June 25, 2023
Scripture Reading: Genesis 18:1-15
I wonder how it would affect your reading of the Bible if you saw it as an unfolding, through the years, of God’s attempt to be known and understood by us humans. Maybe a little like the gradual unfolding of our understanding of how the solar system works.
Maybe how God dealt with Abraham is one of the first steps of God’s attempt to get acquainted with humans and begin a relationship. God’s first recorded move with Abraham was a lesson in trust. Trust is so key in learning to understand the way of being a God-follower. For Abraham it was a call to leave his home, go to a land that God would show him, and to trust.
BUT, FOLLOWING GOD – NOT ALWAYS SIMPLE
Maybe Abraham was as naïve about God’s ways as we are sometimes. Maybe he thought: “Perhaps, if I respond to God’s invitation and trust as I’ve been asked to do, everything will all fall into place rather simply.” If he thought that, he would have been sorely mistaken. To start with, God never mentioned that the Promised Land was not unoccupied, waiting to be claimed. There were Canaanites there! There were obstacles to be overcome that stood in between Abraham and God’s promise!
And then there were tangles within Abraham’s traveling companions! His nephew, Lot, was one of them! Lot was doing well for himself – family got larger, livestock increased, there were squabbles between hired hands! It was clearly time to split up, so Abraham, being a generous sort, gave Lot a choice: Go this way and the land is not so productive. Go that way and the land is better, but it’s close to the cities and they have a reputation of being wicked! You choose! Like many young bucks, Lot was a bit selfish and more than a bit ready to sow his wild oats, so he chose the city. It didn’t turn out so well for him. Lot got caught in a fight between clans, got himself captured, and Abraham had to come to his rescue.
The pathway to God’s promised Land seems to be always strewn with obstacles, struggles, and just enough grand miracles and wonderful open doors to keep you on the right direction. And all the way through we are asked to just trust. All the way through God’s got your hand and walks by your side even when you can’t see past your nose and even when the darkness seems more than you can bear.
And then…there was the baby thing! It had been a problem for Abraham for several years now. When Abram was 75 God said: “I will make you a great nation.” A little ambiguous. A few years later and some big lessons in trust, God gets more specific: “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring can also be counted.” 13:16 Nothing too ambiguous about that!
A few years after that, Abram decides it is time for a sit-down with God. “What is this, God? Do you know how we do things down here? You haven’t given me any offspring and my only heir is my slave.” 15:3. However will I have all these descendants if I have no children?
God gives him a little visual aid. Takes him outside, asks him to count the stars. And then he said: “That’s how many your descendants will be.” 15:5. And Abram said: “I believe you.” And then the Bible says:
GOD COUNTED THAT TRUST AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
That’s one of the first really powerful theological statements in the Bible. This is about “righteousness” = rightness, being in-synch, tracking together, harmonizing. To be righteous, has less to do with how well you follow the rules and how perfect you are and more to do with how well you live a life of trust in the promise and way of God!
What we don’t get about religion these days, is that it is not about how many rules you can keep – or how many rules about behavior the church can design. It is about TRUST. It is about PROMISE. It is about DEEP FULFILLMENT. But it is all of this in the middle of hard decision-making, trial and error, dead-ends, backbreaking work, and a share of simple disobedience. But even in the middle of the mess, God is faithful in spite of the blunders and even the failures.
But back to the baby thing! Abram says to God: “I don’t want to be a pain about this little matter and I do trust you as best as I know how, but in this part of the universe, we don’t have descendants without having a baby and Sarah can’t seem to produce one for me!” Sarah says: “I have an idea. What about Hagar, my slave-girl? She’s healthy! Why don’t we get a baby that way?”
I mentioned dead-ends and disobedience? They went that direction and Hagar had a baby, but it wasn’t Plan A! But do you know what? God had a chat with Abraham and said to him even after that blunder of his and Sarah’s: “Your wife Sarah shall have a son.” If one attribute stands out beside those of LOVE and TRUST, it is GRACE.
And have a baby son, they did. They called him Isaac: The One who Laughs or Rejoices! It was one of those: “I didn’t see that coming” kind of events. It was not in the plan of either Abraham or Sarah. It came out of nowhere but fit perfectly! It was the result of turning down one of those streets in life where all the signs say: “No Thru Street.” It was a God-thing!
It must have been a real head-shaker to all of Abraham and Sarah’s friends and neighbors, but I believe that every time they thought about that promise-son of theirs, they smiled and were reassured that the only life worth living is the one you live on the edge of promise and squarely in the pathway of trust.