That Moldy Old Patriarch, Abe

Much as we might find it difficult to relate to the patriarchs, much as we may find it difficult to relate to the whole Old Testament of the Bible, much as we may struggle to find anything in common with a person who lived 2000 years before Christ– yet father Abram remains a symbol for the times in which we live. At first glance this may seem shocking and surprising to you, a thing difficult to believe. Yet Abram struggled, as most of us struggle, with what it means to live by faith.

The record of his life from Genesis shows us a man who struggled with answering the call of God. Abram struggled with how he might be able to have a sense of trust in God. How could he be able to believe God’s promises, especially at the moments when those promises seemed to have a diminishing return of fulfillment?

Like most of us, Abram wondered about his legacy. He wondered about what would happen after he was gone and what would come next. Frankly all Abram could see was that all his hard work in following and seeking after God would be a thing that came to naught.

And as such, the big temptation for Abram was the temptation to despair.  After he has done all he could to serve God, still Abram feared that the heir of his household would be no offspring of his– no legitimate heir– but the slave Eliezer of Damascus. Has he served in vain? Has he given up all that he has for nothing?

Maybe at this point you’re beginning to see that Abram has much more in common with the plight of contemporary mankind than is apparent at first glance.

So now we turn our attention to that first lesson– that very strange lesson from the book Genesis. The one where the movie would’ve cast Max von Sydow in the role of Abram, standing there in a scene reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” chasing away buzzards from the hacked up remains of creatures, while a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. Such is not a scene that lends itself to sharing the warm fuzzies of the love of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord and in the Episcopal Church. So we might ask what has this lesson to do with you; what has this lesson to do with me?

We are not apt to see how this lesson is a celebration of God’s loving covenant, yet it is. Our first reaction is not likely to be that all humans relate one to another and with Almighty God covenantally. We are probably not likely to make a direct connection between the first lesson– this story from Genesis– and the Gospel, where we have the example of the tender compassion of God seeking his people who refused to turn to him. Nor might there be the propensity that we would use these lessons to reflect upon our own covenant with Almighty God, which we have made in baptism, where we are signed and sealed as Christ’s own forever, where indeed, we are made not heirs of a land and countless descendants but heirs of a thing far more glorious: God’s eternal kingdom and his glory.

For we are made heirs of the Kingdom that cannot be shaken if we are truly rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Difficult as these lessons may be for us, these are significant lessons that address what it means to actually live by faith. They remind us that the first thing to be learned in living in faith is that we have to learn to trust Almighty God. That’s not always easy to do. Yet, it is only when we struggle with this issue of trust that we actually grow in faith.

We may go about feeling that the sky is falling; living by faith means that we learn to trust that it is God’s sky after all, and it is up to him, not up to us… so it does very little good to go running about saying that “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.”

Living by faith means that we have to give up living like Chicken Little. 

The second lesson is: living by faith will compel you to grow in hope; for as we live by faith we will have to allow ourselves to be persuaded about the reality of God’s promises for us even when we have a hard time to see the vision. We forget all too quickly that hope is one of the great theological virtues! 

Abram (later known as Abraham) knew it.  He had to learn it the hard way. You and I have to learn it. What’s that, you might ask? What we have to learn and what we are reminded of today, is that living by faith is coming to trust in God; to trust his love, to trust his grace, and to trust his forgiveness.


Canon Greg+


About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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