Introduction to the readings for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Eugene Peterson, in his book, The Message, THE BIBLE IN CONTEMPORARY LANGUAGE, describes the book of Genesis this way:
Genesis offers listeners a ‘’verbal witness to God’s creative acts, God’s intervening and gracious judgments, and God’s invitation to live in faithful covenant with one another and with God.”
Listen to the interplay of meaningful and prophetic conversation between God and Abram as laid out in Abram’s vision.
What images and feelings are evoked in you on hearing God’s abundantly rich promises to one of the foundational patriarchs of Hebrew Scriptures?
Reading from the Harper Collins Study Bible, New Standard Revised Version beginning at the 15th chapter of Genesis 15, verses 1-6, ‘God assures Abram’
“After these things, the word of God came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”
But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”
He brought him outside and said, “Look, toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.”
Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
And he believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
Our response to this morning’s reading from Genesis is found at VU 42 “As the Deer Pants for the Water”.
Our reading from the Christian texts this morning was thought to be composed for one of the early Christian communities desperately trying to hold things together some 50 years or so after Jesus’ death on the cross.
In some ways, it picks up the threads of the Genesis story as the story of Abram, now Abraham and his descendants is fulfilled.
Listen again to how the abundantly rich promises offered in Genesis is lived out in this reading from the Christian text.
What kind of hope might the reading offer those early Christians at risk for persecution because of their beliefs?
What kind of hope might the reading offer us here now in our own context of religious decline in secular culture?
Reading from the book of Hebrews, Chapter 11: verses 1-3; and 8-16
Hebrews 11New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Meaning of Faith
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith[a] our ancestors received approval.3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.[b]
The Faith of Abraham
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.[e] 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
So what does this text say to those of us living in this conflicted modern age?
For me it is significant that Abram had followed the Lord’s commandment to leave the land that he knew . (Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. Genesis 12)
This says to me that Abram would have understood the anxiety of leaving the comfort of a world he knew well for an unknown destination. However, he had faith that God would lead him and provide for him and for his family.
Every day in the news we see and hear of multitudes of people from many different lands leaving all that they know and love in order to remain faithful to their God. In some cases they are threatened by death to abandon their faith and in other cases they are forced to leave by increasingly difficult discriminatory conditions.
In the news last week I read that Iraq’s Christian population has plummeted by nearly 90% and Syria’s by almost 70% in the last few years. Jewish populations in those countries have experienced similar catastrophic declines. My husband is Jewish and at a family wedding last summer, we were seated at a table with an Iraqi family. The woman beside me told me that they had fled Iraq at the urging of her father as conditions declined and most of their friends and neighbours from the Jewish community had already left. Her father had arranged for his grown children to study abroad and finally had sent his wife on a supposed “visit” to them. They were all told not to return to Iraq. The father, himself, had been warned that he could not leave the country as he had been a government advisor and knew government secrets and would be killed if he tried to escape. He had remained alone in Baghdad and had died alone the previous year. She said he was the last surviving Jew in Baghdad.
These atrocities are not limited only to Christians and Jews, but also to the divisions in Islam and smaller groups in the area such as Buddhists and Bahai. The power of the faith that these refugees have is inspiring to me. I find it tragic that in the part of the world that was the birthplace of three great and intertwined religions, hatred is creating such dreadful conditions.
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us, thanks be to God.
Harper Collins Study Bible, New Standard Revised Version, Harper Collins Publishers, 1989, pages 23-24 and pages 2263-2264
The Message, THE BIBLE IN CONTEMPORARY LANGUAGE, p. 17, Copyright 2004 by Eugene Peterson