|Around Cow Creek, North of Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA|
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Journey of Faith - The Treasures of Generosity
Preached on Sunday, September 25, 2016
Scripture readings: Genesis 13:1-18
A man’s car had a headlight out, and so he drove over to his favorite mechanic’s garage and told him what was wrong. The mechanic had the right bulb to replace the old one, so he did this while his customer waited. It didn’t take long.
When the work was done the customer asked what he should pay and the mechanic said, “You don’t owe me a thing. It was a small job and I’m glad to do it for you. The customer insisted on paying, and the mechanic responded, “For cryin’ out loud; can’t you just let me do something to stretch my soul?”
I puzzle over where Abraham shows fear and where he doesn’t. That fear reflects on his faith. His wife, Sarah, seems to have scared him. That fear of Sarah caused Abraham to make some big mistakes. He also seems to be afraid of other people being generous to him; as if he were afraid of owing them something. But Abraham is not afraid of being generous to others. And, maybe, being generous to others was one way that Abraham stretched his own soul.
Abraham was not afraid to be extravagantly generous to his nephew Lot. Lot’s father, Abraham’s brother, Haran, died at some point way back before Abraham’s father (and Lot’s grandfather), Terah, took the whole the family about half of the way to the promised land, and stopped there. Abraham called Lot his brother, and the situation in their family may have made Lot seem like Abraham’s baby brother.
Abraham and Sarah being childless, and staying childless over the years, may have seen the much younger Lot almost as if he was their son, and (probably) the heir to everything they had.
The Lord’s promise to make a great nation out of Abraham really didn’t tell him much, and Abraham may have thought that the promise of the blessing could involve Lot. It’s only after Lot left that the Lord specifically spoke about Abraham’s descendants.
The truth is that what the Bible tells us about all this doesn’t give us many details. It doesn’t explain much.
Lot would naturally have started out with his share of the grandfather’s inheritance and he seems to have done very well with it: about as well as Abraham. Lot seems to have been blessed by association with Abraham. But you also have to give Lot credit for taking off into the unknown with Abraham. Lot seems to have started out on the same journey of faith with Abraham.
The Lord had given Abraham the promise of land but not the ownership of that land. Abraham wouldn’t dare to act like he owned the land because other people already owned it. They had homes, and farms, and towns on that land.
Abraham would have gotten in terrible trouble if he acted as though their land was really his. He never owned any of the promised land except for the hill where he buried Sarah after her death. (Genesis 23)
Abraham, and Sarah, and Lot, and their people could never settle in one place because they could only use the land that no one else would claim because it wasn’t worth settling on. They migrated back and forth on marginal rangeland, and so they lived in tents and moved whenever their herds and flock had overgrazed wherever they happened to be.
The more successful they were, the more often they had to move, because the growing herds ate everything faster and faster. It was becoming a problem, and Abraham was finally forced to admit to himself that the only real solution was for him and Lot to divide their herds and go their separate ways.
Abraham was the uncle who had always acted like the older brother. It was true that he was the senior partner and (having seniority) Abraham had the privilege and the right of first choice of the land.
In spite of knowing his rights, Abraham’s generosity kicked in. He refused the privilege of first choice. He gave the honor to Lot.
Lot seems to not have deserved the honor that Abraham gave him. At least he didn’t use the honor very honorably. He didn’t return Abraham’s generosity with generosity of his own. Lot used the choice to his own advantage and, apparently, to Abraham’s disadvantage. Lot chose the best land for himself.
The Jordan Valley was Lot’s choice, and the land there was almost too good. Jeremiah, later on, would call it “the jungle of the Jordan” (Jeremiah 12:5) It was so extremely fertile. It was so well watered. The soil in that valley was so ridiculously good that you could never hope to stretch your soul by living there.
The proof of this was that, at the southern end of the valley, the land sank down to the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah where life was so good that it always went bad. They could have been called “the sin cities”. Lot knew this, and he couldn’t resist.
He had joined the journey of faith with Abraham, but he turned out to be ready for something else. He wanted to live on more than promises. He wanted to live on more than faith. The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews says this about faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Traveling on the journey of faith in the promises of God with Abraham, Lot had been living a different way of life: not an easy life but a soul stretching life. It was a life with a purpose, because it belonged to some great thing that God wanted to do in the world.
The promised land was their land even though they never owned it. In a way the whole world was theirs because they lived a promised life. Most of the promised land was very sandy, and it ran through your fingers, and you could never hold the deed of ownership in your hand.
The Valley of the Jordan was rich ground and you could hold a ball of that soil in your fist, and you could hold the deed of ownership to a house in Sodom in your hand, and Lot did just that. He chose a blessing that you could see and hold onto, even though doing that made the good life go bad.
Abraham’s life was based on a promise that he mostly never saw come true, but the substance of what he hoped for was in his heart and in his life. God gave Abraham a lot. Abraham became rich. But what he had was always at risk. Abraham and Sarah were always on the edge; on the edge of drought and famine. They had already seen that before.
Their journey of faith had included scarcity and danger, but they had faith in God’s promises. They had faith, which means trust. They trusted the God who called them to leave everything that made their life secure. They trusted the God who made them part of a great thing he was beginning to do to change the human world.
Because of this, Abraham and Sarah were normally able to live generously. They were normally able to live bold lives. They were also able to give boldly.
They could know scarcity but they didn’t live accordingly. They didn’t feel that their lives were scarce. They felt that they were able to give, and that they didn’t need to be given to. They had enough. They had God. They had God’s promises. It made all the difference in the world to have that.
The choices of Abraham and Lot tell us about our own choices if we want to travel with God on the journey of faith.
Lot chose the gold. He chose the sure thing, the safe thing. He looked out for number one. And his number one was himself. By choosing this way, Lot lost himself.
Abraham was generous toward Lot, but he was even more generous to God, because he let God be in charge of all those promises and blessings. He didn’t hold onto what he had with a tight fist. He was gracious to God by putting his life in the hands of the grace of God.
Abraham and Sarah were well off and safe before they left the city and became wanderers in the desert in their old age. In a way they sacrificed their future for the sake of the God who gave them promises that they would never see fulfilled. So they journeyed to the land of faith which they would never own.
For a while it seemed possible that Lot would be their future, in their old age, and yet Abraham let go of that. He let Lot go. Lot could have the first choice and the first claim on the land that God had not promised to him.
Abraham let go of his own rights. He put God’s promises back into God’s hands.
In the future Abraham and Sarah would have the promised offspring: the one son to carry all the promises, and all the future. And then Abraham would have to be willing to offer this one son, who carried all their hope, back to God who seemed to ask for the impossible.
He trusted the God who gave him the promise, and this was the generosity of faith. The faith of Abraham was well placed because God turned out to be the kind of God he had promised to be.
The God who is faithful to his promise makes it possible for us to live with the generosity that comes from faith. We see this God in the gift of Jesus: the only everlasting Son of the everlasting Father. God is the generous giver and the generous gift. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son; that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
The God we meet in Jesus is the God who gives and does not grab. This God is not like Lot who only grabbed the best.
This God loves to wander through deserts with his people. He loves to give his gifts to those who live on the margins and in the deserts. This God comes to barren lands like our own lives, and makes us his own promised land.
He sent his Son to die for us on the cross, in order to make us his own promised land. In Jesus he gave us his life in order to give us freedom from our sins and freedom from the fear of death.
God delights in his own generosity which we call grace. Gracious giving is God’s glory and riches. Our own being able to give to others is grace.
In Jesus, God would make himself into our own generosity. We might know scarcity of our own, and yet God makes us able to give back to him and to others. Lives in which we are able to give to others are richer than the lives of those who always grab for the gold and for the sure thing for the sake of number one.
The choice to live by giving is, above all things, a choice as well as grace. God organized our lives so that, like Abraham, could choose it: so that we could choose to live by giving. And we can only have such a life by choosing it. Let us choose the life of grace. Let us choose the life of giving. Our God gives us Jesus, and Jesus is the way of giving.