2019.08.11 "Impossible Possibility" Sermon on 9 Pentecost C; Hebrew 11:1-3, 8-16; Genesis 15:1-6. By, Pastor Dave Van Kley

Impossible Possibility 

I heard from Elaine and Dean Peterson this week that their daughter, Dawn, uses Legos in her faith development work with children.  That makes a lot of sense to me, since I have two grandsons who absolutely love Legos.  When we visit them or they visit us, it isn’t long before the plastic container is hauled out of storage and construction begins.  Periodically, the ten year old will say, “Want to see what I made, Papa David?”  Sure.  But when he shows me his creation, I can’t make head or tail out of it.  “What is it?” I’ll ask. “It’s a guy,” he’ll say.  “Look Papa David, this is his arm and those are the super-charged fingers with which he destroys all the aliens!”  Or something like that. 

Even after the explanation, I don’t see what Rudy sees.

Kids are like that, aren’t they?  They have glorious imaginations!  They can create whole new worlds with their minds. 

Despite their age, Abraham and Sarah also must have had glorious imaginations.  For when God interrupted their settled lives, promising to make of them a great nation in a land far away, they believed God.  Childless Abraham and Sarah, too old to even consider having children.  Too old to pick up stakes and start all over.  Yet, God’s promise captured their imaginations, instilled hope in them.  They left everything behind, not knowing where they were going.  

Fast forward ten years or so to today’s Old Testament lesson, another conversation between Abraham and God.  God repeats the promise, but this time, Abraham is much more skeptical.  “Listen, God, I was old before and I’m really old now.  You’ve still given us no children, not even one.  Nada.  As of now, someone who works for us stands to inherit everything we’ve worked for.  A great nation?  Give me a break!” 

Then the Lord God takes him outside and shows him a sky full of stars, five or six thousand of which you can see with the naked eye on a clear night.  “Count them if you can,” God says.  “So shall your descendants be.” 

Abraham’s doubts melted under the power of the promise and the majesty of the sky.  He believed God.  And God loved him for it. 

When human doubt is met by God’s amazing promise, and that promise is hitched to the human imagination, faith takes off running like a thoroughbred. 

The other day, a good friend shared his doubts.  Older than me by several years, he is dealing with health challenges, the loss of his contemporaries, and the sense that the world has passed him by.  But the recent spate of shootings and the presence of so much hate in the world has pushed doubt to the edge of despair.  “I’m hanging on to hope by my fingernails,” he said.  Perhaps, like me, you can relate.

How does God respond?  With this promise: “Fear not, little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  And then God takes us outside to look at the stars, so to speak:  God hitches his promise to our imaginations.  

The writer of Hebrews speaks of a city God has prepared for us: the New Jerusalem.  A city with the river of life running through it.  A tree whose fruit is for the healing of the nations.   A place where the Lamb of God is the sun and moon.    

Jesus pictures the kingdom as a lavish wedding banquet where the host himself fastens his belt and serves food to his faithful servants. 

Isaiah speaks of a day when lions will lie down with lambs, when nations will beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

Paul says that in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.  

We can see none of these with the naked eye, but we can imagine them in our minds and hearts.  For the God has promised to give us the kingdom is the God who has stretched our imagination before.  The God who took on human flesh in Jesus.  Who overcame hatred with love by means of a cross.  Who destroys death by dying.  Who joins us to himself by water and the Word.  Who makes of us his very body—his hands and feet.

Have no fear, little flock.  It’s my pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Hitch this promise to your imagination.  Let your imagination run wild until it inspires action in Jesus’ name.   

Helen McCormick believed this promise.   She was a Catholic woman, working at the St. Vincent de Paul store in Marquette, when she talked to a man who was looking for food coat and learned he was camping out in the woods in -20 degree weather.  “This isn’t right,” she said to herself, “not if is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom!”  And then her imagination took off and birthed the idea of Room at the Inn, which has served the Marquette homeless community now for 12 years, providing nightly shelter and food for people in the heart of the UP winter.  They now have a daytime warming facility and are on the verge of remodeling that into a permanent shelter.

One person’s faith in God’s promise, hitched to their imagination, can do great things. 

Wes Prieb was a Lutheran layperson in Seattle, when about fifty years ago, the old Holden Gold Mine closed in a remote area of the Cascade Range.  The mine was a self-contained community, accessible only by boat and then a tortuous gravel road through high mountains.   The company tried to sell the property as an Alpine resort, but Mr. Prieb wrote a letter asking it to donate Holden to the Lutheran Church for a retreat facility.  A year passed and no one purchased the property.  Wes Prieb wrote another letter.  Another year passed; still, no developer had taken the risk.  So Mr. Prieb wrote again and this time, received a reply that the mining company was donating the property to Lutheran Bible Institute as a retreat center.   Fast forward a couple of generations and Holden Village has become one of the foremost places for spiritual renewal in the world, along with the Taize community in France and the Iona community in Scotland. 

One person’s faith in God’s promise, hitched to their imagination, can do great things. 

Brothers and sisters of Bethany Lutheran Church, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.  What does that mean for us here and now, do you imagine?  

Given the decline of participation and the aging of our congregation, we may have our doubts about Bethany’s future.  Like my friend, we may feel like we’re hanging on to hope by our fingernails.  We remember the past and wish we could go back to a time when every pew was full and the voices of choir members raised the roof.  We wish the culture around us was not so secular and people were not as suspicious of organized religion. 

We would like to return to the land we have left behind.  But we cannot go back.   And according to the author Hebrews, we should not wish to go back.

Instead, we can dream the future God is calling us to be a part of here and now.  We don’t know exactly what that future will be like or how we will get there.  But we are God’s flock and Christ is our Shepherd.  And we have a mission to fulfill for the sake of the world. 

We may not see that mission fully completed in this life, but we can see it and taste it, for we have experienced the kingdom of God.

Today, we stand where Abraham once stood, our faces turned up toward the stars, hearing God’s promise.  Do we believe that the faith of a few people, hitched to the imagination, can do great things? 

Amen.