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notre dame montreal

Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Trust, Obedience and Dialogue: Compassion and Consistency

Today’s Old Testament reading takes us back nearly 4000 years.  As you can see in the Bible Notes, Abram with his father, Terah, has been called to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldeans / Babylonians and go to a land God will show him.

From what we can tell Ur was not a bad place to live.  Until a few years earlier had been a great city when its activities were curtailed somewhat by invading Elamites.  Having left Ur they then stop in Haran, in modern day Turkey, from where Abram (and Lot) are called to go to Canaan, where they arrive, only to leave a few years later to go to Egypt when a famine arrived.

Abram and Lot separate, Aram then rescues Lot and Abram is offered goods and riches as the battle victor, all of which he turns down.

The book of Genesis is somewhat unique in the amount of dialogue humans seem to have with God and today’s reading gives us one of those exchanges.

After everything that Abram’s been through God speaks to him in a vision and says to him that He will be his shield, and Abram’s reward.

It’s an amazing conversation for the frank and honest exchange which takes place.

God:                 I am you shield, your great reward
Abram:             That’s not what I want, I want a son, (can you do that for me?)
God:                 OK, you can have a son; in fact you’ll have so many offspring they will be as
numerous as the stars

We know from the bible that Abram’s response was belief (even if with some amazement)

God:                 I also give you this land
Abram:             Yeah, right, prove it, give me a sign, (can you do that for me?)
God:                 OK, go get a cow, goat, sheep, dove and don’t forget the pigeon
After a pause
Abram:             Done that
God:                 Stand back and watch and I’ll seal the gift of the covenant with a sign

Again we know from the bible that Abram’s response was belief (once again even if with some amazement)

The ritual of cutting an animal in two and walking between the pieces was a well known sign and symbol of covenant bonds

It was believed that a similar fate (being cut in two) would befall the participant if they violated the covenant.  In the smouldering pot and the blazing torch, we see God Himself pass between the animals.

It’s an audacious conversation, Abram essentially challenging God at every twist and turn of the conversation.  And what makes it even more amazing is that you might expect the dialogue to be the other way round.

You might expect God to say, ‘If you obey my commandments (not yet codified!), if you offer me burnt offerings, if you agree to be good…’ then you can be my people and I’ll give you somewhere to live

But God in His compassion and graciousness does not say that.  He simply does what Abram asks and demonstrates His care and concern for Abram and his people by entering into a covenant with them in a way that is entirely consistent with His compassionate character.

It’s not that the people themselves bind themselves to God; God in His love binds himself in a covenant to them.  Abram now needs to make a decision, to trust and obey the God who has just bound himself to Abram and his people and given him the title deeds to the Promised Land, or to go his own way.  We know that Abram trusts God, not always faultlessly, but he puts his trust in the God of the covenant and is obedient to Him.

Dialogue, trust and obedience from Abram, consistency and compassion from God

God had made a covenant with His people and He would be utterly and consistently committed to them, whatever happened.

If we then jump forward 2000 years to the New Testament lesson we see another conversation which is precipitated by the events 2000 years earlier.

God has sent His Son Jesus so that His word and will might be revealed to all and Jesus has been doing just that in His ministry in Galilee.  Now he’s heading for Jerusalem, an we’re at one of those turning points in the gospel.

For Luke, the very centre of his story of Luke-Acts is Jerusalem.  The whole gospel of Luke moves towards Jerusalem, with the early part of Like’s gospel which describes the Galilean ministry preparing for the journey to the city, a journey which ultimately closes with Jesus’ death and resurrection there. 

The story of Acts then begins the move away from Jerusalem as the early believers become, ‘…witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.’ 

And in Jesus we see the same trust and obedience to God’s way that we saw in Abram.  When the Pharisees come to Jesus saying Herod wanted to kill Him and that He should go somewhere else ti would have been so easy for Jesus to say, ‘Do you know what, you’re right, I’ll go somewhere a bit quieter and lay low for a while’.

But He didn’t.  Jesus know that whatever God’s people had done in the past, whatever they would do in the future, God’s consistent and compassionate commitment to them remained unwavering, just as it had done to Abram.  And part of that commitment meant Jesus going on to Jerusalem to be crucified.

Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem is both for past events where prophets have been killed and the people have fallen away from God as they trusted in their own strength, security and riches, but also forward to the cosmic events which would happen in the coming days as He enters the holy city to be crucified. 

Just as Abram had received a sign of God’s covenant relationship, so would the people of Jerusalem and the world as God’s sign rode into town.  Once again there would be dialogue with God in the garden of Gethsemane but ultimately Jesus would place His trust in the Father and be obedient to Him, even if it meant a painful death.  And there would be compassion and consistency from God.

And God’s consistent and compassionate commitment to His people, all people, was such that even if it meant the crucifixion of His Son, He would not change the outcome of events and the course of history.

Dialogue, trust and obedience from Jesus, consistency and compassion from God

Jump forward another 2000 years to today.  We don’t always understand what God is doing.  We sometimes want to be as frank and honest with God as Abram was.  And that’s OK.  God wants us to be open and honest with Him.  One of the Lent Book, ‘God on Mute’, has a very helpful section on what happens when our prayers are not answered and we don’t understand what God is doing.  

Were part of God’s created universe and whilst He can overrule the rules of nature, for example in the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the times He does so are not at our beck and call.  If it was there would be chaos.  But that does not change or negate the love He continues to have for all people, whatever they do.

In Lent, as we look spend time examining ourselves it can be a good time for renewed dialogue with God, to tell Him what we want and question Him on the things we don’t understand.  And as we look towards the cross and resurrection story of Easter we are reminded once again of the compassion and consistency of God.  He does not change, He is as bound to us as He ever was to the descendents of Abram and loves us with that same covenant sealed love.  Our invitation is to enter into dialogue with that compassionate, consistent God, and then, just as Abram did, to trust and obey.