Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
Relying on God’s Promise
Psalm 100, Genesis 18:1-10a
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Several years ago, when my dad turned 90, as his birthday present, he wanted his family to come to Florida and celebrate this amazing milestone with him. As we came closer to the actual date, I realized that one of the main reasons he wanted us there was to go to temple with him on Saturday morning, where he would be honored with reading from the Torah. Additionally, he had arranged with the Rabbi for each of us to have the honor of participating in the service. One of the surprising things was my dad asked that I read the prayer for healing, which touched me very deeply, since over many years, he and I had done a lot of healing around my conversion.
Watching my dad go forward to read from the Torah was a deeply moving moment for me. You see, my dad had stopped going to temple on Friday nights when he was about 75 because of his fear of driving at night. When he and my mother moved into an assisted living facility, they had Friday night services there, so my dad was able to start going again. However, he only went sporadically, because as he said, it just wasn’t the same.
Later, my dad met Ruth, also a resident of the Assisted Living facility. Ruth was a Holocaust survivor. She invited him to go with her to her temple on Saturday mornings. A van from the facility would take them and pick them up. Thanks to Ruth, my dad, who was initially hesitant to get on the van in his battery operated scooter, overcame his hesitancy, and started attending on a regular basis. As he grieved my mother’s death, he found great solace in the group of people that he befriended at the temple.
So, seeing him read from the Torah and then be congratulated and celebrated by so many people who had become his temple family, to me, best illustrates how my dad came to rely on the promises of God that had been his bedrock as a child. For my dad, God had been the God of the Jewish people and walked with them through all of the ups and downs of life. So, for him to reconnect at this time in his life was priceless. God provided a tangible way for him to reconnect to his Jewish roots which brought him joy, comfort, love and healing.
Theologian, Dr. Robert Webber, pointed out something that is quite obvious, but it’s good to have a confirmation of what we think! “God works through life, through people and through physical, tangible and material reality to communicate his healing presence in our lives.” He wrote: “God does not meet us outside of life in an esoteric manner. Rather,” God “meets us through life incidents.”(1) I believe that God worked through Ruth, who had had so much pain in her life, living through being imprisoned and tortured in a concentration camp as a child. And yet, she was still able to see God’s promise fulfilled in her own life, as she stayed connected to her faith community. And, she brought my dad to a place where he could also know, anew, God’s promise, and at the age of 88, helped him reconnect with his Judaic heritage in a deeper and more meaningful way.
God also affected Abraham and Sarah through what Dr. Webber refers to as a “life incident.” Abraham greets three strangers who happen by his dwelling. He treats them very well – giving them food, drink and a cool place to sit during the hottest part of the day. Abraham does most of the food preparation work himself. And, instead of the morsel of bread and a little water he promises them to entice them to stop, he gives them a tender calf, curds and milk and cakes made from flour.
Abraham was doing what God knew he would do, since he too had once been a stranger in a strange land. He treated these strangers in as hospitable way as possible. Abraham goes out of his way to ensure that these travelers are cared for. Similarly, the people at my dad’s Temple, went out of their way, to ensure that not only my father, but his family, were welcomed and treated in a hospitable and joyous manner.
The promise that Abraham and Sarah would birth a great nation, one that was more numerous than the stars in the sky, was hard for them to reconcile since they were both past the age of being able to conceive a child. And, yet, they relied on the promise of God, despite Sarah laughing at the seeming impossibility of her becoming pregnant. God does fulfill God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah, when Isaac is born to them, through yet another life incident.
God also fulfilled God’s promise in an incident in my life, when I was considering converting to Christianity. I had struggled for some time as to how to deal with my family, since I knew that they would most likely disown me, mourn me as if I were dead, and never speak to me again. The thought of that happening was so painful, and yet the pull to accept Jesus as my Savior was impossible to ignore.
Through praying and talking with the pastor at my new church home, I came to a place of peace and had a strong sense that God’s promise of walking with me through all of life’s ups and downs would somehow enable things to work. I believed with all my heart that with God all things were possible, even if that meant losing my family. Somehow I knew I would get through it. I realized that since I was going to be leaving my parents’ home to go to college on the west coast, I didn’t need to disclose what I was doing. But, if they ever asked me, I would not, nor could not, deny that I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
And, so I did convert, and over the following 20 plus years, my parents never asked me. However, when I realized I was called to ministry, I knew I needed to tell them, and though there were several years of pain and difficulty, as Dr. Webber pointed out, God worked quite amazingly through “people and through physical, tangible and material reality to communicate God’s healing presence in our lives.”
Looking back, at the age of 17, I was not prepared to go through the grief that might result from my conversion. However, at the age of 42, with Jesus and Pat by my side, I knew I could rely on God’s promise to bring me through.
Thinking about how God has worked through others in my own family history, leads me to wonder about each of you – can you think of a time that you met God through your own life incidents? Has Jesus worked through you to reach others or through others to reach you? Have you considered that you may be helping God to meet God’s promises to someone else whose path you have crossed or who is a part of your life? That person may be relying on God’s promises, especially when their life is not going as they had hoped it would. Is it possible that you are helping God fulfill God’s promise?
The more I worked on this sermon, the more I wondered if God’s promise is different for each of us, depending on who we are and what our life entails. And, if God’s promise changes as we change and grow. We are all different and so a “one size fits all” promise, seems like an impossibility. But then, on the other hand, I know that there is an overarching promise to love us, to be in relationship with us, to be faithful to us, even when we are not faithful. Jesus is the embodiment of that overarching promise, and has taught us how to embody God’s promises of love and acceptance through living our faith with open hearts, open minds and open hands as we partner with God as a church community, to communicate God’s healing presence not only in our lives but also in the lives of people in our wider community.
Our faith is manifest through our reliance on God’s overarching promise to each one of us that God will always be with us. God works through us and uses us to help God fulfill God’s promises. Nothing is more reassuring than to know that God fulfilled God’s promise by sending Jesus to walk with us. Additionally, we join with Jesus and are a part of God’s promise. When we open ourselves to God, we receive God’s promises and we help to fulfill God’s promises for others in our lives and in our world.
(1) Robert E. Webber, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, 45.