Meditation on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Feb. 25, 2018
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham ; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.15 God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’
Are any of you swimmers? I used to be on a community swim team when I was young. Much to my mother’s disappointment, I don’t really swim anymore.
Something stirred me this week to remember learning how to do a back dive. Can any of you do a back dive? We were lined up at the high diving board in the deepest end of the pool. The coach taught us how to do the dive, step by step, with one of the students modeling each position. Then, one of the lifeguards climbed the ladder and demonstrated a magnificent back dive.
And then it was our turn to climb the ladder, one by one. Each of us went out to the end of the board where one of the lifeguards waited to serve as our spotter. She or he made sure that we were in the right position before we dove to keep us from hurting ourselves. One of the lifeguards waited in the pool for us at the ladder–ready if one of us may be in trouble in the deep water.
Well, my legs shook every step up that ladder. I really didn’t want to do the back dive, for one, because I am afraid of heights. Just doing a regular dive off the high dive was hard enough for me. But also because there is a moment right before and after you jump that you really can’t see what is below when you do a back dive. You don’t have the same wide vision or control of a dive going straight ahead. You really have to have a lot of confidence that everything is going to be all right before you jump off a diving board backwards.
I thought of my diving experience when I was studying our gospel lesson this week. This reminds me of Jesus’ call to follow him — to take up our crosses, as he took up his cross for all of us. He has given us our mission–to bring the hope of his salvation to the world and to obedient to his will, though it might mean taking some risks, doing some things that are not easy, things we don’t even know how to do, yet, and may not think are possible. To reject the mission is to seek only what is comfortable, safe, pleasant and personally profitable for us. To reject the calling is to allow our hearts to be seduced into loving the things of this world more than God. The temptation is always for us to be people pleasers, as Paul says in Galatians 1:10, instead of God pleasers.
But like the lifeguard who modeled the back dive, Jesus has already gone ahead of us and shown us how to live. He has already experienced everything we will experience–and more. We can trust him to be with us now and always to guide us every moment, every step — not just at the top on the diving board– or just watching from the side of the pool.
And if we flounder in deep waters–or maybe I should say, “when we flounder,” we will not be lost. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
In our Genesis reading today, we are reminded that the God of the Old Testament hasn’t changed in his faithfulness or his expectations for his people to live in obedience to his Word. We learn that the God who requires Abram to walk “blamelessly” before him– to commit his way to the Lord–also longs to bless him.
Abram hears the voice of God and believes his promise, accepting the new identity God gives him–Abraham–the ancestor of a multitude of nations, though he is 99 years old and not yet a father. And he accepts the new name God has given Sarai, his 90-year old wife. She shall be Sarah and will give rise to nations and kings of peoples, though she has not yet been able to conceive.
Abram believes the Lord when God says, “I will bless her and I will give you a son by her.”
He believes, in spite of the human impossibility and despite the many years of waiting he has already endured. For nothing is impossible with God!
The Lord first makes the promise of a child to Abram when he is 75, but before the blessing, he must go to a land that the Lord will show him. He leaves most of his family in his hometown of Ur, bringing only his wife and his brother’s son, Lot.
Abraham will continue to believe the Lord, though there will be more divine messages before the promise is fulfilled. Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac, a name meaning “He laughs.” “For God has brought me laughter,” she says, “everyone who hears will laugh with me.”
But God has a much bigger blessing in mind when he calls Abram and blesses him–just as God has a reason for his calling and blessings to us. God intends Abram to be a blessing to the world. This is what the Lord intends for us!
God tells Abram in Gen. 12, “I will make of you a great nation; And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing….And in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The God of the Old Covenant and New remains faithful to us, showering us with blessings to share and be empowered to serve in Christ’s name. Paul in 2 Cor. 9:8 says, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
This is a God who longs to bless everyone. Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
My swim team days are over. Did I ever do the dive? Yes, once or twice. That was enough for me! I was happy to find this week that my old community swimming pool in Damascus, MD, is still going strong.
The swim team, the Damascus Dolphins, actually looks larger than when I was a kid.
But is it my imagination, or does the world seem different today? Has it become a more dangerous, violent place for children?
The biggest thing I worried about in high school was doing my homework, passing math, and finding time to be with my friends. I never once thought a shooter would come and take the lives of classmates and teachers. But this scenario has played out, over and over, in my own children’s lives. Columbine High School in 1999.
Virginia Tech in 2007.
Sandy Hook Elementary in Dec. 2012.
A community college in Roseburg, Oregon in 2015.
A high school in Parkland, FL on Ash Wednesday.
In dark days like these, the Church needs to remember Christ’s call to take up our crosses and follow Him. What is the cost of discipleship? That means risking our very lives to do what Christ would have us do. Is our thinking and what we value so firmly rooted in the things of this world that we can no longer hear the voice of God, crying out for us to change? We have to take responsibility for who we have become, and stop looking for someone to blame. We are a society who would rather fight than reconcile. We embrace divisiveness. Brokenness has become our normal. We would rather “solve” our conflicts by ending the relationship instead of listening, learning from each other, and forgiving one other.
Listen to the words of Paul to the Philippians in 2:3, “Then make my joy complete by being of one mind, having the same love, being united in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.…”
Psalm 127:3 says every child is a gift, a blessing from the Lord! May we never take life for granted! One child–Isaac, a name that means “He laughs”–made Abram Abraham, the father of many nations. One little boy made Sarai Sarah and gave rise to nations.
Our God who raised Jesus from the dead can do much more than what we know is possible! God LONGS to bless us, as he did Abraham and Sarah, with new identities. In Christ, we are a new creation. He offers each one of us new lives by his transforming grace. May God grant the Church the strength, wisdom and courage to truly be the blessing God has called her to be– for all the families of the earth, an instrument of reconciliation, healing, and peace.
Let us pray. Holy one, we have become an angry, violent people, embracing conflict and brokenness. Forgive us, for this isn’t your will for us. It isn’t the way of the cross. Give us humble hearts, seeing others as more important than ourselves. Teach us how to listen and learn from one another, how to love and forgive. Heal what is broken in our homes, schools, churches, and communities, especially in the wake of another tragic shooting. We thank you for your love for us and your longing to bless us and make something beautiful of our lives, new creations in Jesus Christ. Lead us to be a blessing, as Abram and Sarai were, for all the families of the earth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.