Pentecost 16 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Genesis 15:1-6 September 20, 2020
“TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE”
You know how it is that some people relish certain “go to” expressions they use all the time?
• For instance ... Pastor Josh used to love to say “That’s awesome!”
• And my Dad still loves to say “Well, I’ll be” ... oftentimes with a little spice added at the end.
• And I’m sure that Bethany and our kids could tell you what my “go to” expressions are ... but I’m not going to let them have the floor!
Anyhow ... I once worked with a fellow who’s “go to” expression was “There are only two kinds of people in this world ... Italians ... and those who want to be!”
And any time he believed it to be appropriate ... and sometimes when others of us felt it pretty inappropriate!! ... Pastor Joe Carucci would remind everyone in earshot that “Well, you know that there are only two kinds of people in this world ... Italians ... and those who want to be!”
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You ever heard anyone bust out one of those “two types of people in the world” riffs???
• Dear Abby did when she wrote: “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who walk into a room and say "There you are!" and those who say "Here I am!"”
• And Indira Gandhi once made a speech in which she noted: “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.”
• And Clint Eastwood did when ... in “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” ... he declared: “There are two kinds of people in the world, those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.”
If I’m not mistaken ...
• Our own Cristi Chow has a t-shirt that says: “There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who know math and those who don’t.”
• And another which states: “There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who can extract from incomplete data.”
But if you need more clarification on those ... you’ll have to ask Cristi directly!
Point being ... it seems like there is this overarching human tendency put break the world down into two groups ... doesn’t it???
• White and black ...
• Good and evil ...
• Democratic and Republican ...
• Trump-lovers and Trump-haters ...
• Us and them ...
• Friend and foe ...
You get the picture.
We have a particular eagerness to process as much as we can through a dichotomous, Manichaean lens so as to make simple sense of all we see around us.
In fact ... years ago ... this tendency was seen as SO pervasive that it got humorist Robert Benchley to propose what he called "The Law of Distinction," which basically states:
"There are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don't."
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I actually got to thinking about Benchley’s “Law of Distinction” and all those “two kinds of people” statements this week as I read over this week’s Bible story from the Book of Genesis.
For it kind of intimates that there are two kinds of people in this world ... and that Abraham is one of them.
I mean ... if we were to get out a two column chart ... if wouldn’t be too tough to populate it based on those words which Captain Lausch read for us a little bit ago.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."
From that verse alone ... we could draw distinction:
• Between the fearful and the unafraid ...
• Between those whom God shields and those whom God doesn’t shield ...
• Between those whom God rewards and those whom God does not.
But then Abraham complains to God:
"O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" ... and "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir."
And ... in so doing ... introduces more distinctions:
• Between the childless and the fruitful ... as well as
• Between those who are slaves and those who are free.
After which God invites Abraham to “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them ... for so shall your descendants be."
And then we hear the pointed and potent words that are really at the heart of this text ... that Abraham “believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
Which obviously invites us to add two further distinctions:
• Between those who believe the Lord and those who don’t ... and
• Between those who are righteous and those who are not.
And ... if we apply our Manichaean either/or thinking to those columns ... we may well come to the understanding that:
“There are only two kinds of people in this world – those who are the righteous God-fearing, God-rewarded, God-blessed believers and those who are not.”
But I suspect it ain’t quite that simple.
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You see ... I ... for one ... cherish this text from Genesis 15. It is at the heart and soul of what I believe is at the core of Christian faithfulness.
But we have to be careful as to how we hear it ... and how we appropriate it ... and HOW we apply it to ourselves and to our neighbors.
For if we take this text and overlay it with our two-column “Either/Or” thinking ... we may well miss what it is that is “Good” about the Good News of Jesus.
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You see ... there are two primary poster-children for living lives of faithfulness in the Bible:
• In the Old Testament ... we have Abraham ... Father Abraham ... “Abram” as his is still named at this point in his life story.
• And in the New Testament we have Paul ... Saint Paul ... the fellow that will one day write just about half of the words in the New Testament.
Now there are times when Abraham gets it right ... like he does here in chapter 15 ... and there are some other times when Abraham gets it ever so wrong.
In the first part of Genesis 12 ... Abraham gets it ever so right ... embracing the promises of God and committing himself to heading out on a journey of faith to a land that he does not know.
But then again ... in the second half of Genesis 12 ... he gets it ever so wrong ... jeopardizing his wife Sarah’s well-being because he can’t bring himself to trust God.
Then here ... in Genesis 15 ... Abraham again gets it ever so right ... believing the promises of God and having it reckoned to him as righteousness.
Then again ... in Genesis 16 ... Abraham and Sarah are both going to get it wrong ... and facilitate Abraham’s having a child by another woman because they can’t bring themselves to trust the promises of God.
And in Genesis 17 and 18 ... Abraham and Sarah are going to get it ever so right again ...
And then in Genesis 20 ... another train-wreck.
He gets it right ... he gets get it wrong ...
They get it right ... they get it wrong ...
You get the picture.
The great C.S. Lewis once said: "There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, have it your way."
And it turns out ... Abraham and Sarah are both both of those types of people!
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Then again ... were we to turn to the New Testament and consider the life story of Paul ... we’d see exactly the same thing.
• There were times in Paul’s life when he got it wrong ... EVER so wrong ... to the point of facilitating the death of some of the first followers of Jesus.
• And there were times in Paul’s life when he got it ever so right ... even to the point of challenging Saint Peter because Peter was chickening out on the possibilities and the promises of God.
But even when Paul is seemingly getting it right ... he realizes that he still is getting things wrong. For he writes things like:
• “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
• “There is no one who is righteous, not even one ... not even me ... there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”
Basically ... what Saint Paul is saying in that Magnum Opus that is his Letter to the Romans is that "There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, have it your way’ ... and I am both of them.”
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Then again ... if we were to fast forward fifteen hundred years after Paul ... this is exactly the same re-discovery which Martin Luther is going make which sets off the chain reaction which we know as ‘The Reformation’.
For Luther realized that the grace of Jesus Christ meant:
• that he was ... at one and the same time ... both saint and sinner ...
• that he was ... at one and the same time ... both slave and free ...
• that he was ... at one and the same time ... both believer and unbeliever ...
• that he was ... at one and the same time ... one who says to God with all sincerity “Thy will be done” ... AND one to whom God says "All right then ... have it your way."
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We pretty much live in a "Have it your way" world ... don’t we?
Following God isn’t popular these days ... it isn’t easy these days ... it isn’t much to be commended these days.
Somewhere between Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and Burger King’s “Have It You Way” and Jay-Z’s remake of that old Frank Sinatra / Paul Anka tune ... we have fully appropriated the message that “My Way is the ONLY way!”
That it’s all about getting what I’m due ... or getting what’s mine ... come hell or high water.
But "Thy will be done" people are different.
• They are those who’ve come to realize that ... in God's eyes ... all their self-made accomplishments and titles add up to nothing.
• They are those who’ve come to recognize that what matters most to God is faith and trust and love.
• They are those who’ve come to know that ... like Abraham and Sarah ... they are “blessed to be a blessing”.
• They are those who’ve come to trust that they are at one and the same time both saints and sinners.
• They are those who’ve come to discover that ‘Christian’ is less about a status than it is about a vocation.
• They are those who’ve come to see that faith is less of a single leap than it is a daily series of steps in a God-ordained direction.
You see ... this side of the grave ... we will never get it all right ... we will be those people who are saints and sinners at one and the same time ...
But there isn’t a day that goes by that we shouldn’t be asking ourselves how better to say "Thy will be done."