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Ignore the Odds!

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Text: Genesis 22:1-14

[podcast]http://www.zion-umc.org/home/audio/sermon_06262011.mp3[/podcast]

 

Let’s Meet a Really Lucky Person.

Meet Frano Selak, the “world’s luckiest man.”[1] Over 40-odd years, he’s had good fortune the rest of us might only dream of having:

  • 1962: Escaped with minor injuries a train wreck that killed 17.
  • 1963: Taking his first (and only) plane ride, the cockpit door blew out, pulling passengers out to fall to their deaths – except for Frano, who landed in a haystack and survived.
  • 1966: Escaped a bus crash that killed 4 unharmed.
  • 1970: Escaped a car fire unharmed.
  • 1973: Another car fire. His hair burned off, but other than that, he was fine.
  • 1995: Hit by a city bus, but walked away with minor injuries.
  • 1996: Trying to avoid an oncoming truck, he drove his car over a 300’ cliff.  He leapt free of the car, landed in a tree, and watched his car explode.
  • 2003: Bought his first (and only) lottery ticket – and won $1 million.
  • 2010: Decided that money doesn’t buy happiness, and gave his fortune to charity – saving just enough for a hip replacement.

Lucky? Nothing New Under the Sun

The last few years as our economy has struggled, we all have tightened our belts in one way or another – perhaps using credit less, eating at home more, taking vacations closer to home, and so on.

Even though many are cutting back, there’s a worrisome trend at work in America – the dream of getting rich easily is alive and well – and many aren’t consulting their banker or investment advisor any more.  They’re heading to the Cenex or Valley Dairy, or another place frequented by “Lady Luck,” and buying lottery tickets.

Here in North Dakota, the state lottery increased sales by about 12½ % from mid-2009 to mid-2010.[2] Not all state lotteries are showing increases, but we’re not the only ones with rising revenues.

Don’t know what to do?  Consult the “experts” at luckology.com, which has at least one “luckologist” who has the answer you seek.  Who knows where luck might find you!

Putting your faith in “luck” is nothing new.  A long, long time ago, a wise teacher noted,

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”     (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, NIV84)

“Luckology” is really just a modern adaptation of a philosophy that’s been around nearly as long as humanity. Ancient peoples assumed the world was a rather random place and that forces beyond their control gave them good or bad luck in arbitrary ways.

Religions of the ancient world believed the gods used fortune and misfortune to manipulate human lives, so it was a good idea to keep them happy. In Roman times, a cult formed around the goddess Fortuna, whose worship emerged around the time that the Carthaginian general Hannibal was threatening Rome. Then, as now, people in crisis tend to organize their theological worldview around the immediacy of the lucky break. Paying attention to the gods of fortune or luck, whether their altars are in a casino or at the counter of a convenience store, is what Wayne Oates calls a “secular religion.”

What About Abraham?

One could certainly say that Abraham was “lucky.”  God picked him out of all the people in Mesopotamia, and told him,

“I will make you into a great nation  and I will bless you; I will make your name great,  and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”     (Genesis 12:2-3, NIV84)

But, this wasn’t luck – it was providence.  Luck is taking a chance that your actions might bring something good to you; providence is an act of trust that God will provide you with what you need.

Over the years of his earthly life, God teaches Abraham more than once that luck has nothing to do with his fortunes, his prosperity, or the blessing of a son in his later years when it seemed impossible.  He learned that the Lord God Almighty is trustworthy, and cares for those who are faithful. So, when God makes a demand of Abraham that would cause any of us with children to shudder, he obeys without question.

Abraham knows that somehow, God will provide a good resolution to this journey and his beloved son will be spared – and so he goes forth, trusting God to be merciful.

The difference between luck and providence is this: believing in luck is placing our faith in our ability to control an outcome:  if we do the right things at the right time, good things will happen.  Providence is about trust.  Wayne Oates has a good summary of this:

“A believer in providence, although not able to see the hand of God at work in a given situation of one’s lot in life, nevertheless holds to the faith that God will deliver him or her from that forced situation according to the distinct purpose God has for his or her life.”

The Bible says it this way, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV84)

Luck is about pursuing what we think we want.  Providence is about trusting God to provide what His children need when they need it: “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 NIV84)

To Follow God, Remember Who You Are

Abraham trusted God so completely that he was willing to put the most important part of his life on the line for his God. The test was never about whether or not God would intervene and stop the sacrifice.  The test was whether or not Abraham will faithfully follow God’s command.

God tests the faithful many times in the Bible: the nation of Israel (Exodus 15:25), the tribe of Levi (Deuteronomy 33:8), and the King Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:31).

God tests us today, asking, “Will you follow when I call?

How do we follow?  Take a note from Abraham: He didn’t focus on the tragedy before him, but instead focused on God’s promise: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you.”

Following God requires that we remember who we are – God’s children, baptized into covenant with God to live faithfully.

This means we can’t live as

  • The “tough” person who doesn’t need anyone else
  • The “worrywart” who has so much to worry about there’s no time to trust God
  • The ambitious, driven person who has priorities and goals that nothing (even God) will get in the way of
  • The “better-safe-than-sorry” person who doesn’t like risk or the idea of upsetting anyone, and stays neutral because speaking up might get him or her into trouble.

Ignore the odds.  Take a leap of faith.  And watch God provide everything you  need for the journey.

Sources Consulted:

“Against Type,” Homiletics, June 2002

“Lucky Abraham,” Homiletics, June 2011

nd.gov/lottery

telegraph.co.uk

usatoday.com


[1] “World’s Luckiest Man Gives Away His Lottery Fortune”; from www.telegraph.co.uk – article link http://tgr.ph/jDZ2Ta. Retrieved 25 June 2011.