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March 03, 2021
Midweek Lenten Worship
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” 
The story of God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah began when Abram was 75 years old and God said to him, “Go…to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation…” So with great faith Abram and Sarai, as they were then known, left their clan – their entire support system.
And as the oldest son, the one who would have received everything from his father, Abram didn’t only walk away from a secure home, he walked away from the promise of a secure future and toward an unknown and uncertain one.
God gave Abram the second part of the covenant about ten years later with the promise of descendants. At which time Abram and Sarai’s slave-girl, Hagar, conceived Ishmael. And in the third part of the covenant, God changed their names and made Abraham and Sarah the ancestors of a multitude of nations.
It didn’t happen all at once, but God fulfilled each part of this covenant. And even though Abraham and Sarah didn’t live to see its fulfillment, their descendants did. And this is the story, the promise, that their descendants told to each other over and over when they were enslaved in Egypt.
And centuries later, when their descendants were in exile, this is one of the stories they wrote down. This is the promise they held onto during the exile and when they returned from it to rebuild Jerusalem.
During all of those difficult times, this is the story they went back to – the beginning of God’s relationship with them as a people. They reminded each other of the promises and the faithfulness of the one who made them.
This beginning was the basis from which God worked through Israel to restore all of humanity. But unlike the covenant with Noah, God asked for something from Abram in return. It began when God told him to leave his home to go live someplace entirely new with nothing but an unseen promise to hold onto.
And when God told Abram, “Walk before me and be blameless,” God didn’t mean “be perfect” but rather “be loyal only to me.” God demanded that Abram commit to follow God – that he honor God’s ways, and trust that God would fulfill the promises God made.
And he did. Not perfectly, but consistently. It was a level of commitment that was held up as an example by Abraham’s descendants as it shaped their identity and who they became as a nation.
When we read this story today, particularly the beginning of it – when God told Abram to leave everything he’d known, we notice that Abraham didn’t do anything to earn divine favor, and we aren’t told that he had any particular quality that caused God to choose him in the first place.
What made Abraham special is that he trusted God and God’s promises. In other words, he took it all on faith. That’s it. And it wasn’t always easy, but in the process he learned about God’s character and God’s faithfulness to him – and to humanity.
We also are recipients of the gift of God’s faithfulness. For us as Christians, God’s faithfulness was made visible in Jesus. What God asks of us in return is to live in response to that faithfulness. That we commit to follow God, to honor God’s ways and trust that God will fulfill the promises God has made.
Not in order to earn God’s favor or God’s faithfulness – God doesn’t work that way, but as a response to it. To receive the gift God gives us and live faithfully.
Accepting that our life and relationship with God is a gift, and that it’s based on trust, can be hard in a world where career advancement, good grades in school, and so many other things depend on our ability to perform and produce results.
And we’ve all experienced the pain of broken promises, or of promises being made lightly so that we’re skeptical when people say things like, “c’mon, just trust me.” We sometimes even feel that our own faith isn’t as strong as Abraham’s was, and we wonder if that might cause us to fall out of favor with God.
But the covenant God made with Abraham teaches us about God’s character – and God’s faithfulness to us. God still fulfilled the promise to Abraham even though Abraham – and Sarah – laughed at the seeming impossibility of it.
Living a life of faith doesn’t mean we won’t ever have moments of doubt. Those moments teach us to dig deep and to trust that God’s faithfulness is forever. Nothing we say or do, or don’t say or do, will ever take that away from us.
As we live this way, not perfectly but consistently, it shapes who we become as individuals and as a community as we live into the fullness of God’s promises – trusting that God keeps those promises. Thanks be to God. Amen.