Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
March 8, 2020
Genesis 12: 1-4a – Common English Bible
The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
those who curse you I will curse;
all the families of the earth
will be blessed because of you.”
4 Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him.
One of my favorite childhood memories, I was probably about 8 or 9 years old, was one Saturday morning when my dad walked into the house and said, “pack up the car. We’re going to Winnipeg.” We only lived about an hour from Canada, but I had never been across the border. Mom looked at him, like, “thanks, a lot, for asking me! I’ve got things to do.” But Dad was often spontaneous. Perhaps a little irritated, Mom got right on it and called my favorite grandma to come along with us. I was so excited. I imagined Winnipeg was exotic. TV commercials from Winnipeg only played late at night, like during Saturday Night Live, which I wasn’t supposed to be up to watch anyway. Winnipeg was foreign and my mind spun wonderful fantasies. And sure enough, my fantasies came true when I turned on the TV in the motel and saw Bugs Bunny speaking French.
I was reminded of that magical weekend when I read the verse following our reading from Genesis today. We heard how Abram heard the voice of God say, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land I will show you.” Then it says, “Abram took his wife Sarai,” along with all their possessions and people, and set forth for the land of Canaan. At first, I thought, why doesn’t it simply say, “And Abram and Sarai set off together for Canaan.” But I realized, Abram probably never consulted with Sarai. “What do you think? Should we?” Just like my dad didn’t ask my mom. Dad announced it and “took us” and everyone else just went along.
Perhaps Sarai was accustomed to Abram saying, let’s pick everything up and leave everything behind. After all, they were nomadic. But not nomadic in the sense of a few tents and some sheep. Abram was the ancient counterpart of a wealthy Bedouin sheik ruling over hundreds of subjects and surrounded by “retainers,” small merchants who catered to their sizable community. Plus, all their animals, a symbol of their wealth.
So, they didn’t, nor could they, just spontaneously pick up and move regularly. But Abram’s family had made an especially big move before. He and Sarai were born and raised in Ur, near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, in today’s Iraq. Later, Abram’s father moved the whole clan to what is Turkey today. Not a small move – about 600 miles, the distance of Denver to Des Moines. Try doing this 4,000 years ago. This next move to Canaan would add another 400 miles or so to that. And then to Egypt. And back again.
According to rabbinic tradition, Abram’s father was a maker and seller of various gods and idols. Somehow, somewhere along the way, Abram became convinced there is only one god. The story is told that Abram took an axe to his father’s idols and smashed all except one and then put the axe in the hand of the remaining idol. Abram pointed and blamed that idol for killing all the others. His father said that’s impossible because the idol was not alive. It’s only clay. Abram asked, “then why do you worship clay and not that which is living?”
A quick aside: I hope we see this not as an excuse to destroy other people’s religious objects but rather as an origin story for Abram’s embrace of monotheism.
And so it is that Abram is considered the father of all monotheists – one God. The three Abrahamic faiths – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Muslims, through Hagar and their son Ishmael. Jews and Christians through Sarah and their son Isaac. There’s never an explanation why, but he believed in a living God, the living God, one God not many. And it was from that one god that he heard a voice saying, move to the land I will show you. How did he know?
How, indeed. Last Sunday during the Second Hour, Jenny invited the 30 of us to tell about our experiences of the Holy Spirit. Once the first person got the courage to speak up, stories kept coming and I was struck by what I imagine were experiences similar to Abram.
Listen to a few of these descriptions from folks here last week:
Aren’t these amazing? All from a group of progressive, liberal, social justice Christians – sometimes accused of being more in our heads than our hearts.
But imagine what would happen if we lived exclusively in one or the other. I’m grateful for combinations of all the above each time another outrageous example of cruelty pops up on our news feed. What is it now? Who’s been targeted? Who’s been blamed? What is the lie now? And why is that lie even necessary? What river or ocean is going to be filled with mining debris? Every time I open the page or turn on the TV, my brain is assaulted by ignorance. And my heart is broken by gleeful brutality against people we love and people we don’t know. And despair for the earth.
Thank God the Holy Spirit is there to intervene with sighs too deep for words. We are not left powerless. Brain dead or heartless. The question isn’t just what should we do. But, what are we being drawn toward. What gift or talent have I been given for exactly this moment, just such a time as this? What is our unique gift and contribution? After all, Abram was called and blessed to be a blessing. I believe that if we pay attention, we will know. Some tug or push. Or, as one described it last week, a dummy slap. A slap upside the head. Pay attention.
Some might call these gentle, or less than gentle experiences, intuitions, not the work of the Holy Spirit. But I call intuition a gift of the Spirit. Or instead, you might simply say this is how I experience God – because we follow a Living God, active today, not just in history. Not just an idea. Or a story from long ago.
Even so, those stories inform us and encourage us. How did our ancestors, like Abram, know what to do? How to balance trust and risk. How to move forward without knowing what’s ahead – just knowing that we must. Often without knowing why.
Like for us, I would suggest some combination of paying attention to:
And, credit to my dad, a certain amount of spontaneity.
But, back to that command, or rather, a call. As one of our lunch and lectionary participants said on Thursday at Noodles and Company, “A call is anything you do that is outside your comfort zone that comes from something inside, like “I’ve got to do this.”
And how we do respond?
I’ve done every one of those more than once.
Or, “here I am, Lord, send me.”
But even if that’s our response,” the journey for Abram and Sarai wasn’t from point A to point B. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Nor is it for us. Perhaps one of my favorite lines in all of scripture is verse 9: “And they journeyed on by stages.”
Which reminds us, our journey is never complete, because here we are 4,000 years later and, thankfully, the Living God is still speaking.
I love being the