April 10th, 2016 The Call
Scripture: Genesis 12: 1-9
Today we begin a new sermon series on the Adventures of Abraham, a man who seems like a distant, historical, transcendent figure, but a man who shares much more in common with us than we might think.
This past weekend I had the privilege of spending a time on grounds that hold a special place in my heart- Cherry Run Camp. Cherry Run has become one of my favorite places because I’ve watched God do new things in people’s lives. I’ve watched God infuse hope into hopeless situations, heal those who were physically, mentally and emotionally drained, and transform people who didn’t think they needed any transformation. And it happened again this weekend. During one of the services, our speaker invited the youth to leave behind their lives – good as they might be- and to be reclaimed and redefined by the grace and power of Jesus Christ. The old altar call. And one by one, this group of teenagers began to respond, taking the first steps on a on the greatest journey they will ever take in their lives!
When I see a person, young or old, respond to God’s invitation, I can’t help but think of Abraham. Abraham’s story is this type of story. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to it. It’s a story about a man who, just like these teenagers at Cherry Run, was invited by God to step into an adventure that would redefine his life. Long before Jesus walked along the shores of the sea of Galilee, calling men and women to follow and be his disciples, God called a man named Abraham to follow, to be a sort of “disciple” and to counter-culturally reorient his life around a deep faith in God. And Abraham responded, becoming a model of faith for all who yearn to walk with God in holiness. It’s for this reason that we need to hear once again Abraham’s story. Because this story isn’t just Abraham’s story. It’s our story. And in many ways, this call that God places on Abraham’s life is not so different from the call God places on our lives.
My guess is that when we hear Abraham’s name, we think of someone who is larger than life, someone whose standard of faith and holiness we hope we can live up to, but doubt we ever could. Three major religions trace their roots back to Abraham- Christianity, Judaism and Islam- so it’s obvious that Abraham’s life has influenced millions of people throughout the ages. But Abraham’s story didn’t begin as a larger than life story. In fact, Abraham was a pretty average guy. In an earlier passage of Scripture, we discover that Abraham is more appropriately described as just “another name” in his father’s family tree. He had a mom and a dad, two brothers, a wife named Sara. It was a fairly average life. There’s nothing about Abraham’s life that suggests he is bound to do great things, nothing that jumps out of the pages that would lead us to believe that he is more heroic or talented than anyone else. But there is one interesting fact about Abraham’s life that gives us reason to pause: He doesn’t have any children. And this proves to be a not-so-small detail that greatly impacts this story, one that should not be overlooked.
In the ancient world, when reproductive knowledge and biological information was not readily available, fertility was viewed a sign of God’s blessing, proof that God looked upon you with favor. Children were an inheritance from God, and childbirth was the natural way of continuing a family heritage. God’s plan, from the beginning, was for humanity to “be fruitful and multiply,” (the first commandment we have in Scripture) thus extending God’s life-giving blessing from generation to generation. For the first 11 chapters of Genesis, this is exactly how life plays out. But that blessing has mysteriously ceased with Abraham and Sarah. For no particular reasons, Abraham and Sarah find themselves in hopeless situation: they are unable to fulfill God’s original plan. They can’t live up to God’s first commandment. What has happened so naturally for previous generations, what has been normal and anticipated for so many others, has become for Abraham and Sarah a dark, unexplainable reality. They are barren. They are fruitless. And they have no idea why.
Although it’s a theme we don’t care to bring up too often and would much rather ignore, barrenness is a common theme in Scripture. It’s common because barren situations are the places where God’s redeeming work begins to take root, where God’s desire to do a new thing is conceived. It was in the dark and hopeless chains of Egyptian slavery that God began to lead Israel into the Promised Land. And it was in a dark and hopeless grave where a messiah lay dead that God began to resurrect and overcome the power of death and sin. And so it’s no coincidence that all great stories of God’s invitation to new life begin in dark, barren and hopeless situations. When we find ourselves in dark situations, we should begin to look for signs of life and signs of God’s activity. But barrenness is a powerful, seductive force in our lives that causes us to dig in our heels and settle for what we do have, so that we don’t lose anything else. Remember the story of the Israelites in the wilderness? They were in a barren land, without food and water, and they grew angry with God. Despite the promise of a new land of freedom, the only reality they could see was a hopeless one, one where they were not in control. And their desire? To go back to Egypt and settle, to settle once again as foreigners in a land and as prisoners to a people not their own, because at least in Egypt they had food, shelter and employment.
It’s important to know that God’s call to Abraham, the simple word “Go” is in stark contrast to the concept of settling, which we might find to be quite unsettling. To a God who is seemingly always on the move, settling is not a value that is frequently paraded and adorned. To be rooted, is one thing, and to become rooted is a fruit of deep faith, but to settle is another conversation. Out of his barrenness, Abraham settled for life as he knew it, and by most accounts, his settled life was pretty fulfilling. We know that Abraham didn’t lack for much. Save for the inability to conceive children, Abraham had just about everything else most human beings long to have. He had great wealth and a loving and supportive spouse. He had a great career and the resources to ensure economic success. And he had the security of his extended family and a country he felt comfortable calling home. What more could a person want? And yet God was calling Abraham out of that settled life.
I think this is a good moment to pause and ask some questions that might challenge us and tug at our core. Why is that God would ask Abraham to leave what you and I (and most Americans) most deeply value? I mean, is there anything we value more than our families, our country, our employment, or our traditions? These are the things we live for! These are cherished topics that frequent our conversations, dominate our politics and influence us in more ways than we care to admit. And I would venture to say that if your resume includes these line items, you would describe your life as happy, contented and satisfied. But here are the questions we must wrestle with: Is this the adventure to which we have been called? Is this the life Jesus died to give us?
Not long ago, a movie called “The Hobbit” was released in theaters. In the movie, the main character, Bilbo Baggins is invited to go on an adventure. The only thing is, he doesn’t want one. Bilbo’s life contains all he ever wanted. He spends his days in the Shire, which is full of lush vegetation and peace. He has the most wonderful neighbors and never misses any of his 7 meals a day. But one day Bilbo is visited by a divine-like wizard named Gandalf, who has witnessed what Bilbo has never experienced, because Bilbo has never stepped out in faith. And Gandalf invites Bilbo to travel with him on a journey that will forever change this hobbit and the way he views the world. But Bilbo is in no hurry to follow, as his initial response makes clear: “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner! I can’t see what anybody sees in them. Good morning! We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! “ If you know the story, you know that eventually Bilbo throws up his hands, runs out the door and jumps into the adventure. He simply cannot ignore the life he could have.
God’s call to Abraham is pretty simple. Go. Go from your kindred, your country and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you. This isn’t a call to do something great that will go down in history. Nor is it a call to go to a third world country and fight wild beasts and learn a new language. This is a simple call to trust God to be God and to obey his will. This is a radical call to fully surrender our lives to God’s goodness and God’s plans. And that’s the greatest adventure we could ever take. To leave behind all he has ever known is for Abraham an invitation to let God be God- not just to believe in God but to evidence that belief in practice and obedience. Abraham had every reason to say no. He already had a good life, a settled life. Plus, God didn’t tell him what the land would look like, when he would arrive or what shape the blessings would take. He simply offered an invitation to Go. And Abraham doesn’t think twice. The text simply but powerful say, “He went.” That’s faith. That’s discipleship.
You have been called into a great adventure known as discipleship. It’s the call offered to Abraham. It’s the call offered to Peter. And It’s the call offered to you. But it’s an adventure full of risk, one that no longer trusts your heart to show you they way, but chooses instead to trust God’s heart. “To stay in safety”, says theologian Walter Brueggemann, “is to remain barren. To leave in risk is to have hope.” I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the kids who made their way to an altar at a retreat at Cherry Run. There were no promises that life back home would get better, no guarantees that their situations would automatically change. There was only hope. Hope that this God who says “Go” and “Come” and “Do” and “Be” would meet them in their barrenness, give them new life and will always be there for them as Savior and Provider. And for those teenagers, that risk of losing the only life they’ve even known was a risk worth taking. What about you? Remember, old Abraham was 75 when God called him! When God says, “Go. Leave your kindred, your country, your father’s house, leave your well-constructed life and follow me,” will you stay or will you go? Amen.