After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Genesis 15:1
“These things” refers to many and various wonderful words and deeds of God in relating to Abram and Sarai, including the promise of land, offspring (“a great nation”), and blessing such that through Abram and Sarai “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” All that is in the first three verses of Genesis 12; soon after, in Genesis 13, God repeats the promise, this after God has saved Abram from his own foolishness in Egypt. And the story goes on in like manner; we know, of course, that both Abram and his wife are, well, elderly, and are somewhat sceptical about the promise of offspring beyond counting. And that comes out in Sunday’s text…
But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Genesis 15:2
Thank the LORD for the very human being Abram/Abraham and his wife, also a very human being, Sarai/Sarah. What would we do without them? I love them both, and am smiling as I write, heart full of gratitude for these great un-heroes of the faith, and more inspiring for it. I relish these stories of Abraham and Sarah which together make a saga of real-life people journeying a pretty bumpy road of faith with God. It’s not bumpy because of God – still getting the blame for that in our own day and age – but bumpy because of the very real humans who live this story, who journey in faith, or not, with God who is always faithful.
[God] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:5-6
So here the LORD, ever patient, repeats the promise yet again, and it appears for a moment that Abram is actually growing in faith; after God has stated the promise three or four times, Abram finally “believed the LORD.” God’s response? Very graceful, very generous: “The LORD reckoned it to [Abram] as righteousness.” Just for good measure the LORD reminds Abram about the land part of the promise, grace upon grace!
Then [God] said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” Genesis 15:7
And, very reliably, much like me (You too?) Abram reverts to his normal, bumpy faith. Abram’s doubt rises up to gnaw at the roots of his faith.
But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” Genesis 15 :8
There follows then a rather gruesome description of ancient sacrificial rites, but this makes it very clear that God is deadly serious about keeping God’s promises, and also that in this world of Abram’s, millennia ago, we might as well be on another planet in terms of cultural differences between us and them, differences so vast as to be almost unbridgeable, except for the happy reality that God is the Sovereign of every place and time, and in every time and place God is faithful, no matter how bumpy our faith journey might become.
As I was reading and re-reading this text, it occurred to me what serendipity it is that we have it for our inspiration and encouragement on the Sunday of our Annual General Meeting. How beautiful that we, with our own doubts and questions, our own bumpy road of faith – all of which we bring with us to a ‘business’ meeting like our AGM – can look back at this wonderful saga of God’s faithfulness in a time of uncertainty, of fear about the future, with people very much like us, who find it so difficult to rest in God’s promises. We ourselves can look back and see over and over again how God has been faithful in our own lives and in our life together in the church, and in the life of the church itself through twenty centuries, and yet our own fear often overwhelms our faith.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Genesis 15:12
Yes, the church is changing, and dramatically so in our North American context; the church that some of us thought would last forever no longer exists; there might be some real doubt, certainly is in my mind, that the church of our fantasies ever really did exist. But we no longer live in a society where people are part of the church because it will help them get ahead in life somehow, or because it’s expected. Call it the death of Christendom! I call it good. But, it can also feel like a deep and terrifying darkness, and too often we are responding out of fear, rather than trust in God’s faithfulness. Panic permeates our planning, rather than prayer. Hysteria takes over from hope. All this was true also for Abraham and Sarah, and it’s often true for us, as individuals, as parishes – including our beloved Cathedral Parish – and it’s true for larger expressions of the church as well.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram… Genesis 15:17-18
How is the covenant made? “When the sun had gone down and it was dark.” When the whole world looks different and we can no longer see everything, or much of anything, guess what? God is still present with us, no matter what, always faithful, always keeping covenant, always keeping God’s promises. That’s just as true now as it was long ago.
The apostle Paul, writing from a prison cell to the Philippians, reminds us of the same truth, except he says it’s even more clear now, since God’s faithfulness, God’s indefatigable love, has been most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The church may look and feel different, and we may feel unsure, unsteady, but the future which God has planned is nothing short of glorious. In fact, Paul pretty much guarantees that there will be change, or he tells us that God at work in Christ Jesus guarantees it. And, oh, by the way, that’s a good thing!
[Christ] will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory. Philippians 3:21
So, even if the future is not altogether clear for us, that’s OK. We can go on, even into an AGM, at peace in God’s faithfulness, knowing that Christ himself is at work among us, to transform us into what God desires for us and for the world, this world loved so much by God.
Thanks again, Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah, for this word of encouragement as we look forward to our AGM. Knowing all this, the gathering becomes a celebration, a time for thanksgiving, rich in hope for our future in Christ, whatever that will look like we know that it will be rich in joy.
Thanks be to God!