The Call of Abraham and Sarah
I don’t know why I never thought when I married a charismatic salesman ten months ago, that he might use some of his sly skills on me at home. But I noticed a couple of weeks ago that David was using some of his slick salesman techniques on me when it came to splitting up household tasks. He made deals with me that actually got me to do more work. Here’s how this happened. I would be peacefully sitting on the couch after completing those of my tasks that I thought needed to be done and he’d say something like, “if you’ll vacuum the living room, I’ll put away the dishes.” What a bargain! He’ll unload the dishwasher- this is perfect! Those are the thoughts that went through my mind until I realized that he had gotten me up from a perfectly comfortable spot, to vacuum, which I hadn’t been planning on doing for a couple of days. I warn you- he’s crafty- you need to watch him.
Speaking of making deals, do you ever remember bargaining with God when you were little? It might have gone something like this, “God, if you’ll make sure I get a bike for my birthday, I’ll never ask for anything again.” Or, “God, if you’ll make sure my mom won’t yell at me for breaking her lamp, I’ll go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life!” Did you ever make those kinds of deals with God? Thank goodness those are not the kind of deals God is in the business of making with we humans.
This morning we are going to talk about agreements, or promises made between God and humans. Of course when God makes an agreement or a covenant with a human the terms are usually for blessing and fulfillment in the life of the human. God made just such a promise with Abram.
God makes a covenant with Abram, who in the course of the fulfillment of this covenant will get a name change to the name we know him best by, Abraham. This is what God promises to Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the people of the earth shall be blessed.”
God had plans for Abraham’s future. Together God and Abraham enter into a covenant, with God being the initiator. A covenant can mean many things in our modern world, but I want to talk about specifically what a covenant is in the biblical context. A covenant is an agreement, or a promise that God makes with humans. In a few instances we see people in the Bible making covenants between each other, and it is the element of faith shared between them that makes the covenant binding. There is a sacred nature to a covenant, in other words, it’s a big deal- when God makes a covenant with you, you should feel deeply honored. This covenant with Abraham is one of the most famous in the Bible. Abraham will be referred to later by Jesus and in Paul’s writings as a hero of faith that we can look to for an example. God also made a covenant or a sacred promise to Noah. After the flood, God promised that the earth would never again be destroyed and the symbol of that covenant was a rainbow.
I can also think of a few modern examples of covenant making as well. At church camp, the first time a small group meets together- counselors often have a discussion with the group about how they will treat each other throughout the week. They come up with things like, “we will listen to each other; we will not make fun of anyone; we will have fun together; we will pray each time we meet” These are a set of promises the group makes to each other, and each person in the group signs the list. Their covenant is held together by the fact that they all agree with the contents, and that they are bound together by a shared faith in God.
Another time I see a covenant come into play is when I am officiating a wedding ceremony. Before the bride and groom share their vows with each other, I remind them that they are entering into a covenant with one another, and with God. Their covenant has a sacred element to it- thereby making the things they say to each other more than promises. Wedding vows are a sacred covenant.
So, God makes a covenant with Abraham, to bless him beyond all his imagining. It must have been almost laughable to Abraham to hear that he would be the father of many nations, knowing that he and Sarah had been unable to have children. Of course included in this covenant is a blessing for Sarah as well, that she will give birth to a child. What does God ask of Abraham? To me it seems a pretty small thing to ask- God simply asks Abraham to go. God says to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Sounds easy enough right? God will bless him for generations to come and grant him and his descendants a land to call their own, and all Abraham has to do is leave. For anyone who has ever left home, and their family and their parent’s house- you may know this is not as easy as it sounds. Give up everything you know for sure- and follow God, that’s all you have to do- but it may seem like everything to you.
Abraham did follow what God asked, he took his wife, his nephew, his entire household and all his possessions and he went where God told him to go. Abraham lived fully into this covenant that God made with him. This doesn’t mean that life was easy- there would be many trials along the way, including being asked to sacrifice his precious son Isaac. But the fact is when God said, “go,” Abraham went. He was flexible enough to follow God wherever God would lead him.
Although it is not specifically asked of him by God I think Abraham had one more charge by God, and that was to be a blessing. In him and through him, God would bless all the peoples of the earth. That meant that Abraham himself had to embody, or take on being a blessing to others. Abraham’s life, although he might have fallen short many times, was about being a blessing to others. To go and to be a blessing- these two things were Abraham’s response to the covenant God made with him.
One of the really important things to notice about this covenant is that Abraham would not live to see its fulfillment. God told Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky he could see, or more numerous than the grains of sand that he could count and God fulfilled this promise. However, Abraham and Sarah themselves never lived to see the abundant blessings that God bestowed upon them. In fact, they could not even fathom all the land and people that would make up their legacy. Even not knowing how God’s promise would turn out, they followed what God asked of them. God had a long-range plan for their future and they were willing to be a part of it without knowing the outcome at the outset.
Does God have a long range plan for you? Does God have a long range plan for our church? I know in my heart the answer is yes. The question is are you flexible enough and trusting enough to follow where God leads even if you cannot see the end result? Does our church family have enough faith to plan for God’s future for us, even if we don’t know exactly what that will look like?
Ronald E. Vallet wrote a book about God’s covenants with humans called, The Steward Living in Covenant. Vallet talks about the nature of responding to a call like Abraham and Sarah’s: “To respond to the call of God will often require patience, perseverance, and a willingness to live by a flexible timetable. Even more importantly, responding to God’s call to move to the unknown involves a willingness to accept risk. God calls our generation- indeed every generation- to take risks in obedience to God.”
I want to ask you individually, and myself, and all of us together as church family if we are willing to covenant with God and to follow God’s call? Are we willing to be obedient? To be patient, and persevering and flexible? Are we willing to risk and to face the unknown for the sake of the generations of faithful who will come after us? I pray our answer is yes.
Just as Abraham before us, we are being called into covenant with God. We are being called to be faithful. Sometimes we will be called simply to go- to step out in faith and go somewhere that God is calling us to go for the fulfillment of God’s plan for us. And sometimes God will ask us to simply “be”. We may be asked to be a blessing for someone else by using our gifts to serve God. God called Abraham to go and to be a blessing. I pray this morning that each one of us would be just as willing to respond to God as Abraham was. Amen and Amen.