Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Can God Be Trusted?

Genesis 21:1-3, 22:1-14 - September 15, 2013 - Narrative Lectionary - Year 4, Week 2

Last week was creation – in the beginning – and it was good.

In the rear-view mirror as we travel this narrative arc are Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the tower of Babel. Today we launch into the story of our relationship with God. God’s promise continues…

In chapter 12 we are introduced to a young couple named Abram and Sarai. Abram is beloved by God and is blessed by God: I will make of you a great nation and will bless you (12:2). That means – you will have many descendants.

But many years went by and still Sarai and Abram had no children even with repeated promises from God that they would be blessed.

Can God be trusted?

Abram and Sarai don’t always act like God can be trusted. Really the whole story plays out like incredibly juicy gossip:

I heard Abram was traveling with Sarai, and when he came upon Pharaoh he told him that Sarai was his sister.
NO!!

He did, and then when Pharaoh took her in… and… “you know”… God got mad. And He punished the entire kingdom until Pharaoh finally figured it out and sent them on their way.
And then… you’re never going to believe this… not that much later, Abram did it again.
NO he didn’t.

He Did! He told King Abimelech that Sarai was his sister.
       Ugh. Can Abram be trusted?

Then… I heard that Sarai got impatient with God’s promise not happening and so she offered her servant, Hagar, to Abram and he took her up on it and wouldn’t you know it, the servant got pregnant and Sarai was so jealous and she treated Hagar so harshly that Hagar ran away into the wilderness.
How awful!

But God brought Hagar back and she gave birth to a son, Ishmael.

Can Sarai be trusted?

Genesis is a book about relationships – the good and the bad. There are fathers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and sons, brothers, sisters, uncles and nephews… all kinds of combinations sometimes acting for the glory of God and sometimes acting as if to prove just how basic the depravity of humanity actually is.

Out of all of these relationships, the most important relationship in Genesis is the one between God and humanity. The narrative of Abram who later becomes Abraham and his relationship with Yahweh is the foundation for the understanding by the people of Israel and all of its branches – including Christianity – that we are in a relationship with God. We are in a covenant that requires communication and trust. 

But after hearing a story like that one where a faithful person is pushed to the absolute outside edge of obedience… can God be trusted?

Does God put us to the test? This Scripture passage makes a pretty strong case for it. It opens with the very words: God tested Abraham.  Whether or not we want to believe in a God who tests, those who heard this story first understood God that way.  But what is the context of the story? This story that was passed on around the campfire of the people of Israel was written down while they were in exile. They were surrounded by neighbors who worshiped foreign gods, sacrificed children to those gods and as a minority in the midst of violent neighbors they too were being pushed to the absolute outside edges of obedience. 

What if the purpose of the story was to show the people of God how the father of their faith kept that faith in the most trying of times?

Many of us grew up with Aesop’s fables. One of the ones I remember well is the one with the fox and the
grapes. A fox is thirsty and trying to reach grapes that are too high for him. As he jumps and jumps and jumps, he finally has to admit that he cannot reach them and says, “Those grapes are sour, I don’t want them anyway.”

There is a moral to the story and to the storyteller that is the only thing that matters. From this story of the fox and the grapes we are not to conclude:
That foxes only eat grapes when they’re thirsty.
That foxes always leap for their food.
That foxes can talk.

The moral of the story that the people of Israel so badly needed to hear is that God can be trusted and that the father of their faith responded to the most dire of tests with great, steadfast trust. The point of this story was not that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but that he stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. In the Biblical narrative this is the last great story of the relationship between Abraham and God. It celebrates their mutual trust and lays the foundation for generations of relationships to follow.

Life in relationship inevitably brings tests of trust. 

I think of the child who is blamed for stealing a library book and promises their parent that they didn’t take it. The parent’s trust of the child is tested at the same time as the child’s trust of the parent is tested.

Does the parent trust the child enough to take a stand on their behalf?
Does the child trust the parent enough to tell them the truth?

Having a relationship with God does not mean that we will never be tested. In fact, by the very definition of relationship – we will.
Do we trust God with our hurts and our pains?
   Do we trust God with our decisions?
      Do we trust God with our material possessions?

God can be trusted.

In turn, God trusts us.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… 
God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them. 
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Will we take care of God’s creation?
   Will we love our neighbor as ourselves?
      Will we love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength?

Beloved children of God… can we be trusted?


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