From Second Sunday in Lent. Based on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. The covenant with Abram and Sarai.
What if Abram said "No?" What if he said, "I'm too old, too tired for this." It’s a long journey. It’s scary. I don’t have what I need, I don’t know how to respond. What if Abram chose comfort and stability over leaving and going and trusting and obeying the LORD? Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share this origin story. Its worth noticing that this is Genesis 17, and that God has been communicating with Abram since Genesis 12. This is actually the fourth time God has made a covenant promise to Abram, with the hope and expectation that Abram would receive the promise and live his life as if it were true. God had to talk to Abram four times in order to get through to Abram! Have you ever had to say the same thing, give the same direction four times before the person you’re taking to hears you? If you’re married or have children, this has happened to you. How many times do I have to tell you? Didn’t you hear me? I’ve told you four times where we’re going. We listen worse to the people closest to us. Abram listened badly to God.
God promised descendants, land, and a national identity. A nomadic people will become settled. To live as if it were true would be for Abram to see his life as one filled with meaning, significance, and hope far beyond himself. It’s also worth understanding that Abram is a representative character and not merely an individual as we think of an individual. Abram saw himself as an insignificant member of a tribe or clan. Individuality is a modern thought about the person. Abram was part of a group, perhaps its leader, but still an interdependent tribe or ethnic group. Later known as Israel or the Hebrews. Abram represents to us the revelation relationship between this God and this God’s people. This God is invisible, yet appears to speak. We can hear God, too. But we have to listen. And listening for God involves trust.
I love this text for so many reasons. 1. If you are under the age of 99 you are eligible to play on God's creation restoration team. God is inconveniently disrespectful of retirement. You're not too old for this stuff. This is especially important because our congregation has a number of elder adults in it. God is a lot older than you, so…you’re not done yet, God ain’t done with us. 2. If you haven’t figured out what God is saying to you, maybe you’re not listening. Listening to God involves silence, stillness, and Scripture. 3. God intends for covenant faithfulness to be generationally passed down. So, children matter as much as elders do. God is the creator. If we want more youth and children in our faith community, then we have to be willing to do our part, to be fruitful and multiply. Create space that is inviting to children and youth. 4. God is exceedingly generous in the unfolding drama of creation restoration. The covenant is lopsided with God taking the brunt of the responsibility for the unfolding plan. 5. There is hope for the future. God invites Abram and us to imagine a future beyond ourselves. I'm guessing that Abram could have said 'NO', but having said "yes" by falling on his face, he is changed. His life was about himself or a nomadic tribal experience of daily survival, until his life was consumed with the God who spoke and speaks. After that his life was about the descendent, the nations, the people more numerous than the stars who would call him "Father Abraham." It was about the land on which he walked. The name change signifies that he received his life direction as a gift from God that changed him. So, to what adventure is God inviting us to say yes? Is there a future child of God depending on our faithfulness today? You know, God doesn't need us to do anything, but our children do. And our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s never too late to be faithful. I see in the Wittel Farm and the growing community of children who worship and serve here a sign of God’s covenant promise to Abram in this place. Land and descendants! But what are we willing to sacrifice, to change, to give up, to surrender in order to be faithful, fully committed to this walk with God? The promise cannot be fulfilled if we are stubbornly clinging to ourselves, our time, and our possessions. This covenant is serious. Involving flesh and blood. Both Abram and Sarai are equally part of the covenant promise. Sarai and Abram will die long before the covenant is fulfilled, though they will experience the joy and laughter of an infant named Isaac, which literally means laughter. But they will not see a kingdom or a national identity emerge. In four generations they will become slaves for 400 years. But the promise is everlasting and continues. The amazing endurance of Jewish and Christian community, despite thousands of years of change, disruption, war, political upheaval, abuse of power, persecutions, holocausts, plagues, is testimony enough to see that God keeps promises alive. We are enduring a time of great challenge and change, in which faithfulness is tested. What do we stand for? What do we say as the community of Jesus? How we love our neighbors matters.So what does it look like to live in the Abrahamic covenant? As a community of Jesus, we have been drawn into that family of faith. Our response to God’s activity, God’s voice has a name. We call it discipleship. The lifelong pursuit of Jesus, his way of life, and the formation of a community that looks and sounds more and more like him. Eugene Petersen calls Christian discipleship “A long obedience in the same direction.” It looks like the cross. A lifelong pursuit of the life God is giving you. Its like receiving, unpacking, and putting together a great gift. Its like building a cathedral, one brick at a time over several lifetimes. There were faithful Christians right here before us. Will there be faithful ones after us?