Rev. Mary C. Olney
March 19, 2000
Is that your final answer? That's the question Regis Philbin is asking you. You're a contestant on the hit show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" You're trying to decide whether the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Stockholm or Oslo. You know that Alfred Nobel was Swedish. So you go with Stockholm. But Oslo has a familiar ring to it. You stay with Stockholm. It,s your final answer. Buzz. You lose. The correct answer is Oslo. The Nobel prizes for Physics, Economics, Chemistry, Medicine and Literature are, in fact, awarded in Stockholm. But not the Peace Prize. It's presented by the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the presence of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Norway and an invited audience. In Oslo.
God had a question, a challenge and a promise for Abraham and Sarah -- are they willing to leave everything known for an unknown but potentially wonderful future -- including many descendants (inferring at their age they'll still have a child). Are they willing? The question we don't hear Abraham ask is -- "God, is that your final offer?" In other words -- you want me to what? Leave everything I know, taking family who are willing to go, leaving familiar surroundings, what I know as a way of life -- for a new promised land -- and many descendants? I'm 99 -- my wonderful wife Sarah is well past the change of life -- We're going to have a child? Give me a break. "Is that your final offer God?" In other words -- can't you do better God?
"For what good is it for one to gain the whole world, and forfeit their life?" asks Jesus. Another hard question! Jesus asks hard questions and sets high standards. "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." Wow. That's difficult.
What does it mean to save your life and lose it? Or lose your life for Jesus' sake and save it? It could mean to deny myself something, like giving up chocolate for Lent. Maybe it means giving up coffee or desert for 6 weeks? But knowing Jesus it's more like the question God poses to Abraham and Sarah: Will you leave everything you know, will you set out into the unknown, will you start a new again? And the really big one -- will you trust me enough to say Yes?
Jesus challenges his disciples to deny themselves. Jesus challenges us to deny ourselves. What does that mean? What would it look like? It might mean not giving in to the materialistic nature of America's culture. Or it might look like the challenge Abraham and Sarah faced -- leaving all the known behind -- the familiarity of home and friends, job and neighborhood, favorite coffee place and movie rental store. Leaving the known -- your family Dr., friends from high school, the great neighbor who looks after your yard when you're on vacation. Leaving it all behind. Leaving security behind. And starting something new. A new venture.
Not an easy choice -- but look at what God promises Ab and Sarah -- you'll have offspring in the thousands -- and famous ones and powerful ones among them -- like kings and such. Not only that but you'll have land -- the promised land. You and your descendants after you will have this land in perpetuity, not just a 99 year lease -- but forever. Not only that, but I'll change your names to show the meaning of this promise. Even the best game show host cannot top these prizes!
It's no wonder Abraham laughed. He didn't "just" laugh -- he fell on his face laughing, rolling on the floor laughing, until his side hurt and tears roll down his face. In another telling of this story Sarah hides behind the tent flap and laughs, thinking -- am I to have pleasure, now that menopause is long behind me? What a laugh!
It was 3 years ago this weekend I came to Monroe -- I preached here in this sanctuary and you asked me to become your pastor. Three years. It was a great and glorious time -- we got acquainted at 3 parties. You treated me royally. And when I said yes -- you put my name up on the sign outside. It was great!
Now 3 years later -- who would have thought then it would be difficult to help this church grow? Not me. Would you 3 years ago? Here we are 3 years later -- and we've tried some things which have worked -- and some that haven't. The question for us today is: Will we dedicate ourselves to the challenge anew this day? I'm willing. Will you rededicate your efforts with me to help our church thrive?
I think it's a matter of collaborating on the 2 biggest challenges our Conference Minister, Randy Hyvonen pointed out to us: 1. How will we serve our community? What is our vision for the future? ( clothing closet for women needing work clothes) 2. How can we be involved in evangelism? Or, how can we share who we are and the Good News of Jesus Christ with those outside our doors?
If a couple getting married knew the dilemmas they'd encounter down the road would they say "I do"? If a husband and wife knew how many sleepless nights they would know over their child would they still get pregnant? If a person knew how much of a challenge a move and a new job would be -- would they say -- yes to that new job?
We face the same questions from the Bible today, and each day. In effect God asks Abraham and Sarah, and us these questions each day. "Are you willing to step out into the unknown of this day? Are you willing to do a new thing today? Are you willing to give up your familiar life for something new and promising? Are you willing to let go of your present life -- with all its known problems for an incredible new life I promise you now?
The mountain goats along the rocky crags by Lake Chelan are quite beautiful. They also seek the greenest mountain meadows. One such mountain goat spied a lovely green meadow one day -- walking closer to inspect it he noticed it was across a very deep, very wide chasm. He walked right up to the edge and inspected the grass across the way -- yes it was the very best grass he had ever seen. Then he looked at the ravine below -- and inspected the distance across to the meadow. Then he backed up as far as possible -- and began to run. He ran, and ran and ran -- for all he was worth -- getting to the edge he leaped into the air -- in a mighty arching leap. When he was almost to the other side -- he realized he wouldn't make it -- so he turned around and went back to the other side.
When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into darkness of the great unknown, either there will be something solid for you to stand on or you will be taught to fly. (Patrick Overton)
Abraham says to God -- "Is that your final offer?" And God says. Yup, it is. But I promise to guide you along every step of the way. As a church, how will we respond to God's offer?