When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you... 15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” ************************* We are early in the season of Lent, this time of reflection and checking in and perhaps, struggling with our faith (and with each other). We are also early in our series on the promises of God, better known in our congregation as "backyard blessings.' As we take a year (yes, a whole year!) to get to know on another better, learn to trust, share and pray together- we also look to how God is present with us, and what it means to be in covenant with God- as Gods people. Last week we looked at the blessing of provision- a rainbow of promise and hope for Noah, and for all people- especially when we are stepping out of our arks of safety into a world of faith, unsure of what the future holds. We will be OK.
Today we listen in on a covenant/promise conversation between God and Abraham- not their first, and not their last. Abraham and God had a relationship that many of us would love to have- God speaks- God tells Abraham what to do, when to do it, and where and with whom he should go. And Abraham (or Abram as he was called) listens, responds, and goes. Abram has done everything God has asked, and fulfilled his end of the covenant so far. He and Sarah (or Sarai) had their lives turned upside down for a long while, but now, both over 90 years old, have settled into a routine. But God interrupts Abram's morning routine, and, in order to grab Abrams attention, introduces herself in a brand-new way.
Herself? Why did I just use "her" for God? Because the name God calls herself here "God Almighty" is translated, "many breasted one." Interesting, isn't it? But perhaps that is the name that Abram had to hear- perhaps Abram had to begin to see God as one who could not just provide, but birth new life; in fact birth as many generations and descendants as there are stars in the heavens, according to God. Abram needed to see God as one who could renew two seemingly dried up individuals to the softness and suppleness of a young couple- and give them all the excitement of expectant parent; that there would be plenty of milk for their babies- that their children would be fed and nurtured and finally weaned to grow into loving, responsible adults.
God, announcing her presence with this new name, the many breasted one, helped introduce the idea to Abram that God is more than he could have imagined- a God who breaks the boundaries of human biology, perception and possibility. God is the God, not just of the past and future, but of the right now- God is the God of the present situation, no matter how impossible it may seem.
And God says" I am the many breasted one, walk before me and be blameless- translated- be loyal (1)... Pretty Good direction from a God who is about to change someone’s life. It's like a reminder for Abram that he is in covenant with God already- they are partners- God and Abram have a relationship which is unbreakable, and God is calling on Abram to trust God in what is about to happen.
And we do this all the time when we have something big to tell someone dear to us- when we are about to have that talk with our kids, 'you know I love you, and I will always be here for you, but you need to move out,' or when we talk to our spouse or loved one, 'you promised to love me for better or worse right? Well, here's what happened..." And you can fill that in with anything. God is assuring Abram of her love for Abram, but also steadying him from balking at what God is about to say. The response to the news that Abram and Sarah will be parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents, and so on, isn't mentioned in this passage- it cuts off before we see that Abram lets out a big belly laugh. No kidding, right?
And I'm not so sure that it was because he doubted that God could do this, as much as he must have dreaded that God would do this! Let's take a poll- anyone over 70 in the room want to have a baby? Over 60? Over 50? Me either! Imagine being over 90 and as you're sipping your morning coffee, reading the obituaries and making sure your name isn't there, God tells you basically that your life will never be the same again- of course Abram laughed. It's what we do when we get news that up-ends us- that will cause us to do something hard- or we can’t or don't want to believe, for good or for bad.
There is something else missing from this text that will also be involved in living out this new covenant- this covenant will put an end to the violent sacrifice of children on the earth. The ancients believed that this is what the gods (plural) required of them in order to be worshiped fully and for their provision- for health- welfare- and stuff… And if you keep reading in Genesis, you can catch up to this part of the covenant in chapter 22, when God provides a ram for Abraham to kill instead of touching one hair on his son's head... no more children die for the worship of Gods… this God is a God of generational blessing- and this blessing of generations will be one that undoes our customs, our treatment of the other, and protects our children. In a world where our children are put at risk every day at school, this takes on new meaning... what, God? no more violence toward our children? No more guns in schools? And that's up to me? H...
But before he has a chance to utter his first giggle, God does something that I find astounding. God knows that Abram needs to see God in a different way in order to hear this new, this promise, this blessing- hence, "many breasted one," a change of name for God. But God also knows that for Abram to accept this part of the promise, Abram will have to see himself in a different way. So God changes Abram's name... "no longer will you be called Abram, but your name will be Abraham." Abram needed to adopt a new identity. You see, Abram, and all that goes with that name, was a pretty self-reflective guy. He knew who he was. He understood his gifts, his skills, his vocation- he knew who his family was, and his role in that family. He understood his role in community affairs, in politics, in social justice activism... what causes he chose to take up and what to leave to others. He even understood his relationship with God- and was secure in God being God and Abram being Abram.
But God is throwing a switch, and now Abrams train will go in a new direction- he will need a new identity- one that requires Abram to identify as more than he thinks he is right now. So God puts a HA- in his name, and in Sarahs’ an AH… Except in Hebrew, since there are no vowels, they each receive just an H.
H in Hebrew, means breath... ahhhh- of course... Abram, now Abraham carries with him, in his very identity, the breath of God... every time he hears his new name spoken he will be reminded of the breath that fills his soul, the breath of creation, the breath of new life. ‘Abraham’ means, father of the multitudes- and that is only possible through the breath of God's promise, the blessing of generations.
I wonder what reminders we might need in our own lives' what name we might need to hear, or identity we might need to adopt in order to see ourselves the way God does? Because no kidding, just look at our lives! I don't know about you, but it seem like that track switch is being thrown a lot lately. There are so many things that need attention so that we can hand down a world to our children and our children's children that is righteous... where children aren't victims to violence, and aren't sacrificed to the god's we worship in the world, the gods of politics and money and security and power and greed... that demand this…
Because my friends, God is announcing herself to us, today.... to each of us perhaps with a different name, so that we can see God in the way that calls us to action... because each of us called to participate in some way- in some area- to help in peacemaking, and shalom building- and like Abram, it may not be a case of us not believing that God could be calling us to these things, but the dread that God is calling us! How might we have to see ourselves differently in order to carry out our part in the covenant- to do justice, to show mercy, to walk humbly with our God? What has to change about our own identity to live out the breath of life God has given us?
And yes, that's difficult to think about. Most of us, if we are honest, like sipping our morning coffee and reading the paper in peace... but I want us to struggle with this... especially in this season of Lent, this season of struggle... because the promise of Generations is not just for Abraham ad Sarah. The scripture Pastor Carole read to you this morning reminds a new generation of the promise of Abraham to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, and further, that promise is now fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Christ. Through the cross, all people are a part of this promise- all of us- have a part, a privilege, and yes, a responsibility. We worship god first. we travel and live with the H- breath/spirit of God within us. It’s why it hurts so much to see things so far out of shalom.
offering, what name is God announcing to you? What is your new name with the breath of God?