“Promise, Call, Blessing Genesis 12.1-9
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL Pentecost 17
September 16, 2018 NL Year 1
Rev. Sean Weston
Abram was just a guy. He was 75 years old. He lived in a place called Haran with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and his father Terah. As far as we know there wasn’t really anything special about them. If anything, they were considered a bit unusual because a struggle with infertility meant they didn’t have children. As often happens today, I’m sure they were used to the whispers and gossip that followed them around – the awkward conversations and hushed rooms. They were not the perfect family with a white picket fence and 2.3 children. Haran’s tourism bureau probably didn’t put their pictures on brochures. But they had a home, and family, and resources. They were – like us – people. Figuring life out.
Until one day, when everything changed. God showed up, and told Abram to leave. “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you.” If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard this story enough that you might not really hear this. So imagine, it’s just another day, you’re working around the house, and God stops by. That’s the first weird thing. And then God says “leave everything behind.” No matter what else God says, I wouldn’t be jumping up and down ready to go. I like my stuff. I like my bed, and my couch, and the food in my kitchen. I’d like to stay there.
Then add to that that Abram’s society was what we call a “kinship society.” Three generations shared a house. That house was part of a clan, and a larger tribe, and then a nation. But that house was the most important thing. The survival of your family was your purpose in life. And you did that by planting yourself on a patch of land and protecting that little corner of the universe with all you are.
For God to show up and tell Abram to leave that all behind was not exciting. It was terrifying, insensible, dangerous. This was not something you wanted to be chosen for. No matter what promises God makes.
Sure, God promised that he would be starting a great nation, that he would be blessed and respected, that he would be a blessing to others. But it’s not hard for me to imagine being in that position and not finding that convincing. I don’t feel the need to start a great nation, really. I have a full belly and a roof over my head so I’m really blessed enough. I don’t really need more respect than I already have. And I’m not anywhere near 75. Hadn’t he done enough already? Couldn’t he have some time to enjoy life?
And yet, he went. He too his wife Sarai with him, and his nephew Lot. We don’t know if they had a say in it. He left his father Terah behind. We don’t know how Terah felt about it, but we do know that Abram left an empty house and an elderly father behind.
What could matter more than protecting your family?
What kind of God would do something like this?
What does really matter?
Who is this God?
What is life for?
Who is God?
Welcome to the Bible, which often brings more questions than answers. Welcome especially to the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, a strange book filled with stories of deadly sibling rivalry, giant boats in worldwide floods, endless conflict, inappropriate and abusive relationships, endless sexism, battles with angels, and a God that tells 75 year olds to leave everything behind and wander in the wilderness for….a promise.
Leaving people and things behind happens a lot in the Bible. Sometimes it gets pretty extreme. When Jesus was walking to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel, he invited someone to follow him, and the man asked simply to bury his father before following Jesus. And Jesus said no: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but ask for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another asked simply to say goodbye to his loved ones, and Jesus said “no one who puts a hand to the power and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Now, it’s doubtful that Jesus actually refused to allow somebody to bury his father, but a strong point is being made. Sometimes you just need to leave your old life behind, and when you do, you’d better commit. You can’t have one foot in and one foot out. When God calls you to “go” you don’t have to go. Remember from last week, God gives us freedom. But if you do, you’re expected to bring your all.
I imagine that leaving people and things behind happens a lot in the Bible because it happens a lot in life, almost from the moment we are born. Our best friend in first grade has a whole new friend group two years later. We move schools in the middle of the school year. We leave the house to start a career or go to college. We fall in love and then suffer painful breakups. We finally express who we really are, only to be rejected by family and friends. We bury those we thought we could never live without. We are laid off after decades and must find new work.
Of course, that’s just the normal stuff. All of us can expect that sort of thing. That’s to say nothing of migrants and refugees, those who, like Abram, find themselves strangers places that often fail to welcome them, or even imprison and deport them. Those who leave everything behind simply because they must.
We are always leaving somebody or something behind. Nothing ever stays the same. We see this in the church life all the time. You laugh and cry, work and rest, sing and pray with someone for decades until one day you find yourself at their funeral. People move away but sometimes you still look for them where they used to sit. Friendships begin and end. Pastors come, and pastors go. Ministries start and then they change or they end. Beliefs and practices change. Things are not as they were.
Sometimes we like it, and sometimes we don’t. But there is no pause option in life, no way to make time stop and keep things just as they are.
Maybe after 75 years on this earth Abram knew this. Maybe that’s why when God showed up at his doorstep and offered him something new, he was ready to go. Maybe he realized that his choice wasn’t between keeping everything as it was or leaving everything behind. Change was going to come either way. His choice was whether or not to trust that what God had in store for him was better than what he planned for himself. That God was calling him to an amazing journey, to start something big, to bless many generations and in so doing, to bless the world. Abram decided that the God who calls and promises is a God that can be trusted. And so, he leaves his old life behind and begins a long journey.
There will be many struggles along the way. He and his family will make mistakes and hurt others. It will take years before they have any children as promised. He will never possess anything more than a burial plot in the Promised Land. And yet, and yet, Abram chooses to trust God and put his whole life in God’s hands. His path is not comfortable or convenient or easy. But it was good, and faithful. As the writer of Hebrews wrote of him and other ancestors of ours, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them”
On every faith journey, there is much to be left behind. But there is also much to be gained. God is always on our doorstep, inviting us into something new. Like Abram, our choice is not between keeping everything as it is or leaving everything behind. Change comes either way. Our choice is whether or not to trust that what God had in store for us is better than what we have planned for ourselves. That God is calling us to an amazing journey, to start something big, to bless many generations and in so doing, to bless the world.
We are on a journey, Lyonsville Church. An exciting journey that in many ways is just beginning. Abram didn’t really know what that would be when he said “yes” to God. Neither do we. But we do know something, something our ancestors learned over and over again. The God who calls and promises is a God that we can trust.
God is at my doorstep, at your doorstep, at our doorstep, inviting us on the journey of a lifetime. We don’t have to see the whole path to trust that it is a holy path. A path of blessing and promise and life, not just for ourselves but for the world. God has something amazing in store, as long as we keep offering our “yes,” as long as we keep listening for God’s unexpected, bigger-than-life, more-than-we-could-ever-imagine, terrifying-yet-amazing call.