“Glimpses of Grace”
By Rev. Jennifer Christenson
For Christus Lutheran Church, Greenville, Wis.
February 24, 2013
Second Sunday of Lent – Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2015:1-12,%2017-18&version=NIV
Abram, or Abraham, as he is more commonly known, is often considered to be one of the giants of the faith. A biblical hero who was a unanimous first ballot for the Bible Heroes Hall of Fame. A guy who will always show up on all of the Top Ten lists of super important people in the Bible.
Which is why it is a bit refreshing to see Abram/Abraham, giant of the faith that he is, directly questioning God about all the big plans and promises God had for Abram and his wife Sarai/Sarah.
The Old Testament reading for this second Sunday of Lent opens with a promise to Abram from the LORD. “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
Now this is not the first time the Lord has shown up and made grandiose promises to Abram. Back in Chapter 12 of Genesis, the Lord tells Abram to get up and go to the land that God would show him, and also promised him at that time to make of Abram and his barren wife a great nation. Many biblical scholars believe that this is the “reward” God refers to in the above statement.
At that particular time, Abram got up and went. But now, many years and several adventures and one daring rescue of Abram’s nephew Lot later, Abram had acquired a certain degree of wealth: slaves (including one Eliezer of Damascus), sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels and the like… Nonetheless, he was, to that point, still landless and still childless. And neither he nor his wife were getting any younger.
And so, when the Lord showed up again all full of promise, THIS time Abram has a few questions. Yeah, so about that very great reward. Tell me again how that all is going to work. Because, you know, right now a slave in my household is my only so-called heir and quite frankly, that’s not what I would call “very great”. So, what gives? What’s the plan?
This pillar of faith, this Bible hero extraordinaire, upon hearing the Lord’s promise reiterated to him, doesn’t just say, ”Okay.” He wonders, maybe even doubts, definitely asks some questions.
And truly, I don’t see this questioning as a stain on his record as a great man of faith. I think it is part of what MAKES him a great man of faith.
As nice as it would be to have blind, trusting, simple faith that just kind of goes along with whatever comes along, our Creator fashioned us differently. We have been blessed with inquisitive minds and hearts. We have been blessed with the gifts of reason and logic. We have been blessed with the ability to ask, to dream, and to wonder. We were made that way, lovingly and purposefully.
Thus, it is surely not a surprise to our Creator that we would make use of those gifts when navigating our relationship with him and as we strive to make our way as God’s faithful people.
Questions are as much a part of faith as trust is. For it is through wrestling with the whys and hows of faith…and faithful living…and who God is…and who we are in relation to God and to each other…it’s through all of that wrestling that faith can and does deepen and grow.
And too, those times we ask God, “Why?” or wish for just a few more details with regard to God’s vast, eternal plan and the ways in which God will fulfill God’s promises…it’s not because we DON’T trust God, but because we do.
God, I know you’re good in the truest sense of that word, so what’s up with all of the evil in the world you created?
God, I know you love me, so what’s the deal with this chronic illness, this never-ending heartache, this rejection by my peers, this…insert your own wound here.
God, I know you said you’d always be with me, so why do you feel so far away?
So it is with Abram in our Old Testament reading for today. God, I believe you about all this promised heir and promised land thing, I really, really do. I packed up my family and left for this promised land with nary a question. I’ve waited patiently for my wife to run up to me with the news that our long-awaited child is on the way and…well, what am I missing? Did I misinterpret your Word, your promises? When and how is this all going to happen?
And God, the Lord Almighty, doesn’t just whip out a can of Insta-Smite and reduce old Abram to a pile of ashes and dust. Rather, God takes Abram on a walk. Takes him on a walk outside to view the starry night sky. Look up at the stars above, try to count them, I dare you! Now listen again, Abram, your heir will be your own flesh and blood child, not a slave in your household. And, on top of that, your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky above you.
And oddly enough, although truly no new juicy details regarding the when and the how this promise would be fulfilled…despite no new information given at all… Abram believes. Abram believes. And God saw that his belief was good and reckoned it to Abram as righteousness. Meaning, God called Abram righteous even though all Abram had done, if you can even call it a “doing”, was take God at God’s word once more.
And this too, this trust, this belief, may be why Abram is considered to be a pillar of the faith.
Then again, note that RIGHT AFTER that touching moment of faith God also reminds Abram about the land that had been promised him too. And Abram’s response wasn’t a trust-filled, “Right, I’m looking forward to that too” but “Yeah, I’ve heard that before too, so now how can I be sure THAT will happen?” Which then leads to the moderately gruesome and somewhat mysterious scene of Abram sacrificing animals, waving off vultures, falling asleep in the midst of a terrifying darkness, and the Lord passing through the animal heaps disguised as a smoking fire pot and flaming torch. That scene, briefly, being the part where God makes a one-sided promise to Abram that yes, this will happen, just as God said.
Back to Abram, it is not inherently unfaithful to want to know more about the amazing, mysterious, awe-inspiring God we worship and adore, and more about what this God has in store for us. God made us inquisitive, and perhaps wants us to experience the joy, the frustration, the relief and more that comes along with the journey of faith.
Perhaps, too, that’s precisely why, just as God did for Abram, God also gives us glimpses of God’s heart and God’s plans for our future as individuals and as a people. Now these glimpses, no doubt, are subtle. Abram looking at the stars was not exactly the same as him being given a road map or detailed step-by-step fifteen-point plan explaining exactly when and where the promised heir would come to be.
It was stars, just stars. And yet it was a glimpse, and somehow it was enough. And, in the beauty of God’s plan, those stars were also something that Abram could share with his wife and together, when their faith began to falter again and things seemed hazy and the fulfillment of the promise unlikely, they could gaze upon those stars and have their faith renewed.
And so God, too, gives us glimpses of how the promises made to us, for us, not in a dark, scary place with a bunch of dead animals laying around as it was for Abram, but in baptism… God does give us glimpses of how the promises made to us and for us will be fulfilled. We see those glimpses through the stories of biblical heroes like Abram. Abram, a guy who had moments of profound faith and moments of doubt and questions, moments of perfect obedience and moments of interfering and really muddling up God’s plans.
We too, are given glimpses. And we see, we catch these glimpses perhaps most clearly in Jesus, who, despite centuries and millennia of study and meditation and more, still remains a bit of an enigma, a bit of mystery to the faithful. Yet still, we see in Jesus God’s desire for us to love one another as we have been loved; and to include and embrace the outcasts among us; and to weep with those who mourn; and to feed the hungry in body and spirit. We glimpse above all in Jesus God’s ultimate plan for all of us – which is not the annihilation and nothingness of death and sin, but resurrection and life everlasting. Resurrection and life everlasting – here on earth and in the promised hereafter.
And, again, in the exquisite beauty of God’s plan, these glimpses are for us ongoing, just as the night sky was for Abram and Sarai. We see water and can be reminded of the promises of forgiveness, eternal life, and the presence God’s guiding Spirit that are given in our baptism. We taste the bread and the wine and feel Christ’s healing, forgiving presence on our lips, and in our mouths and in our guts.
Like Abram’s stars, these, too, are but glimpses of what is yet to come. They don’t offer exact details: when, where, how God’s will for our lives will be made manifest, what God has in store for us, what step God wishes for us to take next. And yet, just like that magnificent starry night sky was for old Abram and old Sarai, for now, for us, these glimpses of grace are enough.