Tuesday of Lent II – 17:1-7, 15-16 

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, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And 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.

15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

I have had the privilege to minister to a number of folks who lived into their 90’s, even a few who passed the century mark. They always had great stories to tell. Some had stormed the beaches of Africa or Normandy in WWII. Others had navigated the upheaval and displacement of the Great Depression. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, my own grandfather who lived to be 95 had survived being taken up into a tornado. While these folks had a vision for the future too, it focused on their joyful expectation that soon they would set aside this mortal frame and be welcomed into heavenly bliss. They had come to the end of their lives, and they realized it. Their bodies reminded them of it every day.

God came to Abram when he was ninety-nine years old. He gave him a new name and told him that he was about to start a family with his equally geriatric wife. The bible says that folks lived longer then, but I am still not sure that this was quite what Abram had in mind. If you read the verses which have been elided from the text, Abram laughed into the dirt as he lay face down before God listening to this pronouncement. Even Abraham, the paragon of faith, struggled sometimes with what God says.

This story becomes something of a pattern after which every Christian life is molded. God’s strange mechanism of the kingdom is one of resurrection of the dead. He does not pat the living on the head and say, “Good job” to us. He does his work through our weakness, death, and failures. I would like God to notice and use my strengths, but he did not give a child to the youthful and strong Abram of seventy-five years earlier. As Paul says, when he was as good as dead, God gave him this son, Isaac (Rom. 4:19). This repeats time and again in Scripture. Gideon wins his victory only when his army has been whittled down to a laughable 300. David is a boy who faces a giant. Mary is a humble peasant girl. When we are weak, God is strong. That pattern continues to this day. The church seems to be in retreat these days, filled with old folks whom the world thinks are a bunch of has-beens and failures. But we know what God can do with such people. So, we look to what He has in mind with joyful and trembling expectation.

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