Our first lesson for this morning, Genesis 12:1-9, recounts the pivotal moment when a man named Abram--who would later be known as Abraham--left all that was familiar to him in obedience to God’s call and in response to God’s promise.
On first blush, the central character of the lesson seems to be Abram, the one who picks up stakes and moves to who-knows-where with his wife, his nephew Lot, his possessions, and his servants.
But, in truth, the central character is God. Abram was just a member of the supporting cast.
As his life unfolded, Abram did well and played a critical role in the revelation of God’s purposes in the world--in other words, he was blessed--when he remembered Who was the star and who wasn’t.
Abram made a mess of things--in other words, he was cursed--when he thought that he was the star of his own story.
We would do well to remember this, to trust in God to take the lead and to be good for all of His promises in our lives too. That’s a big part of what the lesson can teach us today.
Let’s take a look at it. Verse 1: “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…’”
The first thing to say about this passage and then move on quickly is that, we may think, “Lucky! God gave Abram clear directions.” But not always; one scholar estimates that God spoke to him about once for every twenty-five years of his life.
The truth is that in discerning God’s direction and will for our lives, we have an advantage over Abram.
- We have the Bible, God’s Word; Abram didn’t. If we want God speak to us as God spoke to Abram, all we need to do is read His Word.
- We also have the Holy Spirit; Abram didn’t.
Through a few minutes of daily Bible-reading, followed by prayer in Jesus’ name that’s powered by the Holy Spirit, you and I can hear more from God than Abram ever did in his whole life time.
More importantly, consider who takes the initiative in this verse. God calls Abram to leave behind everything he knows in order to go someplace that God will show Abram.
Imagine how crazy Abram’s decision to leave must have seemed to his family and countrymen. They were all idol-worshipers, their lives spent placating all sorts of gods. The whole notion of there being just one God Who created and cared about His creation would have been foreign to them all. So would the idea of leaving family, friends, and the familiar for parts unknown.
But here’s the deal. If God really is the God of all creation, He has every right to be obeyed when He calls us to do things that may not be easy. Things like putting God first in our lives, or loving even those who hate us, or taking the risk of telling others the good news of new life for who turn from sin and trust in Jesus as their Savior and God. Isaiah 45:9 asks: “Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?'” The creatures--human beings--get in trouble when we start to ignore the Creator Who made us.
We knew some folks who, when their kids were in their teens, moved into an area with a number of Lutheran churches. They finally settled on filled with older people and no youth program. "Why did you do that?" their friends asked. "Why be part of a church that has nothing to offer you?" Our friends explained that, first of all, it wasn't true that the church they decided to join had nothing to offer. But, more than that, they explained, "We were looking for a church where we could serve." That couple understood that God doesn't always call us (or sometimes, command us) to the easy path, only the best path.
Of course, God gives all sorts of commands to the human race, commands that we ignore. Just think of the Ten Commandments. Millions of people push to have the Ten Commandments erected in stone on court house grounds, but only a small number of those millions can actually name more the four of five of them.
We're not good at keeping God's commands either. Abram himself would later show a penchant for ignoring God’s commands.
That penchant for sin has been baked into the human DNA since Adam and Eve fell into sin.
God could bark His commands--His Law--at us from now until Jesus returns and those commands wouldn’t cause us to do what God tells us to do. The most that God's Law can show us is where we fall short as human beings and just how desperately we need God's help and forgiveness.
God’s Law can’t change or move us. But God’s promises can.
And, as we’ll see, when he left his home behind, Abram wasn’t just obeying a command given to him by God; he was also responding to a promise. It was that unlikely promise that compelled Abram to call in the moving vans!
Look, starting at verse 2: [God says:] “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Abram, as we’ll see, was seventy-five years old when God spoke these words to him. His wife Sarai, later renamed Sarah, was ten years younger. Abram’s name, which means exalted father, hung over him like a sick joke because Abram and Sarai were childless. In that culture, in those times, you were thought to be cursed if you didn’t have children.
But this God Who has chosen to introduce Himself to the idol-worshiping Abram says that the childless exalted father is going to become the father of “a great nation.” God promises that Abram is going to be the conduit through whom God will bring His blessings to the whole world. You and I know that it will be among Abram’s descendants that God’s Son will be enfleshed and raised, will die and rise. Abram didn’t know that then, though. He just believed and acted on that belief.
As we said earlier, if Abram shared the reason for his departure with his family members or friends, they would have undoubtedly thought that he was crazy. “Why can’t he just accept that he’s not going to father a single child, let alone a great nation? Is he out of his mind?”
Listen: Jesus calls you and I to be Abrams, too. We’re to act as God’s OB/GYNs, overseeing the rebirth of friends, family, classmates, and co-workers as we share Christ with them. What if Abram had turned a deaf ear to God’s call? Chances are, God would have found someone else to act as the father of nations. But Abram did believe! And he did obey! And because believed and obeyed, you and I are here this morning!
Verse 4: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…”
Are you and I going where God tells us to go? Are we doing what God tells us to do?
You and I have the promise of God-enfleshed Jesus, “I am with you always…” And we also have the same command as Abram, to “go and make [children of God, that is] disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:19-20].
This command isn’t just for spiritual superstars. There was never anything spectacular about Abram, nothing in his idolatrous background to commend him to God. But, whenever Abram was able to get out of God’s way and get over himself, God’s word of promise created the gift of faith within him. And through that obedient faith, God was able to set off His salvation plan for the human race. God wants to make us agents of His salvation plan.
God wants to bring His Word of command and promise to the whole world--and to our little corners of it--in and through you and me. God may not call us to pull up stakes and go somewhere He’ll show us on the way. But how can we share God’s Word about Christ in our familiar haunts, places like Dayton, Centerville, Springboro, Miamisburg, West Carrollton, Kettering, ot Lebanon?
In verses 5 and following, we find Abram in the land of Canaan. God is giving Abram a sneak-peak of the land his descendants will one day inherit. “This isn’t your people’s land yet,” God was saying, “but one day, it will be.” Each time God reiterated His promise to Abram, Abram erected an altar to give God thanks and then moved on.
And here’s what Abram learned: This world is temporary. Each of us is mortal and one day, the universe we know will be burned up. As was true of Abram, God calls us to hold onto this world and this life loosely, to be prepared to move on, to do whatever He calls us to do, to live in obedient faith. First Peter 2:11 says: “I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”
For whatever sin God calls us to repent, we need to repent today because whatever in this world tempts us to sin is going to die.
For whatever good God would have us to do, we need to do it today, because the clock is running out on this world and because the good we do in Jesus' name will have eternal significance.
And in whatever ways we can encourage each other to lives of obedience and faith, we need to do it today. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”
Above all, you and I must avoid getting too comfortable with this world or its ways. Like Abram, who became Abraham, we must be prepared to move on to whatever God calls us to next.
The beauty and the comforts of this world are but a glimmer of the eternal beauty that God has in mind for us when Jesus returns and ushers those who have believed in Him into “a new heaven and a new earth” [Revelation 21:1], the place He has prepared for all who believe in Him [John 14:2-3]. That’s the true homeland that Jesus secured for all who believe in Him and in the power of His death and resurrection.
This past week, John Ylvisaker, the Lutheran composer best known for I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry, passed away.
In the next to last verse of that love song from God to baptized believers in Jesus, we sing:
When the evening gently closes inIt no doubt came as an enormous surprise to Abram when God introduced Himself to him, and an even bigger surprise when God told Abram that he would become the father of all who believe in Him.
And you shut your weary eyes
I’ll be there as I have always been
With just one more surprise.
But, as Ylvisaker’s song reminds us, the greatest surprise of all belongs to those who trust in the God Who revealed Himself to Abram and then ultimately, to all the world through Jesus Christ.
The great surprise is this: Despite our lack of qualifications, despite what we deserve, we are saved by grace through our faith in Jesus Christ alone. To those who believe in Christ, God gives an eternal homeland.
And no matter how long we roam on this earth, God will keep calling us to that homeland.
Let the God you know in Jesus Christ be the central character in your life. Be a cast member in His kingdom. It will be the role of an eternal lifetime!
Let God save you.
Let Him guide you.
Let Him love you.
Let Him free you.
Let Him sustain you with the promise and the certainty of citizenship in His eternal homeland that you received at your baptism.
And keep following Him until that day when you too, awaken to see that God is waiting for you “with just one more surprise.”
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the message from worship on March 12, 2017.]