Adam Guettel, grandson of Richard Rodgers of musical fame and the writer of musicals in his own right, says "I don't write about winners. I write about people."
We could say the same for the Bible. Jacob's name actually means "tricky."
Any of us who has read the Bible at all are well aware that it describes so many characters who are far from perfect. In Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us that Abraham's faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. Martin Luther said, "God carves rotten wood." In other words, God doesn't need us to be perfect. What God needs of us is that we are faithful. As I read the Bible, I understand that many of us are "good enough for God." That's because we just need to offer up ourselves to be remade or carved, if you will.
In Genesis 17, we have the story of God telling Abraham - again - that he will become the ancestor of many nations. Abraham listens. Perhaps he keeps his thoughts to himself. Interestingly enough, it's God who brings up Sarai, who becomes known as Sarah.
When God makes the promise to Abraham that he'll be the father of many nations, Abraham falls flat on his face. He has fallen flat on his face before, but that was because he was overawed. Not so this time. This time, he falls flat on his face, laughing. At his and Sarah's ages, with Sarah long past the age of childbearing, and barren, to boot, the whole idea seems ridiculous.
Actually, much of how God works in the world is ridiculous.
The congregation of a church in Nanticoke, Penn., was dwindling. The church had lost its pastor, and the century-old building had become too costly for the handful of members who still worshipped there to maintain it. It was generally expected that the church would close. (Reminds us a lot of 90-year-old Sarah, doesn't it?) The members had one last idea: to defy those expectations by going out into the community and giving help, instead of asking for it. Church members organized dinners, adopted families, helped with other organizations, started a book group, and generally became engaged in being of service to their community. Much like Sarah, who gave birth to Laughter, as Isaac's name meant, the church has remained open and quadrupled its membership. Through their actions, their self-image changed. They're still a small congregation, but now they know themselves to be useful. They have a place.
One definition of faith is refusing to settle for what is reasonable or possible. God tells Abraham to walk before God. If Abraham is to walk before God, Christians are to follow Jesus, to walk after him, so to speak, but either way, we're to keep moving. Or we could define faith as stepping into darkness where there is no light, knowing that God will meet us there.
I learned recently that "christening" referred to the giving of new middle names to babies, their Christian names. We baptize infants because we believe that God claims them long before they can respond to that claim on their own. We, the church, help them to grow to understand their baptism. New names can lead to new ways of living. We think of Abram becoming Abraham, Jacob becoming Israel and Saul, now called Paul. Nobodies who trust God are remade.
Frances Moore Lappe defines humility as realizing it's not possible to know what's possible. God's famous promise to Abraham, that he and his offspring would possess the earth, was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God's decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he trusted.
"We call Abraham "father" not because he got God's attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of him when he was a nobody." Is it not obvious to you that persons who put their trust in Christ (not persons who put their trust in the law!) are, like Abraham, children of faith? Galatians 3:7-8
If you're interested in adventure, new life and seeing how God can work in your life, just offer yourself, as you are, to God and see where God takes you.
The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson is retired from active ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but still preaches regularly at Congregational and Presbyterian churches in the Eastern Oregon Presbytery. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.