Monday, February 18, 2013

A Weird Sort of Promise

It will be hard for me to preach on anything but the Genesislesson this week. That’s not because I know what the Spirit is leading me to say about. It’s only because the story of Abraham and the smoking fire pot is utterly cool.

 Here’s how the story goes down:

1.      God promises old-man Abram (and his barren wife) descendants as numerous as the stars.
2.      Abram believes God’s promise.
3.      God reckons Abram’s belief as righteousness—implying a right relationship.
4.      Then, God promises Abram the land.
5.      Abram asks God for proof.
6.      Through a bizarre mixture of animal sacrifice, hallucinatory dreaming, and ancient custom, God pledges his commitment to Abram and makes a covenant with him.

Almost any part of that could be a sermon. St. Paul makes a big deal about the belief leading to righteousness in his letter to the Romans. Some might say that this passage—more than any other in the bible—is responsible for the Evangelical movement in Christianity. Abram’s model becomes Paul’s model for explaining the Jesus-event, and, thus, we are encouraged to believe in Jesus with faith like Abram in order to be made righteous. It’s a big deal.

But what about the covenant? What sort of humanity believes that God would enter a covenant with a human being and his descendants? Imagine an A-list celebrity going to prom with a C-list student. Why would that happen? Well, maybe as a publicity stunt. And maybe that’s true for God as well. Is God reaching out to Abram in covenant primarily to show the world who he is—a God of relationship? It’s interesting to me that we believe in a God of covenants—such a human, transactional way of talking about God—but that unfathomable combination of God as totally other and God as intimately related is at the heart of our faith.

If I had to guess at this point where a sermon will come from, I’d say it’s from the smoking fire pot. Not only does God make a covenant with Abram and his descendants, but he also seemingly puts his life on the line. That gesture—walking between the slain animals—was a way of saying, “If I break my promise, let me be as these carcasses.” That’s a silly thing to suggest God might do, but that’s the point. Not only does God make promises, but God is promise. God is defined as the one who is faithful and true. How is it possible for human beings to have such a vision and to talk of God in this way? Because God is primarily the faithful one. No crazy ancient image of promise is too extreme. 

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