March 8, 2020 - Sermon Transcript
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Chapter 2 ~ Sunday, March 8, 2020
When people think of the perfect church or the ideal church, I’m guessing Christ the King doesn’t come to mind. I’m not intending to be rude or insulting or in your face. Just honest. I mean we’re not exactly a gathering of people who have it all figured out when it comes to life. If you’re looking for a church where people have no problems, this isn’t the one! Where everyone always says the right thing every time, that’s not us either. I’m not proud of these problems, just being open about them. When I talk with guests about considering joining the congregation, some have been hesitant. They wonder if they’ll really fit in because they still have so many questions about the faith, and they’re struggling with issues in their lives, and they’re so tired out from trying to work things out in their own lives, they’re not sure that they have anything of value to share with others. The whole time they’re laying out their worries, I’m thinking, “If they do stick around and actually get to know us better, they’re going to feel right at home here!”
We have issues to work on, but that’s what I appreciate about this ministry: there is a willingness to work at our issues rather than pretend they’re not there. As I look and listen around, I sense efforts to create safety here, so people have the space and the relational security to be honest about their lives. What I mean is: God doesn’t want you to pretend to be a spiritual someone that you’re really not. Instead he invites, encourages you to get real about the challenges of living out your faith, not just “out there” in a culture that is becoming more anti-Christian, but also with the reality of how hard it is to be a Christian “in here” in your own skin, when your own nature wants to pull you in a very different direction. I pray that this ministry will always be a place where honesty is the best policy because honesty means breaking down ego and tearing down any fake front of what we might want others to see us as and doing the really difficult thing of actually becoming vulnerable with one another. It’s about getting real with the God who meets us right where we’re at in the midst of real life, in the midst of moral failures, family dysfunctions, physical limitations, and whatever else weighs us down, and wears us out. God meets us in the midst of all this, but he doesn’t leave us there. Through his merciful Word and Sacraments and through the community of his people he works, equipping and empowering us to become all that Christ calls us to be!
Maybe this will surprise you: ever since the moment that Adam and Eve broke faith with God and bit into the forbidden fruit, this is what God has been up to! This is how God has been going about his work among his people! That reality is on clear display in chapter 2 of The Story, which covers chapters 12-33 in the biblical book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. We get to see it play out in the life of Abraham, this towering figure of faith. Did you know that three of the largest faith groups in the world claim Abraham as their father? The Jewish faith, the Muslim faith, and the Christian faith all say that they trace their spiritual roots back Abraham. With that many people of faith claiming Abraham as the father of their faith, you might expect Abraham to be this exemplar of faith, who lives faith-fully from birth to death.
But here’s what we actually find: before he became known as Abraham, Abram wasn’t the model of perfect faith at all. According to ancient tradition, his father Terah was actually an idol-maker. At 75 years old Abram makes a faith-filled relocation, following the Lord’s call to move his family hundreds of miles from Harran to a land that God would show him. Yet his faith took a back seat to his fears when he and his beautiful wife Sarai had to live in foreign countries on a couple of different occasions. In each instance, Abram feared that the rulers of these territories would see how beautiful Sarai was and want her for themselves. So Abram was afraid, not so much of losing his wife, but of losing his own life. Afraid that they would kill him to have her. So he asks Sarai to say that she is only his sister! When both rulers try to add Sarai to their royal harem, Abram doesn’t say a word. It’s only because God himself intervenes that these rulers learn the truth and Abram and Sarai’s marriage is saved.
Later still, as Abram and Sarai are getting older and older, waiting on God to fulfill his promise to make them into a great nation, Sarai worries that God has gotten himself in a jam. So she concocts a workaround, proposing that Abram sleep with her servant, Hagar, to produce an heir. This great man of faith is too impatient to wait for God to work out his promise to Abraham. So what does he do? He sleeps with a woman who is not his wife. Their union produces a son, Ishmael, and this other woman and her son end up causing problems for Abram and Sarai and their marriage. That three global religions want to claim this guy as the father of their faith today is … shocking, right?
Actually, I think it’s really quite helpful. It reveals that even Abraham, the great father of the faith, had his fair share of struggles. While his struggles and yours and mine are different in the details, they’re quite similar at heart-level. What was Abram’s biggest obstacle to his faith and living it out? His own desire for control! Abram believed God’s promises, but he also believed that he was the one who had to figure out how to make those promises come true for God, right? If that sounds confusing, it is! And when Abram operated out of this confusing mindset, acting like he had to be the one controlling his life and working out God’s promises for Him that’s when he created all kinds of issues in his and others’ lives too!
Handing control of our lives, our relationships, our futures over to God, that feels like the least likely, last thing we’d ever want to do! I’d like to share a very real, raw story of a couple, Ryan and Angie who experienced this kind of heart level struggle in their marriage. God let them go the way they each wanted to go. Listen to what they learned … (video)
Did you catch what Ryan and Angie learned about how God operates when we insist on being the ones to control things? God essentially says: “You can hold onto control or you can hold onto me. But if you hold onto control I will not protect you from the consequences of your decisions. If you choose to go your way instead of mine, you’re free to do so because I’m not controlling you like a puppet. But when you go your own way remember that you are responsible for all that results (or doesn’t).” But there is something else too. Even then, especially then, God was still there. He was persistently calling: “Repent! Come back to me!”
Where is God calling like that to you right now? If we’re going to be real, this is a real struggle for all of us, isn’t it? Relationships that aren’t right. Marriages that aren’t right. Family connections that aren’t right. Places in your life that aren’t right. And maybe like Ryan and Angie you’re tempted to say to yourself, “There is nothing even God can do.” Abram and Sarah could have said, “There is nothing God can do, we’re too old.” Jacob and Esau, the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah could have said, “We have a relational implosion here. There is a gap, a void between us that can’t be bridged. It’s impossible There is nothing God can do.”
But none of their stories ended like that! Why not? Because God does more than just meet us in our faults and failures. He does more simply get us off the hook of the eternal consequences we deserve. He does all of this so that we will listen as he also shares: “Let me show you a better road, to better way of living, to find what it is that you really have been longing for all along!’” That’s the power of God’s forgiveness, the power that not only frees you from the everlasting punishment your sins deserve but also changes your attitude toward sin in the here and now. Instead of running to sin for comfort, or relief, or help in the face of life’s challenges, God creates faith in you (the desire and the power to run to him to receive help, comfort, strength, and guidance from Him instead)! This is the life-changing, heart-transforming kind of thing God wants to do in you through the saving work of his Son!
Therein lies the Gospel itself. The Gospel is the heart of God’s Upper Story. The heart of God’s Upper Story, the promise of Jesus and his saving work appears in a dramatic way in Abraham’s lower story. After Abraham and Sarah had their son Isaac, the son of God’s promise, and he had grown into a young man, the Bible reports this perplexing command from God that seemed so counterintuitive to God's love and grace: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2). On this occasion, instead of trying to control the situation in a way that makes sense to his own brain, Abraham exercises his faith. He hears the Word of God and obeys. Just as Abraham is about to sacrifice his promised son who is lying on the altar, God intervenes. Isaac is spared and God supplies a ram in his place. Jesus is the fulfillment of that ram. And upon the altar of the cross Heavenly Father raised his own arm against his only Son, and through the death of his innocent Son, fulfilled the greatest promise he made to Abraham and to you and to me: to save us! This is what God has done for us!
What a difference all of this makes in us. Just listen to what happened in Ryan and Angie’s lives as they experienced the Gospel’s saving effect in their hearts. (video)
Isn’t that powerful? Can I be real with you once more? What’s really powerful about this is that this isn’t just true for Ryan and Angie. This is true for you too! When you come to see that what God wants you to be is so much better so much brighter so much bigger than what you’ve wanted for yourself … that’s when giving control over to God becomes the thing you want to do because God’s dream for you is the dream you want for you too!
That’s true for us as a community of people too! It’s part of God’s powerful plan of transformation for us all, where we want to become the kind of people his Son calls us to be as a body of believers! People who are so sure of their identity as God’s dearly loved sons and daughters that we are able to be completely honest with one another and do it fully in love. People who are so fully convinced of our forgiveness in Christ that we intentionally deny our desire to hide our faults behind fake masks and do the uncomfortable thing and open up about our struggles to one another. And as others open up to us and we’re not sure what to do to help, rather than avoid others and their problems or share these problems around as gossip because we’re overwhelmed or undone by them; in the power of love and with faith in God to guide, we are willing to engage in those uncomfortable moments with the goal of bringing spiritual help and healing to a hurting brother or sister in Christ! As the people of Christ the King, we’ve identified our mission as: Helping people become all that Christ calls them to be. That mission really begins with each of us! These are the kind of people Christ calls us to become: people of faith, who live by the power of the One in whom they believe!
That means choosing to trust God and His plans more than we trust ourselves and our own. When Abraham and Sarah got that right, they had a whole new life. When Jacob and Esau got that right, the sibling rivalry dissolved and a genuine brotherhood between them was born. Remember that. Learn from that. And give what you’ve got going on to God. Not just one or two things. I mean your whole life. The best life is always about trusting the One who has and does and always will keep his promises to us. God’s promises to us in Christ are far better and far greater than anything we could ask or imagine for ourselves. Always! Amen.