Rev. Kirsten's Sermon 3.1.15
At one point in Alice in Wonderland, Alice says “There’s no use in trying since one can’t believe impossible things.” to which the Queen replies, “I dare say you haven’t had much practice. When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour each day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
The Queen is suggesting that believing in impossible things is something we can practice. And now is the time to do it. It’s Lent, a time of preparation, a time of building up our faith. Today I want to talk about what it looks like to practice believing impossible things. I’d like to suggest that we try it—over the next half hour, in our prayers, in our Eucharist, in our coffee hour, and in the weeks of Lent that are coming, let’s practice believing six impossible things.
Let’s start with our Scripture for the day. Our Hebrew bible reading in Genesis, we see Abram listening to God and God tells him that he will make him “exceedingly numerous." . . . “You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. . . . I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
This is the first impossible thing we are asked to believe today. Why is it impossible? Well, the bible tells us that Abram was already 99 years old. We can imagine Abram as a very, very old man, looking around, talking to his neighbors and his wife and saying this is nonsense—I can’t be going to have a baby. It’s so impossible that he falls down on his face (presumably because he is worshipping God.) How can he believe that at 99 years old he’s going to have a baby?
The second impossible thing. He’s not just going to have one baby—he’s going to become the ancestor of a multitude of nations. The third impossible thing we’re asked to believe today is that Sarai is going to bear Abram’s child. She has been barren, unable to have children. In 17:17, we see that Sarai is already 90 years old. So we have Abram at 99 and Sarai at 90 and together they are going to have a child.
God does the impossible things with Abraham and Sarah. Isaac is born of Abraham and Sarah and becomes the father of many more sons and so Abraham becomes the ancestor of a multitude of nations. The multitude of nations continues—God’s people continue 21 centuries later, we are still worshipping God, bowing down our heads, telling the story of Abraham and Sarah, living as multitude of nations. Today, we are still believing that these impossible things happen. We are believing that God fulfilled God’s covenant and we can see and feel that this makes a difference to us today. We know ourselves to be blessed by God, and we know ourselves to be part of God’s salvation plan.
Then we get to the Gospel and we see Jesus teaching more impossible things. The fourth impossible thing that we hear today is that Jesus will suffer and die and after three days he will rise again. Peter hears this and he says, don’t be ridiculous. Maybe he just doesn’t want to believe that Jesus is going to suffer and be killed. But certainly he can’t believe that three days after dying, Jesus will rise again. This is an impossible teaching. Lots of people are still with Peter—wanting to take us Christians aside and rebuke us, wanting to tell us that we can be “good people” without believing in a resurrected God, a Son who rose from the dead.
But we persist, believing in this impossibility, that Jesus was God made man, who died like one of us and after three days rose from the dead to a life eternal in God. This unique experience of a resurrected God who knows our human nature and is divine is impossible and true.
The fifth thing Jesus teaches is that to become a follower means denying themselves and taking up their crosses. If I were one of the people in the crowd, I might say, surely that’s not really what he means. I want to follow him, but I don’t need to carry a cross too. Even if he is going to be killed by the authorities, I can stand up for him, I can be his follower without offering myself up to death. But this impossible thing is exactly what we are asked to believe. We must join Jesus on the way to Golgotha. We must know what it is to be persecuted and ridiculed, to suffer as humans. We suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus has taught us that our mortal worldly concerns are not the most important things, and instead we must give up these things for the sake of a life in Christ.
And this brings us to the sixth impossible thing we’re asked to believe today. Jesus teaches that 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. This is not just an impossible thing to believe, it’s contrary to reason—if you want to lose your life, you’ll be saved and if you want to save your life, you’ll lose it. Jesus is suggesting that the only way to live is to be prepared to die for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel.
How are we to believe these things? Paul tries to explain this faith that Abram had. Paul tells the Romans about Abram, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”
So this seems to be the key. If we’re going to practice believing in impossible things, we’re going to have trust in God’s promises. We’re going to have to give glory to God. And we’re going to have to be fully convinced that God is able to do what God has promised.
This work of believing in impossible things is work that the Scriptures tell us we must do together. Abram and Sarai both have to believe. And the promise is not a child for their individual benefit—a baby who will take care of them individually—no the promise is for a multitude of nations, for all of us as descendants of Jacob.
And Jesus makes his promise to all of his followers. Not a promise that he is dying for the sake of one of his disciples. No, he is dying for the sake of all of creation. And he points out—even if you get all the human things, if you get everything in the whole world, still you are going to die. The only way to get life, all of you, is to give up the human desires.
I’d like to suggest that you think about what impossible things God has promised you. Has God promised you health and healing? Has God promised you family? Has God promised you good food, and fine wines, when you come to the Heavenly Kingdom? What does it mean in your life that Jesus has promised you new life in him? What does new life look like?
This is the hard part, sometimes we can’t see exactly how God will fulfill God’s promises. But the promise of new life in Jesus Christ, through our baptism is a trustworthy promise. It’s not based on the laws—not the laws of our rulers, or the laws of nature. No, this is a divine promise that is beyond our understanding, but trustworthy nonetheless.
So let us practice believing in impossible things, let us make this our Lenten prayer practice. Today we will pray for peace—the peace that God promises in places where wars and violence have plagued people for many generations. We will pray for an end to hunger in places where there are droughts and abject poverty. We will pray for healing for ourselves, our friends and families—not just the kind of physical mending that doctors provide, but for the kind of spiritual healing that makes us live expanded, glorious lives even if our bodies are sick.
Whatever it is that you need, no matter how impossible it seems, hold onto it. You need to check whether what you need is something that God has promised or whether it’s just a human concern.
I might like a Mazerati, in my life, it’s an impossible thing. But it’s also a human thing a mere mortal’s concern. If I reframe this need in God’s terms—God promises bounty for all—he promised Abram and Sarai bounty. If I pray for bounty in my life, and I believe in God’s promise, God’s promise to me that I will have bounty just like Abram and Sarai then I may be surprised at how that bounty comes. It’s not likely to come in the form of a Mazerati. But the practice of believing this impossible thing, before breakfast even, will, in the long run, bring bounty into my life and all of our lives.
If we practice believing and giving glory to God, thanking God for all the things that we have in our lives—we will come to live in that Heavenly Kingdom with God.
The six impossible things I’m going to believe before breakfast—these things are impossible for me—but nothing is impossible for God.