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Archive for August 11th, 2019

Appointed Scripture Readings: Genesis 15:1-6 Psalm 33: 12-22 Hebrews 11:1-16  The Holy Gospel: St. Luke 12:22-40

Text for this Sermon: “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

All Scripture is divided into Law and Promise.  By His Law, the Lord commands us the way we are to live. By His Promise and promises, the Lord gives us His life to live. Genesis 15: 1 is promise.  Promise or Gospel is not only in the New Testament but in the Old Testament as well.  The Lord gave His precious promise to Abram, I am your shield and with the promise of reward: Abram will be the father of many nations. This is the first time in the Bible, and in the first person, the only time Lord says, “I am your shield.” Of the 76 times the word shield(s) is used, 26 of those times it is in reference to the Lord.  This first time, which is the only time the Lord says it about Himself personally is to one of His chosen, Abram (Abraham). The Lord said it to Abram one to one so that, by the word of the Lord, the Lord would make faith in Abram:  I am your shield.

The Lord said first, Fear not. “Fear not” is also a precious promise to many: to Israel, to Mary, when an angel appears, when risen Lord appears to His disciples…and the Lord said it twice in today’s Gospel to those anxious and worried about will we have enough to live, be secure. The Lord said to them that He may say it us.

 As in “I am your shield”, this is the first time the Lord said “Fear not” to anyone in the Bible. It is obvious, the Lord knew Abram was fearing.  But why?  At this juncture, Abram had every reason not to fear: in previous chapter,  he had won a great battle and was blessed by the priest of the most high God, Melchizedek, King of Salem, King of Righteousness who brought  bread and wine.  Then he acted righteously and shows  the quality of his character: the King of Sodom wants to give Abram his possessions;  but Abram demurs and faithfully says to Sodom’s King: 

“I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 

Now here in at the beginning of chapter 15, Abram has fear and again, why? He had just won an important battle and was faithful in his response to the King of Sodom:  Abram was on the top.  The clue is Abram’s question:  Will I have a son? The Lord had promised him a son and Abram would become a father of many nations. Having the son of Eliezer did not work and God’s promise was late in coming. It doesn’t take much for things in life to quickly unravel. It only takes one dark cloud on a sunny day to cause fear and trepidation. Throughout the Bible, in our lives, a man is doing well in the Lord’s sight and then something happens, even small, a small doubt.  Paul said he had surpassing visions then the Lord gave him a thorn in the flesh which humbled the Apostle.  Paul could not trust his own good works and the Lord threw Paul back upon the Lord’s steadfast grace and mercy: “My grace is made perfect in weakness”. Abram could not trust his own works to produce an heir, that is the continuation of life, even eternal life, the Lord’s promise to him.  The Lord promises his reward will be great.

After fear not, the Lord said to Abram, He said:  I am your shield. He said to Abram “Fear not” to say the same to us.

The Lord is our shield, and His shield is synonymous with faith. Ephesians 6: 16:  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. 

The Roman soldier’s shield protected him from head to toe.  Arrows were tipped in tar and lit and then shot.  The Roman soldier would soak his shield in water to douse the flaming darts.  This may be a reference to Baptism through which we are washed and faith is given, so that as the Baptized, putting on the shield of faith, in order “… to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.  The evil one will shoot at you doubt and despair at your inability to withstand your own lusts of eye and heart: “Oh, you’re not a good Christian.  If you really were a Christian, you would not be feeling like this.”  “No, Satan! It is because I am a Christian that I know this and can cry out, I am baptized! Lord, save me!”  You cannot stand up against such, with all your works, except by the shield of faith, the shield given to you by His grace, not by your works (!), as He died and rose for you. (Ephesians 2). 

For many years, probably from the 1950s and on, congregations have been operated and been used as dispensers of spiritual goods: fellowship groups, worship, a Bible study or two, community presence, marriage mills, baptisms without active membership, a place for the local boy scout troop and the like.  A lot of that has gone away and rightly so. The mega-churches have done a great job of ratcheting this up to the maximum utilizing fine-honed tactics and techniques.  All of this has made for atomized congregations who are basically customers who may or may not form friendships with their fellow congregants. Maybe we only had a veneer of unity but not necessarily unity in faith and doctrine, as so many congregations were so busy with programs that the teaching of the promises of God played second fiddle to our busyness. For what it’s worth, years ago I said church was more about programs than promise. Then we became more and more attracted to proving our usefulness to the world, and not wanting to offend the world in order to get them into our services, we allowed for false gods with non-Christian doctrines, just as King Solomon allowed his wives to have their false gods in Jerusalem and the Temple. While we were sleeping, or sleep walking, the enemy came in and sowed bad seed in the ground (see Matthew 13:24-29). We were no longer walking by faith, but by sight.  By sight we look to the works of our hands, and the Lord has a name for that: idolatry.

And we forgot the saints who fought nobly of old.  Today (10 August) is the Commemoration of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr who on this date was martyred in AD 258.  He was a deacon in Rome. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition, Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He was then jailed and eventually executed in the year AD 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. This reminds us that gold does not make the Church, only the blood of Christ makes the Church, His Body.

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The Roman soldier in battle was not alone but had to rely on his fellow soldiers. Standing in formation with their shields for combat the soldiers overlapped their shields to help protect their comrade in arms.  When besieging a city, they protected themselves in what they called the “tortoise”, Latin testudo. They would move that way in order to besiege a city. 

We are not alone. We need to close ranks as never before, without giving up true doctrine and practice. I have thought that we don’t need bigger congregations but more congregations, small ones to close ranks.   The Roman soldier would not forsake his vows to Caesar and the Empire. The Roman was always looking toward the protection of Rome.

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah,  Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel, Rahab the prostitute, Gideon,  Barak,  Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and the prophets…as listed in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, the great cloud of witnesses and their shield was faith.  Did they know the anxieties we are all subject? Would we have enough food on our tables, a roof over our heads and clothes on our back?  Of course.  Faith is not only historical knowledge about the Lord, the Bible and the like, but faith is trust.  Is the Lord trustworthy?  Now sometimes the response to fear, “Oh, don’t be so scared”, is rightly met with bemusement at best. Yet, a child scared of a thunderstorm, or the monsters underneath his bed, and Dad comes in and basically says, Fear not, the child begins to calm down. Dad’s presence is itself an answer.  Why?  Faith, trust in his Father who has a track record of faithfulness.  When our Lord says “Don’t be anxious”, He knows of what He speaks.  He gives examples from creation:

Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 

Does the Lord know something about the ravens and the lilies? Yes, I would think so since He created them and takes care of them, so He cares for us.  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  Sometimes I think I need this verse tattooed on my arm to read daily.  The devil daily shoots the flaming darts of anxiety and anxiousness at us and a lot of that comes from the worldly culture, from TV, the internet, advertisers and the like. anxiety dwells in the heart.  The Roman’s shield was to protect the torso, the heart,the abdomen, all open to attack.  So the Lord knows:

But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 

The Lord redirects us: 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

For Abram was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. We have a city who founder, and foundation is the Lord Himself, Christ Jesus. Let us remain true and steadfast to Christ Jesus and the Kingdom of God, not for our sakes alone, but for the life of the world.

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Abram’s great reward from God was faith in the God of promise, His shield and ours,  and the Lord gave Abraham the child of promise. The Lord redirected Abram to look up at the stars, heaven itself, count the stars. The stars were a sign pointing to the promise as is the bread and the wine as His Body and Blood point to His presence.  Abram never did see Israel and the Church and yet his reward is great. The Son of Abraham came among us full of grace and truth, Jesus Christ.

The One had no where to lay his head who was ever on the move to the Cross, leads us.

The One who was stripped has clothed us in Baptism.

The One who hungered and thirsted feeds us the bread of life.

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