Its About You But Not Just You 2-25-18

In this sermon, based on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, I explore God’s ongoing covenant with Abraham. This promise continues to build on each step that God has laid out before, eventually going on to bless the entire world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-about-you-but-not-just-you-2-25-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As I continue to get older, I’m constantly being reminded that I am a creature of habit…and perhaps the greatest evidence of this happens when I’m driving my wife’s car. Now, many of you are likely aware of where I park. My maroon car sits on the other side of the parking lot, and has ever since we moved to town…and so its utter habit for me as I’m coming home to roll right past the driveway and swing into the parking lot…and in those instances when I’m in my wife’s car, its always right AFTER I pull into the parking lot that I realize my folly and I have to swing it around and pull into the garage.

This habit…and this tendency to always park in the same place goes way back for me…it’s a habit that I’ve had ever since I started driving. And my parking spot when I was a teenager was right alongside the garage at my parent’s place…a detached garage about 75 feet away from the front door…and just like my habit of pulling into the parking lot now…I would come driving into the yard and swing right up next the garage before throwing it in park and walking into the house.

Now I can remember doing that very thing countless times while I still lived with my parents…and more often than not it was after dark….because of course I was a teenager and I stayed out late…and I can remember, more often than not…of seeing the beautiful stars as I walked through the yard…and I can remember one time in particular…as I stepped out of the car and walked towards the door…of how amazingly bright and clear the stars were…even more vivid than normal…and it wasn’t until I walked inside to find candles lit that I realized the power was off and so the yard light was off.

Now this raises the question…have you ever seen the stars in the absence of light pollution…because it is utterly breathtaking…the clarity…and perhaps even more amazing…the magnitude of the stars in the night sky…a number that is beyond counting. (Pause)
Now perhaps you see where I’m going with this. Today’s scripture features Abraham…or Abram as he’s known on the front of end of today’s story…a man known as the first of the Old Testament patriarchs…a figure from the Old Testament who is arguably one of the most important and well known…probably right on par with Moses who’ll pop up in the book of Exodus a few centuries later.

A man…seemingly plucked from obscurity…chosen by God…and told…promised…that he would be blessed…that his name would become great…and that he would be the father of many nations…a promise which was illustrated by God telling him to go outside and look at the night sky…look and see the stars in their multitude…so shall your descendants be. (pause)
But Abram…his whole story is pretty incredible. For starters he’s a direct descendent of Noah, who we heard about last week…he was born about 10 or 11 generations after Noah, and Abram falls in the line of the oldest son of each respective generation…each father passing along the inheritance…the wealth…the power and influence to his oldest son…generation after generation until we get to Teran, Abram’s dad. Now over the course of these generations its thought that they amassed a fair amount of wealth and influence…and where they lived along the Euphrates river in present day Iraq, Abram’s family were the movers and the shakers…and then along comes God…telling Abram that he should leave the house of his father and go off into some unknown land that God will show him. And funny enough Abram says “Okay.”

Now here’s the thing…Abram is already 75 years old when this happens…no spring chicken by any means…though we do hear later that he lives another 100 years beyond this point so even though he’s well aged by this point, we could argue that Abram is still middle aged.

And Abram will go on variety of adventures during his time in the scriptures…his story covers a fair amount of Genesis, 20 or so odd chapters. There are some ups and downs…he prospers as God makes good on the promise to make his name great…but he also does some really dumb stuff like trying to pass off his wife Sarai as his sister for personal gain and saving his own skin…and not just once, but he does this twice.

Now for a few years…Abram and Sarai, along with their household travel around…before finally one night God appears to Abram again…and Abram has a question…Hey Lord…remember how you told me that I was going to be the father of many nations? Yah…umm…I don’t know if you noticed or not…but ummmm…I don’t have any kids…and my heir is just a dude that works for me…and you know I’m not getting any younger…and neither is Sarai…so you know umm…what should we do about that?

And God tells him to look at the stars once again…and God tells him the promise again…but this time God does something a little different…and God makes a covenant…but God does it in a really odd way. You see there was this custom that when two people made a covenant they’d take livestock…and they’d sacrifice them…and they’d cut the carcass in half and lay the pieces out on the ground…and then they’d walk between the pieces saying “If I don’t hold my end of the covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me.” But God does things a little different…he has Abram cut up the animals and lay them out…but then as Abram watches…God appears as a firey lamp that passes between the animals…and God promises to give the land where they are to the descendants of Abram….like Noah last week, Abram receives a one-sided promise…and all he has to do is continue to trust that God will do what God says He’ll do. (pause)
Now, we gotta fast forward a few more years…Abram is about 86 now…so its been 10 or 11 years since God started making these promises…one that builds upon the one before it. And Abram still believes that God is going to give him descendants…but again…he and Sarai aren’t getting any younger…and they decide to take matters into their own hands…and Sarai gives her slave Hagar to Abram saying “Have children for me through her.” Yes its odd…but it happened in those days…it was actually quite common…and it worked…Abram has a son named Ishmael…And now, this whole situation does cause some angst in the household. But for the most part…Abram…well, he’s kinda okay…he’s got his son…he’s got a descendent…so maybe just maybe God’s finally making good on this whole thing…and with that we fast forward another 13 years…13 years…almost 25 since God made the promise in the first place…and for those 13 years, I can only imagine that Abram felt like everything was as it was supposed to be. (pause)
But God wasn’t done yet…because when God makes a promise…or in this case a covenant…it seems to me that God means it, even if God’s timing doesn’t quite line up with ours…and finally when Abram has reached the impressive age of 99…God shows up again.

Now here’s the thing about what we hear today…we hear, once again…that God makes a covenant…that God repeats the promise…and just like we heard before…God takes that same promise and goes one step farther.  First it was…leave your father’s house…leave his realm…leave everything that is familiar and beneficial for you…and go and I’ll give you lots of descendants…then a few years and several wacky adventures later…the promise grew to include the land…and now the promise grows yet again…we still hear of descendants…but we also hear that the covenant is between God and Abram…but its also between God and his offspring throughout all of their generations…an everlasting covenant that goes far beyond this one guy.

Now there’s some different stuff going on here…Abram is probably thinking to himself…well yah God…I’ve got my son here with me…we’re all good…but God’s not done…and we see another step…a name change…and Abram, which means exalted father by the way…becomes Abraham, which means father of many.

He receives a new identity because of what God is doing in him and through him…because of the promises made by God on his behalf…he is not the same person that he was before…And God takes this theme…this new idea of a new identity a step beyond Abraham…and we find that Sarai receives a new name as well…a new name that reminds Abraham that this promise of God is NOT just about him…but that whatever it is that God is up to…this new thing that is coming about through this covenant…through these ongoing…building…promises…it involves more than just one person. For God’s promise…whether they had trouble living up to it or not…was going to occur through Abraham and Sarah…and that the generations to come would come through her.

And yet…there is also truth in the promise that Abraham was the father of different nations…for blessings passed to Ishmael who would become the Arab nation…and blessings would pass to Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, who would become the Jewish nation…and following the death of Sarah, Abraham remarried and had more children who would go to form other tribes and people…truly when God makes a promise, God makes good on it. (pause)We see this in the literal case for Abraham and his children…and we see it in the ongoing promise that God brings about through the covenant with Abraham and Sarah.
But what does all this mean for us today? That is, perhaps, the most important question…what can we learn…what truth can we take…what hope can we find in this story? (pause) Perhaps the truth that we find is in the reminder that the promises God makes on our behalf…they aren’t just limited to us. We are included in this original promise and covenant that God made with Abraham…we are included in the generations that came after him…we are heirs to this promise…but just as God continued to build on the promises he made each time to Abraham…God has continued to build upon the promises as they come to us…and through Christ…through what Christ has done…we are also given a new identity, just as Abraham was. We are given the identity, beloved child of God.

But we must also remember that this new identity given to us by God, goes beyond us as individuals.  The good news of Jesus Christ is meant to bless all the world…and in response to the grace that God has shown us when we are claimed…the blessing flows through us into others…and just as Sarai became Sarah through the promise made to Abraham…the promise that we are made God’s children flows through us and changes the identity of those who come after us. (pause)

Now I started this whole thing off by talking about the stars…and here’s the thing about the stars…about the amazingly vast cosmos out there.  When the lights are all off…we can see a mind-blowing number of stars…but the number of stars in the heavens that we can’t see…its beyond measure. And the same God who made them…who placed them in the cosmos has made a promise that we are all a part of…that his blessing is also beyond measure…its beyond measure in its magnitude for each of us as an individual…and its beyond measure in the scope of who its for…reaching far beyond what we can see or comprehend.

May you remember that the promises of God that are found in the scriptures…they’re about you…but not only you. May they pass through you to bless others as well. Amen.

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