Father Abraham had many sons
And many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them
And so are you
So, let’s all praise the Lord
I know our Sunday School kids know that song and perhaps some of you do as well. In fact, it is probably the most well-known song and story about the great patriarch Abraham or Abram as he is in today’s story. But how do we get to that point, how does he become the father of many sons when we hear in today’s reading that he doesn’t even have one heir to pass on his estate to?
We’ll get to that, but I want to back us up even further to connect this reading to the one we heard last week about Adam and Eve. (next slide)
This is Abraham’s family tree.
As you can see, Adam is Abraham’s great-great-great grandfather. Adam’s lesser known son Seth gave birth to Noah, yes that Noah of Noah and the ark, whose son Shem gave birth to Abraham’s father Terah.
What began with Adam and Eve, God’s creation of humankind to be in relationship with God has continued through these generations. God has chosen this family, to be God’s own people and has promised to be with them always. Even when sin had totally taken over the world in the days of Noah, God stayed true to God’s promises and saved Noah and his family from the waters of the flood. God promised Noah that never again, no matter how angry and hurt God became, would God destroy the earth. Instead, God recommitted to being in relationship with God’s people through this one family. A few hundred years down the road and this family has become so large, so numerous that they scare the Pharaoh who ends up enslaving them as a means of population control.
But 400 years is a long time… a really long time. So for now, we will focus on Abraham, or Abram as he is in today’s text. (next slide)
Abram had been called by God to leave his father and homeland, and with his wife Sarai to go to the land that God would give them. It is a big ask, to give up most of his family and friends and security to follow God, but Abram does so. Taking his nephew Lot and all his possessions with him, Abram departs.
Throughout his time following God, Abram is faithful. And he prospers. In fact, he and his nephew each accumulate so many possessions and so much livestock, that the land simply cannot support both of them together. So they part ways. Abram to continue on his journey to the promised land in Canaan and Lot settles in Sodom (yes, that Sodom).
Eventually, a coalition of kings attack Sodom and takes all of its inhabitants, including Lot and Lot’s family captive. When Abram hears of it, he forms his own military coalition and rescues the inhabitants of Sodom. The spoils of war are great.
Having amassed even greater wealth, Abram now desires someone to share that wealth with by being able to leave it as an inheritance. But he has no child of his own and he and Sarai are quite old. Well past the age of childbearing and child-rearing. God had promised him long ago when God first called them that Abram would be blessed to be a blessing to the whole world and that he would be the father of many nations. That has not come to pass.
As we get to today’s reading, we find Abram worn out from battle against the kings who had taken Lot and others hostage. He is probably a little fearful that he has put a target on his back by attacking these people and because he has so much wealth but no land, no secure piece of property on which to keep and protect his wealth. And he is frustrated that God is taking so long to be true to God’s promise and give him an heir.
But God is patient with Abram. God speaks reminding Abram who God is—Abram’s shield and true protection. All of Abram’s possessions and wealth and even Abram and Sarai’s lives are held in God’s hands and watched over, guided, and protected by God. Next God reiterates God’s promise to Abram (next slide) calling him to look up and count the stars for that is how many descendants Abram shall have.
Notice God’s promise to Abram… God doesn’t have Abram check out a particular constellation and say, you’ll have as many descendants as there are stars in that little grouping. Rather the stars in the whole sky are representative.
Upon hearing these words of promise, Abram believes. Not believes as intellectually agreeing to a certain set of words, ideas, and premises, but rather believes as in deeply trusting in the person and truth of God. That’s why the writer of Genesis can see Abram’s faith as giving him righteousness. Abram’s trust in God and God’s promises are what make him right with God.
This isn’t to say that Abram will never again doubt God’s promise. Abram and Sarai will try to take the promise into their own hands and make it come true on their own terms. But God will not be thwarted.
See God is like that, God operates in God’s own ways and in God’s timing. We rarely get to know or see the ways that God is working, but because God loves us and has promised to be our God forever, we, like Abram can have faith or trust. Dr. Kimberly Leetch writes that
Many things in life can be frustrating and scary. But who’s to say God isn’t behind it? Or at least, that God isn’t in front of it? Just because our plans haven’t work out the way we think they should, doesn’t mean that God is not involved or that God has failed us. It might be just that God is waiting for just the right moment to reveal a delightful surprise. God’s plans might not be our plans. But God’s promises and surprises are as numerous as the stars.
Three major religions all trace their lineage back to Abram and Sarai—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Jewish faith tracing its heritage through Abraham’s son Isaac, the Muslims through the son of Abraham and Sarah’s slave girl Hagar, Ishmael, and we Christians who see ourselves adopted into the Jewish family tree through Jesus Christ the Messiah. If you add together the total number of adherents of these three major world religions, then indeed has God’s promise to Abraham come true. There are indeed as many descendants as there are stars in the sky.
The fact that we are all part of the same family of faith and that we all matter to God isn’t always easy to accept. And I guess that really isn’t surprising given the human nature. Even the people in Jesus’ day had a lot of trouble with the idea that gentiles, Samaritans, and sinners mattered to God. They felt that because they could trace their religious heritage to Abraham, which by the way so could the Samaritans, they were superior to others. They thought that this superiority was innate and that it meant that they and they alone would be saved.
But that isn’t what we learn from the story of Abraham. Abraham isn’t blessed to be a blessing for just a few nations, but for all nations.
And so, Jesus calls out the scribes and Pharisees and other religious people for this false belief. He tells them that being born in the lineage of Abraham doesn’t make them any better than anyone else. In fact, belonging to the right family, as they thought they did, is not even worth mentioning because if God wanted to, God could make the rocks beneath their feet into children of Abraham.
God’s love far outweighs any righteous or religious claims we make think we have. God’s love has been revealed for is in the pages of Scripture as we hear with fresh ears and see with fresh eyes the universality of the love of God. No one is beyond God’s love, God’s grace, God’s redemption. Not us, not the person or persons who drive us nuts, not those we are afraid of, not those we dislike, not anyone.
As Christians, we see proof of God’s love in the person of Jesus Christ, who came into this world to draw all people back to God—to make right what had become so broken and to make a way for all of us to experience God’s true loving nature. In Jesus Christ, we see and hear that God desires our health, our wholeness, our well-being. In the cross and resurrection, we learn too that God desires above all to be in relationship with us. The relationship that God desires is one of trust, of faith. It is the relationship that God had in the garden with Adam and Eve, that God had with Noah that led God to spare him from the flood, and that God had with Abraham that made him the father of all nations and peoples.
Our faith, our belief, our trust in the person and promises of God is what makes us righteous as well. But unlike Abraham, that righteousness is not something that we earn on our own. For few are so great and mighty in faith. But Jesus Christ knew our human weakness, knew how we twist God’s promises to keep some people included and to exclude others, and knew that desperately needed help to live in the kind of relationship with God that God desires to have with us. The apostle Paul explains it thus in the 4th chapter of Romans:
13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already[b] as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith[c] “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
Our faith, our belief, is a gift from the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a gift that saves us. And it is a gift that makes us what we were created to be—a people who love and trust God and God’s promises.
Thanks to be God that we can know God and God’s love for us, that we have been given Christ, and that we thus are counted righteous just like our spiritual father Abraham.