My morning devotional directed me toward two of the lectionary readings for tomorrow, so I'll post about those today, rather than about the book of Acts, just for something a little bit different!
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
It's interesting that the lectionary skips the verses here that focus on circumcision. Doing so allows the focus to be more on some other aspects of Abraham's encounter with God, I guess.
So God shows up here--El Shaddai, as he identifies himself--and seems to command Abram to follow him. "Walk with me and be trustworthy," God says. It might help us to know that this is not Abram's first encounter with God, and it's not without reason that God encourages Abram to do things honestly. (Check out the preceding 4 or 5 chapters to see what Abram's been up to since God first told him to head out from the place he'd always known. Not everything Abram did was on the up and up, so much...) But it is interesting that after quite a few years now--24 or so?--Abram's been on the go, trying to figure out what God meant when God promised to make many nations out of him. No matter what else Abram may have tried, the fact remains that he and Sarai still have no kids...and let's be honest, it's not looking very good for them. So God shows up. Maybe Abram needed the reminder of the covenant God had made with him so many years ago. Maybe Abram needed some encouragement to keep on going. Maybe Abram needed a kick in the pants. After all, he had listened to Sarai and had a kid with Sarai's slave girl, and that didn't end up working out so well. We can imagine that God has reason to be hesitant about how things are going to work out with this one!
But Abram remains faithful, scripture tells us. In fact, Paul expands on this quite a lot in the letter to the Romans. Romans 4:13-25 is the epistle reading for tomorrow, so let's get some of that in here, too:
Now, I don't know what version of Genesis Paul is reading, but I gotta say that I think Abram doesn't always come off as quite so faithful. I mean, he questions God sometimes--"How are you going to keep your promise, when I don't even have one son, God??" which isn't necessarily unfaithful, but he also tries to hurry up God's plan by having this child with Hagar--why would he think that would be the solution?! We might want to pick on him a bit, but I think that doing that might ultimately just make us more comfortable with the ways we lack faith and faithfulness, at times, ourselves. So, I'll take it easy on Abram today. His faith, even with a few mistakes, is still pretty impressive. And he got the bonus of hearing God make promises, first-hand. That's pretty cool!
One other part of this passage seems noteworthy at the moment--there's much more that could be said, of course--and that is the name change that happens here. Abram becomes Abraham, and our Bibles tell us that means something significant. Sarai becomes Sarah, which nobody can really figure out--it doesn't really seem to mean anything different. No matter how meaningful or not it was meant to be, though, we often read it as a new beginning and a shift in identity, as God's promises are being fulfilled in these two elders' lives. Maybe it's good to spend some time considering how my identity changes in noticeable ways, as God's promises are revealed in and around me. Hmm...