Abram and Sarah have gone through a lot in life before they come to the chapter we read today. They have migrated. They have been in fights with other people. Abram nearly lost Sarai to the Farao of Egypt. They have tried everything to have children, including a surrogate mother. There have been family feuds and family fights. There have been visitors from abroad. There has been drought and famine as well as more prosperous times. They have been, really, through everything life can throw at us and more.
It has been like a hurdle race. And all in all, apart from a few broken egg shells here and there, they have not done badly. The herds have multiplied, the tents still give good shelter and in spite of everything they have been going through Abram and Sarai have not yet filed for divorce. It is, in other words, about as good as it gets when one lives to be 99 years old.
So about time to retire one would think. Time to put their feet up and enjoy the scenery and not worry too much about anything anymore. They have run the race to the best of their abilities, Abram and Sarai, they have encountered many challenges and coped with all sorts of things that have happened on the way. There cant be much more to expect.
Inspired by the sermon Ron will be preaching in the 10.15 service this morning, I suddenly, when I started thinking about the text earlier this week, envisioned Abram and Sarai, running this hurdle race of life, bravely managing every hurdle put in their way and just about puffed out when we arrive at the point in the story we have read this morning.
I think we all know how that feels. Even if we are not yet 99 and havent negotiated quite that many hurdles in life yet. Life is a bit of a hurdle race isnt it? Every time we have successfully negotiated one challenging hurdle that is thrown in our way, the next challenge is invariably appearing on the horizon. And we find ourselves constantly copping new and often unexpected developments that need responding to.
PFFFFF. Will there ever be the calm of green pastures and still waters? For any of us?
Well, if we take our example from father Abram, probably not. After a full life, with all the hurdles and burdens life brings, there is still no rest, no retirement for this friend of God. On the contrary! Life, at 99, is only just beginning, the 99 years that have passed paling into a prelude if we consider what is still to follow.
If you thought God was going to retire you at 60 or 65 and were looking forward to some well earned rest this story is telling you different. At 99 Abrams story is just beginning and God only just started to fulfilling his promises and getting his covenant organised. Only now, at 99, and after some maturing life experiences is Abram ready to become the father of Gods people. Only now, at 99, and after numerous wonderful adventures and several unfortunate mishaps is Sarai ready to be a mother. A mother of Gods people.
They both receive a new name to signify that they are entering a new phase of their lives. They both receive words of promise and covenant to signify that Gods work with them has not nearly finished, as most would have thought, but that it is only now that it is truly beginning. If we look at what is still to come what has gone before will seem only preliminary, training for the real thing. In the next chapter Abraham will be hosting God and his angels for dinner, he will be pleading with the Almighty over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, a son will be born and grow up into a man, the future taking more and more definite shape from there on. The more exciting stuff is yet to come!
God, and a life of faith work like that. Never a dull moment. Always new challenges and new horizons opening up. With God there is never time for retirement, never a time to withdraw to see the world go by. For people like Abraham and Sarah, for people like us there is again and again the call to live into Gods future, ready to tackle anything. There is no retirement age for faithful living, and there is never an end to meeting challenges and negotiating hurdles for people of faith. There is only the living of the life God gives us, trusting that it will take us into his future and bless us with the richness and abundance of his grace.
Like God did with Abraham and Sarah whose life with God only truly took off after they had been practicing faith for almost a century.
Now isnt that wonderful? All of us still have a lot to look forward to, all of us still a lot to expect, all of us people who may yet be called to great and wonderful things in life. No matter how old or young we are. God will still have surprises up his sleeve, and call us to work for his future.