs us to complete some great task. No – God created and is saving us because he loves us.
Let that truth sink in for a second – God does not need us – but he loves us so much that out of nothing he created us, and he sent his son to die for us upon the cross. God guides us and sanctifies us out of Love. God’s motivation in acting in our lives is love for his children.
This brings us to the second point – our motivation to stay faithful therefore is also love – it is not to get what we want, it is not selfishness, it is not to earn some great reward but because God first loved us. So knowing the deep and profound love of God, to love God back is to remain faithful, it is to know and do His precepts, it is to seek to do His will in all things, it is to glorify Him, not ourselves. It is to die to ourselves so He might live more in us and it is love that motivates us.
This is a hard thing – you know, dying to yourself. We all have hopes and dreams, and that isn’t intrinsically a bad thing – but these hopes and dreams must be sacrifices before God – so that he can use the good ones to His glory and prune the bad and selfish ones so that we might reflect His glory all the more. The action of growing in God being watered and pruned can feel hard – but it is good and it is beautiful.
Third – and here my friends is another hard one, for this one is hard for us as a community – our goal as a church is not to grow. Let me say that again – our goal as a Church is not to grow. Nor is it to have successful ministries that we can brag about to our friends, it is not to puff ourselves up – but our goal as a church is to remain faithful in all things.
Church growth is easy – I need only to tickle your ears, to tell you what you wish to hear, to hire the best musicians we can afford to play music that will attract the right people and make us all feel good, to preach a short sermon that will make you feel better about yourselves, but will leave you empty and spiritually malnourished.
No – our task is learning as a body of believers to be whole heartedly committed to Christ – that is the difficult task. We long to glorify God in all we do – we long to continue to grow in the love and knowledge of God. This is the task that we are called to as a community, and the task we set about doing, it is a good task, and God will bless us in it.
Fourth – in remaining faithful, we do glorify Him. It may seem ridiculous that God delights in the worship of a small group of people who are committed to being faithful but He does. He will delight when we stay steadfast in His love and His kindness and His truth.
Fifth – In glorifying God we are blessed, and we bless others. We are blessed in that we are growing in Him. We are growing in the fruits of the spirit, growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are growing in the righteousness of Christ, and we are growing in personal holiness.
In the same way, as we grow in these things – we are a blessing to those around us. Can you see how living a good life, a spirit filled life, a life that is not lived for ourselves is a blessing to our family, to our friends, to our neighbor, and to our community? For in a world where love is by and largely undefined but seems to mean getting what we can out of relationships, giving up ourselves for God’s glory is a radically different way to live.
Finally – in remaining faithful we know that God will use us. We can see that now, can’t we? At the end of the day – God is faithful and sovereign over all. So we can take heart, we are small, but we are mighty in the faith, mighty because God has blessed us with great faith. So let us not live by fear, let us not worry about what tomorrow may hold, but step out in faith, go about doing the tasks that the Lord has set before us – let us set about glorifying God in all we do.
Yes, it can be discouraging when attendance is down, but are you growing in your knowledge and love of the Lord? Yes, there can be days when it seems like everything is stacked against you, but are you leaning into the Lord all the more in those moments? Yes, life can seem so very hard – but are you finding comfort in the saving grace of Christ in those storms? If so, then you are truly blessed.
We are called to be faithful to God – not because we are good but because He is good, and because he has proven His faithfulness time and again – both in our lives and in the lives of those in the Bible. So let us live by Faith, and trust that the Lord will never abandon us, for He is at work in us as individuals and in our community.
IN the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.