Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sermon Lent 2

One of the assigned passages for the day is Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16. I added 8-10, because it seems relevant.

1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.’ 9 God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 15 God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

In this passage, God makes a covenant with Abram. When Abram is 99, God appears to him, tells him to walk before God and be blameless. God also says that He (God) will offer him offspring more numerous than can be counted. In another version of this conversation, God (referred to in Hebrew as El Shaddai, which could mean God of the Mountains - how cool is that?) offers offspring as numerous as the grains of sand and stars that can be seen, land, and blessings. And then, to seal the deal, Abram (and all other males now and in the future) must be circumcised to show loyalty to God. And God, who has ultimate power, renames Abram. From this day forward, Abram willl be known and Abraham, and Sarai as Sarah.

There are several astonishing things about this interaction. First, it is astonishing that God enters into this covenant in the first place. God clearly desires relationship with humanity. This is not an equal relationship. What's in it for God? The whole trajectory of the Hebrew Scripture seems to be about God's ongoing desire to be in relationship with the people God created.

Secondly, this passage reveals God's absolutely extravagant nature. God makes unbelievable promises. God tells a 99 year old wandering nomad with a 90 year old wife that they will have land, offspring, and blessing. How impossible is that? How very very unlikely? And while Abraham's response is to laugh, God lives up to God's end of the deal - and delivers (and, apparently, so does Abraham).

Thirdly, the covenant required that Abraham and his progeny to walk before God and be blameless. I'm not a total Hebrew expert, but it appears that the phrase walk before God and be blameless could also be translated as live your life with integrity.

The final interesting thing about this story has to do with when scholars believe it was recorded. As with what seems like a great deal of the written record of Israel's history, scholars believe that this story was written down during the Babylonian captivity. So, when things looked like the absolute worst for the people of Israel, when they were away from their land, when they no longer believed themselves to be favored by God, when things looked blackest, one of their number put down in writing a story they had probably been telling forever. A story of how God promised them some extraordinary things. Crazy things. Unbelievably abundant things. And then came through with God's end of the bargain.

We might, at this time in history, be living in our own version of the Babylonian captivity. Words like financial meltdown and economic crisis drop into every conversation. We watch our retirement accounts dwindle. Businesses fail. And we wonder what will become of us. How do we hear this story of extravagant abundance? Can we believe it? And, if we continue to be covenant partners with God, what does it look like for us to live our lives with integrity? What does faithful living look like today?

I think that the first step might be to continually remember the extraordinary abundance of God. God continually does the unexpected and does it in really big ways. Land for nomads?
Check. Children for old people? Check. Hope in exile. Check.

And then, I think we need to remember that abundance when we are most inclined to forget it. Fear blocks our capacity to see possibilities. Fear takes away our creativity. So, just as it very likely did for the people of Israel, telling this story is part of the solution. When we tell the story of God's crazy abundance, we live with integrity, and send our fears packing.

1 comment:

Lynne said...

Telling the stories is a very powerful way to live that relationship with God. (Like Passover, for example.) We tell the stories, we pass them on to others, and by keeping the stories new we keep our relationship to God strong and personal. :o)