The Second Sunday in Lent
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Luke 13:31-35

“And Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6)

We have been trained, most of us, to be unbelievers. In a world where mistrust is so common and casual as to be taken for granted, blatant untruths can roll off the tongue without a second thought from the speaker or the hearer. Consider some of the everyday little white lies that we all hear (and tell) from time to time:

“We must get together for dinner. I’ll give you a call.” Or “I’m not home right now but if you’ll leave your name and number, I’ll call you back.” “I’ll return your book as soon as I finish reading it.” “The insurance policy is comprehensive.” “The doctor will be with you shortly.” “What?! I mailed you a check.” “If elected, I will…” “Absolutely no obligation on your part.” “There is nothing to worry about.” “A 100 percent satisfaction money back guarantee.” “Lose 15 pounds in one week.” “Honey, I’ve had a “little” accident with the car.”

As the late, great British comedian Benny Hill once said, “I never lie unless it’s absolutely necessary.” The truth is most of these small fabrications are not disastrous; and the telling and accepting of them can even keep society from becoming overly quarrelsome. Otherwise, we would find ourselves living out the old proverb: “Tell the truth—and run.”

But sometimes, little lies can lead to bigger and more dangerous ones. Examples of some of the more harmful and ruinous forms of deceit would be Hitler’s remark, “The Sudetenland is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe”; or Senator Joseph McCarthy’s saying, “I have here in my hand a list a communists”; or Henry Kissinger’s declaring to the American public during the Viet Nam War, “Peace is at hand”; or, in that same era, Richard Nixon’s classic remarks, “I have a secret plan to end the War, which I will reveal immediately after the election”, and, “I am not a crook.”

One of the most sickening of history’s lies took place at the Triblinka death camp. The Nazis, informing the Jews that they were being sent to areas in Europe for labor purposes, had Triblinka set up as a railway transit camp. They had a platform built to resemble a train station. It was fitted with fake doors and windows. It had signs that read TICKET COUNTER, WAITING ROOM, INFORMATION, STATION MANAGER, RESTROOM, and one large sign that said, “Jews of Warsaw, Attention! You are in a transit camp from which you will be sent to a labor camp. In order to avoid epidemics, you must present your clothing and belongings for immediate disinfection. Gold, money, foreign currency, and jewelry should be deposited with the cashiers in return for a receipt. They will be returned to you later when you present the receipt. Bodily cleanliness requires that everyone bathe before continuing the journey.

As the Jews were led to the “showers,” which were actually gas chambers large enough that as many as two hundred and fifty people could be killed at a time, the SS guards would urge the victims to hurry by telling them, “Faster, faster, the water is getting cold, and others have to shower too.”

No wonder Jesus refers to the devil as the “the father of lies.” But all this background into the untruths of the world, and the jadedness it engenders in the human heart, sheds light on Abram as the father of believers, & the kind of man he was. Abram was one who believed in God when everything in his life – all the dead-end promises and untruths he had heard – told him not to.

For instance, when called by God Abram was anything but a young man. In his advanced years, he was settled and established. He had made a good life for himself and was enjoying the final fruits of it. He dutifully had accepted the values of his father, and those values had provided him with longevity and prosperity. The “golden years,” as we say, were upon him.

And yet, at this juncture in his life, when most seniors in his situation are looking for a condo in Arizona, God calls Abram to leave his own land and, on a promise, become an uncharted wanderer, a wandering Aramean. And on top of the call to leave his country and kindred for an unspecified destination that the Lord would show him at some unspecified time, Abram is promised by God that “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great.”

“Uh-huh. Riiight!” the jaded, lied-to side of Abram must have thought, reminding himself of all the unanswered prayers regarding children (heirs) and the fact that barren couples in their seventies don’t just up and start a family, much less a great nation.

But the two retirees and their entourage leave Haran. In faith, despite their doubt, Abram and Sarah set out and eventually arrive at Canaan. But then a famine comes (not a good start) and they go to Egypt, where Abram practices a little deception of his own with the Pharaoh, passing the lovely Sarah off as his sister. But Pharaoh uncovers the ruse and kicks them out Egypt. Then Abram and Lot, his nephew, separate. Then Lot is rescued from Sodom minus the wife who is turned to a pillar of salt.

I don’t claim to know exactly how Abram felt at this point, but explaining to the family again about this “promise of God” must have felt something like explaining to your family why, at middle age, you’re selling the house, quitting your job, and taking the whole gang to seminary. –It’s a real head-scratcher. You know there’s a good reason for all of it, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it at the time.

It must have really been a shock when God made the homeless Abram a second promise. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them,” God says. “So shall your descendants be.”

Did Abram say, “Hey, God! How about keeping your first promise first! How about just one descendant. Or, “No thanks! No more promises! No more favors!”?
Nope. Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. And you know what? It all came to pass! It all came to be.

And the lesson here is simply this: God is faithful. God is trustworthy. God is gracious. –No great revelation. You probably knew that before you came to church this morning. But sometimes it just bears repeating. Sometimes it needs to be heard again, just like the great stories in the Bible need to be heard again.

Like this one, when Abram stood under the starry skies of the desert and, confronted by the voice of doubt that comes from living in a world of untruths and mistrust, believed in God and God’s promises.

It’s a good story. It’s a teaching story. & If we learn nothing else this Lenten season, may we learn to remember , and believe, and trust that God keeps his promises.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

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