Genesis 17 is bookended with re-naming. At the beginning Abram experiences a name change. At the end Sarai experiences a name change. In the middle, there is talk about circumcision. Was this an editing mistake or is there some way all of this goes together?
I've known 2 people who have changed their name. In their early 20s they reflected on their adolescence and the growth they experienced and they came to a conclusion: I want a new beginning; I need a new name to indicate that I'm not the same person I used to be. There is something unique and significant about that decision. A new name. A new beginning.
"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."
C. S. Lewis
How many of us would love a new start? Enough with the old and in with the new!
The story of Abram and Sarai begins in chapter 12 of Genesis. They are given the best promise imagineable: I'll give you land and I'll give you descendants. I'll make you a nation. Now, leave everything you've ever known, trust, and follow. I'll lead you to the place you are to go.
Let's not idealize the situation. Immediately there is a drought, which leads them to Egypt where they lie, put Sarai's life and chastity at risk, and end up causing injury to innocent people. In Genesis 15 it is obvious that Abram is struggling to understand God's purpose. Even as he grows wealthier (his flock and number of employees increases) all is not well. The promise has been delayed.
I find this is one of the most difficult situations for many Christians: knowing what is good, knowing what they want the future to be, but having to wait patiently for it to come to pass. We want to scratch the itch immediately. Even though we know the better part of wisdom says, "Wait. Work hard. Wait patiently." there can be extreme discomfort that causes anxiety and doubt and even anger. This resides with Abram and Sarai.
In the previous post & sermon we see how this anxiety and anger at God and their circumstances boils over and hurts Hagar.
You can be sure that grace has shown up when you realize
your life is about grace coming to you and then working through
you to help others.
To put it succintly, they blew it. If anyone should be disqualified it might be Abram and Sarai. No matter how many times God assures them of his presence, promise, and pleasure, they go their own way and wreak havor on themselves and others.
The New Beginning
Chapter 17 - God says, Abram I'm changing your name to "father of the nations," and Sarai, I'm changing your name to "mother of nations." In an incredible turn, instead of their stupidity and unfaithfulness hurting others, God is going to radically change them to bless others.
This is an important lesson - the blessing of God was never mean to be only for Abraham and Sarah. They were merely the conduits of grace and blessing that was to flow.
You can be sure that grace has shown up when you realize that your life is not only about you, for you, and centered on you. It is about grace coming to you and then working through you.
A Perpetual Sign
So why this talk of circumcision? Circumcision was a visible sign that was to remind the people of God's audcaious promise of fidelity. They were to remind themselves, "We blew it. God could have said, 'Forget it; you are a lost cause,' but God didn't. His love knows no bounds."
Circumcision wasn't the end in-and-of-itself, but it was to point to the grace and kindness of God AND that God had set them apart for the specific job of grace and blessing to others. This inner work of sin-meets-judgment-meets-reconcilation-and-grace, was to produce in them a new outlook on self, God, and others.
The New Testament writers link circumcision (cutting away) with the waters of baptism (In him [Jesus] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism. - Colossians 2:8-15).
The waters of baptism, like circumcision, do not point to themselves, but point to the work of God in our hearts. Through the gospel, God cuts away/frees us from the tryanny of sin by uniting us with Christ through faith. And then, this work of grace changes our lives. It is our new beginning.
When we see someone baptised we are to remember--yes, the water flowed also over me; God's grace has covered and claimed me; I am to live my life in a way that honors God's fidelity to me.
Just like the Israelites who passed through the waters in the exodus had a new land and a new start ahead of them, so too the waters of baptism (which point to grace that owns us) is our new start.
Take comfort in the promise of God. Trust God declaration to you - I am your God both now and forever. And now, let that good news imbue your life with meaning greater than yourself, with a purpose that could bless the nations and those around you.