HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Genesis 12:1-4a
EPISTLE LESSON: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
SERMON: “Control Freaks and Lent”
In a sermon on the Romans passage we just read, Leonard Sweet proclaims that “The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who like cruises and those who don’t. Or to be more precise: those who think a cruise is a foretaste of heaven, and those who think a cruise is the aftertaste of hell.
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those that suck the
life out of every day, and those that let every day suck the life out of them.
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who walk into a room and say, “There you are!” and those who say, “Here I am!”
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those with the courage that hangs on, and those with the courage that lets go.
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Pitchers and catchers . . . .
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. Can you take one more?
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who are “control junkies,” and those who are ‘out of control.’”
Any control freaks here this morning?
Most control freaks consider every possibility, every unforeseen event, every contingency before making a decision. Control freaks try to manage every moment. Controlling the actions of others gives them the illusion that they are in control of their own lives. Reality is that those among us who are “control freaks” are not in control of their lives any more than anyone else, because there are always unforeseen events that remind us how little control we actually have.
The typhoon that tore through the Philippines last November demonstrated how little control the people of that region have over their lives. A tornado with winds up to 200 mph that went through the Oklahoma City area last May, damaging homes, schools and killing 24 people showed how little control we have over nature.
I’ve had people call me a “control freak,” but truly I have had zero control over this extremely cold and snowy winter affecting more than 200 million people from the Colorado Rockies to the Atlantic seaboard. The truth is that “control freaks” are no more in control of their lives than any
In contrast to the “control freaks” around and among us are those who like Abraham opt for faith. Abraham was an old man when he encountered God in the wilderness and received instructions: the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abraham did not receive all that God promised immediately. Eventually he went whining to God, complaining, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” (Genesis 15:2-3)
4 But the word of the Lord came to him [Abraham], “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he [Abraham], believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Abraham listened to the words and promises of a God he barely knew and “Abraham believed God.” Note with me that the text does not say that Abraham believed in God, but that Abraham “believed God.” There is a huge difference. . The Bible even says the demons believe and tremble. So here’s a category of “believer” that is beyond some of us . . . at least the demons have somebody motion in their belief.
There were many gods that the pagan culture around him believed in. It wasn’t so much a question of whether Abraham believed in God as that he believed God; he believed that God would make good on God’s promises. He believed God enough to follow the instructions, to leave family and homeland and go on the journey that God told him to begin.
Sweet makes the point that “Faith is not to ‘believe in God.’ Faith is to ‘believe God.’ Abraham believed God. He believed God had a purpose. He believed God had his back. When Abraham believed God, he surrendered control of his life over to God without reservation or hesitation. Abraham trusted and obeyed God, and stepped forward in faith.”
Many people believe in God, but don’t totally trust God. We acknowledge that when we complain about people coming to church on Sunday but living according to their own values Monday through Saturday. Suppose during this Lent instead of giving up chocolate or TV or . . . whatever, we were to give up our need to control, to live life our way and instead choose to believe God and make the effort to live God’s way. This is a season to strengthen our faith. In commentary on the faith of Abraham the Apostle Paul wrote, “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,
There is an unusual Easter card on the market. It is designed to look like a Christmas greeting card. The upper half of the card features a nativity scene with a baby in a manger, surrounded by adoring shepherds. The lower half of the card features those same shepherds, 30 years later, standing before Jesus’ empty tomb. Ever wonder which revelation of God was greater news to tell? Was it the birth of God’s love, or the triumph of God’s love over death and hell?
David Chadwell writes in The Resurrection Principle “Christians see resurrection as a fact: God raised Jesus from death. Fact: God will raise those in Christ from death. ... The power that raised Jesus’ dead body is the power that functions in the resurrection principle. The person who believes the fact of resurrection trusts the resurrection principle that God can bring to life that which has died. . . .Jesus’ blood atoned for all sin. Redemption in Christ is available to anyone. Each person baptized into Christ places his confidence and hope for forgiveness in the resurrection.”1
Jesus’ ministry repeatedly demonstrated that a ruined life can be restored. He forgave prostitutes, dishonest, abusive tax collectors, people known as sinners? In him, sin is destroyed by forgiveness. Great sin requires great forgiveness, and God is able to destroy your sins and mine with resurrection power.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. (Mark 1:15)
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
What does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8)
Jesus called his disciples to “follow me.” But Jesus didn’t tell them where they were going. He just asked them to believe him. So whether you are a control freak or not, use this season of Lent to practice believing God, to believing Jesus, to trust that forgiveness overpowers sin, that life overpowers death and that just as it was for Abraham, so it is for you, that if you believe God it will be reckoned to you as righteousness.
1-David Chadwell, The Resurrection Principle, West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, Ark., bulletin article, August 23, 1998.