Trust God and GO!
Mar 05, 2023
Second Sunday in Lent
Text: Genesis 12:1-4a
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
During Lent, our focus is on the Old Testament readings. But, why, you may ask, when the Gospel lesson contains the compelling story of Nicodemus, the Pharisee who visited Jesus by night and had a revealing conversation with him about being “born from above”. It is to Nicodemus that Jesus says what have become the most well-known words in the New Testament, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” So, given such riches from John’s gospel, why focus on Genesis?
It’s as simple as saying that it is a good idea to begin at the beginning and consider what brought us to those iconic words of Jesus. So, last Sunday we focused on the human dilemma of choice by remembering the story of Adam, Eve, the serpent, and the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden.
That account is among others in the first 11 chapters of Genesis that are called prehistory. They speak of all humanity and the consequence of human choice in the stories of Cain and Abel, the Flood and the Tower of Babel, which results in the scattering and confusion of the nations. In each situation, God intervenes; there is a pattern of sin, judgement, and grace. But then we come to Chapter 12, which is the beginning of what is known as “Salvation History”.
Abram and his wife Sarai enter the scene; some scholars say that their “election” is the act of grace that follows the Tower of Babel. They are the first in a long line of mediators between people and God, ending with Jesus, writes commentator Stan Mast. We will be focusing on more of them this Lent.
Let’s notice, then, some important details about today’s short text. #1 – God takes the initiative and selects Abram and Saria. #2 – There does not seem to be anything that Abram and Sarai have done to deserve being chosen. #3 – God promises blessings to Abram, Sarai and their descendants. #4 – Through God’s blessing, Abram and Sarai will be a blessing. That all sounds positive, but, the command God gives to them is difficult.
They must leave behind that which matters – their place in their homeland, relationships with close and extended family and the security, comfort and support they offer - to go where? The location is not named; it’s a place that God will show them.
Abram and Sarai must have received the gift of faith, which led them to trust God, because they GO! There is no threat for disobedience, but just a promise, and what a promise it is! In it, Abram and Sarai and their descendants are given the very things being sought by humans in the earlier stories of Eden and Babel.
Quoting Pastor Stan Mast, in those earlier accounts people, “wanted to be great, to make a name for themselves, to reach up to the heavens and perhaps realize their divinity. God promises Abram just that: ‘I will make of you a great nation.’ ‘I will make your name great,’ and you will be an instrument of divine blessing for the whole world. That is, you will be as God to the world, which clearly harks back to the Garden of Eden and the false promise of the serpent.”
Listen to this: “In other words, everything humanity tried to obtain by its own effort, God was willing to give by grace. It’s not that God is stingy or selfish as the serpent suggested. It’s that God know humans are not and cannot be divine. The way to blessing is not to try to be God and make yourself great, but to trust and obey God who will give you the desire of your heart.” That is, when our heart’s desire is shaped by God’s desire. (1) (REPEAT last 2 sentences)
The story of Abram and Sarai, who became Abraham and Sarah, is filled with ups and down, missteps and deception and out-and-out-sin. Yet, they are used by God to be a blessing.
I’d like us to give some thought, then, to the concept of blessings. I’ve encountered more than one person, usually those working in stores or restaurants, who respond to the question, “How are you today?” with, “I’m blessed!” And, you may have noticed that I frequently sign e-mails and notes with the word, “Blessings,” and my name. I gave some thought to what I mean by that, and it’s something like, “May God’s grace be with you.”
I find this to be a tricky topic, though, since people often equate having been blessed by God with good health, material possessions, safety and happy relationships. That, of course, begs the question: what about all the people who do not have good health, material possessions, safety and happy relationships? Have they not been blessed by God, and if not, why? Are some people doing something right, while others are not?
It’s like the saying, “there but by the grace of God go I,” when considering someone’s difficult situation. In other words, if it were not for God’s grace, I’d be in the same situation. So, are we implying that that person has not received God’s grace and we have? Do you see what I mean? It’s a tricky conundrum.
The Hebrew word for blessed means, at its most basic level, having received God’s favor. In the Old Testament it does usually refer to prosperity, fertility or victory. Yet, that favor has a strong flavor of grace. God’s blessing is something that is not created by or deserved by the person whom God blesses. It is always a gift. (2)
Here is my question, could it be that God’s gifts/blessings are not necessarily possessions, good health, a peaceful existence or happy relationships. These are things which people are fortunate to have if they are in, or were born in, a certain place at a particular time, or have made good choices or have had positive support or have just plain had some luck. We might say that such people are fortunate. But blessings, that which we cause one to be blessed God’s presence with us, forgiveness, faith, strength, guidance, creativity, insight … and the willingness/ability to acknowledge and use these gifts. In that case, even those in the most challenging situation can be among the blessed. For example, a person can be quite ill, and still be blessed. The illness is the result of being an imperfect person living in an imperfect world, and they may be fortunate enough to have access to medical care. But they are blessed because of God’s presence with them, and the gift of faith. One can be both fortunate and blessed, in which case the results of one’s good fortune, combined with God’s blessings, can make a huge impact on the world.
Well, we can debate about what it means to be blessed, but not about the purpose of being blessed, at least according to scripture. Like Abram and Sarai, we are blessed (and fortunate) so that we can be a blessing. Did you notice that it is not just the people close to Abram and Sarai whom God promised to bless through them? No, the scope is worldwide. God promises to bless all the people of the earth through Abram and Sarai.
But, in order for that to happen, they had to trust God, leave what was familiar behind and step out on a journey of faith. What is the parallel for us? What do we need to leave behind, or change, or accept or go toward, in order to be a blessing? In what ways will God equip us to do so? I believe this is a question we should ask ourselves repeatedly, at different times of our life. I also believe that the gift of faith, which leads to trust, is one of our greatest blessings. It is the fuel that empowers us so, like Abram and Sarai, we can GO! AMEN
- “Sermon Commentary for Genesis 12:1-4” by Stan Mast, March 8, 2020, www.cepreaching.org
- “Sermon Commentary for Genesis 12:1-4” by Doug Bratt, March 12, 2017, www.cepreaching.org