“God’s promise to a people”
Genesis 15:1-21; Luke 3:7-14
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Trusting the promise
Children love to ask questions. I love questions, so that may be part of why I love children. As parents or caregivers you may have heard “But why, why??” repeated over and over, like children are stuck as a broken record repeating their questions. Is it their curiosity for the world or the way the words sound in their mouth or the reaction in us that they learn they have some control over?
Abram, who will later in the story be renamed Abraham, so forgive me if I use the names interchangeably this morning, is not a child in this story. Abram was 75 years old when God called him, three chapters before this story. We can assume that several years had passed between then and our text today. Yet Abram approaches God with questions in an almost childlike way.
“How will I know? What will you give me?” Abram pushes God with a somewhat complaining tone. Even the language of promise may feel like that of a child to many of us. “Do you promise you will take me to that event? Do you promise to keep it a secret? Pinky promise??”
And the dramatic change we see in Abram in this story may seem childlike in that he goes from skepticism to deep faith so quickly. But the faith we see in this story is not a simple faith but a sure faith. Abram eventually trusting that when God makes a promise, God is good for it.
God enters the scene of this text in a vision with the opening words “Do not be afraid” – we know this phrase, it normally means there is reason we should be afraid. God is not just appearing for the first time in Abram’s life here, God has already called Abram and made promises to him.
As Pastor Phil pointed out earlier we jumped from creation and the story of the start of God’s relationship with humanity last week to the story of God choosing one man, one family that will become a people who are God’s chosen ones. God called out Abram telling him he would be a great nation. God blessed Abram so he would be a blessing to others. But here Abram has a bone to pick with God, you promised! And nothing appears to be coming through on that promise!!
This response from Abram may be perfectly
reasonable. One authors explains: “He has left home, family, and land in
response to God’s outrageous call and promise. He has come to a new, unfamiliar
land and now, it appears, his lineage will die there with him. God’s promises
have not held true.” http://www.workingpreacher.
Abram and God haven’t built up enough of a relationship yet for Abram to know that God is trustworthy. They are still building that rapport. “Clearly, the faith to which Abraham is called is not a peaceful, pious acceptance. It is a hard-fought and deeply argued conviction. Abraham will not be a passive recipient of the promise. He is prepared to hold his own.” (Interpretations, 141)
So Abram complains. Abram needs a child to be his heir and his wife Sarah is still barren. He enters a conversation with God where we see his mind changing.
One author points out that God isn’t arguing here like a lawyer, using persuasion and adding new data points. There is the promise and response –repeated. The promise is the same “But the two responses (from Abram) are very different. The first (v.2-3) is a disbelieving protest or lament. The second (v.6) is an act of faith.” The question is why? What moved Abraham? What shifts so that we see that “he has come to rely on the promise speaker.” (Interpretations 143)
God leads Abram outside and directs his attention to the sky filled with stars. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them” says God. “So shall your descendants be.”
It is kind of ridiculous – You want me to count the starts?!? No way, that is impossible. Abram is holding onto the small hope of one small child, which seems so out of reach, and God says, nah that’s a little thing, I’m going to do so much more.
This is not a wishing on a star but a conversation with the one who created every star and the galaxies far beyond our sight. Our small concerns seem insignificant next to that God. Yet this is also a God who takes the time to listen, reassure and help change our minds and lives. God doesn’t make Abraham believe. God invites and offers. There is no force here, only care and conversation.
And Abram changes his mind and believes. Walter Brueggemann puts it like this: “Abraham has repented. He has abandoned a reading of reality which is measured by what he can see and touch and manage. That new orientation is not a generalized religious notion that ‘everything will work out all right.’ He is not guilty of pious abdication. Rather, it is a quite specific response to a concrete promise from a known promise-maker. The faith of Abraham is certain of one point. There is a future to be given which will be new and not derived from the present barrenness. He believes that God can cause a break point between the exhausted present and the buoyant future. He believes in a genuine Genesis.”(Interpretations,144) end quote.
What I love here is that Abraham isn’t some superhero guy. He is a man that God chooses. Abraham makes mistakes and poor decisions. He complains to God, gets impatient and tries to make things work his own way. But Abraham is also a man who believes. God comes and invites him to go to a new land and Abraham goes. He listens to God and their knowledge of each other grows. This is the story we hear repeated through all of the bible. God calls normal, flawed, complaining and complex people to walk in God’s ways and we get to read the story of how that went. The people of God with all their foibles, pitfalls and triumphs captured in the pages of this book. And in that, there is hope that we can fit in too with this family, this people of God, this life of faith even in our imperfections.
The promise isn’t filled right away. We don’t get an instant pregnancy in this story. “The problem of faith is waiting, even when the delay seems unending…(there is a) way we have of immediately making our own future, we are not accustomed to waiting. In our impatience we are prone to conclude that if it is not given now, it will not be given. Abraham’s impatience reflects the same judgment. But gifts may not be forced. Futures stay in the hand of God who gives them.”(Interpretations, 149)
Where is the barrenness in us and what are we longing to have God birth into our lives? What is the reinsurance that we are yearning to hear from God? How might God be responding in creative ways that we might be missing?
God reassures Abram of God’s protection and provision. For Abram that is enough for him to boldly confess his doubts and then trust that this promise is going to come through.
Will we let ourselves hear the words from God to us – Do not be afraid, I am your shield and reward. Can we trust in God’s comfort and shelter, knowing that that trust in God is the ultimate prize, better then any treasure we could ever win. Will we have patience to hear from God in God’s time not only when we impatiently call out our demands and wishes?
In this story “God is a promise-maker, Abraham is a promise-bearer, and the substance of the promise is land. Until the promise is kept, covenant is the way the promise is practiced.” (Interpretations,150)
What language would we use? Promise isn’t the word that seems to fit. How does commitment sound? Is it the building of trust in a relationship that we learn to know and trust the other in that commitment? The bible uses the language of covenant. This seems solemn and strong. Not a contract or a deal but a promise with weight behind it and trust on both sides that the commitment will hold.
We are called into this trust. Still bringing our concerns before God and airing our questions. Not a blind faith but faith that has a deep well of trust.This kind of faith is not easy so I invite you to make this confession with me before God.
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