In our lessons this morning, we see three different stages or phases of our faith relationship with God.
And I’ll unpack these phases in a moment, but to quickly summarize them: in Genesis we see our relationship through Abram’s anxious and somewhat immature faith; in our Psalm, we see the relationship through the Psalmists mature faith; and in the Gospel, we see it through Herod’s disobedience.
And I want to suggest that all of us move back and forth between these different phases throughout our lives. Sometimes our faith is full and mature. Other times it’s weaker, and we’re racked with doubts and anxiety. And still at other times we turn our back on God through sinful disobedience.
What we also see in these lessons, though, is that regardless of where we are in our relationship with God, God remains consistent and unchanged. He’s the same loving Father no matter where we are in our faith.
In Genesis, we hear the story of Abram, and the anxiety he feels about the fact that he doesn’t have an heir. God had promised that he would be the father of a great nation, and yet, here he is rapidly aging and still no children. And so he takes his anxiety to God.
And God tells Abram, “Do not be afraid. I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
Though that’s not actually the most accurate translation of the original Hebrew. A more accurate translation would be: “Do not be afraid. I am your shield, your reward; exceedingly great.”
And so what God is saying to Abram is, “Yes, I’ve promised you an heir, and that you’ll be the father of a great nation. But that’s not the reward. The true reward, the true gift is me,” God says. I am your reward; your shield. And I’m exceedingly great.”
Of course, like most children, Abram completely misses his Father’s point. God the Father tells Abram, “My love for you is your reward.” And the son responds, “Great dad, but when are you going to give me my stuff?”
Yet, even though Abram misses the point, he still recognizes God as his heavenly Father. And he looks to him as the giver of all good things. And we’re told that that mustard seed of faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.
So that’s the first phase of our relationship with God. Abram recognizes God as his loving Father and the giver of all good things, but he hasn’t matured yet enough in his faith to recognize that God is the true blessing; the true reward. Everything else is secondary.
Now Psalm 27, on the other hand, is an example of faith that’s more fully matured. Unlike Abram’s faith that looked to God for gifts and blessings, the psalmist looks for God himself.
“There’s only one thing I seek after,” he says, “to behold the beauty of the Lord.”
Unlike Abram who looked for tangible blessings from God, tThe Psalmist trusts in God even when no blessings seem apparent.
“Even if an army encamps against me,” he says, “and even if my mother and father forsake me, and evildoers assail me to devour my flesh, I still believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
And so here we see the benchmark of a mature faith. And this is the kind of faith we hear Paul encourage the Corinthians to have in our second lesson this morning when he says, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me and observe those who live according to our example.”
Paul is encouraging them to trust God even when no blessings seem apparent. It is a mature faith that recognizes that God is “our light and our salvation” even when all else around you is dark.
And, finally, the third example of the kind of relationship we can have with God is the one that Herod gives in our gospel lesson; the example of an adversarial relationship.
Herod was king, and he didn’t want this upstart king Jesus coming in and stealing his glory.
But if course, if you know your ancient history, you know that Herod wasn’t the king of anything. He was just a puppet for the Romans. It was Caesar who pulled his strings.
And it’s easy for us to boo and hiss at Herod like some villain in an old black and white movie because he’s the enemy of Jesus. But if we’re completely honest, we’d have to admit that when we sin we’re really no different than him.
Because when we sin, when we give into temptation and disobey God, we put ourselves in an adversarial relationship with Christ just like Herod did.
We tell him that we’re the king or queen of our life and we’re going to do what we want to do.
But of course, when we give into our temptation and sin, we’re not really in charge. We’re nothing more than puppets to the one who tempts us; captives to sin, and unable to free ourselves.
And yet, despite our rebellion, God does not change his attitude toward us. He remains the same patient God who calmed Abram’s fears and anxieties. The same unwavering God whom the Psalmist depended on as his stronghold.
We see this same patient and dependable God in the Jesus who remains undeterred in the face of Herod’s threats. His great desire is to gather his children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. And so he will go to Jerusalem, even if it means facing death.
The whole world may turn its back on Jesus, but he’ll never turn his back on us.
And so while you and I bounce between all these different stages in our relationship with God, he remains the same loving Father he’s always been.
As the bible tells us, “He is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
And so wherever you are in your faith journey, as you come forward to receive Holy Communion this morning, I encourage you to recognize the God who offers himself to you in the bread and wine.
If you’re like Abram and feeling anxious because you’re not seeing some blessing you’ve been asking God to give you, I pray that you would recognize that the God who places himself into your hands this morning is the greatest blessing.
Or if you’re like the psalmist, not looking for blessings just for assurance that God is still with you in the midst of whatever storm you’re going through. Then come and receive the body and blood of Christ and “behold the beauty of the Lord.”
And finally, if you’ve been in an adversarial relationship with God and given into sin and temptation, then take this opportunity to return to the Lord.
He is still the same loving Father he’s always been. Come, return to the safety of the shadow of his wings.