The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio
Gracious God, help us always to seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. Amen.
As a student of the Bible, I have come over the years to appreciate the irony that is often contained within the Scriptures. And the lesson this morning from Genesis includes one of my very favorites—which is, any time you hear three simple words in the Bible you can be fairly confident that they will raise the blood pressure level and the anxiety level. And those three words are: be not afraid—because they often are accompanied by something that God has just done or is about to do that is, frankly, just beyond our human capacity to understand, to explain, or is sometimes just flat overwhelming; because our God is a big God who has promises and purpose for our lives that are much beyond our imagination. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God’s ways are not our ways. And in that Genesis passage we encounter Abram who is twisting and turning because something God has promised has not come to fruition.
You’ll recall from the 12th chapter of Genesis that Abram appears out of nowhere. He’s seventy-five years old and God says, “Abram, have I got a promise for you. You will be the father of all nations and your descendents shall possess the land.” Now Abram’s seventy-five years old; his wife is long past childbearing years. And the Scripture says that God says, “Go to a land that I will show you.” And Abram goes. Now, I don’t know about you but I would have had a few questions about the whole enterprise, on how that was going to come to pass. And when I take a journey, I like to have a map. But it just says that Abram asked no questions, doesn’t consult his family, leaves everything that he’s ever known behind, and goes.
So we pick up the story this morning in the fifteenth chapter and Abram says, “I have no heirs; you promised; how’s that supposed to happen?” And God says, famously, “Do not be afraid.” And then says, don’t worry it’s going to happen. And it won’t be some household servant; it will be no one less than your very own issue, your own flesh and blood. And it says that Abram believed God. Then Abram queries: what about the land and how’s that supposed to happen? Once again, God says, it’s going to happen but doesn’t fill in any of the details. Walter Brueggemann, in writing about this section of Genesis, says, “You are a God who makes promises with no evidence at hand or in sight. You are a God powerful in purpose, hidden in performance, faithful over time.”
Isn’t that really our walk with God? That God desires more for us then we could imagine would be possible? In our humanness, in the facts on the ground, we could never make that quite square up. Yet we’re called to step out in faith. Doris Betts writes that “Faith is not synonymous with certainty, but it’s a decision to keep your eyes open.” Some years ago I read a meditation that was based on the Scripture of David and Goliath; you want to talk about working against the odds and the facts on the ground, that’s a good one to start with. And the meditation writer posed this question:”What would you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail?
What would you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” In this season of Lent, where we continue to make our way to Jerusalem to claim a promise by God that is so beyond our imagining—a gift unlike any other—that’s not a half-bad question to hold in tension; on what might God be calling us to do that requires us to step out in faith when we can’t make the evidence at hand or in sight square with that call. As we began the Lenten season, you’ll recall that we were invited to keep a holy and observant Lent by meditating on God’s Holy Word and by prayer and fasting. I suspect for most of us gathered this morning, the decision to fast is a voluntary decision. But we know that that’s not universally the case and certainly not the case in the “two-thirds world” where so many go to bed hungry every night. We know the statistics: there are one billion people worldwide who suffer every day from chronic hunger; there are 25,000 people every day, across the globe, who die from hunger and hunger-related issues.
One of the faithful members of our congregation challenged me in this Lent, and it’s related to hunger and doing what we can to do our part to eradicate hunger in the world today. She challenged me, and I’m about to challenge you. At the time, I’d encouraged her to think about something we could do for a Lenten retreat and she eagerly took that on. And on March 9th, we have a two-part Lenten retreat. The morning will be the spiritual component in which we will be fed spiritually. It will be led by none other than are very gifted Director of Worship, Gina Campbell. In the afternoon, after being fed spiritually, we have the opportunity to feed God’s sheep. The afternoon, I invite you to join with me in packaging 20,000 meals that will be sent overseas to feed schoolchildren. In my time as your vicar, we’ve done 1000 sandwiches when we’ve gathered together; but we’ve never attempted to package 20,000 meals. And when Sarah first posed this challenge to me, I confess, it took a deep breath on my part and then I could hear God whispering, “Be not afraid; be not afraid.”
We need a hundred volunteers; our resident congregation is about 1,200; it’s less than ten percent. Many of you have asked me, “What can I give up, what should I give up for Lent? What can I take on?” Let me answer that question. On March the 9th, you can give up two hours of your time. You can take on a mission to help hunger eradication in this world. Twenty thousand meals is roughly about how many people die every day from hunger. It’s a bold goal, but God will be with us. And the reason I know that we’ll get one hundred volunteers is because I know you. You are a loving and generous people who want nothing more than to follow God in Christ and where Christ leads us. You recall that as Jesus was speaking to Peter, he asked him three times, “Do you love me?” Peter said, “Yes, Lord.” And each time, Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” “You have an opportunity to join with us on March 9th. There are sign-up sheets by the purple banners in the coffee area. Will you join us?
And, if for whatever reason, March 9 does not work for you, look for our burning bush with flames that are also focused on global and local hunger. Teresa of Avila wrote “Christ is no longer on earth. Christ has no body here but ours. Christ has no hands on earth but ours. Christ has no feet on earth but ours.” Join with us and together we will feed Christ’s sheep. Amen.