Genesis 15:1-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
For those of us who are fans of the Winter Olympic Games, today is a bittersweet day. On the one hand, today the U.S. & Canada will play for the gold medal in hockey; it’s one of the highlights of the Olympics. On the other hand, today is the final day of the Olympic Games. If we want to see more, we’ll have to wait another four years.
And in four years I expect that my wife & I will turn on the TV as we have for the past 16 days. We’ll root for our favorite athletes, enjoy the drama & celebrate the stories of athletes from many nations.
But it won’t be the same. In four years the Olympics will be in Russia, far from home. This year the Games were practically in our own backyard.
A couple of weeks ago we decided we needed to get a taste of the Olympics firsthand. So on our day off a week ago Friday my wife & I drove up to Vancouver.
It was a beautiful day. We even got to see one of the events—ice- dancing. But our first stop was downtown Vancouver; we had to see the Olympic flame, which had been lit by the Olympic Torch at the opening ceremony. We were not disappointed; it was an awesome sight!
I thought of that experience as I was reading today’s first reading; there’s actually a flaming torch in today’s reading from Genesis!
It’s the story of Abram’s conversation with God, in which God makes a covenant—or promise–to Abram. God had already made a promise to Abram. The promise was that Abram would be the father of many nations. But Abram has his doubts; he & his wife Sarai still don’t have a child. They haven’t seen any sign that God will make good on the promise. So God decides to give them a sign.
One night Abram has a strange dream or vision. As the story goes…
the sun was going down, & a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
A smoking fire pot & a flaming torch. What’s that all about?
In the Bible fire is an important symbol of God’s presence. The fire in this reading is a sign to Abram–& to us—that God is powerfully present. But there’s more to this story than just fire. Notice that Abram has made an animal sacrifice & the fire appears to move through these butchered animal carcasses.
What do you think the meaning of that was? God was saying to Abram: As these animals have been killed, so also may I be killed if I am not faithful to you.
Imagine that. God, the creator of the universe, says to humanity, “May I be struck down dead if I break my promise to be faithful to you.” God, who created the countless stars in the sky, says to Abram that his legacy to future generations will be as vast as those same stars.
When someone is willing to lay down their life for another we call it an act of love. Here in the book of Genesis, having created the world as an act of love, the Creator demonstrates a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the human race.
Now, in the season of Lent, we remember God’s promise to Abram. Even though God was faithful to Abram; even though the Divine love for all humanity has never changed, still God made the ultimate sacrifice. The image of Jesus on the cross assures us that God’s love for you & me is not just a promise; it is a promise fulfilled. God’s love for each of us is total & final, with no strings attached.
We need that assurance. Like Abram, we have our doubts. Like him, there are times in life when we might wonder if God has forgotten us or is even present at all. Our journey to the cross assures us through the scriptures that Jesus himself shared those same doubts. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Every four years, a torch is lit & carried across the host nation to the site of the Olympic Games. The route to the Games is marked by fire. The journey of faith is also marked by fire. Each Sunday at worship a torch is lit. This is our torch: The baptismal candle stands as a constant reminder that we are baptized. We are baptized, not as protection against God’s judgment but as a permanent sign of God’s love. In baptism we are reminded & assured of God’s love for all humanity–& not just for humanity but for all creation, even to those billions of stars that God asked Abram to ponder. We are the torchbearers who carry the flame of God’s love into the world, & who pass that torch on as a legacy to future generations—through our attitudes, our words & our deeds.
Today, the Olympic flame will be extinguished. But we who carry the torch of faith have the assurance that the flame of God’s love for all creation will never go out.