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Promises and Expectations - Sermon for 2nd Sunday in Lent 2013

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"Promises and Expectations" - Second Sunday in Lent

Sermon text: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Click for link to audio version

Last week I made plans to meet someone for lunch, and I went out to Church Street they canceled on me.

God keeps his promises.

Abram is already somewhat advanced in years and had become settled in his life, resigned to the fact that he and his barren wife would produce no heirs, God promised Abram that he would have as many children as the stars in the sky. (Now for those of you who don't get out of San Francisco, out into the open land away from city lights, the night sky is a pretty incredible sight, but I think everyone gets what this means). And despite what his any reasonable logic would tell him, were telling him, Abram believed God. Abram believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

And this despite the fact that Abram would never live to see this promise fulfilled, he had faith in the promise that God made. Knowing that he couldn't possibly live to see that promise fulfilled. Abram believed in it. And so we read that the "Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

And so, what does that say about God's promises and our ability to see them bear fruit?

As a Christian community, sometimes we want to measure success by the amount of people that are filling our pews and the amount of offerings being poured into the baskets at collection time. And so, when we pour our hearts into our ministry but the level of attendance on any given Sunday is a predictable flat rate, we might have a tendency to immediately look at that as being a failure in our work and efforts.

But thinking like that puts the measure in the wrong place. It assumes that successful ministry is tied to the number of bodies on the pews and it ignores the vast breadth of what evangelism...the proclamation of the good news, is all about.

While it takes a continuous revenue stream to keep the building open and staffed with personnel, the mission of sharing the gospel message is so much more than about filling the pews or even keeping any one individual church's door open. It's about bringing people the good news, that Jesus Christ lived, died, is our risen Lord and will return, and that in him we will have everlasting life.

I have seen and been a part of ministry that had very little immediate consequence on church attendance. When I walked with the night ministry last fall, with one of the Night Ministry associates , we met a lot of people who lived primarily on the streets. We gave an ear to their problems and concerns, we prayed with them. These aren't people that are going to be filling up our pews in church, much less tithe, but what happens in those moments is a success in mission and ministry by any measure.

And when when Pastor Steve and I go out on the streets to distribute ashes, we're doing it for people who might not ever be interested in coming and visiting Christ Church Lutheran, but we're reminding Christians about the presence of God in their lives, both with them and with those they might come into contact later on. We're engaging those sheep who once knew what the Christian community was all about and had become separated for some reason, and letting them know that whatever reasons might have driven them away that Christ is still here for them. We're sending a message to the unchurched that we, a Christian community, is here to offer something good to anyone who asks, a reminder that we are but temporary on this earth, and that we are doing it with no expectations in mind.

And we are doing it in the faith that the Holy Spirit is working through us and through those countless faces on the street to remind people of God's loving presence there in and around 9th and Irving and Market and Castro, and where those good people are being sent. And whether or not any of those people show up at our Sunday morning service we know in God's promise to us that his spirit fill us up to sustain his living body--the church--even here, in an often hostile to any religious presence city such as San Francisco. We can do it without expectation and with faith.

And when we share our sermons online, we only have figures to the number of downloads that any one of our sermons receives. We might be able, with the right programs, to track down the general region or vicinity based on the digital signature of the downloaders, but other than a string of numbers, those visitors are anonymous. So we have no means of measuring the impact that our sermons have on people's lives all over the world. My voice, this very sermon, who might hearing it later on this week or months from now, in England, or Romania, or even in the remotest part of the world in an outpost in Antarctica, surrounded by icebergs and penguins...I may never know who you are.

But we know that what we are doing when we share these sermons is following his command, to proclaim the good news of our Lord. And that good news is being received in the ears...and sometimes via text...all over the world. And whether or not Pastor Steve gets emails from someone who listened to any one particular sermon, we know, simply by faith that we ask the Holy Spirit to come into our lives as we preach and we know faith that God's good work is being done because God has made that promise to us.

Being the utterly human and fault-ridden creatures that we are, we want to have preconceived expectations about God's plans for our activities in his name, we want to see results and know that what we do is making a difference, we want to be acknowledged and told that we are doing a good job or at least offered supporting advice when we do his work. The hardest thing for many of us... and I am including myself in this, is to put our hearts and souls into God's work and then just move on to other things. And I don't think that's as much a deficiency of faith as it is in simply being human beings.

But when I'm able to just accept God's will for me, when I'm able to simply go about doing whatever he calls me to do, and not worry about the results of it, whether it be preaching here on Sunday or caring for the homeless in the Tenderloin or distributing ashes on neighborhood street corners.

When we are imitating Christ, and when we live in the example of that he sets out for us, and as so, being examples to those who come, we might never be witness to all those that follow us. But just as Abraham's descendants have been as numerous as the stars in the sky, God keeps his promises to us.  We can rest assure in the faith that he is keeping an eye on the the results of when we do his work, even when we aren't.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on February 24, 2013 8:12 PM.

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