Many of you know that a little over a month ago my appendix decided to revolt and need surgery to have it removed. What you may not know is that I drove myself to the hospital with appendicitis.
It was one of those situations where logistics and childcare were not in our favor. So, I decided that while I was uncomfortable, I could make the short drive to the hospital myself and get things started until Shannon could get there.
I got in the car feeling pretty good about this decision until doubts (or reason maybe?) started to creep in. Was this really the smartest thing to do? Maybe not, but it still needed to be done.
I began to pray, God, go before me. And make the rough places smooth.
In other words, help me make it to the hospital before this thing gets really bad.
Once I’m there, give me the strength to endure what is easily going to be a couple of hours of waiting before actually being seen.
If I have to get an IV, please let it be done by someone who is really good at their job. These are the confessions of a woman with not the easiest veins to work with.
Send me a doctor who takes my concerns seriously and is kind.
God, go before me. And make the rough places smooth.
The good news is I made it the hospital without incident and although I did wait for way longer than I wanted, a sweet baby sat next to me halfway through my time there and distracted me in the best way possible.
My IV was hands down the best one I’ve ever had. In fact, I kept setting the alarm off on the machine because I would forget I had an IV in my arm!
The doctor was very kind. When I got to my room, my nurse’s name was Aimee. Spelled like mine and everything. She was absolutely precious and so good to me.
And then, wheeling into the surgery prep room I was greeted by a familiar face. My anesthesiologist was a friend from church.
In the midst of the whirlwind, friends and church members managed to retrieve our children from summer camps, feed them and love them. Many of you ministered to us the day of and beyond, and we are so grateful.
It has not been easy, but the difficult parts have been filled with little glimpses of the divine all along the way. God has gone before me and made the rough places smooth.
Our Old Testament lesson for today brings us into a promise that God is making to Abram. Often when we read this passage, we focus on the promise made at the end of it that God will give Abram many descendants. A promise that fulfills a deep longing and brings Abram and his family into a different place spiritually and socially. It is something that certainly deserves our attention and since “I am one of them and so are you” it definitely contributes to our story in a big way.
But today, I want to pause on the first promise that God makes in this passage- that God will be Abram’s shield and very great reward.
Abram is coming off of a pretty big victory here. Nine different kings had been in a fight with one another – five against four – and Lot, Abram’s nephew (along with all of his people and possessions) who lived in Sodom had been taken in the fighting. Abram got word of what happened and took all the men of his household (318 to be exact – this is one of those places where Scripture is very detailed) to get Lot back during the night basically on a sneak attack mission.
They were successful and managed to get everything that had been taken away. So, naturally Abram earned the respect of the King of Sodom and the other kings that aligned with him. Melchizedek, the king of Salem but also a priest, blesses Abram and gives thanks to God for the victory. Abram offers 10% of what they’ve gotten back to Melchizedek and is encouraged to take the rest of the property for himself. Abram tells the king that he had made a promise with God that he would take nothing from him so that it couldn’t be said that kingdom made Abram rich.
Here is where we pick up in the story. We are told that after these events God comes to Abram and says, “I will be your shield and your great reward.” Some translations say, portion and shield. Another way to say that may be, I will go before you and make the rough places smooth.
What an amazing promise for God to give to Abram! And the timing is wonderful. Abram has come out victorious and also managed to keep his promise to God in the midst of his success. He’s seeing firsthand how God provided the protection and strength that he needed. It should be easy in this moment for Abram to believe this promise from God. For us though, it may be a little harder.
It is a promise that assumes need and basically lays it out on the table that it will be rough at times. Abram knew that already. He had just experienced what God was talking about, but God was still saying it very clearly to him in this moment. In the rough places, we need to hear these words clearly. It’s not always going to be easy, but when it is hard, God will be your portion and your shield. God will supply you with what you need. Trust in God. Then, we need to hear it again, once things seem to be settling down so we don’t forget.
We will all need a shield placed before us at some point in our lives. There’s no getting around it. We need to be reminded that God will not only protect us, but provide just the right portion for us in the midst of trial.
I’ll admit as I was thinking through this passage and the different shield imagery we have in our society, all I could think of was Captain America. He is known for his shield. He can be strong without it, but when he has his shield, he’s a complete warrior. It’s indestructible and it always comes back to him. You see that shield and you know it’s Captain America.
We can see certain provision and know that it is God shielding us from harm. Shields give us protection as we walk through life. They are important because our need for them is real.
Scripture offers us imagery of God shielding God’s people.
Moses is hidden in the cleft of the rock when God passes by. Protected from what might be too much for him at that time.
Jesus compares himself to a Mother Hen shielding her chicks from any predator that may come their way.
Part of the Armor of God that we are asked to wear as believers is the shield of faith. Faith requires trust in the promises of God.
In all of these places we see God standing in the gap - ready to shield and give us exactly what we need while asking us to lean in and believe in God’s promises.
Interesting to note that Abram seems to miss this moment and the significance of it because he is so concerned with this greater issue. There’s very real deliverance for him from his enemies and then a beautiful moment of promises being kept with God and him. And yet, he is still looking to his biggest defeat – Sarai is barren. The reward, the portion has been the victory in battle, but for Abram it’s not what he wanted. He’s been successful. God has provided. But Abram desires more and he is honest with God about it.
It’s a tender moment and a tricky one. Abram wants to believe God but he’s missing the fullness of God’s faithfulness in the here and now because he’s assuming the future won’t be all he hoped for.
We can all probably understand where he is coming from in one way or another. I’m sure we have easily missed God working in the seemingly small ways in our lives while waiting for the bigger miracles to come along. We can be so caught up in the bigger questions about our life that we miss the ways God is present in the ordinary, everyday moments.
Here’s the good news – God seems to honor Abram’s question and handles him so graciously. That’s where we get this moment that many of us are so familiar with – “Abram, look at the number of stars in the sky. That’s how many children you will have.” I’ve got you. I see the desires of your heart. Trust me.
This passage calls us to see the value of God’s promises in the big stuff and the seemingly little stuff that we don’t want to miss.
We are blessing the backpacks today for our students, teachers and any others who would like to have that blessing on their bag. I imagine that as a new school year and new chapter in the calendar starts there are big and small things that occupy our thoughts.
Will I like my teacher?
Is it even possible to accomplish all that is on this syllabus?
What will my relationships be like with my classmates?
Can us parents get through this homework and these extracurricular activities and still feel somewhat sane?
Will our company finish strong this year?
Are there really only 19 Fridays before Christmas?
All of these things may lead to bigger things...
Will my child get into the college we hope for? How will we pay for it?
Will this be the year that it finally clicks for them?
Will this be the year that they may not like school anymore?
How will I face the holidays this year after the loss of my loved one?
How will I do one more day in this work environment that is so taxing and draining? Is it time to step away?
So many things that can weigh on us that are seemingly small and others that also feel really big. God’s answer to all those concerns is found in this passage. I will be your portion and your shield. And just like Abram, God’s desire is to respond favorably to your deepest longings and give you the same protection, tenderness and love.
Backpack tags this year are shields. All are encouraged to receive one. There are enough for everyone here.
Place them on your bag and know that your church is praying for you in the big and the small things - asking God to go before you and make the rough places smooth. Amen.