“The Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” Genesis 18:17-19a (NRSV)
Yesterday during worship we heard the story of Sarah laughing in disbelief that she would have a child at age ninety. Can you blame her? It seems that God takes some delight in working through the absurd. And for God, it’s never too late to use one person to make a difference for generations to come.
The next story in chapter eighteen finds God musing with the two unnamed companions as to whether it would be wise to tell Abraham about the upcoming determination about Sodom and Gomorrah (see verse above). God decides to use the opportunity to see whether Abraham is fit to be called “father of a great nation,” because what is important is not Abraham’s genes, but his character.
So thus, Abraham is informed that God “will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know” (Note, please, that God has heard the outcry, but is not prejudging, and is yet extending the benefit of the doubt).
Then comes the famous exchange between Abraham and God, as to whether the cities might be saved if 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, or even just 10, righteous are found. Yes, says God, if there ten, all may be saved. You all know the story. Not even ten. But Abraham passes the test of righteousness and justice. Abraham stands in the gap and challenges God to be righteous and just: “Far be it from you to do such a thing; to slay the righteous with the wicked… Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (vs. 25). Does this challenge upset God? No. It would only be a problem if Abraham didn’t challenge God.
It is curious, as scholars have pointed out, that Abraham doesn’t challenge God when God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac further on in chapter 22. It is known in Judaism as the Akedah, “the binding.” It is a different test of Abraham’s character. Abraham passes the test of trust, horrible as it is, and it is the last time God speaks directly with Abraham. Abraham is now on his own, but not alone.
The historical veracity of the stories in Genesis is not important. What the stories teach is important. For us, like Abraham and Sarah, who we are matters. Who you are matters. Character matters. Go ahead and laugh. God is not upset. Go ahead and challenge. God is not dismayed. On the contrary, God expects us to be human, to laugh, to doubt, to identify injustice, to speak. The people God deals with are earthy, foolish, fearful, faulty people, who within themselves have a seed of God’s spirit that is meant to grow and bear fruit. That is why who you are matters.
I can well remember those certain people of God over the years who prayed and argued with God to save my life. I’ve watched it happen so many times, that one person equipped with a kind, fair, and selfless spirit is used by God to change the course of one life, and thus the course of a generation.
It could be you this week. It’s only Monday (Father’s Day is coming).
Rev. Dr. David Kaiser-Cross
God of righteousness and justice, may we experience your character growing in us. Amen.