Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17
Many of us who grew up in the church, who were nursed on the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are probably familiar with the story of Sarah laughing. In the timeline of the lives of the fore-parents of our faith Sarah’s mirth occurs after the events we just read. Sarah being chastised for her lack of faith occurs in the year just prior to her giving birth to Isaac. I don’t know about in your life, but in my life Sarah has received much flak for the lack of faith which her mirthful outburst reveals. In light of Abraham’s response here in this passage, I am going to have to say that our singling out of Sarah and calling her faithless for her reaction and not mentioning Abraham’s reaction here is a might bit unfair to Sarah.
As I read the passage I see an amused Sarah who chuckles at the quaint nature of this “God” who kept promising a child over decades but had yet to do anything to make this happen. In this passage on the other hand, Abraham falls over laughing at what he sees as a hysterical joke which God seems to insist on playing.
Whereas Sarah is chuckling in the way one might when a child who continues to tell the chicken joke and must chuckle because there is nothing else to do, Abraham breaks out in a raucous guffaw that causes him to fall on his face. I can see him on the floor before the divine nature of God, arms holding his sides, tears streaming down his face, laughing so hard he can barely stop. If you read a little further, at some point Abraham pulls himself up off the floor, gets himself together and wiping the tears from the corners of his eyes, asks God if there is any possibility that this promise is to be fulfilled through Ishmael. No, no God has every intention for the geriatric Sarah, as she has just been named, to bear the son through whom God plans to make a great nation out of Abraham. At this point, in the movie reel in my mind, Abraham who is still wiping the laughter tears from his face and struggling to get his composure at the hilarious nature of God stops dead. His face goes from horribly amused to deadpan. God is serious. God is not teasing, God is 100% serious. Sarah, his Sarah, 90 some-odd-year-old, Sarah is going to bare a son. God firmly believes this and is continuing to promise it.
That is where this passage ends, but where this passage begins is with God coming to Abram to establish a covenant with him. A covenant is a legal agreement between two people that is binding. God comes to Abram and proposes to make a covenant with him. As with all legally binding agreements, there are terms to the agreement, and there are things which are expected of both parties involved. First of all God calls for Abram live a blameless life. God begins with what God expects of Abram. God expects Abram to be blameless, to live a life that God would consider right and good; a life of love, loving God and loving those around him. God never really asks for much, just right living, just living, love for God and all humanity; simple things that are all encompassing; simple things that affect how one lives every part of their life.
If Abram is willing to live life as God calls him to live it, then God will do several things as well. If Abram is willing to live a blameless life, according to the call of God, then God will make Abram fruitful. God will provide Abram with children, heirs, descendants and not just A child, but a child who will have children, who will have children who will have children. Abram will not merely be the father of a son, not just the father of a family, or a clan, or a tribe, but the father of a family of Tribes, not just the father of a great nation, but the father of a multitude of nations. Abram who has lived his whole life heirless, with out a son to remember his name to the next generation will not only be remembered but he will be remembered from generation to generation because he will not be the father of just one son, but the father of nations of sons.
The finally the last thing God makes known about this covenant is that is it is an eternal covenant. It is not a covenant which is only good for a season or expires when Abram does, but it is a covenant made with Abram and all of his descendants for all times, for always. There is no expiration date. There is no time limit on God’s faithfulness, as long as Abram and his descendant uphold their end of the covenant, God is willing to up hold God’s end.
As one of the signs of this covenant, God changes both Abram’s and Sari’s names. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham and Sari’s name is changed to Sarah. Abraham goes from a “great ancestor,” which was the meaning of his name to “Father of nations.” And Sari goes from having a name that has no discernable meaning (as far as we can tell) to being called “Princess” which is what Sarah means. Both of them are given, by God, names of promise, names that look to the future and mark them as people who belong to God. These names let them see who they are, who they will become and as whom they will always be remembered.
Abraham will not merely be a great ancestor to small Bedouin clan but he will be a father of nations, he will be a father king and Sarah will be his princess, a mother to the nations he will father. These two who are in danger of never being remembered because they are old and have no children to carry their story to the next generation will be remembered because from them and their offspring great and many nations rise up. They will not be forgotten. And they have not been, neither of them, I mean, even today after thousands of year, we are here talking about both Abraham and Sarah, who they are and what their story means for us and our story. In the simply act of discussing them here today, we are remembering them and they through scriptures are remembered daily by Christians, Jews and even Muslims all over the world. When God makes a promise, God makes a promise. Abraham and Sarah as the forbearers of great nations have never been forgotten and their children still live today. The promise God makes with Abraham in this covenant and in these names still stands.
God names them, God calls them God’s own and God gives them new names, names of promise which speak to who they are and who God is calling them to be. As Christians we see ourselves if not literal children of Abraham, we see ourselves as children of Abraham’s faith. In Christ, we have come to believe, worship and obey the God of Abraham. We see ourselves as spiritual children of Abraham, children grafted onto the family tree of Abraham through our faith in Christ the one and only son of the true and living God, who came to Abram, named him Abraham and entered into an eternal covenant relationship with him and all his children. We see ourselves as spiritual children of Abraham and spiritual children of this eternal covenant God makes here in this passage. Through our belief in God’s one and only son, we are able to see ourselves as children of this covenant, a part of the great nations God gives to Abraham as his descendants and as partakers in this covenant relationship God forms with Abraham.
When God calls for Abraham to walk blameless, we can see this as God’s call on each our lives as well. God will go before us, guide us through the wilderness of our lives, as he led Abraham. God will be almighty God for us, love us and fill our lives with the love only God can give, if we in turn and will live as God calls us to live, to love God, love one another, and to let these things dictate and determine who we are, our actions, our thoughts, our words, our attitudes, who we are to the very core of our being, then we truly are partakers of this covenant, participants in the promises God makes here in this passage.
If we do these things God will call us by new names, names of promise, names that speak of who God is calling us to be, names that speak to our future and speak to who each of us were created to be. I have already used that name a few times in this sermon already; it is a name we take up when we become members of God’s family, when we accept the truth of Christ’s life, teachings, death and resurrection. We call our selves by Christ’s name; we call ourselves Christ-ians. We identify ourselves by the one in whom we believe, we allow God to rename who we are. When we accept Christ we are named for more than just the name of the where we live, we are more than simply Americans, or Massachusians or Cambridgeites, we are named for the one whose life gives us life, and we are called by the name of Christ. We are marked as Children of God, we begin to become the people we are created to be and we are united with Christ in name, in word and in deed. As Christians we are marked with the sign and the name of covenant people in our baptisms. This promise made to Abraham becomes our promise, and through Christ we become children of that promise, called to live as God would have us live and blessed by the very promise that blessed both Abraham and Sarah. So let us go from here living as children of the promise, children of God, united to live, and reflect the light and love of the one in whom we find our name, Jesus Christ. Let us go from here this morning truly being named Christians.