Who is this man Abraham who stands before God this morning asking questions, quizzing the Divine?
We don’t know much about Abraham’s background. When we first meet him earlier in Genesis we know nothing about his birth, his childhood, his early adulthood. There’s nothing to distinguish him from the rest of humanity. Really, he is initially a complete unknown on the face of the earth. We meet him, this Abraham, it seems at mid life. He is the son of Terah, from Ur of the Chaldeans. He is Abram, then; his wife, Sarai. But, as we know, they will be renamed by God. They have no children. There is nothing remarkable that could in any way point to the amazing role this man and this woman will play in the beginning of a nation.
Between our first introduction to Abraham and now, the hand of God has sought him out. The finger of God which has traced, sometimes lightly, sometimes devastatingly, over the canvas of creation, has, just a while before our story today, hovered and then touched down on this otherwise unremarkable man and his wife.
For reasons we may never fully fathom, God singles out Abraham. God speaks to this man, calls to him, establishes a covenant with him. God points a Divine finger towards a future of land and offspring as numerous as the stars, directs Abraham to go forth, and Abraham obeys.
Why did God pick Abraham? What was it about this man that attracted the eye and energy of God? What was it about him that made him unique to serve God’s purposes? What was in it for Abraham? What was in it for God? Can’t we, like Abraham confronting God, curiously quiz the Divine?
Have you ever had times in your life when you felt barren, depleted, unfulfilled, empty, stagnated, stuck? Have you had times when life felt dry, sterile? There’s an ache, a sense of unease, a sense of emptiness, a restlessness. There’s a sense of waiting and we’re not sure what for. It’s a time of tension, a time of feeling disconnected, with self and with others.
At times like this, we may wonder, “So, is this all there is?” “So, just what is my purpose in life?” “What was I meant to do, to be?” “To date has my life counted for anything?” “When I die, will I be remembered; what will be the legacy I leave behind?”
Moments that generate such questioning are watershed times in our lives. Will we become dry and parched or feel the flow of fresh springs in life again? The experts say this can, most often, happen at mid-life, but we know, you and I, don’t we, it can happen at any age. We yearn to be generative, but feel stuck. We yearn to be more than . . . . more than what? More than we have been before in some way, I guess. We sense something special must be waiting for us, just around the next corner of our lives. But whatever it is, it seems elusive, and we don’t know how to get to it. There is a sense of wanting to transcend wherever we are at the moment, whatever we think we are at that moment. We are somehow thirsty or hungry or both for something, for what “might be”, “could be.” We begin to search for, to seek “it”, whatever it might be.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his most recent book entitled God has a Dream offers the following: “The Bible places human beings at the center of the divine enterprise as creatures of infinite worth and dignity independent of our work, our ability, or our success. We are each created by God, like God, for God.” Archbishop Tutu continues, observing that we all have what he calls “this God capacity, this God hunger, this striving after transcendence.”
Our relationship with the Divine is stimulated by this yearning. St. Augustine ’s words capture this interdependence between us and our Creator. “Thou (speaking of God) have made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”
Abraham and Sarah were barren, were sterile. This physical barrenness may also operate as a symbol for unfulfilled lives and for what may have appeared to them as a barren and sterile future. There was nothing human they could do to be fruitful. They had to turn to and be open to the Divine if their lives were to be generative, creative, fulfilling. In their restlessness they could only find rest and fruition by placing faith in their Creator and by following the promises of their God. They needed God; they desperately needed God.
But the Abraham story is not about Abraham’s making a covenant with God, but rather about God’s making a covenant with Abraham. The Divine, the all powerful, the Creator, making a covenant with a human being? What’s in it for God?
Could it be, could it just possibly be that God needed Abraham and Sarah? As we read Bible stories, as we examine the history of the relationship between humanity and the Divine, as we tentatively step into the journeys of faith of our forefathers and foremothers – do we get the idea that God can’t do it alone, that he can’t work out His purposes all alone? Or, maybe the truth, the real truth, is that God can do it alone, but He doesn’t want to.
What could Abraham and Sarah do for God? From Adam on, God’s creation had fallen away from Him to the point that God brought a flood to devastate the earth and all that lived upon it. At the last minute (was there a change of Divine heart?) God sets apart a remnant – two by two they were chosen — to survive the devastation. And then God had to set a reminder to Himself of his need and desire for an ongoing creation. A rainbow arched over the heavens is a reminder to the Divine – a symbol of God’s promise to continue relationship with his creation, no matter what.
God selected Abraham and Sarah to bring creation back to Him. A Covenant father and Covenant mother, who would people a nation and bring a nation, Israel , to the heart of God. A nation to stand as witness to the world, witness to the creative and sustaining power of the one God, above all.
Frederick Buechner, in an address here in Richmond at Union Theological Seminary a number of years ago, challenged his audience as God’s agents to carry out God’s work on earth. He pointed out the obvious. God has no feet, no hands, no arms, no mouth to accomplish His purposes among us. God depends on us. We, yes each of us, must be God’s feet and hands and arms and voice in the world.
God is calling us, even as unremarkable as we may seem to be. God calls us to do His work – to accomplish his purposes on earth. We were created to be the channels of his love and to be active players in the accomplishment of His will being carried out on earth as it is in heaven.
We were created to seek God, to be responsive to Him. The first question God asks in the Bible is, “Where are you?” We will go yearning until we turn to Him, answer His call and say “Here am I.”
We are not only part of God’s creation, but also a partner in it’s coming into fruition. Abraham was God’s hope for being known in the world. So are we. The hand of God, the Divine presence, is hovering over us. Will we respond when it stops and rests on us?