St James' Church West End Come and see for yourself

Under Pressure

Preached by Brenda Holden on 17 March 2019: Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13 31-end

Time was running out for both Abram and Jesus in our two Bible readings this morning. The clock was ticking as they were both aware of the end of their journey of life. They both felt under pressure from their commitments with God. The covenant relationships that they had both entered into with God at the start of their journeys had reached a critical phase.

Abram, yet to be re-named Abraham, had felt compelled under pressure to take matters into his own hands to produce an heir in order to fulfil God’s promise that he would be the father of the nation. Unfortunately, his fathering of a son with Hagar, a slave in his household, caused tremendous hurt within his home for his wife, who was at that time child-less, and all those involved. As observers we could have told Abram that things would go pear-shaped if he took matters into his own hands.

Under pressure Abram had not trusted enough in the covenant relationship he had with God. Abram was getting old, he felt that God was being too laid back. God was leaving things too long for Abram’s descendants to be more numerous than the stars in the sky!

Up until this point in the story Abram had listened when God spoke. It had been very much a one-sided conversation. Perhaps Abram felt over-awed by the fact that he had been chosen by God. Under pressure Abram broke his silence and an outburst of frustration exploded from him.

Abram pointed out that he had done everything that God had asked of him. He had kept his side of the covenant. He and Sarah had left their home in Ur and started on the journey that God told them to take. God was yet to fulfil his promise and this made Abram angry and disappointed. God was made fully aware of his feelings!

God accepted Abrams bold outburst – this showed God that Abram was worthy of the role that he had been given. The time had come for the covenant to be re-enforced by a ritual. To us the ritual seems a bit horrific.

Imagine for a moment the scene – Abram brings a 3 year old heifer, a 3 year old female goat, a ram of 3 years old plus a turtle dove and a young pigeon. He then proceeds under instruction to cut the heifer, the goat and the ram in half – a bloody scene reminiscent of a slaughter house – not a place for the squeamish! He didn’t bother cutting the birds in half.
Splitting the animals in two in that way suggested that Abram and God were equal members taking part in the covenant. An exhausted Abram must have had a full-time job keeping the birds of prey away from the carcasses until God arrived when it was dark with the smoking pot and flaming torch which were passed between each of the bodies to seal the covenantal relationship.  

Abram was left in no doubt that God was fully committed to their covenantal relationship.

God’s commitment extended from that time onwards. The relationship with the nation from Abram’s offspring was still in existence through the test of time until it was necessary for God to send His Son to once again display His commitment to His people.

In our Gospel reading Jesus was seriously under pressure. We are surprised to hear that some friendly Pharisees came to warn him that Herod was out to get him.  It makes us realise that not all the Pharisees were the bad guys that they have been painted with the pens of the gospel writers.

Jesus knew exactly what the situation was – his reference to Herod as a fox speaks volumes. Under pressure Jesus reflects on the innocent blood that has been shed within Jerusalem’s city walls. He laments for the city of Jerusalem in the knowledge that it will be the place of his own sacrificial death in the not too distant future. However, Jesus keeps calm under pressure and continues calmly along his journey until the time is right for the showdown in Jerusalem in Holy Week.

He gives us the memorable image of himself as the mother hen protecting his followers, the chicks under his wings. Hens will endure all manner of hurt in order to protect their chicks. This image encourages us to place our trust and hope in him in the same way that Abram under pressure would put his trust in God the Father.

What we have seen in our readings today is the importance of our relationship with God in giving us a firm foundation and protection in our lives when we pass through periods of difficulties, doubt and pressure.  

We have to remember that God is always there for us!  Amen