Sunday, February 28, 2010

Abram Animal Halves, Genesis 15

Genesis 15: 1-18; Westminister Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe; February 28, 2010

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let's all praise the Lord.
Right arm!
Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let's all praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm!
Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let's all praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm, right foot!

Alright! I was at presbytery meetings all day Friday and Saturday.
I thought singing this together would make for a great sermon
How bout, one more verse…Father Abraham…no?

Okay.  Actually, I’m kind of wondering how you reacted to this passage Rachel read about Abram…aka father Abraham. What stood out to you from this ancient text?  What about Abram’s whining to God about his heir being a slave[Offensive to me]. What about God encouraging a colonialist conquistador attitude in Abram? Giving Abram land to possess that is already possessed?  

And how bout Abram getting his butcher groove on? slicing through animals…eesshh

You know I have options when choosing passages to preach on. But, for some reason, this was the passage that stayed with me for this second sunday of lent. 
As we are thinking about our own Lenten journeys, As we are living into sacrificing, altering, or taking on of certain lifestyle practices as a way to re-imagine Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, and understand better the way of the cross—And for many of us this has meant attempting to reduce our fossil fuel intake because we see it as an issue of justice...

This passage about Abram stuck.  And I want to share, briefly, three reasons why (unusual for me to preach a three point sermon but here goes).

The first reason why this suck with me during lent is because it shows that it is okay to doubt. Have any of you had any doubt?  What about recently during lent?  Has there been some doubt? If we are honest with ourselves, we all have doubts. 

What’s interesting is that Christianity originally embraced doubt as part of the experience of faith. Jobwho’s faith is admired—may be the most famous doubter in our faith tradition. Jesus' last words on the cross are "My God, why have you forsaken me?" And that seems to make faith have doubt in it, in a way that's been very positive for faith. Church father Saint Augustine from his fifth-century treatise De Trinitate wrote, "Nobody surely doubts that he lives and remembers and understands and wills and thinks and knows and judges. At least, even if he doubts, he lives. If he doubts, he remembers why he is doubting. If he doubts, he has a will to be certain. If he doubts, he thinks. If he doubts, he knows he does not know. If he doubts, he judges he ought not to give a hasty assent." It wasn’t until the Middle Ages, that doubters—people who questioned, not so much even God, but the powerful religious establishment—were persecuted by the church, sometimes violently. And under that treat, we all have kind of wondered maybe…is it okay to doubt?[1]

Here in our passage about Abram…Abram doubts God. He says, God you promised me to be my shield and that out of me would come a great nation…but…?  How did God address doubting AbramDo no fear? He is told. Making it seem like fear is a better expression of unbelief or lack of faith…not doubt.  Because later Abram believed and it was credited to him righteousness—because he didn’t fear.  There is a certain real authentic component to our relationship with God when we doubt and question and say..”God, you promised…what’s going on!?
God becomes personal when we question…and mysterious, when answering. 

This leads to the second aspect of this story I thought would be helpful for our Lenten journey.  There is a certain risk when asking God questions about the future, because, the mysterious God might just answer; and the answer may not be exactly what we wanted to hear.

The story of Abram, began earlier than where we are in this morning’s passage.
Abram was in Ur, when he first heard God’s voice and was told to go, he would have many many many children as many as stars in the sky.  He was young and enthusiastic, fearless, he heard the call and he just went.
But now, he’s older.  He doesn’t have kids.  So this time, when the voice of the Lord comes to Abram and reassures him that the promise is still going to be kept, the covenant is still on, Abram demands more, “Yeah yeah that’s what you said last time god,  This time. show me proof; How will I know I will possess the land.” 

Abram demands proof and God gives it to him.

Proof you want is it, God says to Abram: “Gather three year old animals together…(here it gets a little gory…some of you may want to cover your hears). Cut them in half.

Abram obeys—lays the animal halves side by sidean ancient powerful ritual of the people is taking place, Ancient peoples understood, even if we, more humane types, don’t. The sun Goes down…blood is beginning to dry, Abram is getting tired…waiting…he sleeps and darkness falls over him.

And a dreadful future is revealed.  God says: Know this for certain, your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years…Can you imagine? God has promised you something great, you believe it, but the deeper truth is that before this greatness happens, something terrible happens…Exile, slavery, oppression.

Were I Abram, I probably would have turned back around gone home and said no thanks.
The way of the cross echoes this theme.  The son of man must endure great hardships, mockery suffering, death…..

And what happens next?

With Abram, God assures him that the people will be released from slavery…And as for Abram he will live to “a good old age” and be buried with his ancestors—the Hebrew understanding of afterlife, being with family after death.

And with Jesus, God assured him that he would die, be buried, and on the third day…he was raised…It was like the absolute worst thing –God dying on a cross—became the very best thing—resurrection, eternal life![2]

It is during lent, that we have an opportunity to come to grips with the reality that life may not turn out the way we think it should, it may not turn out the way we would hope….But, the story of Abram, the story of Jesus, assure us that the worst things we think we can go through…even those terrible things we have already endured or may one day endure… God can redeem even those. God can set us free…!  God can bring us out… God can raise us up!

Because this story about Abram, this ancient bizarre ritual assures children of Abraham (and I am one of them and so are you). It assures us that God keeps God’s promises.  

And so we come to the third aspect of this story that intrigued me

The ritual ceremony…it was dark…parts of animals there…and in-between the halves, passes a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch—(picture Olympics). What could this mean for Abram and for God?   It’s hard to know for sure, but most bible scholars agree that this rite is one of self-obligation. Here, the one passing between the halves of the animals is the one making the solemn to a solemn promise, and everyone know that if the promise was not kept by the one passing through he would experience a fate similar to that of the halved animals.  
YHWH, represented by the smoking fire pot and flaming torch, is the one undertaking the obligation of the ritual.  Through this solemn, gruesome, ritual, Abram is told very clearly and powerfully…God is a God who keeps promises.[3]  
The Covenant; Genesis 15 by Pat Marvenko Smith
As some of the many sons and daughters of father Abraham…we too are on the receiving end of that covenant pact.  Even if it seems a little weird.

God promises to never leave us...God promises to love us, and to be our shield…
Shield us in a way that we don’t really understand because even with that shield suffering may come….We remember during our Lenten journey that everything we do, all of our efforts are to stay focused on God, meditate on the way of the cross. And as we grow closer in relationship with God and with neighbor and with God’s good creation.  Come what may, may we live without fear…God has taken a solemn oath. 

[1] A great podcast on the history of doubt:
[2] Richard Rorh
[3] Richard A Puckett, “Genesis 15” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2. p. 55 

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