Abraham: Following God’s Promise – Week 1, Genesis 11:27-12:9

A sermon preached at St Thomas’ Church, Wednesfield on Sunday 18 June 2017 as part of a series on Abraham, based on the Faithlife.com course ‘Abraham:Following God’s Promise‘.

What would you do if God spoke to you—if out of the blue, He said, “I need you to pick up and move. Get your stuff together, and get packed. I’ll tell you where to go later.” Imagine explaining this to your partner, parents, or best friend. They would look at you like you were crazy. They would protest. They would doubt you had really talked to God. They’d do their best to talk you out of it. But that’s how God called Abram – he wasn’t ‘Abraham’ just yet.

God said to Abram,

 “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.”

Now Abram wasn’t an eager young man, looking for adventure. We don’t know really what to make of ages in the early parts of the Bible, because people seem to have lived to incredible ages. But the fact that the writer tells us that he was 75 years old suggests that we’re meant to see a mature man here, if not someone who should have been settling down into retirement. It’s to this man that God speaks out of the blue, tells him to get up, move out and start a new life.

Now if God called me to drop everything and start a new life, I’d want a bit of detail. Where am I going? How will I know when I get there? Where will I live? What will I do when I get there? Could you just explain why it’s so important?

Abram doesn’t ask, and he isn’t told. The call is just to leave where he is and go to the place that God will show him. And Abram doesn’t even say anything. He just does what God says, and takes his family and his possessions into the unknown. I’d love to know what Sarai said about it, but the writer diplomatically leaves that bit out.

So my first real question to you is this. If you knew beyond doubt that God was calling you to do something new, something that would shake up your life; and if you knew only that he was calling you to get started, without knowing all the details; would you get packing? Abram did.

There is one thing, though, that probably helped. At 75 Abraham had no children. He’d taken his nephew, Lot, under his wing as if he were a son, but in that culture, to be without a son to carry on the family name was not just as painful as it is still for those who long for children. It was a disgrace. It was as if the gods had judged that your life wasn’t worthy of having a future. So when God promised Abram that he would not only have a son but that through that son the whole world would be blessed, he gave Abram a future as well as the promise of the joys and pressures of parenthood. And he promised him land in which that family would grow. A future and a place. And that promise would keep Abram going through all the rest of the story.

So the second question – what hope do you hold on to? What is it that you’re looking towards, what future are you longing to build? Not many of us have such a clear call or such a definite promise from God as Abram did, but we all have a future with God. So what is it that you’re looking towards? It’s worth working it out prayerfully with God. Lots of wise people who’ve written about how we get things done have made the same point – it’s knowing what we’re working towards, having a clear vision of what’s most important to us, that helps us to keep going through all the uncertainties and apparent wrong turns along the way as we try with God’s help to follow him. So what’s your hope?

Abram cared more about the future than he did about the past. He knew that his future was with God, and he trusted the promise that that future included his family blessing the world.

God cared more about the future than the past, too. It’s interesting that we’re not given any kind of hint about why God chose Abram to call. Centuries later, the rabbis tried to fill the gap, and stories about Abram’s younger days, stories that gave a reason for him to deserve to be called by God and to become the Father of faith, started to do the rounds. But the Bible avoids any of that. God chose Abram because he – well – chose Abram. I think he probably already was a good bloke before the story started, but that’s not actually important. God knew where he was taking Abram, and that mattered more than where Abram had already been.

So if you don’t think that you’re the kind of person God would call to do something new, don’t count on it. You’re no less qualified than Abram was. We’re talking here about an unqualified pensioner with no kids who God chooses to lead on a journey that will change the world. So what makes you think that God hasn’t got something great in store for you?

Anyway, Abram set off. You can see from the map in the welcome sheet that it was quite some journey, but eventually Abram got to the place that God had promised.

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. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 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.

And what’s Abram’s first action in answer? He builds an altar to worship the LORD. One of the things that can really help us to stick to God’s path for us is to mark the places of encouragement and peace along the way with worship and prayer; and perhaps to do something physical to help us remember that worship too. Maybe it’s worth taking a picture of a place where you’ve been particularly aware of God’s presence, or writing a short note of how you’ve felt, and leaving it in your Bible to find from time to time. Build an altar; a marker and a place of worship to come back to.

Because God hasn’t finished with Abram yet, and the chances are that he hasn’t yet got you to where he wants you to be. Abram now knew where he would end up; in the land of Canaan. But that didn’t mean that the journey with God was over. On a human level, he couldn’t settle in the land of Canaan because the Canaanites were already there and they weren’t keen on new neighbours.

On God’s level, it wasn’t time for Abram to settle down yet. His journey had been a long one, but it was just getting started. He’d come a long way – geographically and spiritually – but he had a long way to go in finding out about what it really meant to trust God and walk with him.

So if you feel as though God’s got you to where he wants you to be, don’t think that means that the journey is over yet. God may well have more to show you, and I hope you’ll find more of that through the rest of Abram’s story in the next couple of months.

But one more big question for this week – and there are some smaller questions to keep you going through the week, printed inside the welcome sheet. I’ll put them up on Facebook through the week as well – feel free to join in the discussion there!

But that big question – are you willing to let God call you to something new? You might end up in a very different place in life. Or you might end up coming back to where you already are – but changed forever by the journey.

Abram had all kinds of reasons to ignore God’s call. He didn’t deserve special treatment, he was old, he had a comfortable life, he couldn’t ask Sarai to move house at her age… but above all of them he had a trust in God and a hope for the future. So he started walking.

Will you? Let’s pray.

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