What great faith you have! I mean, you’re here today! Now granted, you came to worship God— to sing his praises and hear him speak to you from the Bible. However, why did you show up today, on a Sunday, and not on a Monday? Why did you arrive at 9:00am [at Harrison; 11:00am, Clare] and not at 2:00pm this afternoon? Why are you sitting down with
That takes faith, does it not? You trust that these events are going to happen. You expect to arrive on site and find a church building at this address. You expect to walk up to the front door, reach out, tug the handle, and the door will open (and not remain locked). You expect to sit down— not in an empty building, but gathered with your fellow Christians. You trust Pastor will be here to lead worship and share a carefully prepared (and thoughtful) message. You trust the promise made. That takes faith.
But… you could doubt those promises. Then what would happen? What if you did not believe we worship on Sunday mornings? What if you doubted that we gather at 9:00am [or 11:00am]? What if you did not think your Pastor would lead worship? What would happen? You would rely only on your thoughts and feelings! You could only find assurance in you— and what you felt would happen! Faith trusts promises.
Faith even trusts the promises of God— trusting that he will accomplish what he says he will do. Placing your faith on anything other than the Word of God will leave you floundering in the heaving waves of emotional despair. Faith Anchors You to the completed work of Jesus and to the certain promises of God.
Because that’s what anchors do; anchors keep objects in place. Anchors keep boats from drifting across the ocean. Anchors keep your balloon from floating into the sky. Anchors keep your tent from tumbling away in the wind. Anchors keep your emotions, your fears, your worries fastened to the unchanging, guaranteed promises of God.
Just look at our reading, and recognize what God uses to anchor faith. After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” What could ever make Abraham afraid? Just consider everything he has! Sheep, goats, steer swarm as far as the eye can see (and, not to mention, Abraham owns every single acre of this land). Maids rush in with dinner and out with dishes; in with clothing and out with laundry; servants feed cattle, pay bills, stand guard, tend to any need you might possibly have. Gunnysacks jingle with gold and jewels. Abraham even has an army— 318 fierce fighters. Kings respect him (Genesis 14:21-24). God’s priest blesses him (14:18-20). What could Abraham possibly worry about? Something out of his control.
“O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” But God promised! Everything moving around Abraham would belong to his child! (12:7; 13:14-17). No, not his head servant— but his own flesh and blood! Abraham must have a son!
But God made that promise 10 years ago. And nine months had turned into twelve months, one year becomes two years, two grows to five, five to ten… and he’s still waiting; he’s still waiting for God to place that baby into the crook of his arm.
And it’s not the waiting that’s the difficult part. Each passing year means Abraham is another year older. Abraham is 85-years-old. And his wife? She’s 75-years-old. “God, I’m waiting. God, I’m not getting any younger. God, human biology rules out having children. God, where’s this promised child?”
Because you do not see God keeping his promise, do you? That’s the difficult thing about faith, is it not? Faith trusts something not seen. Faith considers the unseen promise as already having been kept. Faith is certain your Pastor will lead worship that takes place on Sunday mornings at 9:00am [11:00am]. Faith considers promises as good as done. And yet, when you see real problems with your own eyes, it often feels that those problems are the real thing— and the promise is just an empty wish.
God promises to send angels to protect you (Psalm 91:11), but you get hurt, you’re sick, you have cancer. You see pain; you do not see protection. God promises to forgive you (Matthew 18:18), but you still feel guilt, shame, fear that you’re going to hell. You feel guilty; you do not feel forgiven. God promises to work things for your good, but you don’t see “good” (Romans 8:28). Loved ones die too soon. Living as a Christian in 2017 is not exactly popular. You’re still sad, depressed; you feel empty— and you really don’t know why. God makes promises, but you do not see answers. And if you do not see answers, then who can you trust?
Yourself, right? Abraham wants a child. He waits. No child. So, he has a child with his maidservant— and rejoices; he has an heir! (Genesis 16:1-4) You want safety, so trust your medical choices without praying at all. You feel guilty, so you try to feel saved by relying on how good of a person you are. If you consider God untrustworthy, you will place faith in yourself. That means, you rely on your own decisions. You trust you abilities to get healthier. You trust that you made some decision to accept Jesus as Savior. You trust that God does not make things work for your good. You doubt God. You trust yourself. If you trust yourself, then you will push God away.
Do you see how God strengthens faith? It shows up twice in our reading: [T]he word of the Lord came to him. That’s it! God does not snap his fingers, and *poof* a child drops from the sky. No thunderous guarantee: “Abraham, this will happen on November 18th!” God simply speaks; God reveals what will happen. Eliezer will not be your heir. You will have a son coming from your own body. God places Abraham’s attention on his unchanging Word.
Abraham believed the Lord. It’s more than Abraham believing that God exists. Faith is not that God is “somewhere out there.” No, faith grasped God’s promise. Abraham would have a Son. That Son would be great. That Son would be the Savior of the world. Yes, Abram never saw Jesus with his very own eyes. Yet, his faith had eyes. With the eyes of faith, Abraham watched Mary’s Son stretched out on a cross because he [Abraham] doubted God. Abraham raised his eyes to the heavens, certain that God’s Son would come down and bring him home. He trusted God’s promise was as good as done.
Faith Anchors You to the completed work of Jesus. There may be times you are tossed about by your emotions. There may be times you do not feel saved. There may be times you want certainty that God is for you. In those troubling times, God speaks to you. Look to God’s Word and see your Savior. See the One who died to remove your doubts. See the One whose blood covers over fears. See the One crucified for you and etches your name into heaven’s book. Faith Anchors You to the completed work of Jesus.
That’s why God could bolster Abraham’s faith with his Word: “Do not be afraid, Abram, I haven’t forgotten about you. Don’t be afraid Abraham, you will have a son. Don’t be afraid Abraham, your son will lead to Jesus. Don’t be afraid Abraham, I am your shield, your very great reward.”
You can plug your name in here too. “Don’t be afraid, Andy… Bob… Sue… Tom… Don’t be afraid because that Christmas-day baby is still your Savior.” You may not have seen Jesus with your own eyes, but your faith clings to him. When you’re terrified over sins, look to the cross; hear Jesus say “I paid for them.” When you feel that you can never be forgiven, that God cannot possibly love someone like you, look to Jesus who says: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven” (John 20:23). If you feel that God has abandoned you, listen to the God who says: “I have called you by name. You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). God is your shield—and notice the verb. Present tense means he remains your defense today. That bronze shield wards off the devil’s temptations to doubt that you are anything less than a possession of God. Your God still comes to you with his Word and Sacraments to strengthen and grow faith.
After all, your faith is a living thing— just like a houseplant. What happens if you stop watering a plant? It dies, right? What happens if you do water it? It lives—and more than that, plants grow and spread and flower. Plants are living things; they are not static, they do not remain one size forever. Your faith is not static; it does not remain one size forever. It either grows or it shrivels. God doesn’t water you, he feeds you with his Word.
That’s why it is important to be in worship and hear his Word. That’s why it is important to remember your baptism. That’s why it is important to receive the Lord’s Supper. God is strengthening your faith with these tools.
God is teaching you more about what he has done for you. God is combating the fears in your life. He is answering questions you may have. The more you stay away from the Word, the more you forget. The more you stay away from the Word, the more you will rely on your own decisions. The more you remain in the Word the more you know who your God is— and what he has done.
The more you remember your baptism, the more you realize that you have done nothing to save yourself. If you want to feel saved, then stop probing your emotions. See how God used water and a promise to adopt you as his child (Titus 3:4-7).
The more you receive the Lord’s Supper, you again hear him say: “Forgiven! Forgiven! Forgiven! I have given you the strength to say “No” to sin. You no longer live to gratify whatever feels pleasurable to you. You live to serve me. Imitate my patience, kindness, and love.” God remains your shield who uses Word and sacrament to defend you against the devil’s accusations.
God is your very great reward.” Notice the verb: “Is.” Present tense. God constantly remains your priceless possession. Abraham has all this stuff— 318 fighting men, a large family, many servants, thousands of cattle, and a pile of wealth —and yet none of it compares to an ounce of what God gives him. All the stuff you have cannot even bring you one step closer to God, but the blood of Jesus can. And by faith you have that blood purifying and cleansing you (1 John 1:9).
God is your very great reward. He is the only thing you get to take out of this life and into the life to come. He’s the one who fills you with real comfort in a world with lots of trouble in it. He’s the only thing that assures you: “Everything is ok,” even when there’s hurricanes, earthquakes, and shootings. Jesus has already won. Faith Anchors You to the certain promises of God.
Over these past two weeks we have looked at “What it means to be a Lutheran.” Martin Luther lived in a time where pastors taught him: “The more you do, the more you will be saved.” Yet, he stood on Scripture— where God tells you himself: You are saved by grace. Jesus makes the payment God demands for sin. This payment is made for your benefit— without you asking, seeking, or deserving it. God hands you eternal life as a gift— a free present!
As you stand on Scripture, you see that you are saved by grace, and that grace enters your heart through. Place your trust in what God has done for you and not on how you feel. Take God at his Word. Faith Anchors You to the completed work of Jesus and to the certain promises of God.