Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Preached for Introduction to Preaching at the School of Theology of University of the South Spring 2021

In today’s reading from Genesis 15, we enter into Abraham’s story, albeit before he was Abraham. We all know the story from Dr. Wright’s class last semester. It begins a few chapters earlier in chapter 12 when God calls Abram to leave the land of his ancestors to go to the land of Canaan, which God promises to give to Abram and his descendants forever…. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Abram’s reaction to this revelation, but I imagine he found it quite odd because he was an old man with no descendants. Scripture tells us that Abram gathered his family and all that he had and stepped out in faith to follow wherever God would lead. Abram steps out in faith, but his walk with God isn’t an easy one. In the intervening chapters, Abram encounters a famine that leads him to doubt God’s providence, and he takes his household to Egypt, where he passes his wife off as his sister and some immoral stuff goes on. He parted ways with his nephew Lot and had to rescue him from Captivity.

By the time we get to what we heard in today’s reading, Abram had been on this journey for a little while, and he still had no descendants, and he was an even older man, and his lovely wife hadn’t gotten any younger. Abram was having a bit of a hard time doing what God had asked and trusting in what God told him… he’d even gone so far as to create a backup plan. He’d made a will, so to speak. He had entrusted all he had not to the descendants that God promised but to Eleazar of Damascus, one of his slaves.

In the face of all that Abram had experienced and done, God appeared to him in a dream and greeted him with the most frequently heard passage in scripture “do not be afraid” God goes on not to scold Abram for his failure but to remind him of the promise. God creates a covenant with Abram (It’s the bit with all the animals being chopped in two). This covenant mirrors a practice
in which two kings would enter into a treaty with one another. The greater King would cut the animals in two, and the lesser King would walk through them. These two kings recognized that if the lesser King broke their end of the covenant, the greater King would do to the lesser what he had done to those animals. But astonishingly, this covenant between God and Abram is different. Abram is asleep, he has absolutely nothing to do with any of it, and God is the one who walks through the animals. God, the greater King, promises that even if Abram fails to uphold his end of the bargain, God won’t turn away but will fulfill the covenant himself.

I wanted to go through the trouble of summing up Abraham’s story because, in a way, Abraham’s story is our story, for, ever since God called Abram out of Ur so many years ago, God called countless numbers of people, all of us included, to step out in faith. Each one of us has been called by God to leave behind our home, family, friends, and jobs to follow God into the great unknown. Like Abraham, we are called to embark on a risky, costly journey, and it takes an unbelievable amount of trust, and frankly, that’s scary. This is true not just for our seminary journeys but for the entire life of faith.
All our journeys started at different points in our lives. For some, the sense of call has been around for as long as they can remember. For others, it started later in life as they felt prompted to explore faith and came to know Jesus. For some, the journey has been relatively straightforward and easy, and for others, it has been long and winding, embracing much pain and adversity. There may have been times when the journey no longer seemed worth it for many. And, for all of us, at one point or another, there are things in our life that keep us from focusing on the journey, things that cause us to veer off the path and lose sight of God, who is our companion and guide, and the promise of life which God has given us. When we
fail in these ways, it may seem like we walk this journey on our own, and there isn’t much hope of reaching the journey’s end, but we do not walk alone.

Abraham’s story is good news for us in our walk of faith because the way of the cross, following Jesus in response to God’s call, doesn’t always seem like the way of life and peace (as the collect for Friday mornings puts it). It is easy to veer off course to doubt God’s promise to be with us and provide for us. The good news is that Abraham’s story shows us that we’ve already made the key decision. We stepped out in faith, and as long as we’re willing to continue on the journey even when we fall off the path. God has taken the rest onto Godself, and we don’t need to worry. In the words of St. Paul, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.” God fulfilled the promise made to Abraham and will fulfill the
promise made to us. Do not be afraid.