"...the question I ask you to ask yourself each day this week: What will be the long-term impact of your faith?"
Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
-- Genesis 12:1-4a
All the Families of the Earth
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.
The title of this message is “All the Families of the Earth,” taken from the words spoken by God to Abram. I would have named it, “The Walk of Life,” except that that title is already taken, reserved for my last message to you on Father’s Day. “The Walk of Life” is taken, but it wouldn’t be a bad title today, because many scholars believe it all starts right here. The walk that we are on, the walk of humankind with God—or vice-versa—the walk that leads us to redemption—salvation--through grace, by faith. A walk, hand-in-hand, with Jesus. The turning point in the Bible, the fulcrum on which human understanding of God’s love turns.
The stories that we read in Genesis are rich and powerful and they paint a picture of human nature revealed. Human nature, revealed. Last week—do you remember—last week we considered the lie that Eve told the serpent, embellishing God’s warning not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as she added that God had said they would die if they merely touched the tree or its fruit. Words God did not speak, added by Eve—or by Adam—a signal to the serpent that humans could be tempted, would be tempted—might even want to be tempted. The lack of integrity—of wholeness and incorruptibility—of humans, on full display.
Many more stories follow: Adam and Eve have children and they, too, are all too human; Cain murders his brother out of envy and jealousy, then tries to hide what he has done. In time, God nearly gives up all hope in humankind and plans the flood to destroy and start again, only to find in Noah a righteousness that changes God’s mind. All will be well again, for Noah is righteous and will raise his grateful family in peace and in obedience. But, despite having been spared and given the promise of life, Noah blows it in drunkenness and licentious behavior and God is hurt. God endures, but then a tower is built in Babel as people seek to lift themselves up to the height of God—yes, it sounds ridiculous to us today, so imagine ow foolish it must have been in God’s eyes; the foolish humans have separated from one another, so much so that they cannot even understand one another when they try to speak, and, yet, they pursue equality with God as their solution. What was God to do? Having promised not to wipe us from the face of the earth, what punishment would God choose to remind us Who is Boss. Be still, and know that I am God. How could that message get through to God’s rebellious children? How could they be made to understand? What was God to do? Well, God once again imagined into being something new—something we would never have imagined.
There was a man named “Abram.” Abram was just a guy. Just a man, married to a barren woman, Sarai, who had travelled with his family from Ur, in the Chaldeans, to live in Haran. It was there that his father had died, leaving Abram with the estate—with all that had been his father’s and all that had been his brother’s, and with Lot, the son of Abram’s deceased brother. Abram was just a guy—he and his wife were seventy-five years old—wealthy in possessions and family and a homeland and all that had been his father’s. Until God chose Abram to be something much, much more.
Let’s stop and pray for a moment and then we will follow Abram on this walk God called him to take.
God, we look for something new, something different, something better. We recognize that who we are and how we live, our lack of integrity and, even, how we speak to one another must be displeasing to You. We look for something new; help us to find it today. Guide us as we walk into Your Word, and turn our eyes to see that You have a plan—a will--for us. So, in this walk of life, set our feet firmly upon the path that leads to life—life abundant here on earth and life eternal with You when our days here have been accomplished. Let us be a blessing to all the families of the earth by working ceaselessly to lift them onto that same path, and remind us, no matter what we see or hear this morning, no matter what we say or do, no matter how our vision improves or what we fail to see—remind us that the glory of this time and of these words is Yours, alone. Amen.
Goodness and mercy. Our theme, our vision, our goal for this Lenten season. Goodness and mercy. The Lord is our Shepherd; goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. Abram probably thought that goodness was already his; perhaps mercy, also. For he had survived as he had moved with his father, and he had inherited what had been his father’s, and he lived with his wife and nearby, his nephew, Lot. He was well off; he had cattle and gold and silver. He had everything he needed, and his family, as well. Sarai, his wife, was barren, but now they were seventy-five years old, so that would never change. Then God chose Abram; we see God intervening in Abram’s life, calling Abram to go, to do, to be something that he is not—not yet. What might there be that Abram does not already have? Or is this about something or someone else?
In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Listen, again, to what God said to Abram:
‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
Go, and do as I tell you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. It sounds to me like words of invitation, an opportunity of a lifetime. But not necessarily a lifetime of opportunity for Abram.
Abram already had everything he needed. Certainly, he had more than most. He was seventy-five, and he was comfortable. The point I want to make clear is this: but for the promise that God made, Abram had no reason to go, to move, to leave behind what he had helped to build up. But God called him; go to a place that you don’t know. Go to a place that I will show you. Leave it all behind—take your family and go to a new place for me. And if you do this for me, I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and bless those who bless you and curse those who might curse you. I will make your name great and, in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
God was reaching out; this was God’s chosen new way. This wasn’t about Abram, or about Sarai, or about Lot, the nephew who would go along with them. God wanted to reach out to all the families of the earth. God chose Abram as his vehicle for this new way. Abram said “Yes.”
Abram said yes to God because Abram believed that this God would do what was promised. Abram believed that this God could—would—make something out of nothing, imagine into being a great family, a legacy for Abram. Abram would be the benefactor of all the world. Though he might not benefit—what had God promised to him, except that he would be remembered—Abram would live out his life for the good of the world. So Abram went as the Lord had told him. This was just what God had imagined. This was the beginning of God’s new relationship with the world. It would lead to the birth of Jesus—to God coming to live among us.
As I read this week, as I researched what might be said about God’s offer and Abram’s decision, there was a recurring theme of leaving behind and of fear. Of leaving behind, and of fear. The scholars say that Abram had to choose whether to leave behind the certainty of what he already knew. He had to decide to leave behind the others who did not want to make the journey with him, and he had to leave behind the power and the influence he had gained as a man living among others who had come to know him. And they wrote that Abram would have to overcome a natural fear of the unknown, of the things he could not possibly control. He would have to overcome fear of the new people—strangers to him—that he would meet along the way and that would be waiting at this new place God was promising to show him. Abram would have to overcome a fear of powerlessness in circumstances that might prove impossible.
Leaving behind, and fear. I suppose all of that is true, but I think there is something more basic, deeper-seated and proven, time-and-again, to be true human nature. Had not Adam and Eve sought to be independent of God—to have no need of the One who would limit what hey might eat and, by limiting what they could eat, limit what they could know? And Cain killed Abel that he might unshackle himself from the burden of pleasing God in competition with his brother. Even after God sent Noah and his family to safety through the flood, Noah charted a course that displeased God and, then, those people who thought they could build a tower high enough to make themselves equal to God. Humans sought independence, and God was frustrated because God had implanted in each of them—in each of us—free will. Free will includes the choice to disobey.
So, God made an offer—friendship and faithfulness. A new relationship. Be My friend and I’ll be yours. I will be faithful in all that I say and do; will you be faithful to Me?
The true cost to Abram was his independence. He had everything he needed; he was fine right where he was. But God offered something different, something new: friendship and faithfulness. And faithfulness, at its heart, means reliance. Reliance on God, not on the self. Reliance means to depend and to be dependable. Abram’s choice was whether or not to give up his own independence for the good of the world. Let me say that again: to accept God’s offer was to rely on God and, in that reliance, to surrender his own independence. This faith, this reliance—this dependence—marked a new spiritual orientation, much more than a physical move from here-to-there.
God spoke to Abram. Go, do, be something new, something different than what you are today. Move on; I’ll show you where to go, I’ll tell you where to stop and, most importantly, I will go with you. And God calls to you and to me in just that same fashion today and every day. Go. Do. Be something new. Our ultimate journey moves us—changes who we are much more than it changes where—from a selfish heart to a selfless heart, loving God, loving our neighbor, loving, even, our enemy. A heart open to the love of God. All that is required of us is to go. Never alone.
This promise of God—go to where I send you, and I will accompany—this promise does not spare us danger, or desperation, or grief, or heartbreak. If we are wise, though, we know that these will always find us, whether we go as God calls us or whether we stay hunkered down right where we are. Surrendering our independence—relying wholly on God—creates a struggle deep within us, and may create outer conflict with those who surround us. Do you think that Abram’s family went along without any disagreement? Choosing to become dependent is as counter-cultural today as it was then.
So—why? Why go? Why move on? Why make this radical shift from independence to total dependence on One whose voice we may not hear, One whose glory we may not ever see? Why make a spiritual reorientation in the direction of One whose only promise to us is that we will not be alone?
…you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
Be a blessing. You will be a blessing. The long-term promise is short-term loss. Give me what you value—your independence—and I will bless you and make you to be a blessing. My blessings will flow through you and to all the families of the world. True greatness resides in blessing, as long as blessing means passing on to others what God has given to you. The best part of being blessed is the ability to bless others.
And so, through Abram’s faithfulness, a great family was brought forth, a nation, a legacy that leads inexorably to Bethlehem, when God’s people are so in need of all that has been promised that God comes to live among them. In Abram, truly all the families of the earth have been blessed, just as God promised. Goodness and mercy followed Abram.
Which leads to this question, the question I ask you to ask yourself each day this week: What will be the long-term impact of your faith? If you make the short term sacrifice if you will take the counter-cultural step of stepping out in faith if you will yield to God if you will rely, if you will admit, once and for all, that your independence in this world is but a fallacy—if you go where God is calling you to go—what will be the long term impact? God promises blessing.
Goodness, and mercy. The offer stands, extended daily. Will you be blessed, and bless the world? Will you go, as the Lord has told you? Let it be. Amen.