Sermon for March 8th, 2020
Our passage from Genesis this morning is the familiar story of God calling Abram, whose name is later changed to Abraham. God calls this man Abram, and makes him an offer: Leave behind all you have, leave your country and your kindred (at least some of them) and follow me. Follow me and I will make you great. I will make your name great. I will make you a nation. In fact, I will make you a blessing to all the families of the world.
Naturally, one wonders why God makes this offer to this man Abram. Abram just appears on the scene, somewhat out of nowhere. We know a little bit about his family tree from the preceding chapter in Genesis, but we know nothing of Abram’s character. That comes later. When we do learn a little more about Abram, what we find is a man that is more or less unremarkable. He isn’t the brightest man in the Middle East. He isn’t particularly good or righteous. He’s not noted for being particularly strong or handsome. I’m not sure we would call him a charismatic leader in any sense. So why Abram? Why does God offer to bless this wanderer?
Well I think if we would know Abram better and appreciate what makes him so special, we need to take a look at what happens in the scripture right before he walks on the scene.
Abram and his family are wanderers, but if we look to Genesis chapter 11, we find people that don’t want to wander. Abram takes his family on a journey, but the family in chapter 11 is immovable. Abram is willing to risk everything to follow where he is lead; but the people in chapter 11 are willing to risk everything to stay put.
Abram’s family is introduced at the end of chapter 11 of Genesis, but at the beginning of chapter 11 we are shown another contrasting family: the human family.
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the East, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.”
The story that comes immediately before Abram is the famous story of the towel of Babel. The humans of the earth all speak one language and they all want to settle in one place. And they said:
“Come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
Wandering can be a truly scary thing, and the world can be a frightening place. Fortunately for these people they had ingenuity and cleverness. They figured out that if you bake mud and clay it becomes hard as stone. They invented bricks. Now with bricks they can finally build buildings that protect them from the scary world. They are proud of this invention. They are proud of themselves. They began to think that this invention had the power to save them from the scary world. They had saved themselves. They had made a name for themselves. Is there anything they can’t do?
But of course, we know that what the people of Babel saw as their greatest pride, their tower, was ultimately the source of their downfall. They put more trust in their creation than they did their creator. They thought they would be saved by the work of their own hands; by their technology and their skill. We know the name of the city; you have heard of the Tower of Babel, but the names of the people, well, they are forgotten. What we find in Genesis, after the people of babel are scattered, is just a list of names. Names that don’t mean much to us. Names of people that didn’t do anything of consequence or leave anything behind. Wanderers, not builders. Just some individuals that are known to God more than they are known to us, until finally we come to a man named Abram.
Abram had a wife named Sarai and a nephew called Lot. They had a couple tents maybe, maybe some livestock and a few possessions that they could carry with them, but beyond that they weren’t weighed down with property. To Abram comes the promise that if he is willing to follow where God leads him, that he will indeed have a great name.
God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and it indeed becomes a great name. Abraham’s name is at the heart of the faith of billions of people throughout the world today. Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship the God of Abraham. Abraham has become a blessing to all of us. And yet the only thing we have evidence or record of Abraham building is altars to God. Abraham travels around this Canaan land, following where his God lead, and each time he stopped he builds an altar for God, but for himself he is satisfied with just a tent. All we have of Abraham is his relationship with his God. He left nothing else behind. But what a legacy.
I guess if Abraham is remarkable in any capacity it is that he has no illusions of being a self-made man. You know I heard a great line this week. Someone said that so many people are born on third base and think they hit a triple. So many people mistake God’s blessings for their own skill, ingenuity or righteousness. They think that they made it on their own. Abraham has no such misconceptions. Abraham knows that everything he has and all of his hope for the future of himself and of his family, rests on God. All of the blessings in Abraham’s life, comes from above. Sure Abraham has his part. He is called to follow, he is called to respond. He makes a covenant with this God and that requires sacrifices on his part, but Abraham knows that his sacrifices are just a response to God’s promise. Abraham is always focused on blessing God’s name, not his own. Abraham blesses God’s name, because he knows that that is where his salvation comes from, not the work of his own hands.
Knowing where your life and your salvation comes from. That is the legacy that Abraham has left us. The people of Babel thought they could save themselves. Abraham knew better. Abraham knew that it comes from above. That is Abraham’s greatest legacy to us: the knowledge that our salvation comes from having a relationship with the one who is above us. Unless we are able to recognize that life and all of its blessings come from above, we will never be able to see the Kingdom of God. Those are Jesus’s words to the Pharisee Nicodemus. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Until the day we recognize that our salvation is not to be found in the works of our hands, but in the life of the one who is the author of life, we will not see the kingdom of God. Sure we may leave some fancy buildings behind, but eventually they will tumble too. In the end, if our names aren’t known to God, they might as well not be known by anyone else.
What did Abram do that made him so special in God’s eyes? Nothing, and I think that may be the point. Abraham didn’t try to climb up to heaven by building himself a tower; he was content with following the God that came down to him. I wonder if we are.