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.