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We’re talking about relationships today. Relationships need to be nurtured, generally speaking, or they will weaken and potentially fade away. This has been one of the challenges of the last two years, hasn’t it? Living more distantly from one another, not being able to share the same space, breathe the same air, look at one another. Many relationships have become distant and maybe even strained for many of us. In much the same way our relationship with God can become distant if we don’t nurture it.
I want us to think about relationships this morning. To live in the generosity of God is to live in close relationship with God. To live in harmonious (in tune) relationship with God is to be blessed. We’re talking about generosity through these weeks of June. God’s generosity means that all is gift, and we’ll rightly come back to this time and time again. When we recognize that God has given Himself to us in the person of Jesus (who poured out his life for us) and in the person of the Holy Spirit (who is poured out for us), then we begin to come to an understanding that all is gift. “All is grace” is what someone has said and I like that, and I want to add to it “All is gift.” Recognize! To recognize this truth is the call on the lives of those who follow Jesus.
We need to be called to recognize this truth that “All is gift” and to come back to it time and time again because humanity’s relationship with God was wounded. We talked about this last week. We didn’t need God, we could handle things on our own. Scarcity came into the world. We found ourselves unable to trust each other. This is really what lies at the heart of the woundedness of our relationship with God when it comes to God’s generosity. We find it hard to trust God because we have trust issues. There was a time in my life when I used to say “I’m not going to trust anyone until they give me reason to.” Can you imagine? Don’t trust anyone is phrase of the age (or one of them). We have trust issues because we have been let down by people. We want to make God in our own image and so begin to doubt that God can actually be trusted. The Liar’s voice is in our ear too, of course, saying “You have to look after yourself,” but we’ll come back to that in a little while. Let’s go back to the beginning first, let’s pray before we do.
Read Gen 11:31-32. Abraham and his wife Sarah are whom we are introduced to at this point. This is big-picture God’s saving/delivering/freeing story stuff. In order to right what has gone wrong, God will give himself. This is the beginning of the promise and the promise is about blessing. The blessing is personal but it’s not just personal. The blessing spreads out to cover a nation and then it spreads out further to cover everyone – all the nations of the world. The blessing goes national and it goes universal. Listen to how many times “blessing” or a variation of it is repeated as the LORD speaks to Abraham. (Gen 12:1-3) What do we mean when we say “blessing”? We use it a lot. I put it at the end of my emails a lot. It’s a hashtag generally used when something good has happened. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it goes being circumstance (and thanks be to God that it does because we know that circumstances can be trying). Someone has said, “Blessing… at the beginning of our Bible is constituted by fruitfulness, abundance, and fullness on the one hand, and by enjoying rest within creation in holy and harmonious relationship with our Creator God on the other.”
Abraham receives the promise and Abraham says “I’m going to live in this promise.” Circumstances can make it hard to see God’s promises, which is why we’re always saying “Remember God’s promises.” Sarah was barren, she had no child, we read. Canaanites were in the land at that time. All this talk of family and land seems impossible. Still, we read in v4 “So Abraham went…” Father Abraham. One of the heroes of the faith. Listen to how he is described in Hebrew 11:8-10. Abraham is listening to God’s voice here. Abraham is building altars – tangible signs that are marking his faith and how God is leading Abraham and his family. The relationship is good.
Until it’s not. One of the great things about the story of the family from whom God’s promise would come is that, like any family, they are far from ideal. We call them heroes of the faith and we can idealize them, focussing on their faithfulness, their trust, their obedience. In the stories of Abraham and his family, the Bible tells us of people who are exactly like us. As someone has put it, “The stories show what God certainly knows, namely, that the faith has always been carried in the hands of people who stumble, grow weary, act incompetently, and disobey at some moments, while at other times they surprise us with their trust, perseverance, perceptiveness, and faithfulness.”
Trouble comes. In this case it's famine. Things go sideways. There’s no talk here of Abraham hearing God’s voice or setting up altars. We need to take matters into our own hands after all. The question that is always before us is “Can God be trusted when things go sideways?” For Abraham the answer is “No not at all.” “So Abraham went” we read once again, but this time he goes down – down to Egypt. “We’ll pretend you’re my sister,” he tells Sarah, “If they know you’re my wife they’ll kill me. “So that it may go well with me,” he tells her, not overly concerned with how it will go with her. Her very identity is lost at this point, even the text is referring to her simply as “the woman.” Sarah is taken into Pharoah’s house. This note of danger that was introduced by the famine spreads to Sarah, and to Pharoah’s household. Talk of blessing – of security and peace and harmonious relationship has been replaced by danger, deception, and disease. And so the story ends (v 17-20). Abraham had received a kind of dowry from Pharoah, and he’s allowed to keep it. One wonders why the Pharoah didn’t take it back, but he might have been too intent on getting this man away from him. Abraham and Sarah return and God’s promise lives on.
Thankfully the advancement of God’s promise does not depend on our own faithfulness to it, stumbling, persevering, weak, perceptive, incompetent, trusting, weary, faithful as we can be. God’s answer to our wounded relationship is to give himself in the person of Jesus poured out for us and in the person of the Holy Spirit poured out for us. Abraham was the bearer of the promise of blessing – again characterized by fruitfulness, abundance, and fullness on the one hand, and by enjoying rest within creation in holy and harmonious relationship with our Creator God on the other. This is in anticipation of Jesus who in his very person carries abundance and fullness and life and rest and holy and harmonious relationship with our Creator God. In Luke’s Gospel as Christ is ascending he’s blessing his followers (Luke 24:50-53). When we come to the 4th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. The accuser. The slanderer. The liar. The wilderness is a place of testing – of learning what It means to be a child of God. It’s a place of hunger. It’s a place of the unknown. It’s also a place of God’s guidance and protection and provision. Right before this chapter, after Jesus is baptized, these words were heard calling out from the heavens “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The question then becomes “What will it mean for Jesus to live out this sonship?” and by extension to us, “What will it mean for us to live as adopted daughters and sons of God?”
“If you are the Son of God” is not so much a question of “are you or are you not?” It’s more like “Since you are the Son of God…” The liar wants to misdirect the relationship. The question is, how will Jesus live out his relationship to God as the beloved son? The temptation is – use this position of beloved son for your his privilege. Use the position of beloved son to look after his own needs. Command these stones to turn to bread. Use the position of beloved son to receive protection from his vulnerable humanity. Throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple. It is written, after all, He will command his angels concerning you, and On their hands, they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
Of course, we know that Jesus wasn’t here to seek protection from his vulnerable humanity.
Gain power over all the kingdoms of the world, if you will fall down and worship me. This is the final test. Mistrust causes a lot of pain. Mistrust of God. Mistrust of one another. God comes to us in the midst of such pain in the person of Jesus who shows what it looks like to live in unquestioning trust of his Father. He quotes from Israel’s own wilderness experience. Manna which was a gift from God and which one was not to try to gather more than one needed. “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:3) “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The desire of the Israelites at Massah to test whether God was among them or not (Deut 6:16) rather than living in unquestioning trust that needs no test. Quoting from Deut 6:13 Jesus replies “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Remember that all is grace. Remember that all is gift. Listen to the verses that precede those words in Deuteronomy 6:10-12. Don’t forget the relationship.
The relationship rooted and founded in Christ, the one who emptied himself of all but love and poured himself out for us. The one of whom the psalmist sang “My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.” The one who has shown himself worthy of all trust.
The situation for Jesus here is obviously not the same as for us. We are not Jesus and we are not effecting the reconciliation of all things to God. We’re called to take part in that reconciliation though, and we’re called to the same kind of child-like trust in the relationship that Jesus had with his Father. The question for us becomes, when are we tempted to treat God as less than God. Do we trust God’s readiness to empower and strengthen us in the face of trials? Do we question or ignore the help of God when things go sideways? When things go sideways do we bow down and sacrifice to the gods of this world?
Living all of life generously is rooted in living in harmonious relationship with our generous God. Jesus had just spent 40 days communing with his Father. What are some of the ways we can do that even in the midst of a lot of activity? It might be in fasting. Stepping away from things or practices that we have come to rely on maybe a bit too much for a sense of well-being. Perhaps dropping them might increase our sense of trust and dependence on God. It might be in giving (whether it’s time, stuff, space, thanks, encouragement) – whatever it is that we’re giving to another that deepens relationship with others and with God, whose generosity we are imitating. It may be in a practice breath prayers which you can pray anytime you can take a moment (or some moments). Praying on the inhale “The Lord’s my shepherd” and on the exhale “I shall not want.” (Ps. 23:1) Perhaps “My help comes from the Lord” on the inhale and “who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 122:2) on the exhale. Or “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” (Ps 56:3)
No matter our circumstances, to be blessed is to live in the abundance of God’s love, in harmonious relationship with God and with God’s creation. May we all be so blessed as our relationship with God and our trust in the sufficiency of God is deepened, and may this be true for all of us. Amen