So, for those of you that are reading along with my drafts, this is a little different. First–I actually preached this sermon on Sunday. It is based on the lectionary for the second Sunday in Lent, and, yes, it is still rough. Good preaching and good writing go together, but sometimes what is preached is more than what is simply written on the page. (I hope!) I tried to add a little of what I remember was on the fly additions to this manuscript, but otherwise here it is! What I really would like to know from you is, what questions did I lead to but not answer? How could I make the story more vivid? Do I use any cliches that I need to avoid?
I was recently in the company of a 4 and a 6 year old who were discussing the ages of everyone within their family. First Momma was asked about her age and she told them—38 and then the 4 year old asked “is daddy 100?” We both tried to tamp down our laughter, “no, he is 47.” We both knew that 100 is the biggest number he can think of, and to his credit anything over 10 must seem like a hundred when you are four.
Now to a really old father who was 86 when his first was born, and I imaging felt every bit of the thirteen years between to where we are in our Old Testament reading today (Genesis 17). We find that Abram, soon to be Abraham, is 99 years old and God is asking him to stand before him. God says walk righteous before me and be blameless, I will make you a father of many nations. This seems like a strange occurrence with in the Abram story as Abram was already told many chapters ago that he would be a father of many nations. He was already told that he would have a lands and a people and a family. Hagar has been given to him and has given him a son Ishmael–a son that Abram asks God to consider Ishmael within this promise, and God agrees to bless Ishmael. Its not a “but” from God, I guess most nearly it is an “also”–God makes specific that Sarai will have a child, it makes me wonder if God is saying, yes you will have nations through Ishmael, but I haven’t forgotten my promise to Sarai–and now is the time for that to come to pass and I need you (all-as in both of you) to look me in the eyes and see that I am calling you (all) righteous, I am calling you (all) fruitful, I am calling you (all) righteous. So, now Abram is 99 And God is asking for this time of standing in before God and hear again that I AM the life-bringer, the Creator and death-overcomer.
This chapter in part outlines the parameters of the covenant. All men are to be circumcised and Abraham and Sarah gets their new names. These are the terms that Abraham makes, but the apostle Paul makes this note about this agreement between God and Abraham, “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” So it isn’t the act of circumcision that creates the righteousness, it is God’s grace. Laws make divisions: rule follower and rule breaker. Grace makes families. Rules change actions, grace changes hearts. Abraham is given God’s grace so he can be the father of faith, and not because of what dietary restriction they take on or modifications are made to their bodies.
Grace brings life because it is animated by the creating, breath-giving God, the God who became flesh, was Joseph and Mary’s son—a promised child who brought light and life to a world of darkness and death. I am not a parent, so I don’t know for certain, but I would think there are some times that raising children makes you feel like you are as Paul puts, “as good as dead.” But for all the late nights and worries that children have given, in them is the promise of life—children remind us that God is in the business of bringing life where there was none before. And as we go through another season of lent, let us come before God to defeats the grace that makes us righteous and brings life to the world. Amen