17 Abram was ninety-nine years old when the Lord appeared to him again and said, “I am God All-Powerful. If you obey me and always do right, 2 I will keep my solemn promise to you and give you more descendants than can be counted.” 3 Abram bowed with his face to the ground, and God said:
4-5 I promise that you will be the father of many nations. That’s why I now change your name from Abram to Abraham. 6 I will give you a lot of descendants, and in the future they will become great nations. Some of them will even be kings.
7 I will always keep the promise I have made to you and your descendants, because I am your God and their God. 8 I will give you and them the land in which you are now a foreigner. I will give the whole land of Canaan to your family forever, and I will be their God.
9 Abraham, you and all future members of your family must promise to obey me.
I make these promises to you
because I am your God,
I care for you,
I am watching out for you.
you try to force my hand
and make things happen your way
and in your time;
you cannot see the abundance
of your future,
but I can.
You will be blessed
beyond your wildest imaginings,
bigger than you could ever dream.
I am your God
and I will continue to be your God.
Lord I hear your promise,
revealing yourself to me.
As you are faithful to me,
may I be faithful
walk in your ways,
and know your strength
to do so.
11 Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see. 2 It was their faith that made our ancestors pleasing to God.
3 Because of our faith, we know that the world was made at God’s command. We also know that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen.
8 Abraham had faith and obeyed God. He was told to go to the land that God had said would be his, and he left for a country he had never seen. 9 Because Abraham had faith, he lived as a stranger in the promised land. He lived there in a tent, and so did Isaac and Jacob, who were later given the same promise. 10 Abraham did this, because he was waiting for the eternal city that God had planned and built.
11 Even when Sarah was too old to have children, she had faith that God would do what he had promised, and she had a son. 12 Her husband Abraham was almost dead, but he became the ancestor of many people. In fact, there are as many of them as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand along the beach.
13 Every one of those people died. But they still had faith, even though they had not received what they had been promised. They were glad just to see these things from far away, and they agreed that they were only strangers and foreigners on this earth. 14 When people talk this way, it is clear that they are looking for a place to call their own. 15 If they had been talking about the land where they had once lived, they could have gone back at any time. 16 But they were looking forward to a better home in heaven. That’s why God wasn’t ashamed for them to call him their God. He even built a city for them.
This is a roll call of Biblical history. A list of those who lived by faith, following God. For some reason the lectionary omits Abel, Enoch and Noah from verses 4-7, I don’t know what they have done to offend!
Some of you may have seen this article last week about teaching our children about the Heroes of Faith. It argues that we have taught the heroes of the faith, not to teach our children about real human people, with real human foibles, who God still manages to love and use, but rather to use them to teach our Sunday School children to be good little boys and girls. You may or may not agree…
This passage (if we read it all) tells us about the great figures of our faith, but it also uses them as an example of people who believed – even when they couldn’t see. Who had to literally walk by faith, because they could see no other way in the situations they were in. They had no proof, but plenty of hope.
Abraham was no saint. He believed God’s promises, but also did all he could to make them happen. He got fed up of waiting for God. His faith faltered and he forgot that it didn’t rely on him. His wife Sarah laughed when she heard God’s promises. She didn’t believe, she was sceptical. Their lives became difficult from their own efforts to bring about God’s promise.
So how about us? Have you tried to make things happen yourself, to force God’s hand? Have you laughed in God’s face when you’ve heard his plans for you? I know I have. Sometimes it can be difficult to believe what God says to us.
But that is ok. Because we are people of faith, not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Some things are hard, if not impossible, to grasp with our minds. We are human. People with our own thoughts and feelings, our own hopes and desires, our own plans. The good news is so were Abraham and Sarah (and Abel and Enoch and Noah). God has a track record of using very human people, with very human foibles.
We may not be perfect, but by faith we are heroes – for and with God.
We are all strangers and foreigners on earth, walking towards a better place. So are those we live amongst. We journey together – not as superior guides, but as fellow travellers.
I walk by faith.
I have no other choice,
because life is confusing
I don’t always understand your ways,
but I trust them.
15 Later the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision, “Abram, don’t be afraid! I will protect you and reward you greatly.”
2 But Abram answered, “Lord All-Powerful, you have given me everything I could ask for, except children. And when I die, Eliezer of Damascus will get all I own. 3 You have not given me any children, and this servant of mine will inherit everything.”
4 The Lord replied, “No, he won’t! You will have a son of your own, and everything you have will be his.” 5 Then the Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky and see if you can count the stars. That’s how many descendants you will have.” 6 Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord was pleased with him.
God promised Abraham that he would reward him and protect him. Yet Abraham still wants more. He wants children, and God promises him he will have many descendants.
To be honest, I’m a bit jealous of this promise to Abraham. He tells God what he wants, and God promises to fulfil it – in abundance. It all seems so simple. Yet life is not always like that.
How many of us cry out to God for something that we want, and yet we never see it, never receive that same promise from God. It’s enough to make you lose faith in God ( or yourself? Maybe it’s me? I’m not as good/worthy as Abraham)
Why does God promise this to Abraham? Why doesn’t he promise it to me? Is it a general promise that whatever we want, God will provide; or a specific and necessary promise to Abraham.
I genuinely think it is the latter. We hear lots in the bible about promises God does keep, but I suppose no one bothered recording the ones they didn’t think he had! There were people who had to struggle with their life as it was, seemingly with God not answering their pleas. Think Job, think my hero Habakkuk. We cry out to God, and it appears to make no difference, it seems he’s not listening – or if he does he ignores us. We long for things to be different. Our heart breaks. Our lives are lived in despair. Why is God not answering my longing?
And you read passages like this and it all seems so simple.
Yet, faith is just that, as we considered last week. If we believe in God, part of that is trusting him. Allowing him to do what is right, not what we want. And relying on him to sustain us in our pain and frustration; to wipe our tears, hold us safely in his arms as we sob, and giving us the strength when we think we can no longer go on with how things are.
Trust in a Time of Trouble
17 Fig trees may no longer bloom, or vineyards produce grapes; olive trees may be fruitless, and harvest time a failure; sheep pens may be empty, and cattle stalls vacant— 18 but I will still celebrate because the Lord God saves me. 19 The Lord gives me strength. He makes my feet as sure as those of a deer, and he helps me stand on the mountains.
I do think God keeps his promises, ultimately. The answers may not be what we think they should be, they may not be as spectacular as Abraham’s was, they may take longer than we think (remember Abraham took matters into his own hand when he thought God wasn’t delivering on this promise quick enough – God has a time and a place). But God is faithful and true. He is worthy of our faith and trust, he delivers on his promises, whether we recognise it or not. But we have to give him the scope to fulfil them his way and in his time. And allow him to give us the strength to hang on in there while he does.
Thank you Lord for your promises. I don’t always understand them, sometimes I want to push them, to make them work the way I want.
Thank you Lord, that you know what is the very best, for me and for the complex web that is the world.
Thank you that you hold me tight, when it feels that my world is falling apart, not following the path I expected, not fulfilling my dreams.
Thank you that you never let me go, that however much it feels like it at times, I will not drown, that you have a deeper purpose in and through me, that your promises are not in vain – though sometimes unexpected.
Lord,help me not to be blinkered in what I see and what I fail to see