Sunday, 17 February 2013

“What are the old people coming to these days?”: a sermon by Bob Faser (Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18)

These days, it’s not all that spectacular for people in their seventies to embark on great adventures.  Many older people from the temperate zones, from Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT, or southern NSW … many people in their seventies – or older - people frequently spend much of the winter driving around the warmer regions of Australia, or touring around various historic or scenic regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  It’s not all that spectacular these days for people in their seventies to embark on great adventures.  It’s even expected.

People in their seventies – and older – still have their health and vitality, for the most part.  (Those of you in this age range can make approving noises if you want.)  You’ve got more time to travel than you did when you were employed.  Most of you have more financial resources to travel than you did when you had children at home.  And for some, it may even be a deliberate decision to do some skiing.  (Skiing as in the acronym S-K-I, which stands for “Spending the Kids’ Inheritance”.)

And, to tell the truth, you’re probably a lot more mentally adventurous, much more culturally tolerant, and generally far less conservative now than you were in your thirties and forties.  You probably even find yourself much more mentally adventurous, more culturally tolerant, and generally less conservative than many of the younger people you know.

And this is the case with older people around the world.  If the 1960s were a great time to be young, the twenty-teens are a great time to be old.  For a person in their seventies or older to embark on a great adventure is not all that spectacular these days. It’s become the done thing. 

This was not the case in Abram’s day.  In those days, old was old.  Abram was seventy-five and his wife Sarai was close to it.  They weren’t expected to go chasing off into the desert at the command of some new-fangled Big-G God.  They were expected to ease into their dotage in the safe, old-fashioned way, worshipping their full quota of petty little small-g gods, just as their parents did ... and their parents before them ... and their parents before them ... and so on.

The neighbours probably shook their heads in a combination of amusement and annoyance.  “He’s doing what?  ... Travelling across the desert?  ... At his age?  ... Surely Sarai will talk some sense into him.  ... What?  She’s going too?  ... Both of them should act their age! ... I told you no good would ever come out of this one-God business.  ... What are the old people coming to these days? ...” ... and so on.

And so, as Abraham and Sarai, the world’s first monotheists, left their hometown of Haran ... with their nephew ... and their servants ... and their animals ... and their household goods ..., they must have heard the sarcastic comments of their neighbours.

But somehow, it was in this event, when Abram and Sarai left the comforts of home in service to finding God’s future for them and for the world, that we see a key moment in the religious and ethical development of humanity. For three great faiths:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – each traces its heritage back to Abram’s desert journey into the unknown.

This is appropriate.  A few chapters before today’s lesson from Genesis, God told Abram, just before he and his family set off:  “... in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”  And, in a real sense, this has been the case.  In the three Abrahamic faith traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, whatever their differences, there are some profound common themes:
·           One God who is love at the very heart of God’s being;
·           One God, whose love is extended to all humanity;
·           One God, who calls all people to practice justice, peace, and mercy;
·           One God, whom we worship through our ethical deeds as much as in our religious activities.

For his role in introducing humanity to this One God, “...all the families of the earth ... [were surely] ... blessed” by Abram’s journey into the unknown. 

And so, in the simple reality of an old couple who challenged the expectations of their culture, we see a source of profound hope for all people, for “all the families of the earth”.

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