Below you will find the text of yesterday’s sermon entitled, “Slow Down.” It was very much a sermon to and for me, written in the days leading up to Diocesan Convention, and a reminder that God’s time is good and holy. My time leads to frustration and stress. You can listen to it here.
Earlier this week, I woke up with the Chicken Tonight jingle stuck in my head. You know it, (flaps arms) “I feel like Chicken Tonight, like Chicken Tonight…” That ad campaign took hold in 1990, that’s 23 years ago, and even though Chicken Tonight is no longer sold in the US, I still remember it, vividly. I’m no neuroscientist, but I have to wonder if perhaps the human brain is most susceptible to advertising slogans at age 10 or 11 because another ad campaign from the early 90s came to my mind this week. In 1991 and 92, Burger King ran a series of ads that featured the slogan, “Your way, Right away.” Those with more life experience than me know that this was an update on the 1970s Burger King campaign that simply stated you could have it “your way.” The digital revolution was just beginning, but the need for immediate gratification had already taken hold of our culture by 1991, and so “Right away” was wisely added.
I can’t help but think that living a life that is constantly accelerating can have a negative effect on quality of life. My Google search on “your way right way” yielded “about” 1 billion, 410 million results in just a hair under three-tenths of a second. Why’d I have to wait so long? It reminds me of the old prayer, “Dear Lord, give me patience, and give it to me now.” We are culturally conditioned for immediate access and gratification. In those rare moments when we do have to wait: at the doctor’s office, the airport, or in traffic; we quickly become impatient. Fortunately, our email, Facebook, and a never ending supply of mind-numbing games to fill those rare times of waiting are now conveniently located in a small black box in our pockets. There are very few instances in which we can’t have life “our way, right away.”
One of the jobs of the Church, it seems to me, is to be one of those places where things move just a little bit slower. Matters of faith are, inherently it would seem, matters that have to move just a different pace. God’s time is not ours. Scripture tells us that for God, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years, like a day. Abram and Sarai came to learn this fact some four thousand years ago, but it would seem that we have to re-learn it over and over again. Our Genesis lesson this morning gives us a glimpse into God’s slow and steady plan for his creation.
Abram was seventy-five years-old and childless when, in chapter 12, the Lord came to him and said, “Leave your country… and go to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing… all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” After ten years of traveling and struggle, the still childless Abram finds himself doubting that anything God has promised him could possibly be true.
Our lesson opens up with a now eighty-five year-old Abram having yet another vision in which he is promised a great nation both in numbers and in land. I think we can all understand where Abram is coming from when he replies, “O Lord God, what will you give me? I continue to be childless and the heir of my house is a foreign servant name Eliezer.” What’s the deal? The Lord replies to Abram saying, “Your own son will be the heir of your great name,” but Abram seems to need more convincing so outside they go to look up at the stars. “You see those stars, Abram,” God says, “like I told you ten years ago, your children will be as numerous as the dust on the ground. Count the stars, if you can, and know that your descendants will be as many.” The funniest thing happens next, Abram believes God. Sarai isn’t even pregnant with their first child, and she won’t be for another 25 years, but Abram believes, and, we are told, it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
A man much smarter than me by the name of Walter Brueggemann says that what happened to Abram, his change from “my way, right away,” to belief, faith and righteousness, is one more Biblical example of long line of everyday people experiencing the miracle of faith. “While some say, ‘maybe Abram saw the stars in the sky and thought “Well, any God who can make all those stars is surely powerful enough to make a baby for me and Sarai.”’ Brueggemann argues that Abram was not persuaded into belief by some proof. He was not a juror in a courtroom who was swayed by a lawyers’ argument based on the evidence. And it wasn’t just that Abram made the logical [conclusion] that if God could make a star, then he could make a baby, too. This isn’t about proof, argument or logic. No, what we see on display … in verse 6 is the gracious miracle of faith, [which] God alone can plant into our hearts. Having faith means to trust God for your future, but the future is, by its very nature, [impossible] for us to … see now. The stars didn’t prove anything to Abram – if anything, the exaggerated way the promise is re-stated made it more difficult to believe… It was rather that God’s Spirit worked some kind of miracle in Abram’s heart… The kind of faith Abram came to wasn’t earthly but heavenly in origin… The righteousness God grants to Abram likewise wasn’t an achievement that Abram could chalk up to his own credit. Instead, the faith Abram had and the righteousness that resulted from it were [two parts of one] single divine gift. It’s not about Abram, but about God alone.”
Four-thousand some odd years later, our world moves a whole lot faster than it did for Abram, and looking around, it doesn’t take long to realize that recipients of God’s gift of righteousness are few and far between. Still, in a Burger King world, there are moments when we are given the opportunity to see beyond our instant need for gratification. These short journeys into the dream of God make us aware of that which is beyond ourselves, and can be the motivation which spurs action against all odds.
In 1961, three years before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and four years before the National Voting Rights Act, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., my pick for Lent Madness winner, spoke to a meeting of the AFL-CIO. “The moral arc of the universe is long,” King said, “but it is bent toward Justice.” King offered this glimpse into the mind of God to a group of mostly white secular leaders because he saw beyond the shadow of the here-and-now. He had no real reason to believe that the world would change. He had no hard evidence that showed the moral arc of the universe on a graph. All he had was faith in God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
Like Dr. King’s vision of the Kingdom, the promises that God makes to Abram in this vision aren’t short-term victories. This isn’t a promise that he’ll wake up in the morning, but rather a promise that the future of God’s creation rests in the faithfulness and righteousness of Abram. Abram doesn’t know it, but it’ll be 25 years before Isaac is born. He’ll fail again and again. He’ll forget the promises of God. He’ll try to take matters into his own hands. He’ll fall faithless a time or two. But God will not give up on Abram. He has plans for him. Plans that include a son, a great grandson sold into slavery by his brothers, 400 years of oppression in Egypt, a murderous stuttering leader names Moses, 40 years in the wilderness, hundreds of more years under the thumb of one occupying force after another, and finally, God’s only Son, Jesus, the Messiah.
This Lent, perhaps we would do well to slow down, to hand it over to God, to trust in his promises, and pray for the miracle of faith. After all, too much “your way, right away” is bad for your health. Amen.
 The Center for Excellence in Preaching http://www.cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php