Sermon Text: Psalm 27; Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18; Luke 13: 31-35
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? These are bold words of trust. These are extraordinary words of comfort.
Psalm 27 invites us to reflect on the contours of human confidence, discernment, and trust in God. Each verse prompts new reflections about the activity of God and where God might be seen. There is something of a confidence that builds as the Psalm progresses from one verse to the next.
Yet, despite the Psalmist’s words, there are plenty of times in life when we do fear. The human experience teaches that there is no shortage of things that can break our confidence. A harsh comment, a less than stellar performance, being thrust into action before you’re ready, rejection, sickness, betrayal: all these things can break us. If I’m in Ukraine right now, are the explosions and gunfire and air raid sirens breaking my confidence?
What is the source for our confidence in life? From what inner wellspring do we drink when times become tough and difficult, when we are under assault, or when critiques fall on our ears like acid rain? Each of us knows too well how the corrosive power of negative comments can cause us to slip and slide in our resolve to stay the course on which we travel. And the pandemic has shown us how our confidence can fade when the things we hold for granted are exposed or destroyed.
If you want to instantly step into a world of criticism and critique, step into the world of performance art. I have dabbled enough in music and theatre to know how harsh these environments can be. My junior and senior years of college I had the opportunity of singing at the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Chorale Association Festival. This Festival took about 75 college singers and over the course of a week we would work with a guest conductor and put on a concert. The music was extremely challenging. Upon our arrival we had to audition to prove that we knew the music adequately enough to stay for the festival.
A majority of the participants at this festival were vocalists and majors in music education. They lived, ate, and breathed music. Except for me, and the rest of my friends from Thiel. You see, Thiel did not have a music major. In fact, many of us were self-taught to some extent and sang in the Thiel Choir because we liked to sing, we enjoyed its family like atmosphere, and the extremely heartfelt guidance in our director.
It doesn’t take long for amateurs to feel out of place and unworthy amidst a large group of professionals. It doesn’t take long to start second guessing yourself. To feel like you don’t belong. To lose confidence in any and all of your abilities. To wallow in uncertainty. It doesn’t take long for your self-confidence to erode in matters of life or faith.
In our first reading from Genesis today we are met with the story of Abram and Sarai, whose confidence in the Lord is fading fast. Abram and Sarai are getting old, they are still childless, and promises that God made to them in Genesis 12 seem far off. God promised the couple, “I will make of you a great nation.” But the promise remains unfulfilled, so Abram is starting to make a contingency plan for his estate. He is very happy about his current Plan B. It seems that Abram’s trust in the Lord is eroding.
It is at this moment of doubt and weakness that God reaches out to Abram in a vision. God says, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus. You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”
In that moment of great doubt and weakness, God renews the promise to Abram and Sarai in an unbelievable manner. God takes Abram outside and says, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” And then God enters into a new agreement with Abram. Abram is in deep pain and fear, not trusting, about to give up, and God cuts a covenant with Abram.
In this moment of doubt, God responds by offering a promise beyond what Abram can see. The goodness of the Lord is expressed in the midst of when God’s goodness is impossible to imagine. And we know that in time God does fulfill his promise to Abram and makes of him a great nation. With confidence Abram can say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; who shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid.”
If we look to Jesus in our Gospel lesson we see that he is truly a person who embodies the trust and confidence found in the words of Psalm 27. Jesus expresses trust in the Lord against all enemies and he has the joy of being in God’s presence. He has committed to us and to our humanity. He has thrust his ministry and kingdom into the world.
Jesus is not concerned at the looming warning of the Pharisees, that Herod Antipas wants to kill him. He is not concerned about the cross that he journeys toward. Because in the end, Herod and the Romans do not have the power to stop Jesus and his ministry. Only Jesus has that power. Jesus also has the confidence to look beyond earthly powers, to look beyond his suffering and cross, and see the promises of life and new creation that God brings.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; who shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid.
By living in the promises of our baptisms, Jesus’ trust and confidence becomes our own. We have become united with Jesus’ vision for ministry. God’s promises are too immense for us to fear failure. God’s goodness is too great for us to become paralyzed by fear and self-doubt. Jesus’ protection, like that of a mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wings, is too complete for us to feel vulnerable.
As Christians we will share in the knowledge, trust, and comfort of the Lord that Abram and Jesus shared. We will continue our work in our families, communities, and world with courage because we cling to the promises of God. Confident in God’s goodness, we can continue to see passed ourselves and proclaim our faith to a weary and hungry world.
As we go forth, beyond ourselves to serve, the Psalmist’s words can be our banner of trust. The Lord is my light and my salvation; who shall I fear? AMEN