Opening and closing prayers are based on Marty Haugen’s Gather Us In.
God of Heaven and Earth,
Here in this place, new light is streaming; now is the darkness vanished away.
See in this place our fears and our dreamings, brought here to you in the light of this day.
Here in this room the new light is shining; now is the Kingdom and now is the day!
Gather us in and hold us forever; gather us in and make us your own
Gather us in, all peoples together—fire of love in our flesh and our bone! Amen!
Now when Avram was ninety years and nine years old, Yahweh was seen by Avram and said to him: I am God Almighty, El Shaddai, the real God of the Mountains! Walk in my presence! And be wholehearted! I give my covenant between me and you, I will make you exceedingly, exceedingly many.
Avram fell upon his face. God spoke with him, saying:
As for me, here, my covenant is with you, so that you will become the father of a throng of nations. No longer shall your name be called Avram, rather shall your name be Avraham, for I will make you father of a throng of Nations!
I will cause you to bear fruit exceedingly, exceedingly, I will make nations of you, (yes,) Kings will go out from you! I establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you, throughout all generations, as a covenant for the ages, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
Translation from The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Everett Fox (The Schocken Bible, Volume 1)
When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him and God called Abram by his name. But why did God start a conversation with Abram? The passage we just heard tells us: to make a covenant, a binding agreement, to form an endless, everlasting relationship.
Throughout the witness of the Bible, time and time again, God reaches out and speaks to the people of his creation—God still speaks to us today! Of course, God knows each of our names, too…
Maybe you noticed in this account God is the person who acts first, speaks first, and begins the encounter into relationship? Not only does God call Abram by name; God comes to Abram right where he is, in common, familiar surroundings, in the same way God meets us right where we are, in everyday places—like right here today, for example!
Okay. So God met Abram in Abram’s here-and-now. But what else was happening?
Abram was extremely unhappy with his situation; IOW, he wanted and needed a lot that he didn’t have, and no way whatsoever was Abram – or any human – in a position to make that happen. Besides Abram and his wife having the sorrow as a couple of not having the children they desired, being childless in that era placed them in a position of cultural dis-grace: unenviable, to say the least, exactly the way every one of us finds ourselves in a situation (or sometimes multiples ones all at the same time) no one would desire or choose.
Yes. Abram wanted someone to carry on his family…and his name! But in addressing Abram God not only proposes his side of a covenant; God has a request of Abram, asking him, “Walk in my presence!”
Reading through scripture, we keep meeting God as Maker of covenants with creation, initiator of gracious agreements, partnerships with creation! Later on in the world’s history and in our own lives, we meet Abram’s God – and Jesus Christ’s God – as the One who rolls death backwards into new life! This God, whose final word always is resurrection, tells Abram, “Walk in my presence!!!” Live your days and your nights beside me, simply be in the same place as the God whose Word calls new life our of death.
We could admit Abram – now given a new name, another identity of Abraham – wasn’t yet physically in the grave, but in finite, human terms, his physical existence could evaporate at any moment and he had no human hope of receiving his heart’s desire. What else did God ask Abraham? To be wholehearted! Some versions say, “be blameless.” For his heart, his desire and his will to line up with God’s heart, will and desire–surely impossible in solitary human terms, but since he’d be walking with the Lord of Life, it definitely could and would happen, and by God’s action alone. That’s known as grace!
God promises Abraham not just one or two or a few offspring, but a throng, a noisy assembly of people as his descendants! And that’s where we come into Abram’s/Abraham’s story, the story of the people of God. Children of Abraham! That’s us! Let’s hear what the apostles Paul says about us in chapter 4 of his letter known as Romans:
Romans 4:Not because of anything Abraham did or would do: not through any rule or law or rule of law, but simply through trusting God’s promise enough to say “Yes” to him and to begin walking and living God’s way.
13 God did not give that famous promise of inheriting the world to Abraham and his descendants because of something Abraham did or would do, but because God decided to put everything together for him;; Abraham entered into that covenant when he trusted God. 16 ...the fulfillment of God’s promises, God’s covenant, entirely depends on trusting God and taking what God does into our lives as pure gracious gift. Remember, Abraham, is the father of us all – not our racial father – that’s reading the story backwards! He is our faith father, our ancestor in trust.
Fast forward: Abraham to Jesus to Paul to San Diego 2006. We know that in the cross of Jesus Christ, God has made the ultimate, the last covenant of grace with all creation, with each one of us. In Jesus Christ, God draws all of us into his life so we can walk with him in trust. By trusting God in Christ, we not only live as Abraham’s children, but also as sons and daughters of the Living God, who now gives us a new name, Christian!
God charged Abraham, “Walk with me and be blameless.” In Jesus Christ, God sees us as holy, complete, wholehearted and without blame: In God’s world, ultimately death, disappointment, grief, betrayal and loss are rolled backwards into new life, renewed hope and abounding joy.
In Jesus Christ, Abraham’s story becomes our story. God calls each of us by name, invites us into his gracious presence, makes an unbreakable, eternal covenantal agreement between each of us and him and…the exceedingly, exceedingly large assembly of Abraham’s descendants known as the Church of Jesus Christ. God charges each of us to trust his Word of promise enough to walk with him, to live in the way Jesus shows, one step at a time, all the rest of our days. God promises to remain with us and God’s greatest joy is for us, Abraham’s daughters and sons, to be in his presence.
Let’s close in prayer:
God, you always meet us,
Not in some heaven, light years away, but here you shall call your sons and your daughters, call us to you to be light of this day.
Gather us in and hold us forever; gather us in, all peoples together.
Call to us now, and we shall awaken, walking with you at the sound of our name
In the name of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world,