I love Chapter 17 of Genesis. We read a small section of it for this Sunday’s lectionary.
In the first lesson this Sunday from Genesis 17, we skip over some of the verses. We leave out the fact that God asks Abraham to demonstrate his commitment to God by circumcision.
It has been a long time since God spoke so dramatically to Abraham. The last time it was so dramatic, was 24 years ago, when Abraham was 75. At that time God promised him descendents, and Abraham struggled to believe then. Now he’s 99!
Yet he’s so in awe of God’s presence that in verse three it says he fell face down. After all he’s in the presence of Almighty God.
But a bit farther along, after God tells him the sign of his convenant will be circumcision, God tells him that Sarah, his 90 year old wife is going to have a baby.
“17Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" 18 And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"
Abraham on his face twice. First out of awe, and a second time trying not to laugh out loud at God. Who can blame him? Even in our day of Viagra, it seems pretty strange to believe that a 90 year old woman and a 99 year old man would actually find themselves in a position where pregnancy could occur!
I suspect that is why Abraham is laughing! When he gets his composure, he suggests to God that maybe just blessing Ishmael, his son by Sarah’s slave Hagar might be the best solution.
But God says “Nope, Sarah is going to have a baby, a boy named Isaac in just about a year.”
In this passage it doesn’t say Abraham believed, but it does say that right then and there they had a circumcision party for every male in his household including him. (I suspect it did not increase Abraham’s popularity with his hired hands!) But it was this action that proved his faith, in a peculiar and painful way.
In the passage for today from Romans, written centuries later, Paul explains that Abraham’s faith is one of the great keys to understanding the scriptures. Abraham did not do a particularly good job keeping all the rules and regulations of good behavior, but he did believe that if God made a promise,. God would keep it.
Paul realizes that this one of the great principles of the entire bible. God approved of Abraham not because of his behavior, which was a bit erratic, or because he was circumcised. Instead God approves of Abraham because of his faith. Circumcision was the proof of his faith. And Paul then says that our faith is what binds us to God, not our good deeds.
I keep trying to remember this. And I keep trying to remember that if God makes a promise he will keep it. May we all have an increase of faith this lent.