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Abraham: the Friend of God

Our lenten readings from Genesis have moved into the story of Abraham. With Abraham the story - the narrative - of Genesis grows very focused. Beginning “in the beginning” with the grand narrative of creation and fall, on to Cain and Abel, Noah, and finally the Tower of Babel, the story has thus far been about everyone, all the peoples of the world, and those people/nations/descendants as, pretty much, well nigh a disaster. From the sin of Adam and Eve things go from bad to worse until God “starts over” with Noah. Noah dies at the end of chapter 9 and by chapter 11 God has to divide the nations after the whole Babel affair. In chapter 12, though, the story gets tightly focused and narrows from the grand narrative of humanity down to the tale of one man: Abraham. From here on out through the whole Old Testament the story of God’s dealings with the human race are going to be focused on this man and his descendants. Abraham is chosen by God to be the father of a great nation through whom all the world will be blessed. He is chosen, in other words, to be the forefather of her who will say, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1.46-47, 54-55)

It is not surprising, given all of this, that Abraham’s story would become paradigmatic. Against the background of the sin of Adam, the murderous Cain, the flood of Noah, and the pride of Babel, God was searching for a man of faith. And it is this faith that makes Abraham, as St Paul says, the father of all of us who have faith in God regardless of our race and despite the fact that our personal histories look an awful lot like the ugly history of humanity in Genesis prior to Abraham. A lot has been said about faith in a rather abstract and unhelpful way - usually by preachersand “theologians”. But when the scriptures speak about faith they generally show us what faith looks like. And faith, quite often, looks like Abraham. Consider this from the epistle to the quite Hebrews:

“He was called…and he went out…not knowing where he was going.” That is faith. And when God, at last, brought him into the land of promise he didn’t reckon that he was home at last and start digging the foundations for Abrahamopolis (notice the contrast here between Abraham the man of faith and the haughty builders of Babel back in chapter 11). Rather, “he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country”, living like a nomad in a tent because he was, still and always, following God. There would be no putting down roots in this world. And because of this faith - the thing that God is always and everywhere searching for - Abraham became “the friend of God.” (James 2.23) On the night before our Lord’s death and after three years of following Him the disciples heard these words: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Those disciples, uprooted from their lives in this world to follow Christ into eternity, became, like Abraham, the friends of God. And we, too, have heard the call: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” The path to friendship with God is the following of faith; it is the way of the Cross. Let us abandon all else, brothers and sisters, for the sake of this friendship.

With love in Christ, Fr John

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