Presence

That God is concerned for us – that God may be invested in our future joy, or in establishing a legacy of faith through us  may seem hard to imagine, but our traditions, and the stories of our faith, tell us this is so.  From the very beginning of our Scriptures, through the gospels and the epistles, the message is clear.  God has taken an interest in humanity.  God wants us to claim hope and joy in these covenant promises, made not only to Abram, but through Jesus – Crucified and Risen.  Scripture is about God’s pursuit of us and also God’s urging us to take action rooted in faith.

The stories of this urging – the examples from Scripture that are most compelling – all have similar features.  And Abram – soon to be ‘renamed’ Abraham – features in more than his share of these encounters with God.

It is interesting to consider these encounters; especially in a generation whose image of God has been seriously challenged.  From a position of privilege; in an age of knowledge; the notion of God  /  our “need” of God seems to be easily pushed aside.  God seems further from us, though the only thing that ever changes is our attitude towards God.  God has made a habit of covenant – of reaching out, and making plans; of calling and comforting; God is committed to ‘being there’ for us, and that will never change.

This episode of Abram’s ‘deal-making’ with God, serves as a reminder to Abram (and all of us) that God will stand by God’s promise.  Abram has left his home,  and made his way – first to Egypt, and then on to the Negeb.  Abram even has some initial success overcoming the inhabitants of the land that God has promised to him.  Abram is praised by the famous Malchizedek, who offers him riches and glory.  Abram politely declines.  (Gen 14: 13-24).  And at what appears to be a turning point – a place of choosing – God appears and restates the promise; reaffirms the covenant.  “Your descendants shall be numerous …” says God after a significant and heart felt discussion…there follows a vision (slightly terrifying) in which God assures Abram that this grand venture will succeed.

 But the key to this, and every encounter, is the nearness of God – the presence of God – the voice, the action, the unmistakable reality of God.

There can be no covenant without presence – promises require multiple voices; one who offers and one who will receive.  And there is no covenant that does not require action; God is constantly calling us to prepare (Noah); to move, to trust, to believe (Abram, Joseph, Moses).  And none of this matters unless the people being called are convinced that this is more than just a dream.  “And [Abram] believed, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – this famous conclusion is repeated as a mantra in Hebrews, chapter eleven – that great hymn to faithfulness which outlines a long history of human assurance of the Divine reality.  The faith that Abram finds is faith generated by the presence of God.  The righteousness credited to him is another way to describe Abram’s confidence that God is committed to this enterprise.  We look on these encounters with awe – as we should – but imagine that their time has come and gone.  In that, we are mistaken

God constantly offers these moments of ‘covenant renewal’; God’s presence runs through the whole history of the people of Israel – either as a sustaining presence, honoured by temple worship, or as the presence leading the people into exile (see Ezekiel).  God’s presence was unmistakable in the life and work of Jesus.  Jesus sought to remind everyone that theirs was no distant, brooding figure.  God treasures God’s children, wanting to give good things – “The Kingdom”, in fact – to all who identify as children of God.  This is the family promised to Abram – large and diverse – more numerous than the stars; and that promise is still valid, thanks to the consistently persistent presence of God.

And that presence – that covenant – God’s promise and call remain vital and valid for us.  While we have become suspicious of visions, and sceptical of those claiming to hear the voice of God, God’s presence has not deserted the people.  The promise is restated in worship and ritual; acted out especially in our sacraments, which are first and foremost, reminders of PRESENCE; water on foreheads; bread in the hand, wine on the tongue – there is no denying the reality of these things, and in them we are invited to discover God – standing with us; leading us; comforting and healing us.  Making us fit for the journey of faith, and assuring us that not even one step of that journey is taken in solitude.

God is here – with us.   This is a statement of faith that comes from a deep heritage, running back to the recorded beginnings of those who would call themselves children of God.  It was true for Abram – it was true in Jesus – it remains our true and shining hope.  Amen

 

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