Our Second Reading for this morning comes from the book of Genesis, chapter 12, verses 1-4. This is the beginning of the second cycle or series of stories in Genesis and this cycle focuses on a new character – Abram. Let us hear this Word of God as God speaks to Abram and to us:
1 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. 2 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 3 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." 4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Back in 1998, Sarah and I spent a summer in Cambridge, England because Sarah was in a six week study program with other students from her law school. Her classes began on Monday morning at 9 AM and finished on Thursday at noon. That schedule left three and a half days a week for travel and all the students took advantage of that time. But there were two clear approaches to those weekends. There were some, like Sarah and me, who had planned out our weekends months in advance. We bought all the guide books, we knew exactly what we wanted to see and what time the trains ran, and we had reservations at bed and breakfasts and hotels in each destination city. Apart from occasionally relying on my ability to manually shift gears with my left hand while driving on the wrong side of the road, we left nothing to chance.
But then there were others. Yes, there were these students who went to the train station on Thursday afternoon and jumped on the first train that came by. They didn’t know where they were going. But when they got somewhere they went to the travel center and picked up a brochure or two. With enough inquires they managed to find a place to stay. Walking through town, they found a good pub in which to eat. And somehow it worked for them. However, to this day, I still think that the best word to describe traveling without a clear destination and a detailed plan is … “crazy.”
In our text for today we meet one we just might call “crazy.” Yes, Abram, the premiere model of faith in scripture. We know very little about him before that day when the Lord spoke to him. We know that he is a descendant of Noah’s son Shem. We know that Terah was his father and that Abram had two brothers, one of whom was the father of Abram’s nephew Lot. Abram took as his wife a woman named Sarai, but she was barren and they had no children.
We know that at some point, Abram’s father Terah decided to move the family from their home in Ur to the land of Canaan. They went by way of Haran, an odd route – kind of like walking from New York City to Dallas, TX by way of Chicago. There were certainly more direct routes and they never even made it to Canaan. For some reason when they reached Haran their journey was interrupted. They settled there, lived there, and Terah died there.
We don’t know anything about Abram and Sarai’s life in Haran. There is no indication that they were restless people looking to continue their journey. There is no indication whether they worshiped the God we know, some other deity, or no god at all. There is no indication that Abram and Sarai were expecting or even hoping for a Word from the Lord.
But then, without warning or preparation, the Lord said to Abram, Lek Leka - “Get up and go.” “Get up and 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.”
Can you even imagine what Sarai said when her husband pulled back the tent flap that night and said, “Honey, this God I’ve never met before spoke to me today. And this God said, get up and go to a place that I will show you. He said something about being a blessing to the whole world if we go and I told this God that we would. What do you think?” …
Maybe something like: “A who said what? We’re going where? To some place that a God you don’t know is going to show you? What do I think? I think you’re crazy! … But I guess I’d better start packing.”
Yes, God’s word to Abram is a command – Lek Leka “Get up and go,” and that command calls for a response. It would be easy to begin and end a sermon right there – when God calls, you get up and go no matter how crazy it seems. But God says more than just “get up and go.” God’s command ultimately rests upon a promise: “I will show you land;” “I will make of you a great nation;” “I will bless you and make your name great;” and “by you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Abram’s only clue as to the character of this God, who has commanded him to leave his home, his kindred, and his father’s house, is that this God is a promise maker. This God does not demand immediate worship, offering, or sacrifice. No, this God makes Abram a promise.
If we are honest, we will admit that we have a hard time believing in promises today. A little research shows that public opinion about the trustworthiness of politicians began to fall beginning with President Richard Nixon’s resignation in the midst of the Watergate scandal. After the Iran-Contra affair, an impeachment trial over false deposition testimony, revelations that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, rising health insurance premiums despite assurances otherwise, and now accusative tweets with no factual evidence, it is almost universal - we expect our elected officials to lie.
Even my Alma matter, Davidson College, with a rock solid honor code designed to teach and reinforce integrity and honesty among all its students and graduates has gotten caught up in all this. In January we as alumni learned that a recent graduate with an interest in politics and a need for cash had crafted one of the leading “fake news” stories in the recent presidential campaign. It was shared on social media over 6 million times and quoted as truth. Yet the story had absolutely not one shred of actual evidence behind it. Completely made up! Unbelievable from a Davidson graduate!
From business and accounting scandals, to deflategate in the National Football League, to scandals in churches of every denomination, and statistics indicating that a high percentage of marriages end in divorce, it’s no wonder we have a hard time believing in promises today.
But that is all Abram gets, right? A promise by an unknown God: Lek Leka, “Get up and 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.”
You would have to be crazy to say yes that promise, right?
Perhaps you have been part of activities in a small group or leadership setting designed to create a safe place for conversation and sharing among strangers. For example, the group will make a circle with one of their members in the center. Those in the circle will hold their hands out in front of them while the one in the center will close his or her eyes and fold their arms over their chest. The activity begins with the person in the center saying, “ready” and those in the circle responding “ready.” The person in the center, keeping his or her feet planted on the ground, then falls backward to be caught by the other members of the small group and passed around the circle.
It is not hard to stand in the circle with your hands out in front of you. Collectively, the group is able to catch a person of any size and weight and pass them gently around. The challenge is to stand in the center – to look at strangers gathered around you with their hands outstretched, to close your eyes, grasp your chest, lock your knees, take a deep breath, and fall, trusting in a promise that these people you don’t know will catch you.
Yes, to live with a promise is a little crazy. It is to risk that the promise maker will also be a promise keeper. To risk living with a promise is to be six-years old, standing by the front door with your baseball glove and ball in hand, waiting for your father because he promised to play catch with you when he returned home from work. To risk living with a promise is to stand before a congregation of family and friends and hear the love of your life promise to be your loving and faithful husband as long as you both shall live despite the fact that neither one of you can guarantee what tomorrow will bring. To risk living with a promise is to watch your sixteen-year old daughter drive away in the family car while her promise to be careful still rings in your ears. To risk living with a promise is to leave your country, your kindred, and your father’s house for a land that a promise making God will show you. To risk living with a promise, to trust in a promise maker, is crazy – but it is also called … “faith.”
For faith is not belief in the existence of God as if God were like a star or a planet or a flower than can be scientifically measured and proven. Faith is not even just intellectual ascent to doctrinal statements like “God created the world” or “Jesus was truly God and truly human” or even “Jesus was resurrected from the dead.” Those statements are certainly true but merely saying them is not “faith.” No, faith is trust in a promise. It is a risk to live with a promise. As the writer of Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.” Abram heard the promise and he went. He chose to live with a crazy kind of faith, a “daring hope” that the promise maker would keep this divine commitment and pledge. Abram could not ensure that the promise would be kept; he could not earn it or demand it. All he could do was trust and go. And so with the promise ringing in his ears, Abram went.
In a world so full of hopelessness and despair, can we risk living with the promises of God? Is faith even possible today? While I still like to plan out every moment of my vacations, my friends, I assure you a crazy kind of faith is possible or you would not even be here this morning. For faith is ultimately a gift, just like the promise is. And the faith that allows someone to fall backward into the hands of perfect strangers, the faith that allows young boys to wait for a catch with their dads, the faith that allows brides and grooms to say I do, and the faith that allows parents to watch their children drive away, has brought you to this place on this day. It is a faith and a hope that in the face of hopelessness and despair there is some meaning and purpose to this journey we are on. So listen, in the ways that only your heart can hear and bear witness to, listen for the whisper of God’s promise to you, “Come with me and I promise you life! It will not always be easy, but O what a journey it will be.”
Thanks be to God.