Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Abram's Faith

Genesis 15:1-6, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost C, August 11, 2013

            Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
            Here are a few interesting definitions that I found online:
DISCONFECT (dis kon fekt’) verb. To sterilize the piece of candy you dropped on the floor by blowing on it, somehow assuming this will ‘remove’ all the germs.
PEPPIER (pehp ee ay’) noun. The waiter at a fancy restaurant whose sole
purpose seems to be walking around asking diners if they want ground pepper.
PHONESIA (fo nee’ zhuh) noun. The affliction of dialing a phone number and forgetting whom you were calling just as they answer.
CARPERPETUATION (kar’ pur pet u a shun) noun. The act, when vacuuming, of running over a string or a piece of lint at least a dozen times, reaching over and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum one more chance.
            Definitions can make words come alive – whether they are for fun fake words or for theology-dependent words.  Word studies for biblical terms develop a beautiful complexity of meaning, showing how one word can be rich and deep. All of the nuances of the word make it a living term. Some of these beautiful theological words can be found in the first and second lesson today, including righteousness and faith. In the NRSV translation read today, the Greek noun pistis is translated as “faith,” and the verb pisteuo is translated as “believed.”
            We each have our own understandings of what faith is, how it works for us, and how God is involved in it.  Faith is a gift from God. Without God’s influence in our lives, we would not believe. God is so big, so loving, and so confusing that believing in God can be a challenge.
            Yet faith is so much more than believing in God. Accepting church teachings as fact is only a very small part of faith. In fact, some call the acceptance of doctrine “dead faith.” Faith is a richer, deeper concept than intellectual understanding of God.
            Our faith is alive because God is alive. God is working in and through us every day, inspiring us to do better and be better. Living faith is our relationship with God, fueled by prayer, worship, and Bible study. Our faith is grounded in the love of God, and it is that love that inspires Abram to believe God’s outrageous promise that he is going to have a son, even in his old age.

            From the beginning, Abram and God had an intriguing relationship. Abram was able to talk to God in prayer in ways that few since have dared to do, and God pushed Abram in kind. Near the beginning of Abram’s story in Genesis, God tells Abram to gather his entire household, including everyone and everything that he had, and leave. God tells them to go to “a land I will show you.” Abram did so, completely trusting God to show him the way.
            At times along the way, Abram wondered if God would keep God’s promises. These promises, that God would give Abram a son, that God would give them land, and that God would make Abram’s name great, were so outrageous that Abram couldn’t help but wonder. Certainly, Abram had to wait many, many years before all of these promises were fulfilled.
            During the passage read this morning, the Lord says in a vision to Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great." Feisty as ever, Abram pushes back. “How can my reward be great,” Abram prays, “if I don’t have a son to pass on my legacy? I only have a servant as my heir!” And the Lord rebuts in kind, “This servant is not your heir! You will have a son! Look at the stars in the sky. They are too many to count, yet your family will be as many as these.” As crazy as it sounded, Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord treated his faith as righteousness.
            The fact that Abram believed the promises that the Lord gave him did not help these blessings to come true any sooner. Abram and Sarai had to wait many years before Isaac came along. When he did, they rejoiced! They loved that little boy and watched him grow into adulthood. They lived a simple, happy life together, trusting that the Lord would provide.
            This Abram, whom God later renamed Abraham, continued to be an inspiration to believers long after his death. His story as recorded in scripture has become a model for living the life of faith.


            The biblical book of Hebrews takes this to heart. In the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the author outlines the history of Israel by describing how believers throughout history trusted God to lead them on the right path. The author writes, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God's command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” (Heb. 11:13)
            The text continues to describe how Abraham believed in God and trusted God each step of the way. Every time that God gave Abraham a command, he followed through. Although sometimes impatient, Abraham never faltered in his faith. And because of his faith in God, his descendants are as numerous as the stars.
            The author of Hebrews uses the faith of Abraham as an example for us because Abraham trusted that God would fulfill God's promises despite Abraham’s situation.  God made Abraham the head of the faithful family of Jews and Gentiles because of Abraham's simple yet living faith.
            So, here are a few new definitions:
            ABRAHAM Proper Noun.  The biological father of the Jews and the spiritual father of all believers in the one God.  This man received promises from God that extend to all of God's chosen people.
            RIGHTEOUSNESS Noun.  The integrity of God that is passed to humanity so that we might be eligible for heavenly eternal life. 

            FAITH Noun.  Belief in the one true God that extends beyond mere thoughts and ideas into a meaningful relationship with God.  God’s gift of faith is one of our greatest blessings. Amen.

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