You Were Foretold in the Heavens
You were foretold in the heavens, as were the lives of those you’d touch, the legacies you would leave. Even if you can’t know exactly who or how those legacies will be, God’s promise to you is that they WILL BE - you need only go on the journey with God. From the story of Abraham, we see that Israel did not emerge spontaneously, but was created from the remnants of the flood, the bits of humanity.
As Breuggemann reminds us, “As you will remember, there were not many examples of faith up to this point in Genesis. The first man and woman were given a comfortable garden in which to live, but they didn’t last long. That couple’s children got into a fight, and Cain killed his brother, Abel. From that point things went from bad to worse until finally there was a flood which wiped out everyone but Noach and his passengers on the ark. Still later, people began to build a tower that would make them good as God - but the foundation of the tower was imperfect humanity, and it didn’t stand for long.”
But now, here, we have a couple that not only is faithful, but who will be the basis for “the formation of a people and reformation of all creation.” When we speak of God’s steadfast faithfulness, we need only think of the first 11 chapters we have gone through together. Thus far, since the beginning, God has never given up on humanity, and has always left a spark of hope. But how could Abraham and Sarah, or Abram and Sarai, as they are at the beginning of the narrative, how could they be the foundation upon which Israel was built? In simple logistics, they were a much older couple, well past the age to conceive.
Still Abraham would be the “father of faith” and the “father of many” through his faith. This is emphasized most beautifully in the story of Abraham gazing up in the dark, seeing the stars of the night sky, and being told that he would have as many descendants as there were stars. In response to this promise, Abraham has some honest dialogue wherein he protests the possibility, is reassured by God, and then goes on to accept God’s promise.
Circumcision is then introduced for first time as a sign of the covenant with God.
Now the Christian tradition may not demand for circumcision, as was the case for our Jewish ancestors, as was the case for the many immediate generations after father Abraham. However, we do something else to show our acceptance of God’s promise for us. We have baptism. Perhaps you never thought of baptism as the sign that you are the fulfillment of God’s promise for the generations before, and that you receive the same promise to create more of the faithful community through your own life. Perhaps you do not often think of your baptism as a reminder that you were foretold in the heavens long ago to the father of faith, and have always belonged.
Indeed, baptism, like the sign of the stars, is the sign of promise for you and what your life will hold. It is not a promise that you will live a perfect life, a life of material gain, a life of worldly success. It is not the sign of Cain, that you should be physically protected at all times. It is not even the sign of Noach, who did receive a sign of promise, but a promise that is the continuation of life. Now Abraham, he receives a sign of promise - the many grains of dust, the multitude of stars that would turn out to be you - a sign of promise that demanded faith. This sign of promise demanded Abraham’s certitude based solely on the vision God gave him.
What a tall order! And yet, we are to have certitude, like Abraham, in the vision that God sets before us. A vision, like the multitude of stars, that is already as fulfilled through us, and a vision that has also been given to us. It is the vision granted to us again through Christ, that not just life, but faithfulness will continue in and through us. This promise of faithfulness, this legacy we embody and have inherited, may seem so impossible as to be laughable. Abraham and Sarah certainly laughed. Explore this vision of a multitude of stars, the legacy that lies before us, even as it seems so impossible as to be laughable.
We certainly were not what Abraham expected - we’ve moved even beyond circumcision, but still accept the covenant through Christ, who was unexpected, too. A poor, homeless baby in a manger being ruler of all humankind? A carpenter as the messiah? What could be more unexpected than that? We are part of that branch of Abraham’s family, and so shall our descendents, in whatever form they take shape, be. We don’t know what those descendents will look like. They may be our own children. They may simply be another to whom you passed on the promise. They could be the person you went over and introduced yourself to one day, to let them know they are deserving of God’s promise,too.
A gentlemen I was speaking with recently shared with me his hesitance to come to church. He didn’t feel he belonged because no one came up to say, “Hello.” It’s a risk to take, opening yourself to an unknown, whether it is a person or situation. You don’t know if it will work out, you put yourself in a less than comfortable position to make that connection. In one story I heard this week, a group of friends kept vigil over another friend who was suicidal. One of them began to get a fever and feel sick after a shift of many hours, watching over their friend, being a sounding board. The one being watched over noticed this and started to wail, “You have a temperature, you must go, this is all my fault.” The feverish person stopped them and said, “I’m a bit busy right now, helping a friend.” Though tired, though having a bad day, put self out there anyway to make a new connection, help someone to know they are part of God’s promise, give them a sign as sure as the stars above, a sign not unlike our baptism, that tells the stranger they WILL BE a part of the greater faith story - they may very well be a part of God’s promise to you.
I bet there is someone in this congregation sitting here now who’s name may have slipped. Perhaps you’ve never been formally introduced. It happens, but each of us are a result of and have received God’s promise of faith - we can also keep the faith that we won’t be crucified for making the effort to show love to another. Always feel free to re-introduce yourself to another in this family. Let us together have faith in God’s vision through Christ, a vision that is not result-based (we fail, we don’t always live up), but a vision that calls us to respond by going on the journey with the church of all ages and all places, to respond by bringing others into the journey with the God of Abraham and Christ beside us.