THE FAITH JOURNEY OF ABRAHAM
Three religions trace their beginnings back to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He took a journey of faith from what is modern day Iraq to what today is Israel. While the Bible celebrates his faith as being reckoned as righteousness, he was anything but a faithful person all the time. Today as we trace his inner journey of faith, we will attempt to make him a very real person who had his moments of faith, moments of doubt, and moments of deciding things from a human rather than a divine perspective. But no matter what he did God stayed faithful. I hope we might be encouraged on our faith journey as we review his.
Abraham’s first name was Abram, meaning exalted father. He was born in what is modern day Iraq and traveled all the way to what now modern-day Israel, to Egypt during a famine and back after causing great trouble for the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Abram began his journey after being promised by God that one day humanity would call itself blessed because of him. His descendants would number as the stars of the sky. Today, members of three major religions who call him father number over 3 billion.
But at the age of 75 and childless I am certain he wondered just how that was going to happen. He became very human as he entered Egypt for food. His wife Sarai, meaning princess, was a beautiful woman and Abram could tell the Pharoah wanted her for his wife. Fearing he might be killed to make that possible, Abram pretended Sarai was his sister. As Pharoah preceded with wedding plans, several disasters hit his household. When the Pharoah discovered Sarai was already married to Abram, he ordered Abram and his entourage, including Lot and his family, out of the country.
They went back to the Holy Land. There Sarai came up with a proposal. Abram if you impregnate my handmaiden, the Egyptian, Hagar I can claim the child as my own.
Abram impregnated Hagar, and immediately a rivalry developed between the two women. In the fullness of time Hagar delivered a son named Ishmael, meaning; “God will hear.”
In the meantime, a dispute arose between the leaders of the flocks of Abram and Lot. Each needed to have their own space. Abraham let Lot chose between the hill country and the lush area around Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot chose Sodom and Gomorrah.
They were evil cities where bullies sexually abused anyone they wanted. While some angels were visiting Lot’s home, they demanded the angels be released to them for sexual favors. God blinded them and the angels escaped.
In the meantime God let Abram, who is now called Abraham, “father of a multitude”, discover his plan to get Lot and his family out of Sodom and Gomorrah, and destroy the cities and kill the inhabitants. Abraham prayed for a different result but finally realized there were no righteous people in the town after Lot and his family were saved.
Then wonders of wonders; messengers from God came to visit Abraham and his wife, now called Sarah, meaning “noblewoman”, and after being fed by the family told them by the next year Sarah would have a baby. They were so overwhelmed, Sarah and Abraham laughed. Isaac was born as promised. His name means “laughter”.
After he was born Sarah insisted Hagar and Abraham’s first son Ishmael be driven out of the camp, and Abraham drives them out.
Here is another moment when Abraham and his wife were less than faithful. But wonder of wonders, an angel of God protected Hagar and her son in the wilderness. He grew up and with his wife produced 12 sons. Islam traces their lineage back to Ishmael. Judaism and Islam have been rivals ever since.
I pray that God will one day reunite the rival children of Abraham. Together they could do a lot of good in the world.
Next came the test of a lifetime. In those days the best offering a family could give to God was the sacrifice of their eldest son to God. Abraham was called by God to take his son of promise and go to Mt. Moriah and sacrifice him. After much soul searching and agony Abraham set out with Isaac. When they headed up the mountain, Isaac asked his dad, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham with a lump in his throat replied, “God will provide.” When they got to the place of sacrifice God stopped Abraham. “Now I know you finally trust me. Take the ram caught in the thicket and sacrifice it to me.” This is one of those moments when Judaism became a uniquely different religion from its time. They came to realize God did not require human sacrifice, and only in moments of disbelief and fear was it practiced again.
For me it laid a foundation for what eventually became Christianity. God does not require the offering of a living thing. He provides the offering, his son Jesus, who did not count equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.
God chose Abraham, and Sarah to be his agents to bring a new understanding of our relationship with God and each other. The couple stumbled several times on their journey of faith, but God was with them to forgive them and to help them grow into his chosen role. In baptism he called each of us to be his people, and to live a life of trust of God and love of God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Our relationship with God is not to be perfect, but to grow in our trust and obedience to God’s will. We live trusting that the Holy Spirit and Christ’s death on the Cross will make that happen. Amen.