Week 2: Going Deeper into God’s promises
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 (NRSV)
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him….
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
This story of God’s promise to Abram/ham is the common story to Judaism, Christianity and Islam in which God’s promises are made clear for the descendants of Abram, as we all claim to be. God promises descendants as numerous as the stars to an ageing nomadic herdsman without children of his own. Abram decides to trust God.
As the story goes on, Abram will take matters into his own hands. He will run short of patience and try various ways of ensuring God’s promises are fulfilled. Eventually they will be, through Ishmael and Isaac.
If you have ever had the opportunity to get away from city, urban and even regional light pollution, and look up there are a lot of stars. This is a big promise. It will, as the story unfolds, become laughable. It is no wonder Abram is attracted by God’s offer, and equally unsurprising that from time to time he has his doubts that God is going to be able to deliver.
The Seeking Common Ground Circle brings together people from across the Church in a shared focus on relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters (ecumenical relations) and with those of other faiths and none (inter-faith relations). We seek to find ways that all those stars Abram saw in the sky that night can work together to fulfil the promises of God.
We seek to build relationships with the other descendants of Abram, those of other Christian denominations, and those children of Abram, and God, who are of different faiths.
We follow Jesus in many different ways and through many different organisations. We have disagreed over the centuries on matters of ecclesiology and theology. We have created different branches of the church with ethnic and cultural differences. But we follow the same God, we are all disciples of Jesus. We are all a part of God’s promise and what we hold in common is significantly greater than what keeps us apart.
Find out more about the ecumenical engagement of the Uniting Church in Australia
This story is common to three faiths. Earlier in Genesis we are reminded that all humanity is created in the image of God. If we look up to the stars at night they fall into clusters, lines, galaxies, systems. How do we relate to those who do not share our understanding of Jesus, yet who share stories, values and the image of God with us? If you get far enough away from the lights of humanity at night there are a lots of very, very faint stars – some so far away they are just a blur of faint light. But they remain stars, they are a part of the promise. They too are made in the image of God. How can we build relations and work together for our common good?
Find out more about the interfaith relationships in the Uniting Church in Australia
How might your congregation respond to God’s promises by working with other Christian denominations in your town or suburb? What is one thing you could do together to show the wider community that we are all followers of Jesus seeking to fulfil Gods promises?
What might be one thing you could learn about people from another faith group this Lent? You may be able to visit a synagogue, or learn about Jesus/Isa from a local Islamic person. Maybe you could plan to share an Iftar meal in Ramadan (2 April – 1 May). You might learn about how the Sikh community have been reaching out to feed local communities in bushfires, floods and throughout COVID. How might you build bridges and deepen your understanding of Gods promises with those of other faiths?
God, who promised Abram descendants numerous as the stars, help us to deepen our understanding of your promises to us. Help us to build relationships with each other, with other denominations, with people of other faiths. Help us to see the diversity and grandeur of the heavens, and realise that the diversity we experience on earth is no less grand – and no less part of your promise. As we journey once more towards the cross, help us to see your image in all those around us. Help us to see the beauty of the diversity of your creation. Help us to find ways to work together as parts of your creation. Amen.
by Rev Dr Matt Wilson
Read the Introduction and other studies GOING DEEPER
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