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Believing Anyway

Genesis 17:1-7,15-16
Romans 4:17-21

During Lent each of our services focuses on the evolution of covenantal relationship between God and the people. Last week we remembered the covenant between God and all creation in the sign of the rainbow, and the story of Noah’s ark, in which were saved the remnants of creation to begin again after the chaos of the flood. That story, like the story of the covenant with Abraham and Sarah, were stories written down at the time of the exile when life as the Hebrew people knew it, had fallen apart. Defeated, despondent, living as strangers in a strange land, cut off from everything that gave meaning and hope, these stories helped the people to re-imagine a future different from what they were living; helped them connect with the hope that with God, a new beginning might be possible. Noah’s story reminded them that yes, chaos, and destruction, were real, but promise and new life were part of God’s intention, even when it seemed there was no hope. And the story of these ancient ancestors, Abraham and Sarah reminded them, that from barrenness, new life could come, from hopelessness, God could bring a promise, and a people. So these stories were important to sustain hope and to remind people not to write off God’s imagination, or God’s passionate hope for them, or God’s desire for fullness of life for them.

The God we meet in Genesis often has quite a sense of humour. Abram and Sarai were an ancient couple living quietly in Ur-wanting nothing more than a well deserved uneventful old age. When Abram was 75, God had called them out of Ur in the Chaldees and he and Sarai had left everything behind; their families; their established way of life. They headed off into the unknown, to live among strangers. Imagine how that changed how they thought of themselves; their identity in the world! They had done this with no guarantee, nothing but the promise that God would go with them and that they would be blessed.

They’d adjusted, well sort of, to being childless. Now they are both about 100 years old as the story goes. They may have thought they were finished …others may have thought so…but not God… Now, comes the covenant promise of land and children, at least this is how the ancient story is told. Against all odds our outrageous God makes unbelievable promises to them…that they would be the ancestors of a multitude of nations; that their descendents would be more numerous than the stars!

This God, it seems, doesn’t know the laws of genetic engineering! This God doesn’t even seem to realize the rather ungodly, rotten people these two had been in their lives. (But that’s another story) Abraham laughs at the ridiculous idea . A chapter later it is Sarah who roars with laughter at such a thought. They were challenged to believe in hopeful choices when it seemed quite ridiculous to do so.

The whole direction of their lives changed. And they were given new names. Naming in scripture is about identity and relationship. This covenant is written into the identity of Sarai and Abram as they are renamed by God; given a new identity , a new way of seeing themselves, a new beginning when they thought they were facing an ending…..

As the story goes, from this unlikely and even messy beginning, came a covenant people-our ancestors in the faith. Our earliest roots are in outrageous promise, to unlikely and not particularly deserving candidates. This God has a sense of humour! But then an even more outrageous thing happened. They had a son, Isaac! And now Jews, Muslims, Christians all over the world look to Abraham and Sarah as our ancestors in the faith-Many nations, even many faiths have come from this covenant promise.

It is amazing and sad that these three faiths, with such a founding figure in common, have had such bitter and destructive interactions over many centuries. Even in our own time, relationships in the Middle East seem such a long way from peaceful resolution. During Lent we have an opportunity to learn about Islam this coming Wed. and Judaism the following week in the hopes of being part of creating respectful dialogue amongst faiths which share many common stories.

So let’s enter this ancient story through the lens of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul says Abraham didn’t get God’s attention by living like a saint. Indeed from other stories about him in scripture we know he was anything BUT a saint. Paul says “God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Abraham became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do.” And that suggest Paul, is how we are called to live.

Believing anyway! Choosing to live not on the basis of what you see you can’t do, but on the basis of what God says you would do. Not focusing on the negative, not focusing on what feels impossible, not focusing on powerlessness, but choosing to live out of God’s intention for you… choosing to live knowing that you are part of God’s promise. Not bad advice for us in these days of economic turmoil, and fearful media stories. What difference would it make in our lives if we lived that way? What difference would it make in the life of our congregation if we lived that way?

Choosing to live not on the basis of what you see you can’t do, but on the basis of what God says you would do.

As John Bell from the Iona community says.

“One of the less savoury aspects of contemporary society seems to be the desire to categorize people according to their deficiencies, rather than call them by their names.

So we talk about the physically challenged, the mentally challenged, the abuse victim, the anorexic, the overeater, the divorcee, the single parent, the cross-dresser, the agoraphobic.

And true as these descriptions might be, there are two greater truths with which we have to deal in the face of Jesus Christ.

The one is that God does not define us by our problems or our past. And if God does not, why should we?”

Choosing to live not on the basis of what you see you can’t do, but on the basis of what God says you would do.

• Have you ever been presented with a situation that seem hopeless, unbelievable, beyond our wildest dreams? have you ever, like Sarah and Abraham, dared to risk and live each day with trust in the promises of God? What has happened?

• Have you ever, like Abraham and Sarah, been called or invited to undertake great journeys – literally or figuratively- a move to a new job in a strange city; becoming a parent; becoming a parent to your parent in their old age; losing a job; losing a partner; being called to change careers; following your heart despite the uncertainty; retirement; What tempts you to go forward? What tempts you to stay back? How comfortable are you with the idea of letting go?

• What difference does knowing that you are part of God’s promise make to your day to day living?

These are just some of the questions this story raises in me.

Choosing to live not on the basis of what you see you can’t do, but on the basis of what God says you would do.

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