God with Us: The Call of Abraham
We are continuing our 6 week sermon series about God with Us. We are following the Narrative Lectionary this fall. It will take us on a journey through the Old Testament. It will give us a chance to see the order in which things happen and also it will give us a chance to learn about how to find the Gospel in the Old Testament. Last week we had a long passage about Noah and the Flood, God and the Rainbow. We learned that in the rainbow covenant, humans don’t change but remain sinful. However, God does change. The rainbow covenant is the beginning of God’s choice to commit to us no matter what. It is the first step in God’s work in the world to bring forgiveness and new life from here on out. We will see over the next few weeks the steps that God takes over time to get us to Jesus.
Today we have a very short passage about the call of Abraham. This is the next step in God’s choice to bring forgiveness and new life to us and to the world. In this passage, Abraham has his original name which is Abram and Sarah is still called Sarai. Later, God will give them new names: Abraham and Sarah, so I am going to refer to them as Abraham and Sarah. I want us to learn three things from this important passage. First, God’s calling of Abraham is pure grace. Second, Abraham was willing to venture into the unknown to follow God. Third, God is bound by the promise to Abraham, and through Abraham, to all the families of the earth.
First, God’s calling of Abraham is pure grace. There is nothing in our text this morning or in anything that has come before to tell us why God chose Abraham. It is purely grace. The only thing we learn about Abraham and Sarah before Genesis 12 is that they are descended from one of the sons of Noah and that Sarah is barren. The only bit of information we learn about Abraham in our passage this morning is that he is 75. I find these two bits of information about Sarah and Abraham surprising and comforting. They were an old couple: Abraham was 75. They were not able to have children: Sarah was barren. The purpose of the call from God is to send them on a journey to a new land and to make a great nation out of them. If we were to sit and think about the kind of people who would be ideal for that, we would not come up with a couple in their seventies who were unable to have children. Normally when we reach our seventies, we are slowing down in life. We are settled in our home, we don’t plan a big move, unless it is a move to a retirement residence closer to our children. But this move before Abraham and Sarah is a move that requires them to start over with a hard life in a foreign land living in tents (we see in verse 8 that they pitch their tent).
This should be very encouraging for us. What this means is that when we think our lives are over, God does not. I remember in high school I chose to do something in secret with two other people. But one of them told someone and that person told a lot of people until the entire school knew. I lost all of my friends and when I would walk down the halls people would whisper to each other. I thought my life was over. And I actually did consider suicide. But even in the depths of that darkness and, what felt to me, like a destroyed life, God saw me differently. That was the beginning of me noticing God working in my life, and the first steps God took me on that led to my conversion two years later, when I first became a Christian. Often when we think our lives are over, God sees that as a new beginning and will send us on a journey to new life. This is pure grace. It’s just like the rainbow covenant but better. When we feel like our life is over we think we have nothing to offer God. But God comes to us in those moments and calls us anyway to something better. We don’t deserve it, but God comes to us as a free gift of grace. God makes a way when we don’t see a way and walks with us through it to something better.
This leads to our second point, that Abraham and Sarah were willing to venture into the unknown to follow God. At the beginning of the passage, in verse 1, God says that they should go from their country, their kindred, and their father’s house. Those are the three layers of the social fabric of ancient society. Country, kindred, and father’s house. God is asking them to leave behind everything that was familiar in order to follow God.
I have been listening to a song called Your Great Hands by Jordan Feliz. It goes like this:
I’m looking at the broken pieces,
life shattered on this empty floor,
I’ve tried so hard to simply keep it,
I know there must be something more.
I’m here now to turn it over,
Into Your great hands,
I will place my trust.
When I cannot stand,
You will lift me up.
Every step that led me here,
All I am, into Your great hands.
This goes against my every instinct,
To loosen my grip and let go,
But really all that I am risking
Is perfect peace in my soul.
In my own experience in high school, of feeling like my life was over, in order to come out of that darkness, I had to leave behind everything that was familiar to me. I had to let go. In my case, I had to leave behind the mindset, the attitude, and the behaviours that led me there in the first place. Going on that internal journey was incredibly difficult, but letting go of those familiar attitudes and behaviours led me to a new place that brought peace to my soul. But again, it was a very difficult journey.
When we look at Abraham and Sarah’s physical journey to a new place, leaving behind all that was familiar, and even refugees doing the same thing, we can easily see how that would be very difficult and many of us might even think it would be impossible for us to do the same thing. When we were in Virginia trying to decide between Brett’s two job offers - one in Philadelphia, and the other at McGill in Montreal, Quebec, Canada - I remember talking to a woman at church about this at a baby shower for Junia, and this woman said that moving to another country and learning a new language would be impossible for her, that that would be the deciding factor and she would go to Philly. For some of us, a move like that seems impossible. It’s important to remember that often the internal journeys that God sends us on can be just as difficult and can seem just as impossible. It took at least six years for me to leave behind the mindset, attitude, and behaviours that led to that dark place in high school.
Throughout life we will be faced with these crisis moments when we feel like our life is over, but God sees it differently. In those moments, we have to ask ourselves if we have the courage to go on a journey with God to leave behind everything we have ever thought about life so that God can transform us so that we can see things the way God does. That kind of journey transforms us, brings us new life, and brings peace to our soul. These crises can take many forms, but there is one that looms ahead of all of us, which is losing the ability to care for ourselves in our old age. That terrifies us and we don’t like the idea of being a burden on others. That is one of those crises when we might feel like our life is over, but it’s not. And just as God didn’t look at Abraham and think he was too old, so God will not look at us and think that we are too old to go on a journey to change the way we think about that situation so that we can let go, find perfect peace in our souls, and experience God’s blessings in our own lives and God blessing others through us when we thought we had nothing left to offer.
I know that after that crisis in high school I thought I had nothing left to offer this world. But, in the midst of losing all of my friends, God brought me an unexpected gift: meeting my husband, Brett. Our high school had 500 kids in each class and we just didn’t know each other. If I hadn’t gone through the crisis, I am not sure that I ever would have noticed Brett. In the darkest period of my life, God brought me a relationship with someone that will last now for the rest of my life. Just as Abraham, when he was 75 and Sarah was barren, had no idea how God was going to give him land and make a nation out of him, so we have no idea what God has in mind for us or how God will bring it about. The question is do we have the courage to leave everything familiar behind and go on a journey into the unknown with God?
This leads to our third point, that God binds God’s self to Abraham and through Abraham to “all the families of the earth.” God makes a promise here and the thing about God is that God never breaks these kinds of promises. God changes God’s mind about punishment. The Old Testament has this common refrain throughout: God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to change God’s mind about punishment. But when it comes to promises like this one to Abraham, that God will be with him, God never breaks those promises.
At the beginning of our passage this morning, God promises to bring Abraham to new land, to make a great nation out of him and to bless him. At the end of verse 2 we learn why: “so that you will be a blessing.” Abraham was blessed to be a blessing to others. At the end of verse 3 we learn that this is not just for Abraham. It says, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This is like what we learned in Ephesians chapters 2-3 in August. God creates a new humanity in Christ: Jesus is the peace which breaks down dividing walls and unites us with people we would not normally include. This peace is for every family because every family in heaven and on earth takes its name from God. This promise that God makes to Abraham, to be with him on this difficult journey to a new land, and to bless him to be a blessing is not just for Abraham, but it is also for us, and for every family on the earth. God is bound by the promise to Abraham. Since this promise is also for us, then God is also bound to us. And since this is for every family of the earth, then God is also bound to other people.
I was reading through Facebook posts and someone posted something that said, “You will never look into the eyes of someone that God does not love. Always be kind.” God loves us all. We are blessed to be a blessing. Out of gratitude for God’s love for us, God’s promise to us, how can we not be kind to others, always?
What did we learn about the Gospel in this story and what do we now know about God being with us? We learned that God chose Abraham out of pure grace. It was not because of anything that Abraham did. In fact, we might even think that he was at the end of his life, but God didn’t see it that way. God chose him out of grace and God comes to us in the same way, as a free gift of grace in all the circumstances of our lives. We also learned that God called Abraham on a journey to leave behind everything he ever knew and that God will call us on similar journeys. Perhaps we will move to a distant land, but often the difficult journey is internal, and one that God uses to bring peace to our souls. Finally, we learned that God’s promise is sure. We can trust that God won’t break this promise to be with Abraham and to bless him to be a blessing. This blessing is for all the families of the earth, for us and for others no matter how different from us they are. We are assured of God’s presence with us, always: we are blessed to be a blessing, too. Amen.