Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament reading today relates what took place after Abram rescued Lot from the clutches of invaders from what is now Iran, defeating them. Incidentally that is the first war recorded in the Bible. It was also the time when Abram was blessed by the priest-king Melchizedek and the practice of tithing started. It would seem that Abram did some thinking about his own situation after that. He had saved his brother’s son Lot but had no son of his own. Obviously he thought something was wrong about the situation so he prayed to God about it and God replied that Abram would have heirs and more than he could count. When God gives, He gives good measure, God is a prodigal God, one who gives almost recklessly, over the top, pressed down, shaken together and running over (Luke 6:38).
Then another important thing occurs in this reading. Abram believed God’s promise of many descendants and it was counted as righteousness on Abram’s part. Paul made much of the statement (Romans 4:3ff) and so did Luther and it became the keel of the Reformation’s theology, known as Justification by Faith. Therefore importantly it applies universally to us and all Christian believers, and I dare say to all faithful Jews.
Then we read of a frightening mystical happening. Abram prepared a traditional sacrificial ceremony, a covenanting ceremony. As you read that involved a lot of work and it took all day, and as the sun set Abram exhausted lay down and fell asleep, deeply asleep, as in the sleep of the justified. Then two miraculous things appeared, a hot smoking furnace and a flaming torch, which passed over and consumed the sacrifice. This presaged the Exodus of the Israelites from the brick kilns of Egypt and then them being led by a pillar of a smoky-cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night as they crossed the desert towards the Red Sea (Exodus 13:21) and the Promised Land, which God here, promised to Abram and his descendants.
The Promised Land extended from the Nile to the Euphrates, which encompasses parts of today’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq, and all of Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. But you will say that today the Promised Land is only Israel, where did God’s Promise go ? King David’s kingdom was the size of the Promised Land but from Solomon’s time on the kings of Israel turned away from God, so God responded accordingly and reduced the size of the Land by the action of other nations, who, never forget, are his people too. Although God is prodigal He is no fool ! Faithfulness to God is the key to life in this world and the next. Immediately after this covenant making ceremony God went on to implement His promise to Abram and Sarai.
We can all follow the history of humankind. If we start with the premise that Adam and Eve knew God, and that they passed that knowledge on to their children, those children gradually did what the kings of Israel did after David’s time, they fell away from God. That falling away upset God so along came the Flood and Noah and his family were the only ones who believed and were saved. Then the whole thing started up again, the descendants of Noah gradually generation after generation fell away from belief and so God again had to take action. Instead of many dying, this time God sent His Son in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, to die for all. It was obvious to God that another and drastic solution had to be brought about, relying on a remnant of believers was not the most successful way of solving the problem. If, let’s say, another natural disaster wiped out the world’s population leaving the apostles it would only degenerate again. So God chose this time to build-up rather than knock-down.
It’s gone well. Christianity has spread throughout the world, one in three people are Christians, so there is still some way to go. We have prophecy to tell us where it’s all leading. As long as evil exists in the world there will be people chewing away at the edges of Christianity. We will continue to grow and expand even in countries directly opposed to Christian salvation and God will, in good time, take care of those forces of evil. It is prophesied that He will, all we have to do is hang tough against the forces of evil and doubters, who will try and persuade us to desert the faith as so many of our forebearers have done.
During Lent we have a time when we can double-down on our belief. Jesus’ resolve to set aside threats from Herod is the model for us. Go about your Christian mission doing what you know to be right. Other people have their agenda, but we have ours. Stick to the path laid out for you, don’t waiver, maybe you can’t persuade others to back-off but likewise you should not back-off from your beliefs and responsibilities either. Such a course may bring hardship but that will be less than the hardship of lost righteousness. Somethings are inevitable because of the actions of a world of freewill, and for Jesus that led to the Cross, which almost illogically leads to freedom for us. As we go through Lent with its stories leading to disaster keep your eye on the prize as Jesus did and as Paul encourages us to do (1 Corinthians 9:24) otherwise this life will be only a shadow of what is intended for us. The third epoch begins when Jesus returns, then hardship will end and all people say “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” for then He will be among us and He will grant our final redemption. So, stay strong ! Amen.