My sermons always come from the texts assigned for a given day by the Revised Common Lectionary. This week’s texts include Genesis 15, my launchpad for what follows.
In Genesis 12 we read about the Eternal One’s first interaction with Abram in the land of Haran. “Now the Lord God say to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the ones who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” Just prior to this interaction, we read some important words, it came in the genealogy of Terah, Abram’s father, those parts of scripture we often jump right over assuming a list of names that will gloss our eyes over is better left alone. But at the very end of Genesis 11 we read this: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, was barren; she had no child.
And there’s the rub: God declares: “I will make of you a great nation.” “Sarai had no child.” But Abram doesn’t question that at all; he simply sets out as God directs. Some adventures take place between then and our reading today: a drought leads the couple to Egypt where Abram acquires a great deal of livestock, wealth and servants; he and his nephew Lot (who had traveled with them since the beginning) part ways; Lot gets taken by a handful of rogue kings, and Abram and his men rescue him; and finally Abram receives a blessing from the priestly king Melichizedek to whom Abram gives a tenth of his wealth, establishing the tithe.
Which brings us to our text this morning. “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.’” It’s a been a couple of years since God made those promises to Abram about making him a great nation. And Abram has a couple of questions. First, that elephant in the room. He and Sarai don’t have a child. “Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless and the heir of my house is a slave who is of no relation to me.”
He questions God. It’s been a couple of years since those promises were made. Perhaps God has forgotten. Or maybe Abram misunderstood, and what God really meant was that a member of Abram’s household, a servant he had acquired on his travels would be a blessing to the world.
God’s answer comes swiftly and directly. “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” “Abram, someday you’ll be a daddy!” And to drive that point home God tells him to look up at the stars in the night sky. Count those stars, Abram, if you can. Now he wasn’t looking up at the stars from mid-town Manhattan or even the eastern seaboard. Light pollution didn’t exist. Nowadays to get that sort of glimpse we’re talking about you need to head over to a declared Dark Sky Park; there’s only a handful in the US. But I can attest that even being out in the summer at Sand Beach in Acadia National Park will give you an idea of the immensity, of the unbelievable number of descendants God has in mind. It’s too many to count. Scientist’s now estimate that there are a 100 billion stars or so in a single galaxy. In other words, Abe, if you got all your descendants together for a family reunion picnic, you’d never remember all their names, and you can forget trying to send all of them a birthday card.
He believed the Lord, we’re told, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. He took God at God’s word, and Abe was seen as upright.
We get one more scene, God telling Abram that he would possess the land he had settled in—the land of Canaan—and he asks how; he needs a sign. What happens next is a rite—a religious type of service—to show the seriousness of the covenant with Abram taking animals and laying them out. He falls into a deep sleep and God walks through the divided animals. The other place this happens in the Bible—in Jeremiah—the participants walk through the animals and called upon God to bring about their demise if they failed to uphold the covenant made on that day. This then is a cross- my-heart-hope-to-die ritual to the nth degree. God swears to it; Abram’s descendants will inherit the land.
We’re just finishing our first full week of Lent, 10 days in if you’re counting at home, and already the stores are filled with Easter paraphernalia—the peeps and the holiday M&Ms in their bright colors and the egg shaped Resees peanut butter cups. I’ve received my Easter cooking magazines so I can get on top of my game. But I know I’ve got a bit more to learn from God as I wander with Jesus in the wilderness. About dependence and trust and knowing that God will take care of my needs.
We want to rush things at times. We want to put in a quarter of the time and then ask when God’s going to fulfill the promises or the dreams given to us. We want the pay-off quickly. Because who wouldn’t want to jump the gun and head to the store and pick up some Easter treats and start celebrating right now?
Poor Abraham—that is who we are talking about, by the way—has been at it a few years already and he’s beginning to wonder if this child of his will ever arrive, if Sarah will ever get pregnant. He’s doubting the promise given to him by the Almighty for some pretty good reasons, at least from our perspective. It’s been a few years, God. He’s trusted and been faithful and followed your lead. How long must it continue before you fulfill this anticipated promise?
“Be patient,” the Almighty responds. “Look at the stars. You can’t even begin to count the ones I’ve poured out into the Milky Way. You’ll have more descendants than that.” And then God swears to that promise and the one about the land in as powerful a dream as you can imagine.
Imagine Abram then. He’s ecstatic! God has double-downed on this promise of a child! And now that God’s said it twice, it must be just around the corner.
Yet God has a way of being God. Of not being concerned with the timing we have. Of making sure that we come to rely solely on God’s providence in our lives with trust and faith, recognizing that it’s not something we can do through our own will power and muster and lives.
Now the rest of the story: God finally delivers on the promise of an heir for Abraham, but it takes another 13 years or so. When Abram has his doubts, he’s two years in to a 15 year waiting period. Sarah does indeed conceive but she’s way beyond child-bearing years. God makes certain that everyone knows this is God’s doing. That God remains faithful.
When we’re faced with the people of Scripture, we often wonder what we ourselves would do. Two years seems long enough in my book to show faithfulness and trust, but that’s because two years sometimes feels like an eternity when you’re waiting for some good thing to happen. To finish writing that book or launching that idea or completing a degree or getting married or adopting a child. Two years seems long enough to become the people we sense God calling us to be deep in our souls, the life that we imagine that makes us leap for joy, the call that we share only with a couple of friends if that. I believe those yearnings come from God to show us the dream that God gives to us so that we might also be a blessing to this world.
But that dream takes time. It takes going through dry months in the Egypts of our lives. It means having doubts and wanting signs and thinking of throwing in the towel. We begin to question if this is really God’s way at all because we’re 10 days in to a 40 day journey and it feels long enough already. And God takes us outside and shows us the stars and tells us to dream some more because God is going to do more than we could ever ask or imagine so that we can be a blessing to the world. But God will not be rushed. This will be on God’s time. So we, like Abram, must continue the journey, not sitting down and giving up until God delivers, but moving forward toward the point God has shown us. Patiently trusting and believing in God’s promise, and living as if that promise has already come true.
So be patient during this season in the wilderness. Trust in God’s goodness for your life. Keep the faith and put one foot in front of the other, working toward the dream God has shown you. God will give you strength and encouragement. And God will not break the promises made, for you too are a descendent of Abraham, and you are called to be a blessing to the world. Amen.