Yr A ~ Lent 2 ~ Genesis 12:1-8
Lent is supposed to be a time when we focus on preparing for Holy Week and Easter and while we’re not going to talk about Jesus very much this morning we’re certainly going to take a few steps closer to Jerusalem. To do that I’m going to talk about Abraham and his faith journey and we’ll try to see why he is such a seminal figure in our tradition. Let’s set the stage.
Abraham and his wife Sarah first appear at the end of Genesis 11 in a lengthy genealogy. A key detail we learn is that Sarah is barren, which is a really weird thing to read about in the middle of genealogy, which is about descendants. This is a huge deal in their culture. Spiritually it suggested that either the husband or wife was in disfavour with God who had therefore “closed her womb” (as the expression goes), and practically it meant that this would be the end of Abraham’s family line. Also, we have to remember how important family units were to the ancient peoples’ survival. We have kids for the joy of it – they had kids to help them work and survive. So barrenness is a big, bad deal.
Some other basic things about these two – their names were originally Abram and Sarai but along the way as they became more faithful God gave them the new names Abraham and Sarah – it’s kind of like Saul becoming Paul, or Simon becoming Peter. And you’d think that the man who would become the father of Judaism would be a paragon of virtue and the most spiritual guy around. He may have become that, but he was just another ordinary guy when God tapped him in Genesis 12. And then he pretty much stumbles his way through his whole story.
In Genesis 12:1 Abraham encounters God, is emphatically told to go (in Hebrew it’s repeated lek-lekka – Go! Go!), and he goes. But if we read too quickly we’ll miss what a big deal this is. “Go, go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (12:1) Imagine God telling you to leave behind your country, your community, and your family unit – in other words, leave behind everything that is familiar and safe and secure in your world – and “go to a land I will show you.” Abraham has no idea where God is taking him. He’s totally trusting. We don’t leave our garages without the GPS programmed with our exact destination and the best toll free route to get there. Abraham and Sarah just went.
But God offers him a few promises to entice his participation. In fact, God offers him the absolute best thing he could ever desire – heirs!
God says, “I will make of you a great nation,” which means that Abraham will be the father of many generations of people. Well, for a guy with a barren wife it simply doesn’t get any better than that! God continues, “and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (12:2)
This is really interesting. Even here in this simple call story the underlying truth of humanity’s relationship with God is made clear. God blesses us. God cares about us. God desires flourishing for us. God wants to make our name great. Why? Why does God want to do all this fantastic stuff for us? So that we will be a blessing! It’s not for Abraham’s own benefit that he’s getting tapped – it’s for the world’s benefit. It’s not for our own benefit (well, not directly, but it certainly starts as our benefit) – we are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. ‘So that…’ are two of the most important words in spirituality!
Back to the story: those are pretty terrific incentives that God offers! A barren couple will become the foundation of a great nation of descendants. Later God promises Abraham he’ll have more descendants than there are stars! But don’t forget what Abraham has to do to get these promises. They aren’t just handed to him. He has to respond. He has to trust. He has to take a leap of faith. He has to risk everything he knew and everything he had.
The promises of God sound pretty good to us too. But the same question faces us that faced Abraham. Will you risk everything for God? And so we ought to ask ourselves: Is my following in the Way of Jesus a safe and secure thing? Does it take much courage for me to practice my faith? Do I feel like I’m risking anything to live this life?
I’m not suggesting that we need to adopt the practice of snake handling or literally sell everything we have and give it all away, but I am suggesting that there’s no such thing as a kinda-faith. Abraham didn’t say “Yeah, ok God, I’ll gladly go where you’re calling me, but I can only do it on weekends because my calendar is kinda slammed and I have responsibilities and stuff!” Abraham’s choices were “Yes, God, here I am” or “No thank you God, I’ll just stay here.” He chose risk.
In our announcements insert every week you see our church mission statement. Right there, right up front, in black and white, it speaks of risk. “We will risk sharing our resources with local and global neighbours in response to God’s call.” I think we do great stuff here. I think you as a congregation are very, very generous with your resources of time and money – but I’m not so sure we’re “risking” very much. Abraham certainly did!
Genesis 12:4 “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.”
Ok, so he’s 75, but later we learn that he lived to be 175 years old. Maybe they counted years differently, maybe they imagined people living longer – doesn’t matter – I just point it out to say that 75 to Abraham probably didn’t mean the same as 75 means to us. You could even say that this was something like a mid-life crisis for him – but instead of buying a Corvette he went walkabout!
12:5 “Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.”
Here we learn that Abraham and Sarah weren’t poor. They had possessions and slaves. So they aren’t travelling as destitute wanderers, but they are totally disconnected from their support networks.
12:6 “When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh (Abraham loved oak trees!). At that time the Canaanites were in the land.”
Now vv.7-8 “Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord.”
Next to having heirs the second best thing a person could have is land. God has promised both to Abraham. How does Abraham respond? He builds an altar. And then he built another altar when he moved his camp, and here it says that Abraham “invoked the name of the Lord.” It means he worshipped. He prayed. He did what we’re doing this morning.
When one encounters the Presence of God it provokes a response in them. If you’re able to just shrug your shoulders and say “whatever” you did not experience the Presence of God – you just have heartburn!
This is how Abraham’s amazing story begins. He’s off to a good start – trusting, risking, and responding. Later in his life, as Abraham became a man of deeper, stronger faith, he started to respond to God’s appearances with the words “Here I am!” He said it with his actions in his call story, and later it became his whole orientation. “Here I am!” Let’s think about that sentence for a while.
“Here I am” is a great way to respond to God’s call.
Here I am, ready, willing, no hesitation, there’s even an eagerness about it – Here I am, give me something to do!
You can also see “Here I am” as a way of presenting and opening yourself for prayer.
It’s really hard to pray while you’re in the midst of the busyness of life – not impossible, but really hard. Most of us need to really carve out a quiet time – like attending church, or finding a quiet room in your house – then we can focus on being present to God’s Presence. So we’d say, “Here I am, Lord” and even the hand gesture of displaying something as present is a gesture of openness. Here I am, ready, willing, no hesitation – Here I am, present to your Presence.
I also like the idea of saying “Here I am” as declaring that when you are in God’s presence you find your true identity.
Here, I am – when I’m here, present to your Presence, I feel like I’m most myself – Here in your Presence is where my deepest identity is found – Here, I am!
Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.”
A person of prayer might say, “I’m here in God’s Presence, therefore I am!”
I think you’ll like this last one.
The single Hebrew word that is translated as “Here I am” is hinneh, which is the exact same word and meaning as Behold! Think about that one. It’s usually angels or God who throw around Behold! as a way to really get our attention. Behold! carries with it the sense that something holy is about to come – a holy word, a holy vision, a holy encounter. Behold! is powerful, weighty, important, and emphatic.
So God calls to Abraham and Abraham answers, “Behold!” I find that really powerful. And instantly I wonder if I answer “Behold!” when I hear God’s voice or feel God’s nudge or sense God’s Presence?
How about you?
Does your relationship with God include a sense that you would say “Behold!” to God to indicate your readiness, your willingness, your presence? In a few minutes we’re going to sing a hymn with the chorus “Here I am, Lord.” Imagine singing instead, “Behold, Lord!” That became the faith of father Abraham.
So as we journey toward Jerusalem, as we make our spiritual preparations for Holy Week and Easter, I wonder if we could ponder and reflect on our being present to God’s Presence and responding with a risky, bold Behold!
What does it mean for you to say “Behold! Here I am!” to God?
What would it mean for your life to risk saying “Behold! Here I am!” to God and then following through and going where God leads even if the way isn’t clear?
However we may hear God’s voice, or feel God’s nudge, or sense God’s Presence, God absolutely is calling us, desiring to pour out blessing after blessing upon us, so that we can be a blessing to others. Claiming those blessings is as easy, and as risky, for us as it was for Abraham.
“Behold! Here I am!”