September 13, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[a]
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak[b] of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring[c] I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Hoping against hope…hoping against hope. Romans, chapter 4, says some powerful things about the Abram-Sarai (Abraham-Sarah) story. “Hoping against hope, Abraham believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘so numerous shall your descendants be.’ Abraham did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. NO! No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God…being FULLY convinced that God was able to do what God had promised.” Hoping against hope. The Apostle Paul writes powerfully on this key story from the Book of Genesis. The story of Abraham and Sarah, beginning in chapter 12 of Genesis, is the lynchpin for all of Hebrew Scriptures and beyond. Here is the KEY to how God operates in the world…God’s modus operandi. Hoping against hope.
Up to this point in the Book of Genesis, the first eleven chapters, the stories (among other things) have been demonstrating how different our God is from how the world operates, how different our God is from the beliefs and idols of other nations. These stories describe how humans sometimes get things horribly wrong and the natural consequences that arise from such actions. But, they then tell us about the greatness of God’s mercy. God clothed Adam and Eve to cover their newly discovered nakedness. God protected Cain after he murdered his brother instead of ordering an execution. When the builders of Babel’s Tower sought to erect a monument to human greatness, to spite God, God sent them forth to fill the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, as God had always intended for humanity, instead of offering harsh punishment. Our God is good and faithful, full of steadfast love and mercy. Those are the stories of chapters one through eleven. In chapter 12, everything changes. As chapter 11 gives way to chapter 12, everything shifts gears and the book now tells us how God works, how God operates in showing mercy to a hurting world. God works through unlikely, ordinary individuals to bless and transform the world. God works by transforming what seems impossible into rich, vibrant, life-giving reality. Our God makes a way out of no way.
Think of the classical, musical movie, The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews. The movie begins with a wide-angle shot of the glorious mountains of Austria. The music swells as the camera sweeps over the gorgeous mountains and forests. Then, the camera begins to focus on a tiny figure, running across one mountaintop. The camera zooms in closer and closer until we are up close with Julie Andrews as Maria as she begins to spin and sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” Genesis begins in much the same way, with the widest of possible shots, God’s creation of all the heavens and the earth. The picture remains wide as we see the beginnings of humanity. And then, as chapter 12 is set to begin, the camera zooms in tight to focus in on Abram, son of Terah, living in Haran. Abram is just an ordinary man, nothing special. He is married to a woman named Sarai. Here, in this couple, God will begin the work of restoration and redemption for all of creation. Here, in this couple, God will invest God’s fullness of life to transform the world, to be a blessing to all families of the earth. But wait! Chapter 11 ends with a wrench in the works. This can’t be right! Sarai and Abram are barren…unable to reproduce. Can God truly believe that God’s life-giving work and redemption can be realized in a couple without the ability to produce life? Yes! Exactly right! Hoping against hope!
The dictionary defines ‘barren’ as ‘unable to reproduce,’ ‘that which is unproductive,’ ‘devoid,’ ‘desolate,’ ‘lacking,’ ‘empty,’ ‘without life.’ I imagine there have been many times that Abram and Sarai felt exactly that. This is still very early in the Book of Genesis and the command to be fruitful and multiply has been repeated several times and it reverberates loudly in all creation. Children, at this time in human history, are vital to the survival of families, of the human species. Abram and Sarai are without, and at the opening of chapter 12, are well into their 70s (they will be 100 before the promised baby arrives). Into this emptiness, God speaks a new creative word…a blessing. Here, with a couple who feels as if they are devoid and lacking, God will show exactly what God is all about. “Partner with me,” God says, “Let’s start a new thing together. Go to where I show you. Journey to a new land with me. In you I will create a new way of living in and with the world. In you I will build a new community, a holy nation.” God partners with Abram and Sarai to create a people whose lives will be a testament to life, even when all seems barren. Hoping against hope, Abram believed…and Abram went.
This is how God brings life out of death. This is how God brings love out of hate, joy out of sorrow. This is how God restores and redeems. Time and again God calls the most unlikely individuals and small, intimate groups, into a deeper relationship with God, partnering to show God’s way of living to the world. Barrenness gives way to new life. Compassion transforms the world. Love wins! And then, in the ultimate moment, God goes a step further and empties God’s very self into a womb, taking on flesh, abiding among us: teaching, preaching, healing, breathing love…embracing death…rising to new life…proclaiming resurrection as the ultimate reality. Hoping against hope!
My beloved family—siblings in Christ—barrenness NEVER wins…EVER! Goodness, love, life, these are eternal. Even a pandemic that alters the world is finite. Even systemic racism that burrows deeply into the foundations of our very society will pass away. Even an earth that cries out, burning in agony, will be restored and renewed. Even the pains and struggles and fears each of us carries will crumble away! This is true because God continues to speak God’s creative word through any emptiness and desolation, into you…into me…into us! God calls us, ordinary and unlikely people. God declares that in us all the families of the earth shall be blessed. God proclaims that in us the Spirit of God dwells. We are temples of the holy, shining with the eternal light of God. In us God’s goodness and faithfulness, God’s steadfast love and mercy, reach out to touch and transform the world. Our call is to open ourselves to this awesome God, this God who makes a way out of no way—to deepen our relationship, the be God’s partner people.
Blessed be the God of Israel who comes to set us free;
who visits and redeems us and grants us liberty.
They prophets spoke of mercy, of freedom and release.
God shall fulfill God’s promise to bring our people peace.
Thanks be to God! Amen!