Lent 2 C 2019

Lent 2 C 2019

Texts: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18

           Psalm 27

           Philippians 3:17-4:1

           Luke 13:31-35

“Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great…And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Gen 15:1,6

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

This morning our Old Testament lesson is from Chapter 15 of Genesis. This chapter, and the portion of it that we read, is considered one of the most important in all of scripture and one of the oldest pieces of scripture.  This story is the basis for all Abrahamic faiths. The Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths all claim this as a foundational text to how they understand God and how they understand their relationship to and with God.

God’s very first words to Abram, Abraham’s name before responding to God’s call and being renamed Abraham, are very familiar to us.  “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Like others in the Bible who have had visions and heard of promised children, the response is one of surprise and not a little doubt.  Abram just doesn’t see how this can be. He doesn’t take God’s word at face value…yet. He questions and just in case God doesn’t really understand the situation Abram lays it out for him.

“God, we have a problem here.  You tell me my reward is great, but I have no children to share the reward with!  You didn’t give Sarai and me the blessing of children. I will have to give all my worldly goods to a slave who will be my heir.  I really don’t see how you are going to pull this off.”

In a beautiful scene God takes Abram outside and shows him the vast expanse of the night sky: the stars, the galaxies, the moon and all the planets.  In my mind, God has one arm around Abram’s shoulder and with the other sweeping across the sky from horizon to horizon says to Abram, “Look Abram! Look at all I have created.  Can you count the stars? No! And I tell you Abram, you will have more descendants than all of the stars put together.” And then, in what many believe to be the most important verse in all of the Old Testament, “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  

Because Abram took God at God’s word, God declares that he and Abram are now in a right relationship.  Because of Abram’s belief he became the father of all faith. God enters into a covenant with Abram. God promises not only to Abram, but to God’s own self, that if God should break the covenant, (God, not Abram!), if God should break the covenant, it will be for God as it was with the animals God asked Abram to get and split in two.  God himself will be split in two, no longer whole, no longer one.

Abram still had questions.  Abram still had doubts. But Abram went ahead and took the next step in faith.  On nothing more than God’s promise, Abram believed that there was a future for him and those he loved.  He believe there was a future when before there was hopelessness. Abram didn’t know exactly how this would work out.  He didn’t know exactly what would happen.

He did know that following God was going to be hard.  And he knew that God’s promise to him was going to be delayed, that 400 years would pass before his heirs would inherit the land God promised him.  But most importantly, Abram knew that whatever and however anything happened, God could be trusted and that he could trust God. That is really all he knew.  And it was enough.

In 2013 I took a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland, the birthplace of Celtic Christianity.  A pilgrimage is about going to a strange place, perhaps a fearful place, but going anyway and being willing to be changed as a result.  A person on a pilgrimage can’t help but be changed; whether they want to be changed or not, it happens.

St. Columba left Ireland with nothing more than a few possessions, a few other monks and left to sail to an unknown island in a leather clad boat called a coracle.  I think it a fair statement to say that St. Columba was changed as a result of his travels. I think it fair to say that Christianity was changed as a result of his travels. I know that I certainly was.  I went back in 2015 and came back to St. Louis changed once more. I will be returning to Iona in another couple of months, and I don’t expect to be the same Doris when I return as I was when I left.

The story of Abram and Sarai is the original pilgrimage story.  They set out in hope with nothing more than God saying to them, “Do not be afraid.  I am your shield.” And because God was their shield they could go on their way and meet the challenges and obstacles ahead.  And God promised that there would be challenges and obstacles.

Faith is having the conviction that God is God and that we are not and that even with all the evidence pointing to the contrary, God’s promises will be fulfilled.  For Abram, it wasn’t the circumstances of any situation that made God’s promise to him believable; it was God himself who made the promise believable.  It was God that enabled Abram and Sarai to live in hope in what was a hopeless situation.  It was God who enabled Abram and Sarai to risk everything and leave their familiar surroundings to live into God’s promise for them.  They could not and they did not step out alone but with the firm conviction that God is trustworthy and true. “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  

Abram relinquished control of his present in order to move into the future with God.  He gave up control of his present so that there could be a new beginning, a new Genesis.

Abram’s response wasn’t “once and done.”  Abram’s response was made day after day, week after week, year after year.  God’s promise of new life was ever before him and he responded again and again and again believing that promise.  Abram’s story shows us modern-day pilgrims “that faith is less of a leap than it is a single step in a God-ordained direction.”  And then another.   And another.

What really amazes me about Abram is not only that he continuously responded to God’s promise, but also that he responded for a promise that was to be delayed.  We aren’t very good at waiting. We want God to give us proof of his promise right now in the present, not 400 years later when we aren’t around to see it.

“Show me now, Lord, and then I will believe.”  But that isn’t faith and it is not the faith of Abram, which, by the way, is the faith we are called to.  Are we able to do that? Are we able to wait and are we really able to believe that God promises us new beginnings and hallowed endings?  Do we as a community of faith have the faith of Abram? Are we willing to step out and let go in the knowledge that God is trustworthy and true?

If you have your doubts, if you have your fear and your dread and your anxiety, if you just can’t see how God is going to pull off a new beginning, a new Genesis, then look to the stars dear friends, look to the stars.  They were a sign of God’s promise to Abram and they are a sign of God’s promise to us.


Robin Whittington