Rev. Judith Walker-Hutchinson, Wed 29th October 2014
Genesis18:23-32 & Matt 9:1-8
It was Bible Sunday on Sunday and if you were in church for the 10:30 service you would have heard David preach to us about language and the development of our understanding of the Bible in our own language and the importance of the fact that language, words, are what make us human, but the word of God, shown to us in the Bible, is what explains to us why we are human.
The readings we've just heard are the BCP readings for the week had it not been Bible Sunday and I think they very nicely carry on for us lessons as the people of God struggling to understand the meaning of the word of God today.
I particularly like this reading from Genesis. Here we hear Abraham arguing with God, yes arguing! Good, faithful, obedient Abraham father of the faith, father of all nations, Gods chosen one – arguing with God.
Perhaps aside from Jesus there is no one to whom we should turn to try to understand a right relationship with God other than Abraham. All of us Jews, Christians and Muslims, people of the Book, consider him to be the very beginning of our covenant relationship with God. So what’s going on here?
We need something of a context.
When we think of Abraham we think of obedience and loyalty to God, loyalty we can’t begin to scratch the surface of, this is the man who would offer up to God as a sacrifice his precious, loved and longed for child Isaac.
We think of Abraham as the paragon of trust , he’s the one whom God has called, who has left his home at God’s command to head out to who knows where to begin the family of God. To really understand the magnitude of that we need to think of Ur, Abraham’s home, as the sophisticated city it was at the time. Scholars tell us that it is actually somewhere in present day Iraq, but then it would have been like God asking him to leave New York to head out into the midwest (or perhaps more meaningful for us a London trader being asked to head to the north-east) - a decision to leave Ur involves a great deal of trust. But Abraham has received a formidable promise from God
“all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
God is telling him he will have numerous descendants and they will be all divinely blessed. These are great promises, promises which look ahead not only to the rest of the Hebrew Bible but to the whole Bible -gospels letters and revelation, all that we have of the Word of God.
And in responding to that promise Abraham becomes the great patriarchal father of faith.
And that's how we tend to think of him, but this part of Genesis tells us the unfolding story of how Abraham responds to God’s challenge and promise.
He does indeed leave Ur, head West with his wife Sarah, his father Terah, and the son of his dead brother, Lot. After several difficulties Abraham and Lot have eventually prospered, but Abraham is getting old and he begins to doubt that God will fulfil the promise to make him a father at all, let alone a father of many. God tries to reassure him, even making a solemn covenant which does give Abraham conviction for a while, then wavering again Abraham tries to make God’s promise come true by doing what childless men do at the time and he takes a concubine by whom he has a son Ishmael. Abraham has tried to make God’s promise come true by human means not by waiting in divine trust.
By the time of our reading Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90, they are continuing on Gods journey of faith but it's a bumpy ride and when they receive three visitors one of whom tells Abraham that by the time he returns next year Abraham and Sarah will be blessed with a child, Sarah laughed out loud and says
“how could a worn out old woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master, my husband, is so old?”
And then we hear a challenging question, a challenge to Abraham’s understanding of God and a challenge to ours today, the visitor turns to Sarah and Abraham and asks them
“is anything too hard for the Lord?”
That is precisely where we are in our reading today when the three messengers from God have left Abraham on a mission to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
Again we need some context to understand why Abraham does not, in the face of all he has just heard, accept that God will do what God will do…
When Abraham and Lot prospered they decided to divide the land between them and the land that Lot settled in was the land with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah within it.
That is when Abraham begins to argue with the Lord. He tries to negotiate with God - I know there’s a lot of bad people there God but if you find a few good ones would you not save the city just say if you found 40? God agrees, but then Abraham tries again - say if you found 35 would you save them, and God agrees and so it goes until in the end we know what Abraham wins from God is that Lot and his daughters will be saved from God’s destruction.
Whether that was a good thing or not is a story for another day but there are two things we can take away from this little passage today:
The first is that the journey of faith is not a smooth and easy ride, God’s purpose for us is something that even Abraham struggled with, bouncing between trust and doubt throughout his journey, but the key to Abraham’s happiness, and to ours, is to trust God.
And the second is about our relationship with God. When we think of the Bible even on Bible Sunday it’s easy to think of a static set of words rather than living faith - but the words in this Book are not of the laws set in stone but of the journeys of the people of God and their living, breathing relationship with God, a relationship that is a two-way thing not just a set of demands from God imposed upon us.
Unlike Abraham we know this because in the Bible we have the full story of the living word of God, and we know that it is not just the story of the trust and love that God demands from us but of the God who trusts us so much that like Abraham he was prepared to sacrifice his son for us.
Jesus is the living breathing word of God.
The Bible is full of accounts of the journeys of our fellow pilgrims and all show us that life is a bumpy passage. But what we do have is the knowledge of the culmination of the love and trust of God, the living word, Jesus Christ whose trust was such that he went to the cross - he lived and died that we might know him resurrected through the pages of this book. In our Gospel today Jesus asked the scribes the question “Why do you think with evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”?
There are many things in life, on our journey of faith that make us doubt the promise of God, when we hit life’s difficulties, when we want to give up and lie on a mat, or even times when we simply cannot get up any more, when we might feel like arguing or even being angry with God - and unlike the man in the Gospel we do not have the living Word of God standing in front of us commanding us to get up and walk- but these miracles for the fortunate few were simply signs of the power of God. What we have in this living book is the promise of the far harder truth - that through Jesus, the living Word, our sins are forgiven, we are the blessed people of God.
Even on the worst of days that is surely enough. Thanks be to God, Amen.