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01.14.18 Promise and Performance Genesis 15:1-2, 5-15 Sermon Summary

by on January 17, 2018

Note: This message was delivered in first person, as Abram, and is based on Genesis 15:1-2, 5-15.

It’s been a while since we last talked, since we walked from Haran to Canaan, leaving behind everything that was familiar to me. We went to Egypt and back again because of the famine. What an inconvenience that was! We built altars along the way, remembering together God’s calling and faithfulness. It’s been not quite 10 years. I’ve not seen my 85 birthday.

Lot finally went out on his own. You remember my brother’s son. But he got in some trouble. There was this battle between four kings on one side and five on the other. Lot got himself captured. Typical.

So I and 318 of my men joined the five kings. We rescued Lot. I might have been proud of this except for this mysterious guy Melchizedek. He was king and priest of Salem. He appeared out of nowhere, then disappeared again just as fast. He brought me bread and wine. He blessed me, giving thanks to “God Most High” for our victory.

I gave him a tithe, you know, a tenth of everything we had acquired. It seemed the right thing to do, having been blessed and all. I gave it out of our thanksgiving. I recommend the practice to you.

Anyway, it kept me humble. The victory wasn’t mine. The spoils of our labors weren’t mine. They came from God. Melchizedek helped me remember that.

So with these battles in mind, I suppose, God came to me in a vision again. “I am your shield,” he said. “Shield?!” I thought. I need offspring!

Remember, God promised me a child, and I’m not getting any younger! And neither is Sarai my wife. I’m nearly 85 and she’s 10 years behind me.

I don’t know if you’ve ever hoped in a promise of God but let me tell you something. God’s timing is not our timing. We want promises to come true quickly. You expect pizza to be delivered in 20 minutes, right? There are no microwaves in the walk of faith.

Anyway, who needs a shield when you don’t have children? Well God took me outside. it was night. He told me to count the stars.  “That’s how many descendants you’ll have.”

I thought about those altars. And about what I had left behind. And about defeating those kings. And about and Melchizedek. And then about this promise about the stars and my descendants. And I believed him.

Even though I was already rich and powerful—I could have gone on. I could have gone anywhere. But there was something missing in my life despite all my success. Something I couldn’t do for myself. Something only God could do for me. So God made this promise, and I believed him. Then, you know, God reckoned it to me as righteousness.”

That’s an interesting thing. Later this Pharisee Paul will make a big deal about this. Later still a monk named Martin Luther will too. “Abram believed God, and God reckoned it as righteousness.”

Righteousness. What is that? In my day there were no 10 commandments: “You shall have no other God but me.” Moses was over 400 years away! And there were no beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Jesus wasn’t born for another 2000 years!

There was only a bunch of gods, and sacrifices to be made, and prayers to offer, and crops to harvest, and children to be raised, and enemies with different gods to defend against. This god comes to me out of nowhere making extravagant promises year after year, stage after stage, on my walk of faith. So he says my descendants will outnumber the stars, I believe him, and now I’m righteous. OK.

But God and I went back and forth. God made promises. I believed. But I also questioned. God didn’t seem to mind. In fact, God used my questions to reveal more and more to me. This took time, and it wasn’t easy. It was a conversation—praying, listening, questioning . . .

One time God made me do an elaborate ritual. I had to round up a heifer, a goat, a ram, and 2 birds. I had to cut them in half (not the birds), and set the halves opposite one another. This was a huge effort! Then I waited, and waited, and waited. There were lots of distractions. eventually vultures began to gather and I had to chase them away.

Prayer is like this also. You light your candle, you read your holy word, you kneel or fold your hands. You say your memorized prayer or go through your prayer list. And wait. And there are lots of distractions so you chase them away. And you wait.

Anyway, in this elaborate ritual it eventually became dark. Terribly dark. Terrifyingly dark—like in a dark wood. I despaired of being lost. And then finally the revelation came. Only after all this—after the ritual, after the darkness, after I fell asleep. Like Adam had to fall asleep for God to make Eve, I had to fall asleep to get the revelation.

And it was kind of a mixed revelation. I’d have descendants, that’s good. But they’d live as aliens a while in a land not their own. Legal aliens—don’t worry about that—because they would be slaves. For 400 years! But after that, they would return with great possessions.

This would take seven generations. The next three generations being relatively blessed—Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, you know. But then the next four generations would be treated as slaves. So I was thinking ahead now seven generations: My actions effecting seven generations. Wow. There’s wisdom in thinking this way. What we do has lasting consequences.

God promised us a child. Our descendants would be a blessing to us and to the whole world. That was the promise. But all that suffering! I began to question. Was it worth it? Was suffering necessary, somehow? Can there be blessing without suffering? Or maybe the point is that this God is able to bring blessing out of suffering? Who knows?

I thought about this child of blessing. I knew childbirth was painful. I knew Sarai would have to suffer through it. I knew children also brought joy and hope. Was this truth—suffering leading to blessing—just going to play out on a grand scale?

I had to decide. God said look at the stars. That would be the fruit of my faith. I thought about all those stars. Each star is a person. Each star has a name. I thought about people who inspired me from the past, like Melchizedek, for example. He was a star in that sky of blessings. I thought of others who need to be encouraged, who need to know of God’s blessing. They are a star in that sky. And I thought of myself, the one whose faith started all this blessing. We’re all among the stars God had promised would be blessed through my decision.

This walk of faith has taught me a lot so far. Like it’s never too late to follow God, and that God never stops calling.

Like how God’s rewards often follow sacrifice and suffering.

Like how God’s promises are to a group of people and not just you or me.

Like how God’s promises come through time, and that God is very patient.

Like how arduous ritual pays off. And how darkness can be a friend.

And how blessing prevails in the end, but there are lot of “meantime” experiences.

Well, till next time, keep walking in faith. Amen.


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