Our church has a weekly Lenten service on Wednesdays during the weeks of Lent. This year we are studying the book of Genesis and I am presenting a sermon series called, "Portraits of the Patriarchs". We are discussing the lives of those in the book of Genesis who stand out as very important in the legacy of the People of Israel. Last week we discussed Adam and Noah, the ones at the beginning and re-beginning of human history, according to Genesis. This week, we will talk about the patriarch who is considered to be the "Father" of Jews, Christians, and Muslims...none other than Abraham.
Abraham is the big name in the book of Genesis because he had so much faith in the God that he barely knew that he would travel a great distance without even knowing where he was going and stop when God told him to stop. Not only that, he had so much faith that he would believe that he would be the father of so many descendants that they could not be counted, much like the stars and the sand on the beach cannot be counted, even though he had no children at the time he received the promise and he was almost 100 years old. He also had faith that when God commanded him to sacrifice his son, he would obey God and stop when God told him to stop, willing to give up the promise God had made if God wanted him to do it.
Abraham is the father of Jews, of course, because his son, Isaac, and Isaac's son, Jacob, are considered to be the leaders of the Jewish faith. Their names are invoked when Jewish people talk about Israel being descendants of "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." The covenant of Abraham is extended to modern day Jews to assure them the possession of the land upon which they live. Abraham is revered as the ancestor of their faith.
Abraham is the father of Muslims because of Abraham's other son, Ishmael. His mother was Hagar, the slave woman that Sarah urged Abraham to have a child with since she was childless at the time (and 90 years old). Sarah had it all figured out and decided that it was better for Abraham to have a son through a union with Hagar than it was for him to be without an heir. So, Abraham and Hagar brought about the birth of Ishmael and all was good for a short time until Sarah did have a son, Isaac (the miracle child), and then Sarah became very jealous and decided that Hagar would have to leave and take her son with her. The story of her expulsion is very sad (see Genesis 21 for all the details) but God did not forget Ishmael and provided a great nation of descendants for him also and he became the ancestor of those who claim Islam as their faith tradition.
Abraham is the father of Christians because Jesus Christ was a Jew and as such he was a descedant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and David. Christians became adopted Jews because of the covenant with Abraham and their belief in Christ. Paul explains it all in Romans and Corinthians so that the members of the Early Church could understand that they belonged regardless if they were Jews or Gentiles. There is one body, he said, and it did not matter the name one wore, because they all shared in one faith through Jesus Christ.
So, Abraham is the name in the book of Genesis that makes all of us sit up and take notice because he is the leader of three great world religions that make up much of the population of the globe. So, if Abraham is our ancestor, then why do Abraham's children have so much trouble getting along with one another? Why do we argue and fight so much? Why can't we enjoy each other and play as Isaac and Ishmael did before Sarah through a fit and demanded that only her son be left in the camp? Maybe the answer is contained in that sentence just previous....Isaac and Ishmael played together until an adult because jealous and wanted her way. Then, the play time stopped and an act of violence followed.
Abraham has many children and if human beings claimed their connection instead of their differences then perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place to live. Perhaps if we loved each other as Abraham loved both of his sons instead of being demanding and territorial as Sarah was, then we could accept one another as we are and respect our differences. Abraham was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he was given promises by God for land and legacy because God saw something in him that was admirable. Faith was a key element in the relationship that God founded with Abraham and Abraham trusted in God even when he could not see what God was promising him that would be revealed in the future.
"For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith." (Romans 4:13) Faith is the element that unites humans. Faith in one another and faith in the goodness of humans toward one another. Perhaps faith is the essential element that can bring about belief in a time when distrust is so rampant. Faith is so simple but also so risky and believing is an act that takes courage, especially when it is believing that another human being can be someone that you can trust.