Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
February 17 2008, Lent 2A
Now the Lord 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.’
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. 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. 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. And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.
This story is one I spend a lot of time with. It’s the first story we encounter in our confirmation class here at RCLPC—we begin each year with reading this story and talking about God initiating a relationship with a people, about God calling Abram and calling us, about how Abram wasn’t special or more righteous than other people, except that he did what God asked. When God calls us, do we go? Or do we argue? Or do we choose not to listen and then assume that, since God hasn’t called us to do anything big or spectacular or ridiculous, that must mean we can do whatever we want?
We spend a lot of time in confirmation class talking about this story. We come back to it over and over in the course of the year, nearly every time we talk about God’s imperfect servants or about God calling. Abram comes up when we talk about Moses, David, and Jesus. He comes up when we talk about our lives, about church, about our relationships with God, and about Judaism and Islam. He comes up all the time.
The most common reason for bringing up Abram in confirmation class is to talk about his unquestioning response to God’s call. God says, “go” and Abram goes. No questions asked, no complaining, no trying to wiggle out of it like Moses or Jeremiah or Paul. He just goes. He leaves his country, he leaves his father’s house, he leaves his community, his friends, and a comfortable life. Sure, he takes his stuff and some of his family with him, but he leaves behind a sense of belonging, of identity, of security—with only a promise to show for it. And to top it all off, he’s 75 years old!
I wish it were so simple that I could walk in here today and talk about this part of Abram’s story—that he goes without protest into the great promise of God. I wish that I could come in here and encourage you all to hear God calling you, to recognize that sometimes following God’s call means leaving the known to venture into the unknown, or that living into God’s promise of blessing simply means trusting God to provide. It sounds so simple—it’s something we all do, right? It’s part of growing up. We leave our homes, our families, and we go out into the world, trusting that true security isn’t found by locking ourselves in our houses but instead is found in God’s love and promise.
But things happen, don’t they. It’s true that leaving home and finding our way in the world, going on our faith journeys and our life journeys and all the other kinds of journeys, is part of life. But it’s also true that sometimes the promise of blessing doesn’t look like we want it to. It’s also true that sometimes the security we find in God’s love and promise doesn’t translate into security for our classrooms, our public spaces, or even our homes. In a week when college students and families have once again been brutally reminded that going out into the world is dangerous, how can I stand here and say that our idea of security is an illusion? We know that. We’ve seen over and over that no matter what we do to secure our possessions, our places, or our bodies, we’re never truly safe and secure. We’ve heard the university president say “we couldn’t have predicted or stopped this.” There are always wildcards in life, or curveballs, or whatever kind of metaphor you want to use. The more we focus on our “security” the more we find ourselves focusing on fear. And when we live in fear, not only are we less secure in the usual sense, we also lose sight of our security in God’s promise.
When God told Abram to go with just a promise, Abram knew that it wouldn’t be an easy journey. He walked hundreds of miles with his family, while slaves and pack animals carried his possessions. He was 75 years old when he left home because he heard a voice telling him that he would be blessed and that he had the opportunity to be a blessing to others. There were Canaanites living, shockingly, in the land of Canaan—and it’s never terribly safe to wander into another tribe’s territory, particularly with a caravan of goods and people. And yet he went. God said “Go” and Abram just packed up and went, into the unknown, into the danger.
I think the most interesting part of this story is that when Abram arrives, he builds an altar and then he moves on. God appears and says “this is the land”—and still Abram moves on. He doesn’t stay there, in the land that God has shown him. He keeps going on, by stages. And in each place he calls on the name of the Lord. He keeps praying on his way to….well, to where? We don’t know exactly where Abram was going. I don’t think Abram knew where Abram was going. He just knew that the journey was more of a destination than the destination was. His journey didn’t end just because he had an encounter with God in one place.
I wonder if this metaphor might work for us in these tragic days. We know that the world is dangerous, we know that we can’t guarantee our safety or the safety of those we love, we know that there is uncertainty and insecurity all around us. And yet we journey on, by stages, calling on the name of the Lord in every place in which we find ourselves. At this stage we may be calling out in grief, anger, confusion, or fear: “Why, God?” or “how long, O Lord?” but still we call on God and we remember God’s promises.
God doesn’t promise that the journey will be easy, or safe, or even that the journey has a specific ending. God promises blessing, God promises the opportunity to be a blessing, and God promises to journey with us. One of my favorite prayers includes the phrase “God, you have walked with us the road of this world’s suffering.” Even in tragedy, even in suffering, even in grief and pain and confusion and fear, God walks the road with us. And so we journey on, stage by stage, all the way to the cross, and even on to the empty tomb. May we go when we are called, and may we call back to God in every place.