Luke 13:31-35; Genesis 15: 1-12; 17-18
Folks, I want to tell you today that when God makes a promise – God keeps that promise. Even when it seems that the promise that is made seems impossible – even for God to keep.
To show you what I mean, let’s go back to the story of one man and one woman. Both were very wealthy, and both were very old. They had no children of their own. Certainly that was not unusual, but a promise had been made to them by God that their descendants would one day become a great nation.
One day the man, this desert nomad, is lamenting the fact that he and his wife have no children of their own – no one to fulfill the promise made to them. That’s when the Lord speaks to the man, and says to him,
“Abram. Abram do not e afraid. Your reward shall be very great.” But Abram is disappointed with God. He complains to God, “You have given me no children. A servant of my household will have to be my heir.”
And the Lord says to Abram, “This man shall not be your heir, but a son born to you and your wife Sarai will be your heir.” And the Lord brings Abram outside of his tent, and says to him,
“Look. Look up at the sky, Abram. Count the stars if you can. So shall your descendants be.”
This wonderful episode in the life of the man that we know better as Abraham is a story that reminds us that when God makes a promise, God keeps that promise – no matter how impossible keeping that promise might be. The story of Abram and his wife Sarai – and just as Abram would be renamed Abraham, God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah – is a story of promise. God makes a promise that God will gather to himself from the descendants of Abraham and Sarah a great many people.
But you see – there’s still that problem. They have no children. And in case you are unfamiliar with the story of Abraham and Sarah – to make matters even worse – Abraham is 100 years old. Sarah is not quite so old. She’s only 90. This is one heck of a challenge, wouldn’t you agree? And yet – and here’s the amazing thing – and yet in spite of their ages – and regardless of how – in human terms this is an impossible task – still they believed. They trusted God, and took Him at His word. And God kept His promise. Abraham and Sarah – even in their old age – had a son and named him Isaac.
Let me suggest to you that we might think of this as a starting point in human history. Since the time of Abraham and Sarah – God has always had a people. God is a gatherer – and God has always gathered to Himself those who would follow – and believe – that the promises of God are real!
And we – we who are disciples of Jesus Christ – and who, by faith, are descendants of Abraham and Sarah – I want you to hear that the promises of God are for you today. We are called and gathered by the God who gathers His people together.
We get a sense of this from our Gospel reading today. Jesus is lamenting over the city of Jerusalem.
“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often had I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Let me share with you a story. In a small Swiss town there was a cathedral. It was called the Mountain Valley Cathedral. There had been a great deal of money spent on the wonderful stained-glass windows and tall arched ceiling. The cathedral also boasted of an outstanding pipe organ. The organ was designed in such a way that when it was played, people could hear it all over the valley. As the people would work on their farms, they could often hear the organ as it was played. It gave great joy to the people of the valley for many decades.
Then one day the valley became silent. The organ was in need of repair. They called in one expert after another and yet no one was able to solve the problem. Specialists from all over Europe were asked to help, and still no one was able to fix it.
Then one day, when all hope was gone, an old man came to the cathedral. He asked if he could work on the organ. The sexton agree, and the old man worked for two days.
The sexton was becoming nervous because the old man was saying nothing about what he was doing. Finally, on the third day, there was the sound of music all through the valley. People dropped what they were doing, and ran to the cathedral. When the old man was done playing, the sexton asked why it was that he had been able to fix the organ after so many had failed.
The old man said, “I am the one who built the organ, and I am the only one who can fix it.”
This was the cry of Jesus as he looked over the city of Jerusalem. He wanted to fix the people, but they would have nothing to do with him. The truth is, only the One who made us – the One who knows us – can fix us. The one who made us desires to gather us together – to heal us – to forgive us – to fix the broken and hurting areas of our lives.
And that’s why our God is a God who gathers. You see, God desires to be in relationship with people like you and me. People who need to be touched in the hurting areas of their lives – AND also people who will follow. People who will believe that the promises of God are for them. But as our Gospel lessons makes clear – not everyone is willing to follow. Not everyone is willing to be gathered in by God.
But let me tell you something. Just because there are some who run away from God – some who reject the promises of God – some who don’t want to be touched by God – doesn’t mean that God has given up on them.
Let me tell you another story – the story of another couple – this time a young man and woman. She was 18 and he was 19 when they met. They fell in love, and one year later, they were married. Some six years and three children later, she decided while standing before the kitchen sink with a pile of dirty dishes and with a pile of dirty diapers on the floor, that she just couldn’t stand it anymore. She just walked out the door.
Sometimes she would call home to check on the children – and on those occasions he would tell her how much he loved her – and would ask her to come home. Each time she refused.
After a number of days, he hired a private detective to find his wife. The report said that she was living in a second-class hotel in Des Moines, Iowa. He packed his bags – placed his children under the care of a neighbor – and drove to Des Moines.
He found the hotel and made his way to her room. When he knocked on the door, his hand trembled because he didn’t know the kind of reception he would receive. His wife opened the door, stood for a moment looking at him in shocked silence – and then fell apart in his arms.
Later, at home, when the children were in bed, he asked her a question that had long troubled him. “Why didn’t you tell me where you were when you called? You know I love you. Why didn’t you come home?”
She replied, “Before, your love was just words. Now I know how much you love me because you came for me.”
Folks, I want you to know – God shows His love for you in the same way. He doesn’t just tell us He loves us. No. God shows His love for us by coming to us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ – in order to gather us in.
God’s great desire for you is to gather you into His arms – to hold you and to touch you where it hurts – AND to repeat His promises to you once again. And quite frankly – that’s another reason why church matters. As the gathered people of God – and that is what we are – you need – I need – to hear those words – those promises – over and over again. It’s why church matters! This is where you’re going to hear God’s promises.
When you’re drowning in the sea of life, God promises, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid. I will gather you in.”
When you fret about today, and worry about the future, God promises, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things that you need will be given you. I will gather you in.”
When discouragement comes to you when you’re trying your very best to follow Him, God promises, “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. I will gather you in.”
In the face of personal disaster. When your world is falling apart – God promises, “Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. I will gather you in.”
When death comes knocking at the door – Jesus promises, “Because I live, you will live also.”
These are just a handful of the many promises that God in Jesus Christ makes to you today. These are the promises of the God who gathers – who gathers us in – AND whose promises are as sure for you today as they were for Abraham and Sarah. And like Abraham and Sarah – we too can trust God’s Word to us. You can trust the promises of God makes to you.
In a world that offers little to us in the way of hope – in a world that offers nothing but uncertainty – in Jesus Christ we have a hope for today and a bright promise for tomorrow. Our hope is found in the One who promises to be with us always – the One who promises to gather us in. And in those promises we can live in hope. Amen