Genesis 20:1-16 (NRSV) From there Abraham journeyed toward the region of the Negeb, and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While residing in Gerar as an alien, Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” And King Abimelech of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “You are about to die because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a married woman.” Now Abimelech had not approached her; so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ I did this in the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart; furthermore it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all that are yours.” So Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants and told them all these things; and the men were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I sinned against you, that you have brought such great guilt on me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that ought not to be done.” And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What were you thinking of, that you did this thing?” Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, He is my brother.’” Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. Abimelech said, “My land is before you; settle where it pleases you.” To Sarah he said, “Look, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; it is your exoneration before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.” 1 Corinthians 1:1-9(NRSV) Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,for in every way you have been enriched in Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. God will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by God you were called into the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ. ***************************************************
Last week we talked about the baptism of Jesus. It's one of those moments in Jesus's life that we use as an example of how we begin our own journey of discipleship. We make a decision. We leave behind our old life on the bank of the river, immerse the whole of ourselves into the waters of unknowing, and when we walk out on the other side, we are, what Paul calls, new creatures in Christ. We have decided, as the old Amy Grant song goes, "I'm gonna live like a believer, turn my back on the deceiver, I'm gonna live what I believe." There's no better feeling, and the voice of God echos from the clouds "You are my child, with you I am well pleased." Ahhhh.
And last week we affirmed that God Is Indeed well pleased with us, whether we are walking in the right way, or still struggling to find that right way. We used a metaphor of a tightrope for good behavior, and we talked about "falling off" that tightrope... but I was concerned after last week that perhaps me using the term "fall off" might make it seem like we slip into negative behaviors- as if we lose our balance and fall- "Whoops! We tried, but we couldn't help it." And while that is certainly true some of the time, there are also times that we intentionally do the wrong thing.(I know, shocking, right?) In fact, I could argue (and I have argued) that most of time we have full knowledge that we are heading down the wrong path- we do things we know are wrong on purpose to get what we want. And I don't feel like I need to list examples, amen?
OK- so what happens then? Is God still well pleased with us; even when we know what we are about to do is flat out wrong- and we do It anyway? And that is what our new series is all about. Over the next several weeks we are going to meet Biblical characters who intentionally do the "wrong" thing; something or some things that we would classify as moral failures. And they didn't slip into them, the walked. But, and here's a spoiler alert, we will see that no matter what they did, God was with them anyway- God used them anyway- God worked everything together for good, anyway.
Today, we read a story about Abraham- and I wanted to begin with him because he, for lack of a better term, the founder of the faiths. Whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, all of our faiths are traced back to Abraham. Abraham's call from God was vague- Go! And Abraham says "where?" And God says, "Go to a land that I will show you." And Abraham does- and he takes his wife and their nephew and all of their belongings (which, as no small aside, he was a very rich man; so when I say all his belongings I am talking about servants, and their families, and livestock and caravans of 'stuff' that had to be moved, somewhere... to the land that God will show you..."
But he was obedient. Step one. He left his old life on the bank of the river and walked into the waters of unknowing, hoping to come out on the other side to a new creature, and to hear God's voice echo from the clouds. I think we can all relate to Abrahams call story- sometimes the directions we get from God to do something aren't specifically spelled out- and we're not positive where our journey of discipleship is going to take us, nor what might happen along the way.
But by the time we get to the passage I just read to you, Abraham had been journeying a while- he had heard the voice of God, he had been promised a 7 fold blessing from God, had entered into an unbreakable covenant with God- seen and felt the presence of God in his spirit- yet... Abraham, Abraham... who knew that Abraham, founder of the faiths, lied and almost destroyed his family doing it. I'm sure glad that God stepped in before things got too murky. In fact this wouldn't be the only time that Abraham would mess up during his journey of faith- in his own words at the and of that passage he says "And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, He is my brother.’” They traveled a long time...over half a century- they came to a lot of places... do the math. Not to mention the time he figured he had waited long enough for the child God promised him with his wife, so he went out and got her maid pregnant instead... or the time he threw that child and his mother out into the desert with no food or water... or the time, after his own child was of age, did some shady things in the securing of a wife for him; by no means was Abraham a flawless person; he made mistakes and had a surprisingly shifty family too.
And I know by now you might be thinking, if Abraham, founder of the faith acted like this, what hope is there for me? The same hope as there was for Abraham. And it goes back to the covenant- In every instance of his life, God stepped in a worked things together for good. In the passage we read, God steps in a talks to Abimelech, stops him before things get too far- in fact, the discussion between Abraham and Abimelech laid the foundation for a relationship that would later include a major treaty that was necessary for the future of the land. Although Abraham tossed his son Ishamel and his mother into the dessert, God saved them, and made a great nation of Ishmael too. Despite his family wheeling a dealing, Isaac would marry Rebecca, and carry on the future of Abrahams line which would include, centuries later, Jesus of Nazareth.