Trust God and live in hope and confidence

Genesis 15:1-11
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

“Oh dear, oh dear,” whispered Mrs Bonner loudly, “a very interesting sermon, but what a lot of talk about sin. I suppose it’s only to be expected at the beginning of Lent, but it’s all so miserable, don’t you think?”, so wrote Barbara Pym in Excellent Women.

Many people seem to think that Lent is a time to be dismal, a time of little joy; a time of self examination that can certainly lead to a losing of confidence. Dour and miserable does seem to be the stereotype of Lent, which is not what was ever envisaged, and it must be said that sometimes the church, perhaps unwittingly, reinforces such unfortunate associations.

It’s good news, then, that the Bible readings set for today are quite different. Instead of anything miserable and dreary, they’re full of optimism. Except that optimism is too shallow a word. It’s more about hoping for the best in spite of everything. These readings are about confidence in the face of difficult situations, confidence because of God and God’s activity.

In our reading from Genesis Abram and his wife Sara are childless. Of course this is a matter of great unhappiness for them personally, as it is for so many people, but in the time of Genesis it was also a social matter – something that affected their status in society, and something that left them with no sense of security for the future. Since Abram left Ur of the Chaldeans, believing it to be at God’s bidding, he and Sara have made great progress, they’ve built up resources and wealth, but these will count for nothing if they remain childless. His sense of being led by God and seeking to be God’s servant seems to make little sense if there is no offspring to remember him after his death.

It’s a question of what is important, what is of ultimate value. Abram is well aware of all the things that he’s achieved, but it isn’t enough. Added to that is his sense of helplessness – there’s nothing he can do about it. For people who achieve much life can be most difficult when faced with something that is beyond their control. I think many people in our world today, particularly people in the south east of England, feel they’ve achieved much in their work, earned enough not to have to worry about money, and have all the material possessions they need. I suspect many of us know people who feel that. I wonder how many of those people still feel their life isn’t complete?

What Abram and Sara have to discover is that the God who has led them thus far controls the future as well. The passage is full of wonderful imagery: Count the stars … So shall your descendants be. An impossible task to count the stars, and that’s precisely the point. God’s promise is about overwhelming abundance. Verse six gives the punch-line: Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abram is in a faithful relationship with God and so he need not fear for the future.

Perhaps those who feel that they have everything material, but something’s missing can also find a message as Abram did, because God’s promise is for everyone.

Psalm 27 contains so many positive statements about God:

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The Lord is the strength of my life.
He shall keep me safe in his shelter.
He shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
Show me your way, O Lord; lead me on a level path.

By selecting only these verses you could think that the writer of the Psalm is having a very easy life, that all is well for him in the best of all possible worlds. Such a view is only sustainable on a very superficial reading of the Psalm. The truth is that the writer is surrounded by difficulties, some of which are probably of his own making, and he certainly seems to have his fair share of enemies and people who think badly of him and are more than willing to slander him. Indeed, some of these problems may even have come from his own family. He’s reached the point that he wonders whom he can trust and where he should look for security. But he is fortunate. He knows that he can trust in God and that is always the source of his security.

Perhaps you know someone who feels surrounded by difficulties, perhaps of their own making? Perhaps you know someone with enemies, or someone people think badly of, and are all too eager to bad mouth? Perhaps you know people who’ve fallen out with their family? The message of the psalm to them is that they can trust in God, he is the source of their security.

Perhaps the most important message of this Psalm comes towards the end, where the Bible (not the paraphrase in our hymnbooks) says that: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! This isn’t about pie in the sky when you die. It’s about the here and now. The Psalmist is saying very clearly that it’s because of all the difficulties of his life that he has come to understand the goodness and faithfulness of God. God is there with him and that enables him to cope with life in all its different circumstances, good and bad, as he is with us and the people we know.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, says Luke’s gospel. The gospel reading is clearly set at the point in the life of Jesus when Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem for what will be the final days of his life, and he’s already beginning to feel the growing opposition, the plotting and planning against him. He’s warned that Herod is planning to kill him. Later more than just Herod will come together to ensure his death. Yet this passage is also full of hope: the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

The heart of the Christian faith is that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the supreme work of God, God’s revelation of himself and his love. Something of that revelation is there throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This is what we see in the passages from Genesis and the Psalm that we read today. Today the Bible gives us a great sense of hope and of confidence in God, for us, for people we know, even in the midst of the difficulties of this life, hope and confidence in God.

From his prison cell, Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi: our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation, so that it may be transformed to the body of his glory, by the power that enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

May it be so for us and those for whom we pray, that we can claim this hope and confidence in God ourselves.

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