Genesis 15: 1-6
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.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Luke 3: 2b-6
the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
“Mind the Gap!” the conductor called out. “Mind the Gap!” I had not heard those words since my college years when I had the chance to spend some time in London. But I heard it again this summer when I, with dozens of others, was making my way onto a Metro – North train into NYC. “Mind the gap.” And sure enough, there it was. That dangerous and rather ominous space between the edge of the platform and the train — that space that threatens to snag a stray foot or small child. In fact, I can remember, as a child, being so terrified of that gap that I would stand back and then take a kind of running leap to get onto the train.
But in order to get where we needed to go we had to get onto that train, and so minding the gap we crowded through the doors.
But before we go any further, let us pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen”
Abram, in our Scripture this morning, is “minding the gap.” Abram (who will soon will be called Abraham, but not quite yet) is actually minding the gap quite a bit, I think. He wants to get somewhere pretty badly, but he cannot seem to see a way to get there. He cannot seem to see a way from where he is, to the future he wants so desperately.
Abram is minding the gap. He is minding the gap between what God promised Abram his life would be like and how it actually is. A few chapters back, in Chapter 12, the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great.” (Genesis 12: 1-2) and then the Lord tells Abram that he will be given land and offspring (Genesis 12: 6).
But three chapters have passed now and that represents a lot of time in the Bible and while a whole lot has happened to Abram, none of it seems to be bringing Abram any closer to that which God promised. Abram is still landless. He is still childless. And he is not feeling so great at all. In fact, when this whole adventure began, he was already seventy-five years old, so I would not be surprised that not only is he not feeling pretty tired and disheartened and perhaps even ready just to give up on the whole promise thing all together.
Promises are something that sadly seem to be losing their currency these days. We hear a lot of people making a lot of promises — “Put this cream on your face and look 20 years younger, we promise.” “Tour this condominium complex and you will receive a two, free round trip tickets to anywhere in the country, Honest!” “Elect me and I promise I will ___________(fill in the blank)”. But do we really think these promise are going to be kept? Making promises has just become another sales-pitch to get us to buy into something that may or may not actually pan out. There does not seem to be a lot of guarantees with promises these days.
But there are some promises that we just cannot give up on. There are some promises that are so critical that our very future depends upon it. God’s promise to Abram is just too important to give up on. Abram stands on the edge of that gap and reaches out to God.
God is not the only one who makes promises so important, so life giving that we cannot give up on them for our very future depends upon them.
This Monday, I gathered with hundreds of other clergy and activists on the steps of the State House to call our elected officials back to the promises that undergird the foundation of our nation. Standing shoulder to shoulder, we heard the promises from the preamble to the declaration of independence that we would be a nation giving opportunity so that all could thrive: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And we heard the promise of the opening words of the Constitution giving promise that we were a nation of fairness, and thoughtfulness and justice. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,”
And I was reminded on Monday, that it is not just Abram who is facing a gap between what is and what has been promised, so many are staring down into that emptiness, so many are struggling — like the young mother in Dorchester who wrestles with how to cover rent and put food on the table; and the Muslim immigrant who finds death threats in the Revere train station;[i] like the young black child sitting in his second under-sourced school.
And this gap separating so many people from their future is dangerous for us all. This gap is scary. It is a gap that threatens to pull apart the fabric of our society. It is a gap that hinders and divides and is full of hatred, arrogance, and violence. This gap is a scary and ugly space that you and we may want to leap over as we go ahead and get on that train, as we go ahead and move forward with our future. But we cannot. We must not do so.
I learned in preparing this sermon that that gap between the platform and the train is actually structurally necessary. It is needed to give the train a margin of flexibility to be able to negotiate a bend in the tracks without having the side of the train scrape along the platform. The gap at the train station is structural and it is necessary. The gap in our society between the reality of many of our brothers and sisters lives and a promise of a future is also structural. It is structural in that this gap has been woven into the foundational structures of how we have shaped our society. It is structural but it is unjust and in no way necessary. This structural injustice need not be. There is another way
How can I say that? Because, of course, there was another person who spent his life minding the gaps. Jesus. Jesus spent his life stepping into that chasm, that big scary dangerous space between what is and what out to be and Jesus ultimately laid down his life as a Way of love that shows us how to bridge, how to close that Gap. Jesus made it his job to seek out the lost and the lonely. Jesus made it his job to go to the captive, the sick, the despairing, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the ignored, the ones bearing the back-breaking weight of empire — in order that they may be come on board, so that the promise of God may be their future as well. So as followers of Jesus, are we not to do the same?
So what does that look like? Well – first- I think it looks like what John the baptizer is calling for in the gospel of Luke this morning. It looks like repentance. Of taking a good long look at how we may be creating or perpetuating the gap that ensnares so many of our brothers and sisters here in Massachusetts, across the nation and around the world and then it means doing something different.
It means taking a good hard look at what stumbling blocks there are in that gap and then working alongside our brothers and sisters to, in the words of the Prophet to “prepare the way of the Lord.” To fill every valley and make every mountain and hill low. To straighten the crooked and smooth the rough ways. It means working with our brothers and sisters to find ways to close the gap, to bridge the space so that all can get on board and move into the future that has been promised.
And thanks be to God, this is not work we do alone. God does not leave Abram with a broken promise. Instead God takes Abram across that gap. God takes Abram outside what has been and asks him to look up and see what will be. God gives Adam hope and where there is hope – well it turns out faith is not far behind. And that faith gives Abram the courage to continue, to continue to walk towards the future he trusts is coming.
As I was preparing these words for today, I googled the phrase “Mind the Gap” to learn about its origin and frequency of use. Scrolling down the screen I came upon an image under the title “Other uses of the phrase.” It was a picture of a door mat. It was black with a large yellow stripe on one end and had big block letters on it that said, “Mind the Gap.” And it was all I could do to not order two big ones. One for the back of the Sanctuary and one for the doorway out there at the bottom of the stairs. Wouldn’t that be the perfect reminder every time we leave this building to go out there minding the gaps? Tending the places of unfulfilled promises in our world?
For this is to be a place where we are begin to see as Abram saw. This is to be a place where we begin to see the promises of God taking shape in the way we love, and forgive, and heal and share. This is to be a place where we look at each other and see the beauty of that star filled night so long ago. This is to be a place where we can look up and meet the vision of God and where are strengthened for the journey ahead and feel faith arise in us as well.
So let us have faith and then make faith a verb as we “mind the gap?” Let us have the courage to examine our own lives and ask hard questions of ourselves. Let us through our faithful action have the courage to shine a light into that gap to come to terms with what we find there. And may we as a community of faith uphold the hope of God’s promise of life with abundance for all — that is our future. Thanks be God. Amen.
[i] America’s Islamophobia Problem by Kashif N Chaudhry http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kashif-n-chaudhry/americas-islamophobia-pro_b_6740500.html.