As I read this passage this morning, I want you to listen carefully to this reading, and think of what word or theme stands out to you from this passage. I’ll give you a chance to share that after word the passage is read, but just think if you had to sum up the passage in one word…what would you choose?
Listen now to God’s word from Genesis 15:
After these events, the Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” He continued, “Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.” The Lord’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.” Then God brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” God continued, “This is how many children you will have.” Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character. God said to Abram, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” But Abram said, “Lord God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?” God said, “Bring me a three-year-old female calf, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.” He took all of these animals, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds. When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off. After the sun had set and darkness had deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from Egypt’s river to the great Euphrates…
The Word of the Lord.
What words or themes did you think of to summarize this passage?
When I read this passage this week the first word that came to my mind was “trust.” And I was also reminded of a video clip I recently saw of theologian and author Barbara Brown Taylor talking about the theme of trust.
In that clip, she asked the question: Can you trust that what comes to you is for you? For you – as opposed to against you. Can you trust that what comes to you is for you?
I know that speaking personally, I can’t always answer that question with a YES. More often than not, I have my own understandings of what I think is best for me, for my family…and when things don’t match up with that, I question how they could really be good things, or the right things.
And when something happens that seems so wrong, so unjust, so outside of my own plan for my life…it just doesn’t add up. It seems to me like God is messing up…or at least isn’t helping.
Can you trust that what comes to you is for you?
I don’t know how you would answer that question – but I’m guessing that some of you might have some of the similar struggles that I do.
And I think those are certainly some of the questions and struggles that Abram is going through in this passage today. He has his own ideas about how things should be going for him, about what his life should look like…and it most definitely includes an heir, which he doesn’t see as something that is going to be part of his story….
And so our passage begins with God speaking to Abram in a vision…
“Don’t be afraid. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.”
Seems pretty clear right…? I wouldn’t mind having a vision from God and hearing God say that to me. For there are times when I fear; fear the future, fear the unknown…and so I need to hear that word from the Lord: “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid – an admonition that we hear all throughout scripture…typically we hear angels saying this to people, but here we have God speaking directly to Abram…
“Don’t be afraid. I got this. I’m with you. I’m your protector. I’ll be your shield. Things are looking up for you – your story is going to end well!”
That’s pretty encouraging stuff, right? As with any reading of scripture, I think it’s helpful to place ourselves in the story, to imagine how we might response if we hear God say that to us? I’d like to think I’d be encouraged, that at least for awhile, I could set aside my worries, my concerns, my fears…and simply rest in the love and comfort that comes from hearing God say these words to me.
But, if we’re honest, we’d probably act a bit like Abram…who barely gave God enough time to finish God’s sentence before Abram immediately responded with incredulity and disbelief.
“God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything? No offense here, but…why should I trust you? What can you possibly give me? I’m nothing if I have no children…and you know that! You know that if I have no children….the head of my household will be my heir – not my own flesh and blood….not my firstborn, like it should be!
Why say you’ve gotten things taken care of when it looks to me like you don’t?? When you see the pain that Sarai and I go through each and every day that passes by without children of our own?!”
I don’t think this type of reaction is uncommon. This type of back-and-forth with God – I’m guessing that we’ve all done it because of a variety of situations. Perhaps it was something very similar to the story this morning…a desire to have children and that just not happening. Perhaps it was a relationship that ended, a job situation that turned out different than we had hoped…perhaps it was a clear injustice that you witnessed or simply the belief that it seems like God isn’t doing all that God should be able to do in difficult situations in our lives.
So Abram argues with God…back, and forth. And I think this is really part of the nature and character of Abram. Later on in Chapter 18, we see Abram, after his name has been changed to Abraham, arguing with God, pleading with God, to not destroy the city of Sodom. Verse 22 of that chapter actually says “but Abraham stood in God’s path, blocking God’s way…”
I’d say that Abram has some guts here to be able to block God’s way, but we see that even beginning now in our reading from this morning, with Abram pushing against God and God’s promises…
Abram wants more…it’s almost like he wants proof or something.
But God immediately responded to Abram: “Don’t worry Abram…Can you trust that what comes to you is for you? Can you trust that I have good things in store for you? Can you trust that I’ll work things out and that I am FOR you and not against you? Don’t worry – this man is NOT going to be your heir. I’ll make sure of that…your heir will most definitely be your very own biological child. I know that sounds crazy…but I can assure you, I’ve done crazier things.”
And that’s when God took Abram outside. I’m guessing there was more than one reason why Abram felt God guide him out to look up at the stars that night. Have you ever had that experience when you’re outside in a huge and open field…looking up at the stars, the vastness of the sky, and you begin to feel, ever-so-slightly, the sheer magnitude and awesomeness of God…?
I think this was God’s way of sharing with Abram that God was in control. That God did have a plan for Abram and his future…
“Go ahead…if you think you can try to count the stars…count them! That is how many children you’ll have. You’re going to have a big family!”
Even though the text tells us that Abram trusted the Lord at this point, I think God knew that Abram was still having a hard time believing…so it’s sometimes helpful to be reminded of how things have worked out in the past, how God has been active in our lives previously, to help remind us to trust and hope that God will be with us and for us in the future as well.
God essentially says to Abram, “I’m the same God as before. I’ve done good things for you before…I brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans…I’m that SAME Lord who did that…I’d get it if it was some other random god showing up and making these big promises to you. But this is me we’re talking about! I have a proven track record! You and I are good…!”
And yet…Abram once again shows that he’s only human…and once again I think we’re able to connect with Abram in this story, because I’m guessing that we too would want to know more…we’d want more proof. This time it isn’t about his promised offspring…but a question about the land. “How will I REALLY know that this land is all mine? How will I know that I actually posses it?”
And instead of giving him a direct verbal answer…God instructs Abram to prepare a sacrifice…a ritual…which Abram does and then promptly falls asleep. Later that night, after the darkness had deepened, the text tells us that “a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram.”
The interesting thing here is that a covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures required actions and obligations made by both parties who are part of the covenant. We don’t see Abram making any promises here…this is solely an act of God, a promise of God, a promise of the land for Abram’s family…and doesn’t require anything on Abram’s part.
God is cutting a covenant, doing a holy ritual, a way of showing Abram that what comes to him is FOR HIM. That God is FOR HIM. That no matter what else he might feel, or others might say to him, or questions or apprehensions that nag at him when he can’t fall asleep at night…God has made this covenant. God has promised, has covenanted, to always be FOR him.
Our passage from Psalm 27 today is also a passage about trust. About hope. And about the need to believe that during the good times in life, and the difficult and traumatic times, that God is uniquely FOR US, that what comes to us is for us.
It begins with an affirmation of trust: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, should I fear anyone? The Lord is a fortress protecting my life. Should I be frightened of anything?”
These come off as rhetorical questions that we, the reader, clearly know the answer to: should I fear anyone? No, certainly not! The Lord is your light and your salvation! Should you be frightened of anything? No way! The Lord is a fortress protecting your life!
We can almost be impressed with the steadfast confidence of this trust in God…and as we read the Psalm, we might catch ourselves thinking, “If only I could have trust like that. If only I could hear God speak to me like God spoke to Abram…or believe so fully that God is my light and my salvation.”
But then we get to verse 7 of the Psalm, and we hear a shift happening. All of a sudden, what sounded like a personal statement of faith, becomes more like a cry of disbelief…or at the very least, someone who isn’t as sure about the reality of God’s presence anymore.
“Lord – listen to my voice when I cry out…Lord I do seek your face! Please don’t hide it from me! God who saves me…don’t neglect me! you’ve always been right there for me; don’t turn you back on me now!”
Reading Psalm 27 reminds me that I need to read the Psalms more often…throughout the 150 Psalms in our holy scriptures, we find every emotion known to humanity: love, joy, peace, hate, frustration, acceptance, fear, worry, faith, trust, distrust, belief, unknowing and every other one you can think of.
And just here in Psalm 27 we hear the faith and trust of the Psalmist, but also the brutally honest lament of someone who wonders if God is really out there. Someone who is searching, grasping and on their spiritual journey, and wondering where God went…it seemed like God had been there for so long…and now?
And yet….in the midst of the despair and unknowing and doubt…the Psalmist ends with these words: “But I have sure faith that I will experience the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Hope in the Lord! Be strong – let your heart take courage – hope in the Lord!”
This is the second Sunday of Lent – a time of introspection…a journey into ourselves…a chance to be intentional about thinking about our relationship with God, and how God has worked in our lives. Sometimes those opportunities of introspection are welcome, and other times, we might not be too excited about what we think we’re going to find.
Just as Jesus was forced into the wilderness by the Spirit for 40 days…so we too are forced onto our own wilderness journeys this Lenten season…as we continue on these Lenten journeys, let us be reminded that it is the Spirit that prods us and goes with us through this journey. We might have moments during the next few weeks of complete faith and trust in God, as the Psalmist did in the beginning of Psalm 27.
We may have other moments when we want to trust God, when we want to believe that promises that God has for us, much like Abram, but we need to push back on God a bit…we need to have some dialogue, some conversation and we might even feel the need to demand some proof from God…and that’s okay.
God can handle that. God met Abram’s questions and challenges with a holy ritual, a covenant, in which God promised that God is forever FOR Abram…and that God would forever be FOR us.
And we may find ourselves, at times on our Lenten journeys, feeling like we’re crying out for a God who isn’t listening…feeling like after all these years of care and protection…God is simply and suddenly gone. And that’s okay too. Because we know that we have the promises from long ago…that God would always be with us and that one day, we will be able to experience the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.
And during those times, it might be helpful to pray the prayer that Thomas Merton once prayed, a prayer that began with “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going…”
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. AMEN.