by Rev. Thomas Hall
based on James 4:13-17; Genesis 15
I recently watched an intriguing movie. Not much hype about it, but a very
interesting story. Instead of following someones journey through their life as many
movies do, in this story we follow the life of a violin as it passes through generations
of owners during its 250 year history. Its birth begins in a famous violinmakers
shop in Europe. Just as the violinmaker prepares to varnish his lifes masterpiece, a
servant bursts into the shop, "Come quick! Its your wife!" His wife is in
labor with a breach baby and neither survives. The violinmaker is so grief-stricken that
he puts the final coat on his masterpiece and then ends his own life. However, it is but
the beginning of the violins life.
The story takes us up into a secluded, impoverished orphanage where the violin
provides years of enjoyment to young boys in an orphanage. A tragedy at the orphanage
frees the violin to one owner after another. On one occasion the violin falls into the
hands of a spirited gypsy girl and its minor rousing music provides her comrades hours of
respite. A man passes by and hears the violins deep, clear tones and once in the
hands of this virtuoso, the violin performs before royalty and masses of subjects. Even
serfs and servants drink in its deep, somber tones. Yet, a bullet tears deeply into the
violin and separates it from its owner.
Years pass, maybe a century, before the violin turns up again. This time it turns
up not in Europe but in San Francisco at an old antique shop. A Chinese woman happens by
and buys the tattered old violin for her daughter to practice. A generation later the
violin lies hidden under the floorboards of this daughter who has grown up and returned to
China and has joined the Chinese Communist Party. At this very time the Party decides to
purge every trace of Western music and instruments. To be caught with the violin is to
have it publicly burned and the owner to be condemned to life imprisonment or death.
How the violin survives the Chinese purge or what ultimately happens to the red
violin Ill leave to your imagination. But whats interesting about the story is
that it takes many lifetimes to keep up with the violin. Each owner has a small chapter to
tell about the violin, but no one is capable of possibly knowing all of the entire story
or destiny of the red violin, because the violin outlives everyone.
Thats really the plot of a very strange story in our first lesson, Genesis
15. God and Abraham has this unique meeting and God tells Abraham to bring on the animals
for a covenant. That done, Abraham knows that this unseen God is drawing him into a sacred
Berith, or "blood covenant," for that is what Berith means. "To cut."
Abraham cuts the sacrificial animals in two halves, but God alone cuts the covenant. All
Abraham can do is to fall down in the Presence of God while God cuts covenant on behalf of
Himself and Abraham. But even as Abraham lies on the ground in a trance, he hears
Gods unmistakable promise: "Many families," God whispers in Abrahams
ear, "will come from you, but they will be strangers and enslaved for four hundred
years; yet I will rescue them and bring them to a land with great wealth and they will be
a great nation."
Did you catch anything strange in that conversation? Ever have a conversation like
that? Its like if God says to you, "now four hundred years from
nowlets see, thats about the year 2400, your family members will have
left Philadelphia and will be living in Los Angeles. There they will have started a
successful software business that spans the globe. Unfortunately, theyll lose
everything in what will be known as the 5th Great Depression. But dont worry,
theyll be back in Philadelphia, just like I planned and they will prosper here four
hundred years from now. I promise."
Im in awe of this phenomenal conversation that God has with Abraham. Just as
the red violin far surpasses all of its owners, so Gods plan for the future far
surpasses all of its owners, so Gods plan for the future far surpasses
Abrahams limited vision. Just to keep his end of the deal and to see the conclusion,
or fulfillment, chronologically speaking, Abraham would have to tack five more lifetimes
on to his life! The God we are in company with has this great ability to see the whole
picture. God sees way, way, way down the roadaround the corner, across the ocean,
over the next hill, beyond the mountain range that leads through the vast desert. Best
Abraham can see is to the edge of his tents. Abraham thinks this deal is all about him. He
thinks that this "covenant" or Berith is supposed to happen in his lifetime.
Thats why he becomes impatient and tries to make the promise of a mighty nation
happen while hes still kicking. Instead he discovers that God is faithful and will
fulfill Gods promisesin Gods time.
Sometimes Im doing good just to see Friday come around at the end of the
week. Were just not used to being in a relationship with Someone who can see the
future more clearly than we can see the past. Thats one of the cool things about
being in covenant with Someone like God. God isnt going to get osteoporosis after a
couple of centuries. Nor is God going to need cataract surgery or get sagging skin or
flaccid muscles. Aging just doesnt enter the picture with God.
Wouldnt you know it, four hundred years later, almost to the day, the writer
points out to us, God honors the promise that he had made to Abraham way back on that
starry night. God had promised then to raise up an entire nation from Abraham and that God
would give them enough land to accommodate them. Though Abraham has long ago been reduced
to dust, here comes God leading Abrahams "nation" out of Egypt to the land
that God had promised him. God keeps promises to us.
What can we learn from this strange story? First, God is timeless and ageless, so
we can boldly trust our aging lives to God. I recently had a birthday. Another year older.
Gravity has worked on my body another year. More droops and sags and wrinkles and
crinkles, more silver among the gold, a little less energy, slower recovery from workouts,
more often in need of 2nd opinions. Scripture reminds us, "what is your life? It is a
vapor, like morning fogits here for a little while, and then, poof! Its
Its true that any of us are but a stroke away, an unseen stop sign away, a
slip on the ladder, an illness away from eternity. Were the temporary owners of our
lifejust like that red violin. We are stewards of a borrowed life. But the Covenant
means that God took our limitations of sin, suffering, and weakness upon himself. And in
exchange, God placed us into Christ. This morning, right now, our sins are
forgivenin Christ. We are set freein Christ. We will live forever with
Godin Christ. Because the God we are in Berith with is eternal, we can boldly
entrust our aging lives to God.
Secondly, God has a plan so we dont need to be afraid of the future. Abraham
did not know how God would do it, but from that moment on when he believed God, he knew
that in some significant way God was in his future and would fulfill Gods promises
to him. Paul writes of us, "God who began a good work in you will continue God work
until it is finally finished."
When we begin the movie of our lives, God is already at the end of it viewing the
credits. When we start the car, God is already pulling into the garage at the end of the
trip. When we lay our heads down at night, God is already sitting with us at heavens
feast at the end of the world. No job loss, no illness, no defeat, no discouragement has
the last word when were in covenant with God. Circumstances are only chapters of the
entire book that God has of our life. Because God has a plan for our lives we dont
have to be afraid of the future.
Finally, like Abraham we can be an important link in the chain for the next
generation to grasp. Abraham did his part. He ratified the covenant with the entire group
of his household through circumcision. He went on to produce a son and from that son God
began a family that four hundred years later would become a mighty and wealthy nation.
What follows are the many chapters about how different people handled Gods red
violin in their lifetime. Like that masterpiece violin, some just didnt see any
value in it. Esau gave it away. He left no legacy. No link in the chain for others to
grasp. He though food was more importantmore immediatethan leaving a legacy.
Others played Gods promises masterfully, like David and Deborah and Hannah and Mary.
But each one had the opportunity to play their part, to partner with God to leave
something behind for the next generation.
God is the keeper of the promisethe rest of us are only stewards. Our
mission is to leave a legacy, not a hole when we die or leave this community. Our culture
is trying to tell us that its all about me, but the Covenant reminds us that
its all about God. Thats what Andrew Carnegie believed as he grew older.
Though the wealthiest man on earth in his generation, he believed that you really
havent lived until you leave a legacy for the next generation. So before he died, he
gave most of his money back to small towns in America so that they could build
librariesthe Carnegie Libraries. Thats partly why I have such a love for books
todayI discovered one of his libraries.
What are we leaving for the next generation? What are they going to say about us
when you die? Whats going to be written on our gravestone? "Too busy?"
"Too careful?" "Too cautious?" "Generous?" "Kind?"
"Visionary?" What are they going to say about this congregation and its ministry
when that red violin of opportunity has passed beyond our hands? Congregation, we need to
start thinking legacy, not just what works for us now.
"But we dont know Gods plan, so how can we move forward?"
Yes, we do know Gods plan: Stewardship. Discipleship. Prayer. But most clearly,
Mission. Jesus parting words to us is this: "Go among all the
ethnoiwithin your culture, among your neighborhoods, and throughout the
generationsand make disciples." Dont let anything stand between you and
Gods Plan to love this world through you be silenced or ignored. For I am persuaded
that neither sanctuary nor fond memories nor things past nor budgets nor fear of change or
future nor any other thing will be able to keep us from Gods love in Christ and from
passing Gods promise on to the next generation.
The violin is in our hands now. What chapter are we going to write? What story
will we tell? Amen.