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Reisterstown United Methodist Church

God's Promis to Abraham

For the first 35 years of my life, I lived in one community. I knew exactly where to get what I needed. I knew my neighbors. We knew the kids our children went to school with. We knew their parents. I had a bunch of them in my choirs. Now, I had commuted to school and to work, but home was home. A lot of you in this room today have had that same experience, many of you having lived in this community your entire lives.

Then God called me to ordained ministry. I said I’d go wherever the bishop sent us. And I meant it. What I failed to realize was what it would mean to leave the nest of our community. It finally sunk in when I realized I would have no idea where to get groceries or Chinese food when we moved into the parsonage. The Chinese food thought was particularly terrifying. We moved 27 miles from Anne Arundel County to roughly Towson. 27 miles. It took about 30 minutes to get to our new home.

Just imagine what it was like for Abram. “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you.” Don’t you wonder what Abram thought? 

Leave here? I know here. The people are my people. We get along and we help each other out. 

Leave my land? I know what grows best here. I’ve worked these fields and fed my livestock here. We have a good living. I don’t have to clear new fields. This ground grounds me. It’s home. I can’t leave my land!

Leave my family? I’m not sure I can really even think about that. My family – my FAMILY.

Hey wait a minute! Make of me a great nation. I don’t have any kids! I’m 75 years old! This just can’t be right.

Makes my Chinese carry out issue seem rather silly – don’t you think?

Nevertheless, Abram followed God’s call. He must have done a great deal of cheerleading along the way, convincing Sarai and all the others that traveled with them, helping them keep their spirits up. One biblical commentator, Dan Clendenin, says that Abram was “called to move beyond three very human, powerful and deep-seated fears—fear of the unknown that we cannot control, fear of others who are different from us, and fear of personal powerlessness in the face of impossibilities.” Abram’s journey took him and Sarai from “former clarity into a future of genuine and profound ignorance.”[1]

Isn’t that where life takes us sometimes? We hear a call but we are afraid to answer.

  • Things are going well. We get to a place of competence in a job we love and then something changes. You are offered (called to) an unexpected promotion that feels unfamiliar. Or maybe the call comes in a less positive way where new management makes life miserable. Or your company downsizes and suddenly more and more responsibility is piled on because there aren’t enough people to do the work. Is the call to stay or go? Do I take the plunge and follow the urging within to a new job? Unfamiliar territory. Powerlessness in the face of impossibilities. Fear of the unknown. Fears of others who are different from us.
  • Life takes us through an unexpected illness – perhaps the illness of a child – or a death. Fear of the unknown. Fear of unfamiliar “experts.” Talk about powerlessness!
  • Or all of a sudden your perfectly reasonable, lovely child does something crazy. Maybe it’s alcohol or acting out in other ways, or just testing boundaries that we weren’t ready to have tested. Fear of losing control – you get the idea.

Why would I mention things that don’t seem much like a call – just life circumstances? Because Abram must have felt like that. He followed God’s call for a long time without any obvious results – more on that in a moment.

There’s another deeply human factor at work here. God made a promise to Abram, saying, “I will make of you a great nation.”  We don’t even have one child – a great nation!?! But imagine that tickling sense of promise when something of inestimable worth is held out to you. When there is a promise that is beyond your wildest dreams. Don’t we usually move into uncharted territory because of the possibilities? The promise of something better or more exciting?

Oh, those warm and tingly feelings we get when we hold our newborn baby – or even when we are thinking about having a baby! Surely this new job will give me the kind of opportunities I am searching for! If I go where God is sending me, God has promised me an heir! Sarai has wanted children for so long! A child! We will have a child!

So we do that thing to which we feel called. Abram was 75 years old, according to the scriptural account, when God called him. Do you know how long he and Sarai journeyed – how long they waited? Scripture suggests another 25 years passed with no child on the horizon.

Throughout life we are called into circumstances that present challenge and perhaps surprise. How many of us have done what we believe God has called us to do only to find ourselves wandering in a wilderness of fear and uncertainty?

Author Doug Bratt wrote: It’s fairly easy to trust God to keep God’s promises when things are going well. But when things don’t go well, even Jesus’ most faithful followers sometimes wonder how God will ever keep God’s promises.[2]

Abram and Sarai did what God called them to do. They left home. The journey was long and arduous. There was dissension between them and Lot and battles to be fought with neighbors. And there was no baby. Twenty-five years passed. No baby.

God was silent. A long time.

But then God spoke: “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.”  (Gen 15:1)

So what did Abram do? He presented God with a solution! “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus. Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”

Can’t you just see him standing there, looking up and waiting for God’s pat on the head??? I know – right!? He must have thought he had figured out just what had to be done and gave God a very human answer. Isn’t that what we do? 

Genesis 15:4-6 -

The Lord’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.” Then he brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” He continued, “This is how many children you will have.”  Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character.

Let me read that to you again in the New Revised Standard Version:

But the word of the Lord came to [Abram], “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” God brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

So what turns Abram from a fearful skeptic into someone who verse 6 says “believes” or “trusted” God? His newfound belief that God is God can only be a great gift from God. The God who makes the promise of countless children to Abram is the God who also makes that promise believable to him. The God who later raises Jesus Christ to life is the same God who raises Abram’s dying faith to life.

But it would have shocked Genesis’ original audience to learn that God, as Genesis’ narrator says, graciously credits that faith to Abram as “righteousness.” To be “credited” refers to putting money into someone else’s account. Yet “righteousness” is a more elusive concept. Citizens of the 21st century might argue being righteous is basically being a nice person. But to be righteous in our text’s sense is to trust the future God has planned enough to quit trying to control our present. It’s easy to assume our present shapes our future. So when the present becomes problematic, we worry about our future. Christians’ faith sometimes shrinks in the face of loneliness, fear and grief that seem stronger than God. Faith sometimes wilts in the hothouse of illness and financial uncertainty that appears to dictate our future.

Yet to be righteous means to trust that God, not our present or past ultimately controls our future.[3]

Ultimately, beloved, Abram trusted God. Ultimately, Abram stepped back and stopped trying to control or fix that which was God’s work. We love to sing Standing on the Promises, and Hymn of Promise, or similar hymns and songs that proclaim God’s promises. Yet when things press, do we truly trust God?

Today is Father’s Day. Several weeks ago, Susan talked about our anxiety-ridden life and how our cultural anxiety and pressures are affecting our children. Abram offers us some very clear direction when it comes to trusting God and following God even when things are unclear – even when it takes a significant amount of time. Parents, the way we handle things that aren’t easily resolved – or even things that can be quickly resolved – model important life skills for our kids, OR it could teach them to treat everything that comes along as an emergency or as the end of the world. I know that’s not what we want for our kids.

So, in closing I offer you a hymn text from William Bathurst – a prayer for God to give us the faith of Abram.  It’s not new, but the message is timeless:

O for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe,
 
That will not murmur nor complain
Beneath the chast'ning rod,
But in the hour of grief or pain
Will lean upon its God.
 
A faith that shines more bright and clear
When tempests rage without,
That, when in danger, knows no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt,
 
That bears unmoved the world’s dread frown,
Nor heeds its scornful smile,
That seas of trouble cannot drown,
Nor Satan’s arts beguile,
 
A faith that keeps the narrow way
Till life’s last hour is fled
And with a pure and heav'nly ray
Lights up a dying bed.
 
Lord, give us such a faith as this,
And then, whate’er may come,
We’ll taste e’en here the hallowed bliss
Of an eternal home.

 

[1] Dan Clendenin, Journey with Jesushttps://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20050530JJ.shtml>

[2] Doug Bratt, Calvin Seminary:  https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-2c/>

[3] Doug Bratt:  https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-2c/

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