We land somewhere near the beginning of the middle of Abraham’s story in our OT lesson today. It’s been a few years since God showed up in Abram’s tent and said, “Pack up your belongings, grab your wife, and leave everything you’ve ever known to go somewhere you know absolutely nothing about.” Which, of course, Abraham does. He and his household strike out into the wilderness, following a God he’s just met — not because Abram felt 100% confident in the divine voice that upended his life and not even because he thought this was a chance to make it big on his own. Abram takes this radical leap of faith because God has promised him the one thing he really wants. A son. A boy to call his own. And so our protagonist leaves his past. He says goodbye to everything that ever gave his life meaning, and steps into the unknown, hoping beyond hope that this God would do what he had promised.
Years go by. Abram becomes wealthy. He ends up a military hero. He is clearly blessed by the LORD; but the promised child has not appeared. And though we’ve heard in our OT lesson today that Abram’s very own son will be the heir of his household, 14 more years pass before that promise is realized.
Which sounds kind of awful. Most of us here know someone who has struggled with infertility or who has had an adoption fall through last-minute. Waiting for the test results or the court date can be excruciating. Now imagine that going on for roughly two decades. To us it almost seems cruel or negligent for an all-powerful God to delay something so precious. But Abram doesn’t take it that way.
Instead, Abram believes that the LORD will do what he says — and more. “Look at the stars. Can you count them? So shall your offspring be.”
The baby boy. The innumerable descendants. The prospect of a land where the Creator God and his people live together. All of it is so far beyond the power of any human being to accomplish or attain that we would totally understand if Abram just gave up. But he doesn’t. Even after years of waiting, Abram sticks with the LORD — because he realizes that his only hope of receiving the promise is waiting on the one who made it.
Which is sort of a basic, churchy truth statement to make. But there’s a reason that statement is important. As we ask God for what we want, for what we need, as we wait on his timing, what are we doing but getting to know him? What was Abram doing over the years of waiting but getting to know this God who appeared out of nowhere to bless him for apparently no reason?
And so it is that even in the midst of his own unfulfilled desires, Abram discovers the bent of God’s heart, the direction his will moves: which is toward goodness and blessing, healing and wholeness. Abram learns that God is so committed to his people that he would willingly walk through the valley of death so that we might be saved.
The LORD said to Abram, “‘Bring me a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And Abram brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. . . . When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day, the LORD made a covenant with Abram.”
Between the bloody halves of these sacred animals, our light and our salvation — God himself — walks. And in so doing, he binds himself to Abram and his family, saying in word and deed that if he goes back on his promise, may such an end as these animals met be done to him. For the sake of a people yet unborn, for no reason other than his own radical grace, God calls down a curse on himself. May I die, God says, if I do not do all in my power to bring humankind back into relationship with me.
Knowing what we know, this happens — not because God broke his promise but because he kept it, even though it cost him his life.
Such is the love God has for us.
God wants to save us. He wants to bring his wayward sheep home. He wants to lead us, guide us, feed us as we walk through what is all too often a bloody and cruel world. And yet in our rush to meet every need and want that arises in the chaos and confusion of our lives, we’re prone to forgetting that or missing it entirely. We, like Abraham does in the very next chapter, will all too often look for protection and nourishment that fits our schedules and our terms rather than trusting in the one who is our only true refuge.
Still, God remains the same: Faithful in the face of our faithlessness. In the words of our collect today, God’s glory is always to have mercy, to be gracious to all who have gone astray, to bring us again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of his Word, Jesus Christ — who would gather us up, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, even if it means death on a cross.
As one of our great Anglican writers said, the Christian life is a perpetual Lent — which is a lovely and liturgical way of saying that the Christian life is made up of a lot of waiting. We have received the promise of eternal life and perfect happiness in beholding the face of God, but we haven’t gotten there yet. May we all, as we fast, as we pray, as we give, hold tight to what we have attained. And, together with our psalmist say, “O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the LORD.” AMEN.