Psalm 31, Genesis 13: 1 – 18 and Matthew 7: 15 – 29
You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Psalm 31: 3
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are ….’ Genesis 13: 14a
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. Matthew 7: 24
O Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee; grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. Collect for Quinquagesima
Our reading from Genesis 13 describes a parting of the ways. Abram and his nephew Lot, had left Haran in the north west of Iraq / north east Syria at the beginning of the previous chapter. They had journeyed in obedience to God’s command to Canaan, the Promised Land, but had soon been affected by famine and had travelled to Egypt. Now they were returning to their intended homeland. Abram and Lot had reached Bethel (a place of significance where Abram had previously built an altar to the Lord). It is clear that the vast combined herds could not be sustained by the available pasture and there was conflict among the herders of the rival groups, so Abram and Lot agreed to go in separate directions. Abram graciously gives the younger man, Lot, the choice of territory. As Lot looked at the fertile Jordan Valley and the easy terrain, contrasted with the difficult and less fertile hill country, without hesitation or deference to his elderly uncle, he chose the wide expanse of good pasture. Verse 10 gives a hint of the difficulties ahead, even as Lot chooses the broad path into the valley, mentioning all this happening before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and the paragraph ends with the information that the people of Sodom were great sinners against the Lord. Meanwhile, Abram needs reassurance. What would be his prospects of success following the rocky paths into the hills? The answer comes in verse 14, where the Lord encourages Abram to raise his downcast eyes and look at the scope and potential of the land with a new vision and promise.
Do we sometimes look back on choices we make in life? It is said that hindsight is a great thing and that the study of history should inform our viewpoint and choices for the future, to avoid making the same mistakes again. It is all too easy to take the soft option, to go for the broad expanse of green pasture that proves all too illusory. The cautionary tale of where Lot ended up living, with the taint of sin surrounding him, was clearly not conducive to a close relationship with God. Abram in contrast, took the harder route, but did so with the promises of God undergirding him. The immediate future might be a struggle as land was won for pasture and his family settled in harder terrain, but they had future prosperity guaranteed. The Lord encouraged him to walk through the length and breadth of the land, knowing that one day his offspring would be beyond counting. In a further positive sign of Abram’s communion with God, he reached Hebron and there built an altar to the Lord. He did so recognising God would care for him and keep his promises for the future, even if the present seemed difficult.
As we consider this Old Testament account nearly eleven months after the COVID-19 pandemic first took hold and we were suddenly faced with lockdown (and all the other strange terms like social distancing, self-isolation and shielding), it is easy to lose hope. Given the choice, none of us would have wanted to face the suffering and loss of life we have seen in the past year, yet we need periodically to take stock of where we are in our walk with God. Like Abram, we are sometimes faced with the difficult and unwelcome path through hard terrain, but we walk on with the assurance that we do so in God’s strength.
The pandemic has seen many acts of altruism – the late Captain Sir Tom Moore being a fine example of modest courage that summed up the efforts of so many brave individuals, including the entire medical profession working selflessly for the good of society. Our collect for today reminds us of the need for acts of charity as an expression of the fruits of our Christian faith. Jesus speaks in Matthew 7: 16 of being known by our fruits. A life properly dedicated to God’s Kingdom will naturally wish to show a generosity of love and good deeds to those in need. The collect speaks of the Holy Spirit providing the impetus to enable us to do this even when we feel discouraged or lacking in motivation. And we need to remember the warning from Genesis 13 to be careful where (figuratively) we live or the company we are influenced by, like Lot’s choice to live in Sodom, so that we do not fall prey to temptation or falling away from the narrow path of the Christian life. Abram / Abraham was noted for his faith (Hebrews 11: 8 onwards), so may we too act on Jesus’ words and be like the man who built his house upon the rock.
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader