Lent 2: Children of Abraham

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Readings

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 (NLT)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”

At this, Abram fell face down on the ground. Then God said to him, “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!

“I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.”

15 Then God said to Abraham, “Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai. From now on her name will be Sarah. 16 And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will be among her descendants.”

Mark 8:31-end (NLT)

31 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.

33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Homily by the Rev’d Jo Joyce

Last week we were thinking about the story of Noah. This week the covenant we are thinking about is the one God made with Abraham.

This story is both the one of Abraham and Sarah’s personal journey with God, but also of God’s wider promise to them about their descendants and who they would become, and ultimately how all people are drawn into that.

Abram’s story occurs before the start of the 12 tribes of Israel were formed. He was from Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. Its likely that he had worshipped many gods as was the custom there. The bible doesn’t tell us when he came to understand that there was one God, or when he began to worship God. Rather, we see him here in very old age here talking with God. God tells him to serve him in return for a covenant, or promise, that he would give him countless descendants. Now at the age of 99 and with a wife well into the menopause, its unsurprising that he had given up hope, but his response is to worship. And God promises that among his descendants would be kings, that this was to be an everlasting promise, and God reiterates that promise for Sarai, she is to be the mother of many. God gives them both new names;

Abram, ‘exalted father’ becomes Abraham, ‘Father of multitudes’

Sarai ‘argumentative princess’ becomes Sarah ‘princess’

Their names symbolise the changes God is making in their lives and their temperaments, who they are, because although their story echoes down through the ages, it is first and foremost their own story. The tale of how God brought about a miraculous change in their fortunes, removed the stigma of childlessness and began the building of the nation of Israel. Now, they are both far from perfect. We read earlier in Genesis how Abram lied about his relationship to Sari to deceive the King and protect himself – note not protect Sari! We read later of Sarah’s jealousy at Hagar, her servant’s pregnancy, driving her away from her home.

The miracle of their impending childbirth doesn’t make them better people, but it does start that link, the promise between God and Abraham, and eventually his sons and grandsons who became the 12 tribes of Israel, among whom numbered kings, including David and eventually Jesus, and also incidentally included Ishmael, his son by Hagar, Sarah’s servant, from whom it’s believed the Ishmaelites, the Arabs descended, and who became one of the Patriarchs of Islam.

God’s promise with Abraham is then in this way a promise not just to those early Israelites, but to all his descendants. God promises that he will always be the God of the descendants of Abraham, he promises that his firstborn to Sarah, Issac, would become this great nation, and his son by Hagar, Ishmael would also become a great nation, but that the covenant would follow the line of Issac. As a sign of this covenantal promise, all the men were to be circumcised. A physical reminder of a promise with God, something that all the Israelite men were to observe down the ages, or face being cut off from that promise, and so in this way the physical and spiritual sign of their faith became linked.

So, what does this story from so long ago, a time that in this country was known as the bronze age, mean today? How can we relate to the story of someone who lived 4000 years ago?

I think several things are important, that it is to Abraham that the three largest monotheistic religions in the world can trace their heritage, Judaism, Islam and Christianity all look back to him. In him we see the start of an understanding of one creator God, rather than a number of gods who ruled different aspects of life. God’s covenant with Abraham is a sign of the link between the creator God and us as God’s people. A sign of the promise of relationship down the ages, he would be their God and they, and eventually we, would be his people, drawn into a relationship that is more intimate than that of purely worship, Abraham talked with God, even bargained with him sometimes, and God was intimately involved with his life, ultimately enabling him to have the descendants he longed for. Most importantly for us in this line of descendants came Jesus, who opened that covenant to all people, not just those who descended from Issac. Abraham’s story is one of faith, of walking with God, of being changed and challenged by God, but holding firm. In the promises God made to Abraham we can have hope, that we too can be counted among his descendants and we too can become a part of this age-old story.

Prayer

Lord, you ask us to follow you: may we follow you as bread. Knead us and rest us. Raise us, bake us and break us. Set us at the centre and disperse us. Let us be absorbed by others and multiplied in their hearts. Let us be collected as manna or as leftovers. Let us be in twelve baskets when your work is done. For you are the bread of life: we trust you to feed us each with just a fragment apiece, and to fill us with the smallest crumb. *

Lord, when we wander astray, guide us with the light of your truth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Lord, may the nations of the earth recognise their common humanity, and cease from all hostilities. May the people of the book, the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, learn to share so much in our faiths which unites us and make the holy city of Jerusalem a shrine which we can all share. Restore, we pray, among our leaders, the wisdom to govern in a spirit of service to the common good, free from the all-consuming desire for material gain.

Lord, when we wander astray, guide us with the light of your truth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Lord, foster in us that questioning interest we feel when we see a new face or hear a new name, when we give attention to someone unknown. And may that interest become respect, and respect flower as reverence in the face of whatever triumphs and wounds, hurts and mistakes, make this stranger unknown and yet knowable, unlikely yet likeable. Lord, many found you to be strange and yet the most vulnerable found healing and peace in your presence. Make friends of us, that we might be ready friends to strangers as strange as ourselves. **

Lord, when we wander astray, guide us with the light of your truth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Lord, you told us to take up our cross and follow you: we are humbled by your example as you were broken on our behalf. The pain of the cross takes many forms, and we pray for those who are finding it hard to bear. May we neither fall into the error of clinging to our pain when it is futile, nor refusing to embrace the cost when you require it of us. May we be strengthened and comforted by your promise that in losing ourselves for your sake, we may be brought to new life in you.

Lord, when we wander astray, guide us with the light of your truth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Lord, we pray for the departed of all the ages, who have heard your promise and followed your calling. As we are their descendants on earth, grant that we may share with them the life of heaven.

Lord, when we wander astray, guide us with the light of your truth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

(Prayers from http://www.layanglicana.org/blog/2015/02/25/intercessions-for-second-sunday-of-lent-year-b-1-march-2015/?doing_wp_cron=1614351222.6970300674438476562500 )

Closing Worship

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