Father Abraham

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: Genesis 17:1-1, 15-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who fulfills the everlasting covenant. Amen.

Do you remember the song “Father Abraham”? It was a mainstay of both Sunday school and VBS for decades – and though the language is a bit dated, it goes something like this:

Father Abraham
Had many sons
Many sons had father Abraham
I am one of them
And so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.

It’s a song about the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abram that we read today:

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

The “many sons” (though it might better be understood as “many descendants” or, to fit the cadence of the song, “many heirs”) are the multitude of nations, including the family lines of Moses, Joshua, David, and through David, our Lord Jesus Christ.

But the song, short as it is, leaves out a lot of the story, so here are a few extra verses:

Father Abraham
Betrayed his wife
Gave her over to Pharaoh
Said she was his
Si-i-is-ter
And left her to the king (two times)

And:

Father Abraham
Abused his slave,
He and his wife both.
He slept with Hagar
Kno-ocked her up,
And drove her from the camp.

Ok, yeah, there’s a reason nobody bothered to write those verses for Sunday school. The sagas of Abraham and Sarah are not nearly so child-friendly as the song. (And it doesn’t getter much better – the epic stories in Scripture are far more mature than those old Sunday school felt boards and modern Veggie Tales movies suggest.)

So what is it that makes Abraham and Sarah so special? Why is it that they, of all people, are blessed by God and become the forebears of many nations?

Is it because they are so worthy?

Not on their own. The sagas of Abram and Sarai tell of a couple who waffle back and forth between trusting the Lord and trusting only in their own sinful abilities. They depart for the land God has shown them – and then, once there, Abram becomes so scared for his own life that he hands Sarai over to a lustful king. God promises them a large family – and Sarah immediately hands Hagar over to her husband’s lust; when a son is born, Sarah becomes so enraged with jealousy that she drives them from the camp.

Nor is it because of Isaac’s worth, or Jacob’s, or any of the sons of Israel, or Moses, or David or Solomon – through the ages, the stories of these children of Abraham tell of violence, deceit, infighting, and all manner of other horrors – and all of that on top of ritual violations of the Law minor and major. Just to name a few concrete examples: Jacob swindles Esau out of his birthright, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, Moses literally murders a man, and Aaron builds a golden idol. That brings us all the way up to…halfway through the second book of the Bible.  

And yet this extended family, with all of its sinful errors repeated generation after generation, is promised God’s eternal blessing – not just that nations and kings shall descend from them but also, as promised elsewhere in Genesis, that the Lord will bless all the nations of the world through Abraham.

God doesn’t make a covenant with Abram and Sarai because they are such good people who deserve such divine favor or because of some meritorious action their descendants will accomplish. No, God choses them for gracious reasons beyond our comprehension. And for those same ineffable reasons, the Lord remains faithful to the covenant even as Abraham and Sarah and all their heirs go astray.

Beloved of God, it is no different with us. We have all been chosen by God, called by name, grafted as vines into the family of Abraham and Sarah that we might be a blessing to the world. But what did we do to deserve such divine favor? Who among us can claim that we have earned God’s blessing? What can any of us do to merit our salvation or to justify ourselves in the righteous eyes of the Lord?

But the same God who looked with favor on Abram and Sarai, promising them blessing and favor, the God who stayed Abraham’s hand and spared Isaac’s life, the Lord who watched over Jacob and watched over Joseph, the Lord who called Moses to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt and protected the Israelites in the Wilderness even as they rebelled against the Torah, the God who set up judges over sinful Israel and blessed even a sinner like David, the God who pledged not to forget the people of Judah even when they were exiled in Babylon – yes, the very Lord our God – has remained faithful to us even as we have rebelled. The Almighty has, in the waters of Baptism, renamed us – as Abram became Abraham and Sarai became Sarah, we sinners have come to be called children of God, adopted into this family.

Not because we are good but because God is good.

Not because we are worthy of grace, but because our gracious God is worthy of all blessing and praise.

Amen.

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