Sermon preached by
the Reverend Canon John E. Kitagawa at the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist on
DARE TO RISK & STEP OUT IN FAITH
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16; Romans 4: 13-25; Mark - 38
I used to have a poster in my
I liked that poster because it suggested the community of faith is not meant to be static and sedentary; that living our faith is meant to be dynamic and on the move—perhaps in uncomfortable and previously unimagined ways.
Today’s Scriptures support the idea. Biblical figures are often on the move, journeying in faith to unknown places, or in faith that God is faithful to God’s promises. Today’s Hebrew Scripture presents part of the quintessential story. Remember how the reading started.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old… (Genesis 17: 1).
Ninety-nine years old! Clearly, God does not think age is an impediment to calling people into service. In this case, God is calling Abram to extraordinary service. God said,
I will make you exceedingly numerous [and] you shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations… I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you (Genesis 17: 7).
Bear in mind, God made the same promises when
Abraham was merely seventy-five years old (Genesis 12: 1-3). In faithful response, Abram and Sarai, packed
up their extended family and all their belongings, left their home in Haran for
the land of Canaan (Genesis 12: 4-9). In
the intervening twenty-four years, they are driven from
I wish the people who put together the lectionary had included verse 17, in which we hear the reaction to God renewing his call and his promises.
… Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child? (Genesis 17: 17).
Sarah also had a good laugh about all this (Genesis ). And, yet, Abraham and Sarah do not backslide or give up on God. Despite setbacks and spotty evidence of God keeping God’s part of the covenant, they continue the journey. In Chapter 21, we learn that
God … did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son … Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son … (Genesis 21: 1-3).
In Chapter 22, we read the familiar story of God’s continued test of Abraham’s faith by asking for the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham is in the process of compliance when God, seeing Abraham’s faith, provides a ram to be sacrificed instead.
I have expanded Abraham and Sarah’s story beyond today’s brief text. I do so because I want to remind you that three faiths trace their heritage to Abraham—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In our time, we need to find ways this common heritage might form the basis for reconciliation and peace. Secondly, I see Abraham and Sarah’s journey as a metaphor and example for each of us, and for this community to follow. Their journey had many moments which shaped Abraham and Sarah’s identity, and that of their community; and, these moments helped them to better comprehend their mission.
Today, we read about a defining moment for Abraham, Sarah and their people. We read in today's Gospel about a defining moment for the community of Jesus’ disciples. By this time, the disciples had been journeying with Jesus for some time. In the verses just prior to today's reading, Jesus asks the disciples:
Who do people say that I am? (Mark ).
After they respond, Jesus hones in and asks:
But who do you say that I am? (Mark 8: 29a).
You are the Messiah (Mark 8: 29b):
Can you begin to imagine the intensity of this moment? The joy? The excitement? Perhaps you have had a taste in the moments you have recognized the presence and power of Jesus, the Incarnate One of God. This is the Messiah, the Christ, the One who fulfills all the promises and covenants of God. The power of such moments nourishes and sustains us on the journey. It seems unfair that Jesus chooses this moment to inform the disciples the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, killed, and three days later rise again (Mark 8: 31). The disciples must have been struggling to process all this, when Jesus spells out requirements for following him (Mark -36).
From this moment on, the disciples knew their identity and purpose in life are inextricably bound to Jesus Christ. Their call is to risk all for Christ's sake, and that the heart of discipleship is complete trust in God. At the same time, Jesus reveals the fullness of his love for them and us, and that he is willing to give his life for them and us.
Abraham and the disciples hold much in common. When God calls, they leave their homes and everything familiar and secure to follow. Abraham and the disciples begin their journeys not fully understanding what God wants them to be, or the mission God intends for them. Along the way, God’s revelations shape identity, and define mission. Along the way, they face questions, doubts and tests. As today's Scriptures show us, these moments of revelation can be difficult and demanding. It is still so for us—as individuals and as a community of faith. As we travel the path of faith, there have been, are, and will be moments that shape our identity and clarify our mission as Christ’s followers in today’s world.
Lent is a time when the Church calls us to pause and to be extra-intentional about listening to God's Word, and to cleanse ourselves of whatever stands in the way giving ourselves fully to God, or to act in faith. Lent is a time to turn away from whatever gets in the way of experiencing God's grace, love and mercy. Lent is a time to choose between creative possibilities, or settling for safe alternatives; or, to choose breaking new ground, or seeking the shelter of familiarity. Despite Abraham’s positive response to God's call, despite the long, difficult and risky journey, God tested him yet again. So, it is with us today. The purpose of Lent is not to make us suffer through fasting and self-denial. The purpose of Lenten disciplines is to prepare us for the next steps of the journey with renewed faith, a deeper sense of Christ’s love, and a revitalized vision of our mission.
In this moment of our individual and collective journeys of faith, Lent is a time to get in touch with our fear, our lack of faith, our lack of understanding, our lapsed relationship with God, and our imperfect ministries. It is a time to explore new ways to witness to the world more faithfully and more obediently. None of us can do this alone. None of us has the wits or ability to do this alone. Even as gathered communities of faith, we do not possess the spiritual gifts to accomplish this without God's help. Even in his most trying and desperate moment, Abraham discovered that God provides for those who live by faith.
So, follow in the footsteps of Abraham, Sarah and the disciples. Live and act in faith. Dare to ask, “Who are we, and where are we going?” Who am I, and where am I going? Dare to listen. Dare to step out in faith. Dare to be open to God's response. God will provide, and God will lead. Dare to risk. Dare to offer God who you are and what you have. For you can conquer your doubts, weaknesses and errors through the One who demonstrates his redeeming love once and always, for one and all, through his Passion and Resurrection.
 One day, to my great surprise and delight, the Rev. C. Allen Spicer, Rector of the Church of the Nativity, Cedarcroft, Baltimore, MD, spotted the poster, and informed me that his church had been brought to Baltimore on wheels—first by train, then by truck—from Western Maryland.