November 24, 2019
Genesis 12: 1-9
Called to Be a Blessing
Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church
When the flood was over, the creatures went out in all the four directions of the earth to fill it up again with life. They often gathered along the rivers. The people lived in small villages and then cities. One of the most ancient and greatest of these cities was called Ur. In the city of Ur, the people believe that there were many gods. There was a god of the sky, the clouds, the water and the land. The world was alive with gods. But there was one family that believed that all of God was in every place. They did not know that, but that is what they thought. Abram and Sarai were part of that family.
One day Abram went out to the edge of the desert to look out across the sand and into the sky. God came very close to Abram and Abram came so close to God that he knew what God wanted him to do. He knew God wanted him to move to a new place, a place that God would show him.
Abram and his wife Sarai did what God had said. They went into the desert to the west of Haran and walked toward Canaan. They went with all the sheep, their tents and many helpers. Abram’s brother’s son, Lot, also went with them. Finally, they came to a place called Shechem. Abram climbed up a hill and prayed to God, and God was there, so Abram built an altar to mark the place. They they went on.
Next they came to a place near Bethel, Abram prayed again and God was there, also. Abram built an altar to mark this place, too. They began to realize that God was not just here or there. All of God was everywhere. Then they went on to Hebron to make their home, near the oaks of Mamre.
One night, God brought Abram outside. He looked up into the sky. God came so close to Abram and Abram came so close to God, that Abram knew what God was saying “I want you to be a blessing to many people. You will become the father of a great family, and Sarai will be the mother. The members of the great family will be as many as there are stars in the sky and grains of sand in the desert.”
Abram laughed. He and Sarai were very old and Sarai had not been able to have a baby up until then. God’s promise sounded impossible, but God said to change their names anyway Abram was to be Abraham and Sarai was to be called Sarah.
When Abraham told Sarah about becoming a mother, Sarah also laughed. They were too old. But do you know what happened? Abraham and Sarah had a son. They named their baby Isaac which in their language means “laughter.”
When the boy was grown, old Sarah died. Abraham was very lonely and very sad. He sent his most trusted helper back to the land of his people to find a wife for Isaac. He brought back a woman named Rebecca who was kind and full of courage and who wanted to be part of the great family of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac and Rebekah were married.
By this time Abraham was very old and full of years. He died and was buried with Sarah.
Then Isaac and Rebekah had children, and their children had children, and those children had children. This went on for thousands and thousands of years until your grandmothers and grandfathers had children. Then your parents had children and now you are part of that great family which has become as many as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand in the desert.
That, more or less is the way we tell the story of Abraham and Sarah to the children here at the church. We want them to know that the same call God placed in the heart of Abraham, the call to be a blessing, the call to bless all the families of the earth, has never come to an end. That call is still in you and it’s still in me. It is our inheritance as human family.
Over the last several weeks we’ve been exploring the story of humanity as it’s told in the book of Genesis. What we’ve seen has been a lot of brokenness. From Adam and Eve the snake and the apple, to Cain who murders his brother, Noah whose mission to build an ark is undertaken due to the evil ways of human kind, to the building of the prideful tower of Babel, over and over again we’ve reflected on humanity’s failures and God’s enduring desire to be in right relationship with us.
In the story of Abraham and Sarah we have another re-boot of God’s attempt to walk closely with humanity. The major shift we see in this story, is the way that God moves from trying to influence humanity on the macro or universal level, to influencing humanity on the micro level. God is going to bless humanity and all creation through humanity itself.
Humanity will no longer be simply made in the image of God, now we will be commissioned to bless one another in the way that God blesses us. God calls us to do that despite our brokenness. It’s not that Abraham and Sarah are the perfect human specimens so God chooses them to be the father and mother of many nations, it’s that God chooses to work in and through each of us and our imperfections to bring about blessing in the world.
When our Tuesday study group read this morning’s scripture reading earlier this week there were a few things we noticed that might help us in this commission we’ve been given as descendants of the great family of Abraham and Sarah, to be a blessing to the world.
The first thing we noticed was the way that Abraham would stop from time to time to build an altar, so he and his descendants would remember the times and the places God had come close.
Author Barbara Brown Taylor says “the earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” Trees in the forest, a child on the playground, standing at the bedside of the sick and dying, the world pulses with the beauty and the wonder of God. And when we take time to pause and notice the truth of that we are more likely to remember our own blessedness and therefore the blessedness of one another.
We might say that Vienna’s baptism this morning was a kind of altar building moment for us today: a moment when we paused to remember God’s goodness made known to us through Jesus who is sometimes even called the new Abraham; a time for us to remember our calling as church to seek justice, resist harmful ways to love and serve others; a time for us to remember our connection to a faithful line of followers who have been baptized before us; a time for us to remember our own belovedness, our own holiness.
Another thing we noticed about this story on Tuesday was how strange it was that God told Abram that he would be the father of many nations when in the previous chapter of Genesis we were told his wife had been barren for many years. There was some discussion about whether or not Abraham took another wife, which he didn’t, but he did have a child with another woman at Sarah’s request. That caused more than a bit of tension in the family but eventually Sarah did give birth to Isaac and the lineage carried on.
It’s important that the lineage did carry on directly through Abraham and Sarah. This piece about Abraham and Sarah’s great age and Sarah’s barrenness says something about the way God works in the world. Here was a family destined for extinction and there was nothing they could do in and of themselves to change that. Abraham and Sarah were old and tired. When they set out to find the land that God had said would be shown to them, they set out for a future they didn’t even dare to believe in. They had given up on that dream long ago. This was a couple who essentially showed no promise for the future.
When life is flourishing, when people have enough to eat and countries are at peace and justice is being served, when churches are full and the polar ice cap is not melting, when things are going well in our individual lives, it’s easy to see that the impulse of the Divine, the gravitational pull of God is always greater and more abundant blessing. It’s easy to feel like we are blessed.
When affordable housing is nowhere in sight, and we are living in the midst of an opiod crisis; when the polar ice cap is melting and it seems like far too many of our friends and family are dying and diminishing and perhaps we ourselves are struggling from day to day it is not so easy to see or experience blessing.
So maybe this is the part of this story we need to listen to the most this morning, the part where we are reminded that when extinction is close at hand, when hope for the future seems dim, that’s when God needs us the most to see the holiness in one another, to be a blessing to one another, to ourselves, to our planet.