“Soften Our Hearts, Lord” Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13:31-35
– Human weakness is bred into us from the beginning. Help us to not harden our hearts, making us enemies of God. Help us to hear the prophetic message of God, and to believe God’s Promises.
Abraham is an interesting fellow. I remember learning about Abram, or Abraham as he would later be known, very early on in my life. As a young boy in Hebrew school we would look up to Abraham as a model of faith and obedience to God. He was right up there with King David, Moses, and Elijah in terms of the all-time most awesome Hebrew saints. (Of course we didn’t call them saints, but you know what I mean.)
But Abraham wasn’t perfect. Far from it. The more we read the story of Abraham, the more we see his many flaws. Chief among his flaws is that Abraham doubted God. Actually, Abraham doubted God many times from the stories we read in the Bible. The fact that Abraham doubted God seems to directly go against popular opinion that Abraham is a model of faith.
It isn’t only the Jews who hold up Abraham as a model of faith. Muslims also look to Abraham as a faithful man. In Islam, Abraham is viewed as the model of faith from which both Israelites and the Muslims descend. Even the Muslim prophet Mohammed is supposed to be descended from Abraham through his son Ishmael.
Christians also hold Abraham as a model of faithfulness. We even have solid teachings on the faithfulness of Abraham from Paul. In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews (Ch. 11), Paul explains this in detail. Again, in chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul quotes our scripture from Genesis 15, that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Paul uses this as an example of how Abraham was justified by faith and not by his works.
So we have what seems to be two conflicting stories. This morning we read that Abraham openly doubted that God would keep his promise to make his descendants a great nation and to give them the land of Canaan. BUT we also read that Abraham believed the Promise of God and it was credited to him as righteousness.
How can this be?? I will tell you the important lesson that the scripture teaches us this morning. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. I’ll say it again; doubt is not the opposite of faith. In fact, doubting actually improves your faith. If Abraham is such a model of faith in God, and he doubted, then doubt must be part of the process somehow.
So if doubt is needed from time to time to be faithful to God, you might be wondering what the opposite of faith is. Our second scripture lesson from the Gospel of Luke gives us one answer to that question. The opposite of being faithful to God is ignoring or rejecting God’s gracious offer to be part of your life. The opposite of being faithful to God is ignoring or rejecting God.
Jesus demonstrates this when he rebukes the Pharisees who try to warn him that Herod wants to Kill him. Jesus calls Herod a fox, and explains that he will not be scared off of his mission by political threats. You see, Jesus is there, in Jerusalem to save His people… but they won’t let him! By the grace of God alone, Jesus has come to teach people how to have a good relationship with God. Jesus is offering to personally have a relationship with all of the Hebrews and Gentiles who meet him. But Jerusalem won’t have it. That’s why Jesus is so upset, and laments that he can’t gather up the chicks in Jerusalem and take care of them.
Herod has decided to reject Jesus. God’s own son and Herod’s salvation are offered to him, but he rejects him. Herod and the powerful leaders of Jerusalem would rather have their own power, than have faith in God’s promises to give them even more.
In the scriptures, this willful rejection or ignoring of God is said to come from a hardening of the heart. Hardening of the Heart means, that we have put up walls around our hearts that Keep God out. A hard heart cannot be molded by God into the shape that God wants it to be.
So what do these stories about faith have to do with us? That is the million dollar question this morning. Hard hearts are a normal human condition. We are born into a sinful world, where our own desires and instincts work against us. Without God helping us along, we would be in trouble. If left to our own devices, we would all develop hard hearts. Herod has a hard heart. Herod represents a warning and a challenge to us. Don’t be like Herod, who has a hard heart.
The good news is, that we also have an example of a person who maintains a soft heart. Abraham, our model of faith, practices something that can help us all to keep our hearts soft and malleable. Abraham keeps God in the conversation.
When Abraham doubts, he honestly brings it before God. He doesn’t keep quiet about it. He doesn’t stew in it by himself, until he has decided not to trust God anymore. Abraham brings his concerns to God. But Abraham doesn’t just give his doubts to God and walk away. Abraham listens to God’s response. Abraham stays in a conversation with God. Abraham values his personal relationship with God more than his own hurts and disappointments.
So our task is to be like Abraham. We are in the church season of Lent. That means that we are preparing ourselves for Resurrection Sunday! As we prepare to celebrate the life giving death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, I urge you to keep God in the conversation.
spend some time thinking about your faith in God. What has God promised to you that God has not yet delivered? Bring that to God in prayer. And listen for the response. God has made us some lofty promises as we read in scripture. God promises to give us rest. God promises to supply all our needs. God promises to resurrect us from the dead to eternal life. God promises to fix our broken relationships. All these promises and more are made to all of us who trust in Jesus Christ.
So do you doubt that God is keeping God’s promises to you? Pray about it. And then, like Abraham, listen for a response. This will keep your heart soft and malleable for God to work on. This is what it means to have faith.
Ok. At this point in the sermon, you might be thinking. Hey, wait a minute… according to the scriptures Abraham heard back from God! It is a little bit harder to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak back. Besides, I don’t want people to feel like I am crazy, just talking to myself. How can I keep God in the conversation when I don’t hear the audible voice of God?
Well, that is a good question. I am glad you asked! I believe that the word of the Lord comes to people from time to time in a way that they can hear. Like a real voice speaking to them. Sometime it is in a dream or vision, sometimes maybe it is just a disembodied voice. But I think that this only happens very rarely.
Most of the time that someone says “The word of God came to me” they mean that they had a strong emotional feeling, or a dream, or that circumstances have given a clear message. Sometimes, people will read something in the Bible that directly speaks to them, or another follower of Christ will speak to them in a way that they believe is from God.
Abraham received a voice from God for reasons only God knows. But it seems to me that Abraham didn’t have a congregation of God-followers to hang around with. It was him and his family and servants. Most others worshipped Idols and false Gods. So it makes sense that God would speak to Abraham with His voice.
So when you pray to God each day, don’t expect a voice from Heaven. Keep praying, but listen to God in a way that God usually speaks. Most of these ways involve either reading scripture, or relating to other followers of Jesus.
So if we want to keep our faith in Jesus, if we want to keep our hearts soft, we have to be in regular relationship with other followers of Christ. This basically means worship and bible study. Otherwise, we might miss what God is trying to do with our lives. If we want to be like Abraham, we should come to church, pray, and read the bible.
Otherwise, we might end up with hard hearts. We might miss the salvation that Jesus makes possible for us to have! We may end up disenchanted with life, clinging to our own power to make ourselves happy like Herod. We might not listen when our pastors and elders implore us to worship God and study God’s word.
I know it is hard to take my word at face value sometimes. I know this because I have a vested interest in the organization of the church. That is how I get paid. Of course I will tell people to come to church, give generously, and come to bible study. That’s my JOB.
Perhaps that is what Herod and the Pharisees thought about Jesus. Maybe they thought “Oh this wandering prophet is making money off of the crowds that are discontent with the management.” We will never really know.
Whatever you do in life, wherever you Go, I urge to you to keep the faith. Keep God in the conversation by belonging to some worshipping community that follows Jesus and studies the Bible. I don’t care if it isn’t this particular church. I am more interested in you keeping your hearts soft, so that God can mold it into a masterpiece, like a master artist.
I would like to close by giving another example of how to respond to God like Abraham, and not like Herod. This example is from a recent Disney movie entitled “Tomorrowland.” I think the saying is actually an old Cherokee Indian Proverb.
In the movie, the main Character says that there is a struggle going on between two wolves inside us. One wolf is bright and hopeful and one is dark and cynical. Which wolf wins the fight? Whichever one you feed. Feed the right wolf. Keep God in the conversation, and may God grace us all with soft and pliable hearts.to God.