Sermon Title: Walking with Abraham: Are You Serious?
Text: Genesis 17:1-27 (ESV)
Brief summary (what’s the point of this text/sermon?)
It had been almost a quarter of a century since God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. Now he’s 99 years old, and (one would think) he’s pretty much given up hope. What 99-year-old man and 89-year-old woman are able to bring a child into the world?
But of course God’s timetable is different from ours, and for reasons only he knows he decides now is the time for the long-awaited promised son to be conceived. He reaffirms the covenant-promise to Abraham and asks him to demonstrate his trust in the promise by being circumcised. This physical act would become an incredibly important ritual act for Israel, the nation that descended from Abraham.
Circumcision would distinguish Israel from other nations, but it would also take on some of the trappings that many rites do—becoming little more than a physical act and losing its connection to a larger purpose: God’s selecting Israel to be his people to bless the world.
In the sermon Sunday we considered how God’s covenant-promise still requires a kind of circumcision of those who want to be his children. We also reflected on the potential pitfalls of religious rites.
At the foundation of this story—as is so often the case—is a matter of trust. Abraham still struggles to trust that God can bring life out of barrenness . . . and perhaps that’s something we still struggle with as well.
How do I live out the implications of this passage? (Discussion starters to help with applying the sermon to our lives)
- Walter Brueggemann wrote: “Biblical faith is never cerebral. It is always lived and acted. Belonging to this strange community and trusting in a scandalous promise requires a mark of distinctiveness.” How does circumcision demonstrate the relationship between faith and commitment? What does faith that is merely cerebral look like? What does a “lived and acted” faith look like?
- Circumcision was supposed to remind Israel that they were to be different from other nations. Over time, however, they trusted in the ritual act without its connection to being God’s holy people. They valued their circumcision over against the “uncircumcised heathen,” but forgot God’s call to be holy (i.e., a sanctified, called out people). Read 1 Peter 1:13-21 and discuss how much greater we’re called to lives of holiness through the blood of Christ.
- Israel kept practicing circumcision but forgot its meaning. How do we sometimes do that with the Lord’s Supper? We have often emphasized the importance of taking it every Sunday (with good reason), but what if we allow the frequency to overshadow its significance? How might we trust in weekly communion but forget the meaning behind the symbol?
- Apply the same principle to baptism: historically, we’ve emphasized our distinctive teachings on baptism in comparison to the teachings of most religious groups. Could this emphasis on “getting baptism right” lead to our underemphasizing its meaning? If so, how? Someone might think, “I know I’m saved because I’ve been baptized,” but forget that baptism is a commitment to livefor Christ. How do we push back against that kind of thinking?
- After waiting nearly 25 years for God to fulfill his promise to give him and Sarah a son, Abraham didn’t believe it was actually going to happen (Gen 17:17—he laughed). But God brought life to Sarah’s barren womb and demonstrated his life-giving character. What does our faith look like when we believe God will keep his promises? How would it affect your marriage or dating? Your finances? Your parenting? Your stress and anxiety?