“The Lord Will Provide”
Geneseo First UMC
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Sunday June 29, 2014
Most Christians grow up believing that God will provide. The hymn “Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you”, is a case in point. Or tap into this famous mantra, “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.” Questions remain. Is God good all the time? Will God take care of me and my family? Will I avoid unemployment, surgery or the devastating effects of a tornado? If I wander away from God, will God be mad and/or withdraw his amazing grace? Relative to Geneseo First UMC, will God provide the resources to retire the debt on this $4.4 million sanctuary? Given this Consecration Service, the Pastor and members of Geneseo First UMC have said with presence, prayers, gifts, service and witness, “we do so believe.”
In Genesis 22, the story of Abraham declares “The Lord will provide.” To know God’s providential care requires courage, commitment and trust in the Lord. It’s the same kind of trust stamped on U.S. currency, “In God we Trust.” For instance, God orders Abraham to make a burnt offering of his only son Isaac, a son whom Abraham loves. To our amazement, Abraham complies. He takes his only son to Mount Moriah and lays him on the altar and binds him. With knife in hand, he prepares to slay his son but is stopped by an angel. Impressed, God applauds Abraham for his faith and willingness to do God’s will. Consequently, Abraham names the place “The Lord will provide.” Most importantly, his only son, the child that he and Sarah had waited so long to have, was saved. How did Abraham get to this point? Using selected periods of his life recorded in Genesis 12-21, let’s do a background check.
GOD’S CALL TO ABRAM
When Abram turned 75 years old, God asked him, his gorgeous wife and household to leave their country and live in another. In exchange, God promised to make him into a great nation. So his clan left home and settled in the Promised Land. No job, no housing greeted them when they arrived. To feed his family, Abram probably turned to farming. Then and now, the fertile soil of Canaan yielded and yields high quality fruits and vegetables. In passing, God’s call has made folk do a lot of unexpected things, e. g., agree to be the mother of God, preach good news to the poor, serve the gentiles in a cross-cultural appointment or start a house church like the business woman Lydia.
Nobody attacked or arrested Abram’s household for crossing the border. Nobody deported them. If the Canaanites knew why Abram had come, they might have deported him immediately. For God had decided to make these aliens a great nation in a land already owned and occupied by Canaanites. Don’t ask me why. My finite mind can’t fathom the ways of God. Paul was right, “we see through a glass darkly.” Nevertheless, Abram thanked God for his promise. He built an altar and worshiped there regularly. To be sure, obeying God brought him joy. Yet, his joy seemed premature. No great nation of off-springs seemed a real possibility for him. His wife possessed a major asset and liability. Sarai (su-rye) was gorgeous. She turned heads. But Sarai was barren. Abram kept thanking God anyhow. He believed God would “make a way out of no way.”
It’s easier to believe when our dreams stay on track. The twelve disciples have faith in Jesus Christ as long as the master avoids controversial preaching or setting foot in places like Samaria and Jerusalem, in the latter he lost his life. More than once, our Lord informs his disciples that discipleship comes by way of the cross, self-denial, dangerous sojourns through hate, hostility and rejection. Oft times, God’s promises seem so far away when the road bends, curves or swerves.
ABRAM IN EGYPT
When a famine arises in Canaan; Abram’s family loses traction on the Great Nation Dream. A famine forces Abram and his family to seek food and shelter in Africa, namely Egypt. Entering Egypt makes them aliens once more. Again, no job, no housing has been prepared for them. They depended on their wits and the largesse of God via the Egyptians. Because of Abram’s deception, the great nation will not develop in Egypt. Problems occur when Abram asks his beautiful wife to pretend they are sister and brother not husband and wife. Abram fears some Egyptian man will kill him and take his wife. His plan fails. Smitten by her beauty, Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wedded wife. But they do not act as husband and wife. Using plagues, God warns Pharaoh of Abram’s deception. Upset with Abram’s deception, Pharaoh sends Sarai back to Abram. Second, Pharaoh deports Abram’s clan. Third, before the deportation, Pharaoh acts godlike. Genesis 13; 2 says it clearly, “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold.” All these were gifts from Pharaoh.
Abram deserves to be punished for his deception, for putting his wife’s life at risk, for misrepresenting God in terms of his behavior. In the face of Egypt’s goodness and mercy, he bites the hand that feeds them. Pharaoh does not seek revenge. Though Pharaoh receives no apology, he forgives Abram. Subsequently, Abram returns to Canaan a rich man. Later, he builds an altar near the Oaks of Mamre. Abram worships with a heart full of thankfulness for a God “who looked beyond his faults and saw his need.” I repeat. Abram failed to do God’s will. Yet, God took care of him. All of us have experienced that kind of amazing grace.
ABRAM IN COVENANT
While Abram seemed prone to faults and failures if another man wanted to marry his wife, he was solid as a rock if God wanted something. In Genesis 17, God decided to clinch his call upon Abram’s life with a sign of the covenant. “You’ll be the ancestor of a multitude of nations,” God said. “There will be an everlasting covenant between me, you and your off-spring. All the land of Canaan will be yours. And I will be your God.” All Abraham had to do was circumcise every male in his household plus set the requirement for future generations. Without one quibble, Abraham did as he was told. Every male was circumcised including Abraham and his son Ismael delivered by slave wife Hagar. To get the job done, Abraham became surgeon, attending surgeon, nurse, patient and influencer of the reluctant. That day, God changed his name to Abraham and his wife’s name to Sarah. When this happened, Abraham was ninety-nine years old. Why did Abraham do this? He trusted God. Just as Jesus established the practice of Holy Communion at the Last Supper, so God established the practice of circumcision when he made the Covenant with Abraham. Circumcision emerged as a religious rite centuries before creation of Holy Communion as a sacrament of the church.
Then, God made another promise to Abraham even he could not believe. He promised that Sarah would bear a son. “I will bless her and she shall give rise to nations, Kings of people shall come from her”. Again, what God promised was so far-fetched that Abraham fell on his face and laughed. Sarah was ninety. Abraham was ten years older than Sarah. Nevertheless, this loving couple caught a vision of how God was going to make them of great nation. It would be through his wife, who had been barren for decades. “It is no secret what God can do. Nothing is impossible with God.” I have labeled Abraham like folk identified David. (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22) Abraham was a man after God’s own heart. He’d do anything God asked him to do. Some husbands might do anything for their wives. (Smile)
THE PROMISE OF A SON
Last week, a Florida couple gained new life. They fell off their 30 foot boat into the ocean without life preservers. Still in gear, the boat sped away from them. According news reports, the couple treaded water for 14 hours until they were rescued by a detective and the U.S. Coast Guard. With a faith that would not shrink and a miracle working God, they survived with minimal injuries.
Likewise, God worked a miracle in the life of Abraham and Sarah. They had treaded water for years not hours. Finally, Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was ninety and her husband was 100 years old. Twenty-five years after leaving home in response to God’s call, the dream was realized. Tears of joy, laughter in the heart, countless hugs rained down on upon the hope of their world. Isaac grew up to fulfill the destiny that God laid out for Abraham’s off-spring. Before Isaac could truly be on his way, his dad had to pass one more test.
ABRAHAM PASSES THE TEST
God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac who you love …to Mount Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.” You heard it. This is Sarah’s only son, loved by both parents. This is the new generation they’ve been waiting for. This young man has made the twenty-five year sojourn filled with toil, trouble and moving worthwhile. After all that pain and struggle, had God changed his mind about making Abraham great nation? Did God really want Isaac to die? Had God decided to punish Abraham for Abraham’s deception of Pharaoh and King Abimelech, both of whom fell in love with his wife who was supposedly his sister? It didn’t matter. His previous experiences taught him to trust God. The Lord will make a way somehow.
Abraham takes his son to Mount Moriah. Isaac asks where is the lamb for the burnt offering not realizing that it’s him. Undaunted, Abraham lays his son on the altar and binds him. With knife in hand, he prepares to sacrifice his son. An angel speaking for God stops him. Instead, a ram caught in the bush, is sacrificed. Impressed, God applauds Abraham for his courage and faithfulness. Abraham names the place “The Lord will provide.” A man after God’s own heart, discovers again and again, that everything's gonna be alright. Today, Jews, Christians and Muslims honor Abraham as their spiritual and biological ancestor. Today, Jews, Christians and Muslims speak of the bosom of Abraham as a place of rest, repose and happiness. Today, Abraham’s courage, faith and trust in the Lord proved four little words, “The Lord will provide.” Amen.