The Second Sunday in Lent
LIVING BY FAITH
William S. Epps, Senior Pastor
1Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. 4So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. Genesis 12:1-4
This is the second Sunday in Lent. The scripture today is one of the most incredible announcements in the tradition of Israel. The family of Abraham has derived naturally from historic circumstances, as indicated in the genealogies of
Genesis 10-11. But the beginning now results in nothing. It ends in barrenness (11:30, where it says, "Sarai was barren; she had no child," no posterity, no future after her). The reference, while cryptic, seems to be only descriptive. There is no reference to cause. There is no suggestion of punishment or curse. It is simply reported that this family (and with it the whole family of Genesis 1-11) has played out its future and has nowhere else to go. Barrenness is the way of human history. It is an adequate descriptive metaphor for hopelessness and helplessness. There is no foreseeable future. There is no human power to invent a future.
But barrenness is not only the condition of hopeless humanity. The marvel of biblical faith is that barrenness is the arena of God's life-giving activity. Barrenness is no stranger to this new family of promise. After Sarah, Rebekah (25:21/ Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived Jacob and Esau); Rachel (29:31/ Rachel was barren/ 30:22 / Then God remembered Rachel and God heeded her and opened her womb and she conceived and bore a son and said, "God had taken away my reproach," and she name him Joseph), and Hannah (I Samuel 1:2 Hannah had no children)
she was barren. So also was Israel barren in exile (Isaiah 54:1/ "Sing O barren one who did not bear; burst into song and shout you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.").
Consider what it means that barrenness
is the arena of God’s life giving activity.
A proper hearing of the Abraham/Sarah texts depends upon the vitality of the metaphor of barrenness. It announces that this family begins its life in a situation of irreparable hopelessness.
Now God works with one family as a model for others. Sarai and Abram were chosen not for special privilege but for witness. God chose them to be conduits of the knowledge of blessing to the wider human community. The story is a paradigm for subsequent generations. Given the age and circumstances of Sarai and Abram, it seemed unlikely that these promises could come true. Yet, these two responded by doing what God said, and discovered that God could bring about the promise. Where in the world do possibilities for blessings seem unlikely? This couple reminds us that God can take the barrenness of life and bring about new hope, life and possibilities?
This is a pivotal passage in Genesis. It links the traditions of God's providential care for the world, and God's electing to call Israel. It also presents a primary model for the promise-making word of God. The intrusive word of God makes a beginning for this family and the start of a risky life of faith.
If it had been our task to begin a new history, we would have done so in a more hopeful context. But not this God. God speaks a powerful word directly into a situation of barrenness. This is the ground of the good news. This God does not depend on any potentiality in the one addressed. Abraham and Sarah were quite without potential. The speech of God carries in itself all that is necessary to begin a new people in history. The power of this summoning word is without analogy. It is a word about the future spoken to this family who seemingly had no hope of a future. Barrenness marks the deep futility of Israel. Speech of God asserts the freedom and power of God to work God’s will among the hopeless. The remainder of the text is simply the announcement that the speech of God overcomes and overpowers the barrenness of human reality.
The speech of God has its own way over the barrenness: "The Lord said..."
The speech of this God is at the same time imperative and promises assurance.
The barren one is moved and comes to life. The speech of God brings people to faithful response; people who heretofore had no capacity for any response.
Abraham is presented as the perfectly faithful person. He is called and he goes.
He relies only on the name and the word of this God who has suddenly inverted his life. The call of God has been fully embraced. That is where the history of Israel begins. Undoubtedly Abraham is offered as a model for the faith of Israel (as Hebrews 11 attests). Faith is not that easy. Faith is always a battle. Even father Abraham must struggle to be faithful.
Let's consider what was said to Abraham to gain insight into what the text says or suggests to us.
Consider what it means to be chosen not for special privilege but rather
to be a witness to the reality of a Presence that makes fruitful what is barren.
Firstly, living by faith is trusting the capability of the Lord.
(You trust the capability of the promiser).
"Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:"
Abraham is told to get up and leave and follow where the Lord will lead.
a) God encourages Abram to leave his familiar circle of comfort.
b) God gives him a general location of destination but not a specific place.
c) God tells him, “I will show you,” which is a promise of guidance.
God knows what we don't and reveals it to us as we trust His lead. We do need to be led to our future possibilities. The future we make for ourselves is seemingly barren, empty, sterile, unfruitful, desolate, bleak, and inhospitable.
We do need to be guided into a future with hope. The Lord is capable to lead you through the variety of changes and circumstances with which you are confronted.
"You see the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).
God leads his dear children along. In shady, green pastures,
so rich and so sweet, God leads His dear children along;
Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary one’s feet,
God leads His dear children along.
Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright,
God leads His dear children along; / Sometimes in the valley,
in darkest of night, God leads His dear children along.
Though sorrows befall us and evils oppose, God leads His dear children along; Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes,
God leads His dear children along.
Refrain: / Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood; / Some through great sorrow,
but God gives a song, / In the night season and all the day long.
Consider what it means that we do need to be led by the
providence of the Lord to the possibilities of a productive future.
Secondly, living by faith is being convicted by the promises.
Being convicted requires believing and embracing the promises that God makes. God directed Abraham to, "leave where you are and go to where I will show you."
Look at what God will do.
2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
What sustained Abraham was his belief in the fulfillment of the promises. If we respond in faith, the promises bring hope. By the time Abraham arrived in Canaan, God was already adding promises to the original group. God said, "To your offspring I will give this land." God's abundance keeps flowing.
Isn't the promise of expectation which keeps us hopeful and going despite the appearance to the contrary? How much of life is driven by the expectation of the fulfillment of promises. Promises, promises, promises - we all make promises.
The tender love of God towards us, as revealed in His gracious promises, is the
only thing that draws us to a closer walk with the Lord.
Abraham surrendered to the Lord and follow the leading of the Lord despite the delays, the detours and the distractions. Remember Sarah was barren. From the time that Abraham heard the Lord’s call and decided to trust the Lord, it took 25 years for Isaac to be born. They were detoured to Egypt due to a famine. Pharaoh had to dismiss them from his country because they compromised his integrity.
They were distracted by Lot (Genesis 13-14 and 19:36-38), their relationship was severed and each went his separate way. Distracted by Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:22-33) pleading with the Lord to spare them for the wrath that was going to come. He was distracted and made a covenant with King Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34). It was not a straight shot from promise to fulfillment. They had
a circuitous route by which they were led by the Lord, due to the privilege to make their own choices.
Yet Abraham was convinced the Lord would fulfill the promises made to him. He was encouraged to continue to persevere because he trusted in the Lord. Faith is always about who you trust, whose word you believe, what promises you embrace. Abraham kept on believing that the Lord would honor the promises the Lord makes.
Consider what it means to live by faith amid the delays, detours,
dilemmas and distractions with which we are confronted.
Thirdly, living by faith is being convince that God is able to fulfill the promises God makes.
Faith in God intervenes, intercepts and interrupts our lives. The command in Genesis 12:1 relates not to geography but to the orientation of Abraham’s innermost being. Leaving his country, his kindred and his father’s house, Abraham follows God’s initiatives into new realms of loyalty and purpose. The migration of Israel’s first family is a model for the movement of any person from despair to hope, from oldness to newness, from death to life. What Abraham does is a direct result of his faith.
The source of this new life is the speech of God that completely changes the terms of Abraham’s existence (12:1-3). The narrative gives no warning or preparation, nothing about how the voice came or sounded. The new, irresistible fact of Abraham’s life is the speech of God which places at the center of his existence
a promise, a purpose and a presence other than his own. God’s speech calls into existence for Abraham that which does not exist, until God speaks (Romans 4:17).
Consider what it means to have the Lord change the terms
of our existence with a purpose, promise, and an abiding presence.
God’s speech to Abraham requires Abraham to embrace newness, to go where he has never been, to depart all familiar markings and reference points (v. 1).
In this speech, the whole biblical journey to a new land of promise is initiated. The speech makes people of faith habitually restless, ready to dare, trusting only in the promise and the One who speaks it. Faith is indeed the capacity to risk what is in hand for what is yet to be given by this intrusive speaker (a promised future different from the present reality).
God speaks a promise to Abraham which envisions an existence not yet in hand (vs. 2-3). Abraham is invited to live in hope, to wait for fulfillment, to trust the promise maker to be a promise keeper. A dimension of possibility is introduced into human life that can never be dispelled by ruthless power, by contentious language, or by immobilizing ideology. In this speech, biblical faith sets up a dynamic of gift yet to be given, a promise yet to be kept, a word yet to be enacted. That gift, promise and word cannot be resisted by our despair, and cannot be preempted by our ingenuity. It is God’s promise, kept only in God’s power. The community of Abraham is the beneficiary of this good word, but never its administrator.
Blessing involves fertility, life, well-being, and a good name. God's focus on one particular family was from the beginning designed to be God's blessing to all the families of the earth. God's people may be tempted to turn inward, to worry only about their own survival, to consider themselves as God's only concern, or to ignore the wider community in which they live. The blessing is so that all of the families of the earth would be blessed as a result of the promise the Lord made to Abraham. Remember “the earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof and all that dwell within.” (Psalm 24:1).
Part of this blessing is that God promises Abram to "make your name great."
But God now promises to give Abram a great name as a gift with the purpose that
"you will be a blessing" (verse 3). Most importantly, God promises to Abram and Sarai that "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." We now realize that this selection of one particular family and people out of all the peoples of the earth does not entail God's abandonment of concern for the world at large. Rather, God's election of Abram is a new strategy to address the evil and violence of all humanity everywhere. God uses this family to bless all families with a message of hope in the barren realities of life, with future possibilities beyond one’s wildest aspirations, dreams and hopes.
God's chosen people never exist in isolation. They are called to a wider mission than just self-preservation. They are never allowed to claim an exclusive hold on God's concern. God remains committed to all creation and to all humanity.
You are blessed to be a blessing.
Consider what it means that you are blessed to be a blessing
so that the world benefits from your faithfulness.
Hear the intrusive word of the Lord. Let it interrupt and intercept your itinerary.
Go in faith and trust the promiser to lead you, to guide you and to give you hope
that there is a future on the distant horizon beckoning you to come.
Standing on the Promises
Standing on the promises of Christ my king,
through eternal ages let his praises ring;
glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing, / standing on the promises of God my Savior;
I’m standing on the promises of God.
Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,
standing on the promises of God. [Refrain]
Consider what it means to permit the intrusive call of the Lord to interrupt, intercept and intervene in your life with the promise
of future possibilities beyond your imagination.