Never Give Up
Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
Maybe it is just the great American dream being played out each time, but it seems to me to be a bit depressing. Every Thursday morning in the newspaper, they run in the high school sports section a selection of outstanding athletes and a selection of outstanding student athletes. And it is wonderful that they highlight those students who are doing well in the class room as well as on the playing field. And some of them are doing very well in the class room. One had a 5.2 average on a 4 system with extra credit for advanced courses. That's a lot of extra credit. But there is one question in these profiles that almost always disappoints me. The question begins "When I am 64 years I old, I envision myself---------------------," and the student fills in the blank. And almost everyone says, "retired and playing with my grandchildren."
Now that is not an evil thing to hope for, but what a lack of imagination; what a consignment of another 20 years of life to self-indulgence. Seldom is there someone who suggests that they will be preparing their boat for a trip around the world. Never has there been anyone who suggested that they might be going back to law school to begin a new career. Seldom has anyone suggested that they might be taking on the leadership role of Habitat for Humanity for the state. What a lack of creativity and imagination among the brightest and best of our student athletes, those most gifted imagining themselves put out to pasture by age 64 when medical science will probably make it possible for them to live another 20 or 30 good years. Aren't there some people out there who see themselves at age 64 in the prime of their lives about ready to begin their masterpiece of American literature? Or like Grandma Moses about ready to pick up a paint brush and begin a whole new life.
Aren't there any out there who have read this story of Abram and remembered that he did not start his family until he was 99? None of those students think that they will be hearing a call to start out on a great new adventure at age 75, when Abram heard the call of God to leave his family and set out for the Promised Land. Certainly they do not foresee that at the age of 100 they will be playing with their child and not their grandchild.
It certainly may have been that Abram had the same dream that those students had when he was young. Maybe he too wanted to be retiring and playing with his grandchildren at 64, but he and Sarai are without children. Maybe it was that sense of desperation which made Abram receptive to this promise of God to lead him to a new land and to give him many heirs and to make a great nation of him and to make those descendants a blessing for all creation. Maybe it was that sense of desperation which drove Abram to accept the offer in the first place. After all, Abram was already much older than his father had been when he had Abram at age 70. And Terah, Abram's father, had begun to grow kind of desperate, for Terah’s father had only been 29 when Terah was born and most of the relatives before Terah’s father had had their children in their 30's, so having children late was not an inherited trait.
But here is this promise being given to Abram again. You have to begin to wonder how long Abram will fall for that promise. How many times will Abram trust God when he says "I'm going to give you a child; I'm going to make you a great nation. Trust me on this. I'm going to take care of you." When is Abram going to turn to God and say "Show me the money"? Do something besides talk about it. It has now been 25 more years that Abram has been wandering around struggling with this covenant, trying to figure out the boundaries of it, how much is he supposed to do, how much initiative is he supposed to take, and how much reliance upon God is expected
But the carrot, the child, has been held out by God for the reward to Abram for a long time, how much longer will Abram keep the covenant before God delivers the blessings?
Perhaps that is a question which ought to drive us to examine our own relationship with God? What do you expect to get from God for being a disciple? And when do you expect to get it? How many months are you going to give God to deliver on his promise to bless you and keep you? Abram is 99 and he is still waiting for the fulfillment of a promise that God made 25 years ago. What kind of fun is Abram going to have playing with a child at age 100? And even if you believe that age was somehow counted differently in Biblical times, everybody in the story knew that both Abram and Sarai were way beyond the having children stage of life.
Surely as we read these stories from the scriptures they demand that we take a look at our relationship with God. How long does God have to bless you before you give up on God? There is forever being offered a gospel of prosperity and blessings, whether it is a new age version, the power of positive thinking, or some other form of therapy which suggests that all one has to do is to accept God into your life, accept Jesus Christ into your life and all your troubles disappear. Life gets better with God, and Abram does get the promised child, but he held on to the promise through 25 years of hard times. Jesus comes to the Resurrection but only through three years of abuse and resistance and persecution and finally the cross. The call to obedience and to covenant with God is a radical and everlasting covenant. God's promises and blessings are woven into the fabric of life so that when we come to a time and say, "All I ever really wanted to do was to see the Promised Land," God took Moses up to the Mountain and showed him the land. God took Martin Luther King to the balcony of a Memphis motel, and Martin said he had seen the Promised Land.
God says to Abram "Live long and prosper"; live long and be holy so that the covenant might be fulfilled. This is a long term commitment. The blessings are not instantaneous. This is the call to the kind of relationship which Jimmy Valvano talked about in the face of his illness. The covenant between God and his people is a call to radical and permanent and everlasting relationship. How long does God have to fulfill his promises? Abram’s answer, like Jimmy V's answer as to his commitment to life and the fullness of life, was that you never give up. God calls us and makes his covenant with us, and one never gives up the conviction that God will keep his promise to be with us and to bring us into his kingdom and his joy forever. Never give up. Never give up the hope. It seems to me that those student athletes are giving up much too early on their commitment to life and its fullness. The covenant is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and they are ready to quit at age 64. Never give up. Never give up.
First Presbyterian Church