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Series A
Abraham: The Father of Three Religions



Lent 2A     Genesis 12:1-4a   
Old Testament Series     Abraham      Genesis 12:1-3.

Father Abraham. What is wrong? Why canít the religions of the world get along better? Abraham. Arenít you the spiritual father of the Jews, the spiritual father of the Christians, the spiritual father of the Muslims? If you are the spiritual father of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, why is there so much conflict among your spiritual children?

Father Abraham. What is wrong? Why canít the religions of the world get along better? If Moses is declared to be a son of Abraham in the Old Testament and if Jesus is declared to be a son of Abraham in the New Testament (Matthew 1:1) and if Mohammed is declared to be a son of Abraham in the Koran; does that imply that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are brothers? What does it mean if Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are spiritual brothers?

Father Abraham. What is wrong? Why canít the religions of the world get along better?

Abraham. Arenít you the seed from which three great world religions have come? Donít the Jews trace their ancestry to you? Donít the Christians trace their family tree to you? Donít the Muslims trace their genealogy to you? Donít 200 million Jews and two billion Christians and one billion Muslims trace their origins to you, Father Abraham? If all the descendents of these religions are the same spiritual seed and therefore are spiritual family, then why has there been so much conflict and war within the family through the centuries?

Father Abraham. What is wrong? Why canít the religions of the world get along better? Abraham. Arenít you the hero of faith for the Jews? Arenít you the hero of faith for the Christians? Arenít you the hero of faith for the Muslims? Are you not also the model of the godly life for the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims? If you are the hero of faith and the model of the godly life for these three religions, why donít these world religions then follow your great example of true faith and your great example of a godly life?

Father Abraham. What is wrong? Why canít the religions of the world get along better? If Abraham is declared to be a friend of God in the Jewish Torah and if Abraham is declared to be a friend of God in the Christian Bible and Abraham is declared to be a friend of God in the Muslim Koran, then why canít the followers of the three world religions be better friends?

(Obviously, this paragraph can be omitted when preaching on Lent 2 A) It is with this introduction that we begin the summer series of sermons from the Old Testament. This year during the summer, we will preach another series of sermons on a topic, as we have done for many summers now. In the past summers, we have had series of sermons on Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. This summer, we will study and preach on personalities from the Old Testament.

Today we will focus on our first Old Testament personality, Abraham. There are many Biblical texts that could have chosen as we focus on Father Abraham. I have chosen Genesis 12:1-3. This is the beginning story about Father Abraham, and it fits for the sermon for today.

Would you please turn to the Biblical text, Genesis 12:1-3. I would focus briefly on a few key elements of the text.

The Lord said to Abraham. Focus on the word, ďLord.Ē In the Jewish Old Testament, the word Lord comes from the Hebrew word, Yahweh. The Hebrew language does not have any vowels and so the word is spelled YHWH. We insert vowels between the consonants and the word becomes Jehovah. The word, Jehovah or Yahweh, was so sacred that the ancient Jews could not speak it and so they inserted the word, Adonai. The Jewish Old Testament was translated into the Greek language in 300 BCE, and the Greek Old Testament was known as the Septuagint. The Greek word for Lord in the Greek Old Testament was Kurios.

When the Mohammed received his visions from God nine hundred years later in 650 CE, he wrote the Koran in the Arabic language. The Arabic word for Lord is Allah. Al means ďthe,Ē and Lah means ďGod.Ē The ONE God. If you read the Koranís stories about Father Abraham (as I have done in preparation for this sermon), you will discover the Arabic word, Allah, and the Arabic word, Allah, refers to the Lord. In the 1500s, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into English and the word, YHWH, became the English word, Lord. Yahweh, Jehovah, Adonai, Kurios, Allah, Lord: these are words that refer to one supreme God and the words are in different languages of the Jews, Greeks, Arabs, and English. Sometimes, people forget that the word, Allah, is simply the name for God in the Arabic language.

Focus on the phrase: ďGo from your country, your family and your house to the country that I will show you.Ē Abraham was giving up much: country, family, house. Here we discover that Abraham is a model of faith and obedience. That is, Abraham was willing to give up the most precious possessions of his life, country, family and home, to follow the promises of God. Similarly, these are the three great loves of my life and yours: nation, family and home. We are all tempted to love our nation, our family, and our home more than God. In his teachings, Jesus invites us to love God and the kingdom of God more than our nation, family or house.

The question for you and me is: ďDo we love God more than our country, families and homes?Ē

Focus on the phrase: ďI will bless you.Ē Sheer gift. Sheer grace. Sheer generosity of God. Abraham did nothing to deserve Godís blessings and promises. Abraham was simply elected, chosen, and selected by God to receive Godís blessings. Everything was a gift, a pure gift. The Law and Ten Commandments had not been given through Moses yet, so Abraham was not blessed because he had been obedient to Godís law. There was no law yet. Godís gifts to Abraham were pure grace.

God promised to bless Abraham in three ways: First, Abraham would be blessed with a great family, as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea. Second, Abraham would be blessed with a land, a land flowing with milk and honey. It became known as the Promised Land. Third, Abraham would also be blessed with Godís Divine Presence, a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God would always be with Abraham, to comfort and strengthen him for every situation.

The question for you and me is: What are the many blessings that God has showered on our lives? What are some of the greatest blessings that God has freely given to you?

Focus on the phrase: ďBy you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.Ē Circle the word, ďall.Ē All the families of the earth will be blessed. Not just Jewish families. Not just Christian families. Not just Muslim families. Not just Lutheran families or Catholic families. Notice that all the families of the earth are to be blessed through the life of Abraham. This is part of Godís persistent universal love; that is, love for all people and all humanity and all the earth. Hold onto this point because later in the sermon, we will focus on the fact that you and I are to be the instruments for Godís blessings on all the world around us, regardless of race, color, creed, gender or political persuasion.

That finishes our brief Bible study. I would now like to do a brief historical study.

At this point in the sermon, I would like to share with you further historical information about Father Abraham. Most scholars whom I respect conclude that Abraham lived in about the year 1750 BCE. Abraham was from the city of Ur that was located on the banks of the Tigris-Euphrates River, south of present and ancient Baghdad. The city of Ur was part of a sophisticated civilization, much more sophisticated that we imagine. That is, there are excellent archeological ruins from that section of the world in the Mari and Nuzi materials. We discover that the average size of home in that ancient civilization was 13-14 rooms. How many of you live in a house of that size? That means their economy was rich and well developed, and therefore the houses were large and had several rooms. Their education was well developed. From archeology, we learn that their civilization could do square roots and the cube. We learn that the children went to school and wrote on clay tablets with styluses. We learn that they had sophisticated canals and ditches for water. The city of Ur, Abrahamís ancient hometown, appears to be as culturally sophisticated as ancient Egypt.

In the past, I have shared with you that Abraham came from a civilization that recorded many business transactions and gave specific names of towns such as Peleg, Nahor,  Serah and Terah. These names are also found in the Bible. In the past, I have shared with you that I believe that Genesis 1-11 is heavily symbolic but when we get to chapter 12 of Genesis and the story of Abraham, we start to read more factual history than symbolic history. Father Abraham was a real live human being from specific city and from a specific region of the world.

So the question for us today is: ďWhy is Father Abraham so important to our lives? What does the life of a man who lived 4000 years ago have to do with our lives today?Ē

First and foremost, Father Abraham was and is a model of faith, a model of what it means to be a believing person. Genesis 15:6 states, ďAbraham believed the Lord, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.Ē In Romans 4, the faith of Abraham becomes our model of faith, our example of truth faith, our living illustration of what it means to believe.

Father Abraham simply believed the promises of God, and that is what faith is: to simply believe the promises that God has made to us.

God made three promises to Abraham:  1) I will be with you and bless you so that you will be a blessing. No matter where you go and what you do in your journey of life, I will be with you and bless you with my Presence, so that you will be a blessing to the world. And Abraham believed Godís promise. To be religious, to be spiritual, is to believe Godís promise to you, that God will be with you, at your side, in this journey called life. 2) The second promise that God made to Abraham was that his descendents would be numerous. There would be millions of descendents, like the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky. And Abraham believed Godís promises. Abraham fully trusted that God would be faithful to his promises to give him descendents. 3) God promised him the Promised Land, that Abraham and his descendents would have land to grow their crops, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land rich in abundance. And Abraham believed Godís promise. To be religious, to be spiritual, is to believe Godís promises to you.

What I am suggesting to you is that 430 years before the law and the Ten Commandments, there was Abraham and his example of believing the promises of God.  I am suggesting to you that 430 years before the writing of Deuteronomy 6:4 (love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul) and Leviticus 19:18 (and love your neighbor as yourself), there was Father Abraham and his faith in Godís promises. That is the deepest form of religion, the core, the nucleus, the center. To trust the promises of God. Deeper than the Ten Commandments. We are to have strong faith in God like Abraham. Thatís what Paul is telling us in Romans 4: we are to have strong faith such as found in Abraham.

And all of this is a free gift of Godís pure grace. Godís promises of his blessing, the descendents, the Promised Land are all free gifts from God, pure gifts, simple gifts. Abraham did nothing to deserve them or earn them or work for them. God simply promised these gifts to Father Abraham and Abraham believed God.

First and foremost, Father Abraham was and is a model of faith and deeply believing the promises of God.

Secondly, Father Abraham was enormously blessed by God and realized that God wanted him to share his blessings with all the families of the earth. You and I want to be like Father Abraham. That is, we want the Lord God to freely and generously bless us so that our lives can be a blessing to those around us. Like Abraham, we want to strongly believe the promises of God and believing the promises of God to us, we then act and live boldly.

Today is Youth Sunday in the life of our congregation, and you have already heard three senior speakers give their temple talks. You have heard seniors read the Scriptures, play the violin, seen them usher and be part of our worship experience. You and I realize that these graduating seniors are all enormously blessed by God. Good families. Good minds. Good values. Good friends. Good church. Good and varied abilities. The gifts that God has given to them are not to be used to selfishly indulge themselves but to share their God given blessings with others. So it is with us: that is, God has enormously and immeasurably showered his gifts upon each one of us, and we are to shower our gifts on others, just as God has freely showered his gifts on us. Specifically today, we saw that Caroline can play the violin, Mark can tell jokes with a wicked sense of humor, Margaret can sing. Christine told us that she cannot sing nor play the violin nor tell jokes but she can lead and organize the youth group as president. Each of them has been given a bundle of gifts to share in order to bless the world into which they have been born. These graduating seniors are an inspiration to us, so that we do the same with our lives. These young people believe the promises of God, that God promises us forgiveness in Christ, promises us eternity with Christ, promises to be present with us in all circumstances. These young people believe the promises that God has made to them.

But the third reason that Father Abraham is so very important to us is that Father Abraham is the first patriarch of the Jewish religion, the Christian religion, and the Muslim religion, and that all three world religions trace their origins to him. In other words, Father Abraham is a symbol of the familyness of all three religions, that we are all spiritual cousins.

In September of 2002, Father Abraham made the front cover of TIME magazine, and not every Biblical hero makes the cover of TIME.

Let me explain about a picture of Abraham being on the front page of TIME magazine. A year ago, a best selling book was titled, ABRAHAM: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THREE FAITHS by Bruce Feiler. In his book, Bruce Feiler persistently asks the question: if Abraham is the father of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, why canít the Jews, Christians and Muslims get along better, especially when one realizes that all three religions are from the same seed, the same family tree? If the founder of Judaism is Moses and the founder of Christianity is Jesus Christ and the founder of Islam is Mohammed, and all three founders trace their roots to Father Abraham, maybe there is something in the life, faith and piety of Abraham that could inspire a greater harmony and peace between these three religions. Abraham antedates Moses, Jesus and Mohammed and perhaps we should look to Abraham as a fountain from which to drink the refreshing waters of religious peace.

Bruce Feiler talks about the division and conflicts among the three religions, divisions which are exacerbated especially by the religious leaders of the three groups: the rabbis (Jews), the pastors (Christians) and the clerics (Muslims). The three sets of religious leaders (rabbis, pastors and clerics) seem to inflame the conflicts and warring spirits within the three religions.

Let me explain. The Jews. Right now, the Jews have sent Jewish families to live in the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, e.g. the West Bank, occupied since the war of 1965. In the Roadmap to Peace (which I support), the Jews are to give up several of their Jewish settlements. What is the response to such an idea among the fanatical Jewish rabbis? Give up our Jewish settlements? Our newest Jewish villages? Absolutely not!!! Assassinate our President Sharon, who betrays our country by having such outlandish ideas!!! Invoke a curse on his name. All in the name of religion, the Jewish religion.

The following is a second example of fanaticism that exacerbates and inflames the conflict. From Christian clergy. In the recent past, we have read in our newspapers quotations about evangelical Christian pastors that say (and I quote) ďIslam is a very evil and wicked religion, ď that Islam is a ďreligion of violence,Ē and that ďChristianity and Islam are locked in a classic struggle that will end at the second coming of Jesus Christ.Ē In other words, the conflict between Christians and Muslims is bad and will only get worse and blow up in the next century or at the end of the world when Christ comes again. In other words, it is inevitable that there will be a cataclysmic war between Christians and Muslims.

Pause. Last night was a great night at Grace Lutheran Church. The large Russian congregation who worships here at Grace put on a banquet for us so that Natalya Marchenko, the pastorís daughter, could raise money to help with her compassionate work with orphanages in a town in Russia. It was inspiring. It was awesome. It was one of the finest experiences ever for people from Grace Lutheran Church. The Russian music, their Russian instruments, their young Russian voices, the famed Russian baritones; these Russians were such an inspiration to us. As I walked out from the evening together, I remarked to a friend, ďIt wasnít that long ago than these Russian people were our enemies, ready to nuke us and we nuke them.Ē He laughed and said, ďSame with the Japanese. They were our enemies and now they are our friends and allies.Ē It is strange how yesterdayís enemies become todayís friends and allies.

Another related story. Years ago, during the Cold War, I was at Holden Village up in the Cascade mountains, a retreat center for adults. During the worship service, there was a preacher giving a sermon on July 20th, the Feast Day for Prince Vladimir, the founder of the Christian church in Russia some thousand years before. In the sermon, the preacher told us that Godís Word came to Russia before it came to Norway, that God spoke Russian before he spoke Norwegian. That upset some of the folks, especially those who thought that God preferred lutefisk before caviar. I thought it was a gutsy sermon, talking about Christians and Christianity in Russia, just about the time when a lot of folks wanted to bomb the Russians and make war with them. Some people thought that war between the Russians and Americans was inevitable, that the book of Revelation prophecied about the final war at Armageddon between the Bear and the Eagle, that there was a date with destiny of a firey nuclear cataclysm between Russia and America.  And then, time passed and the Russians and Americans became friends and allies. The Bear and the Eagle are no longer enemies.

Similarly, many leaders in evangelical Christianity say that Islam is an ďevil and wicked religion of violenceĒ and ďChristianity and Islam will be locked in classic struggle until the end of time.Ē Such words exacerbate the conflict; such words inflame the conflict; and such words are wrong. When Reverend Franklin Graham makes such nasty remarks against Islam (he was the source of my quotations), I hope that Franklin Graham would listen to the silence of his father, Billy Graham, about such matters.

But it is not only the rabbis and the priests who inflame incendiary religious conflict, it is also the Muslim clerics. Most of us are appalled that there was not a chorus of condemnation by the Muslim clerics after the bombing of the Twin Towers. Most of us are appalled by the Muslim schools that teach political fanaticism, especially in certain schools in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. Most of us are appalled when such teachers emphasize that ďjihadĒ is to be a holy war against the West and against Christianity. Yes, we are appalled when this brand of fanatical Muslim religion (Wahabi) is pushed and aggressively taught by extremist clerics. We know that the terrorists who suicide bomb their own people have been carefully taught.

Yes, I believe that the author, Bruce Feiler, has a point when he suggests that religious intolerance and fanaticism are often inflamed by rabbis, priests and clerics, although most of them would deny that they are doing this.

Yes, I believe that Bruce Feiler is on the right track when he suggests that we look to Father Abraham as a symbol of being the father of three world religions, as a symbol of being a father of a family which learns to live and love together in the same household called Earth.

Yes, there is much for us to learn from Father Abraham 4000 years after he lived and died. From Abraham, we can learn what it means to believe the promises of God, to believe in Christ, to have genuine faith and lead a devout godly life, putting  our loves for nation, family and home in perspective. From Abraham, we can learn to realize that we are enormously blessed by God so that we can be a blessing to Godís world. From Abraham, we can learn to love other people who are part of Abrahamís other religious families here on earth.

Amen.


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