February 16, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Genesis 12 :1-9
“Becoming All We Can Be: Here Ye! Hear Ye!”
“Merciful God, we cannot stand before You unless our hearts are cleansed and our spirits are made right by Your redeeming. Thank You for Your merciful forgiveness, and even more for Your transforming love made known to us in Jesus the savior. Amen.”
Three weeks ago was Brianna’s birthday, two weeks ago was my Mom’s birthday, Friday was Valentine’s Day, tomorrow is Caitlin’s 25th birthday, and my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary is in a few of weeks … so … I’ve been looking at greeting cards a lot. Here’s what I noticed: a good greeting card gets your attention (with a pretty picture or a goofy cartoon), and then tries to smack you with something sentimental or silly. They capture your attention: Come here, ye! And then they say something clever or emotional: Listen, hear, ye!
Here are a few examples that Hallmark would never sell (because their slogan is, “When you care enough to send the best.”
“Looking back over the years that we’ve been together, I can’t help but wonder…. What was I thinking?!”
“I’ve always wanted to have someone to hold, someone to love…. After having met you, I’ve changed my mind.”
“As you grow older, Mom, I think of all the gifts you’ve given me….. Like the need for therapy.”
“When we were together, you always said you’d die for me…. Now that we’ve broken up, I think it’s time you kept your promise.”
“I’m so miserable without you…. It’s almost like you’re here.”
“You are such a good friend that if we were on a sinking ship and there was only one life jacket…. I’d miss you heaps and think of you often.”
This month we are looking at four Scripture passages, four stories, from Genesis, in a series called “Becoming All We Can Be”. The truth is – we can never actually be all we can be. If we ever actually reached the summit of “all we can be” – life would end. What comes next? Be more than we can be? That’s a self-defeating goal.
But we should be on the road to becoming all we can be. The Bible calls this the “sanctifying” work of the Holy Spirit – a work which we have the right and the ability to quench. Or, a work we have the right and responsibility to encourage!
Two weeks ago we read from Genesis 1 and saw that in Creation God created mankind in His own image – full of freedom and love and goodness, and He said, “This is very good”. Last week, we read from Genesis 3 and saw why the hope for living in that perfect image of God doesn’t pan out, but we also saw how God provides new and even better hope for the whole world. Today we go to Genesis 12 and we will discover something new about who God is and how He redeems our Hope for eternal life. Look with me at Genesis 12:1-9 …. —-
1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
Before we dig very deeply into this passage, let’s do some quick background checking. The main character in this story is a man named Abram, we know him better as Abraham; but for now his name is Abram (God changes it to Abraham in a couple of chapters). Who is this Abram?
Well, we know that Genesis 2 tells of the creation of Adam and Eve, and they have some children, and their children have some children, and their children have some children. In each new generation we are led to believe, by a few examples, and then by declaration, that each succeeding generation sins worse than their parents and turn farther and farther away from God. Until, by chapter 6 we have the story of Noah and the ark wherein Noah saves humanity and every living creature from the flood.
And then Noah’s children have children, and they have children. In chapter 10 we are given the “Table of Nations” through the family tree of Noah. Then in chapter 11 the generations start their sinning all over again, culminating in the story of the Tower of Babel where the people try to reach the heavens and be like gods – the discipline that lands on them is that the unified people are scattered and now speak different languages in every nation. Then, just before we come to today’s reading there’s a long list of those pesky who-begot-whoms, bringing us to a man named Abram from Ur (southern modern Iraq – remember, there are no Jews yet).
Who was this Abram? It turns out he was a direct descendent of Noah – like everybody else! – through Noah’s oldest son, Shem. Abram was Noah’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson (that’s 8 greats). A little piece of interesting trivia for you, because Abram was a descendent of Shem, and Abram became Abraham, the Father of the Israelite people, we get our word “Semite” (anti-semite) from Shem’s name. Jews are SEMITIC people because they are children of Shem.
Now, when God approaches Abram in chapter 12, Abram is already well into retirement. He’s some 75 years old! Married to his wife Sarai for probably 40 or 50 years – but they are childless. The name Abram means “Honored Father” – but he is no father at all.
Now let’s look at today’s reading. First, 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. Leave everything you know and go to an unknown destination that I will one-day show you! Seriously, God? That’s a bold demand to make on someone who might not even know who you are? 9 generations removed from the man of God who saved the world – but Abram never met his great-times-eight grandpa. There was no picture in the newspaper of 9 generations huddled together.
But God’s command on Abram also carried with it several promises. Count them with me: 2 “I will make you into a great nation, ONE and I will bless you; TWO I will make your name great, THREE and you will be a blessing. FOUR 3 I will bless those who bless you, FIVE and whoever curses you I will curse; SIX and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. SEVEN”
God says to Abram, “Here ye!” And then He says, “Hear ye!” First is the command, then comes the blessing.
And guess what? God calls us in very similar ways. Hey, get over here, you. And listen to the promised blessings I have in store for you.
So Abram comes, and Abram listens. And Abram does. Three steps. And Abram’s story challenges us, doesn’t it? Let’s be open to God’s presence. Let’s actually hear what God tells us, pay attention, listen. And, let’s go into the world doing what we have heard. Abram was credited as righteous and faithful. That’s what we want. By God’s grace, let’s give it a go.
How many of these promises did Abram actually get to see fulfilled in his lifetime? Maybe he was fortunate enough to experience two of those promises kept: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse. He did not see even those two fulfilled in their greatest sense, but he may have witnessed some blessings and curses. The rest? Oh, they were kept – but not in Abram’s lifetime. In fact it took so long for Abraham to truly even experience one piece of an answered promise that he and Sarah devised alternative ways to help God keep His promise – and that, of course, meant trouble for Abraham and his descendents ever since.
One of our US Presidents one time said this (see if you can guess which president said it): “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” [1863, Abraham Lincoln]
With many of the same blessings, we have forgotten God, 150 years ago. How much more in the generations since?
Those of you who use your Sermon Notes page, to gauge how much longer the sermon will be, might be wondering if we’re even close yet…. So let’s move forward.
Earlier I mentioned that Abram’s name gets changed to Abraham. Abram meant “honored father” even though Abram was not a father. God changed his name to Abraham which means FATHER of a MULTITUDE.
How many children did Abraham have? Two sons – at least it was only two of any significance. The first son was Ishmael through Abraham’s unfaithful impatient attempt to help God keep His promise – so Abraham slept with his wife’s servant, Hagar. The second son was Isaac, when Abraham was 100 years old (and Sarah was 80!). Hardly a multitude – but it was a start.
How many is a “multitude”? It is unspecified, but God compares it to the number of stars one can see in the desert sky on a clear night, or the number of grains of sand on the shore.
What are some ways those promises God made to Abraham were kept?
While Abraham never owned any property in the Promised Land, we know that Joshua led the Israelites in some 600 years later – and Israel has been a great nation, conquered, defeated, exiled, scattered abroad a few times, but since 1948, they are again a nation with recognized borders and peoples.
Blessings have poured out on God’s people in uncountable ways.
The name of Abraham, and the name of Abraham’s offspring, are named among the greatest the world has ever seen – “and I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord….”
“And you will be a blessing.” Abraham and his people were blessed, not just to receive God’s grace – that is seldom, if ever, the way God works! They were blessed … to be a blessing! God’s grace was never a closed-off deal – exclusive for just me and mine. It has always been about sharing God’s grace with people around us, and with people across the globe! In Acts 1:8 the resurrected Jesus tells His disciples to spread the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and around the world! All at the same time. This is what makes Abraham a FATHER of a MULTITUDE!
All of these blessings were fulfilled in the Old Testament stories that follow Genesis and the stories of Abraham and his children. But there’s one more:
“And all peoples on earth, every family, every tribe, tongue and nation will be blessed through you.” How was this fulfilled? In Jesus Christ. Matthew and Luke both give is detailed genealogies of Jesus which lead us to Abraham as the Father of a Multitude, and an ancestor of Jesus – who is the author and finisher of faith.
“Looking back over the years that we’ve been together, I can’t help but wonder…. how blessed I am, we are – have we been the blessing to the world around us that we could have been – or that we might still be?!”
Let’s be on the road together to becoming all God calls us to be. Amen.
Lincoln, Abraham; “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day” in Collected Works. The Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, Illinois, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 6:155-157. http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/…lincoln6%3A336
Miller, Keith; The Becomers; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1973; Pp. 121-125.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 322.