"A Journey of Faith"
March 3, 1996 message
Suppose, just for a minute, that God came to you tonight and very clearly and directly told you: "Go. ... Go from this land, leave your relatives, exit your parent's place, and go to the land which I will show you. . . Go!" If God spoke those words to you, what would be your response?
Maybe some of us, chafing at the bit, might reply: "ALL RIGHT!!" I wonder, for most of us, might those directions occasion a sleepless night?
"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house," God said to Abraham. "Go to the land that I will show you." Strangely enough, Abraham went. It's a good thing, too! Life would certainly be quite different for us had he not. Oh, I'm sure God would've found someone else willing to make this journey of faith. But how different it would've been! Judaism, Christianity, Islam, all three trace their roots back to this man. What would've happened had Abraham said, "No"?
"Let me get this straight, God. You want me to pack up everything and depart. You want me to leave behind my folks, the home place, everything I've known, and go somewhere, which, by the way, you haven't named yet. You want me to travel on a wing and a prayer with only your promise that I won't die in the desert?
"Let's see here, we know my wife Sarah is not exactly bursting at the seams with child. We've been to just about every genetic counselor in Haran with no result. And you say you're gonna make of me a great nation? God, are you serious? Or are you just pulling my leg? You know how long it'll take to get all my stuff out of my folk's house?
"When I spoke with Sarah about this, about you blessing me and making my name great, well, I'll tell you, she sure make my name great -- great enough to wake the neighbors. That bit about you cursing those who curse me, might have to begin with her. God, why don't you forget this whole blessed thing? Now is not a good time to sell -- interest rates are up, the market's down. Come back later with a better offer."
How different things would've been if Abraham had said no. But he didn't. And it's his stepping out "by faith" that we remember most. Sure, he had his doubts, plenty of them. But he went anyway. Yes, he was far from perfect.
Let me tell you about the time he was so afraid that he tried to pass his wife off as his sister. It was in Egypt, and Pharaoh thought Sarah was available, not being told otherwise. Only God's intervention prevented an ugly scene. (Gen. 12:10-20)
Yes, Abraham was far from perfect. But he went anyway. And this whole bit about having a child, well, he and Sarah tried taking matters into their own hands. They decided a child by Hagar, Sarah's maid, would be the next best thing -- only it just caused problems. (Gen. 16:1-16, 21:8-21) Eventually Hagar and her son Ishmael had to leave. Thank goodness, God took care of them.
Yes, Abraham was far from perfect. But he went anyway. And God did fulfill his promise. In a delightful episode, three men came to visit Abraham and Sarah. And, gracious host he was, Abraham went out of his way to welcome them. We discover, as we read the story, that Abraham was actually welcoming the Lord. At the end of their visit the three men (or should we say God) promised Abraham, "I will surely return to you in the Spring and Sarah your wife will have a son."
And Sarah, listening behind the curtain, snickered (she was no Spring chicken, you recall) and said to herself: "Now that I'm old and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure, shall I bear a child?" God heard her laugh and said, "Is anything too hard, too wonderful for me? At the appointed time, I'll return and you shall have a son." Out of fear at having laughed at God, Sarah tried denying it. "I did not laugh." But God knew better, "No," he said, "but you did laugh." In so doing, God transformed this laughter of doubt to the humor, the joy of faith. (Gen. 18:1-15)
How many times in later years Abraham and Sarah must have laughed around the fireside over that visit, as the watched their son Isaac grow. No doubt they also remembered the time when the joy of this son was tested upon the altar of faith. God called Abraham to place everything on the line, just as he had how many years earlier when he called Abraham to leave Haran on a wing and a prayer. God called Abraham to sacrifice his only son, his promise of descendants, the child he loved.
And Abraham went the distance in a story that is very hard for any father today to read. Abraham was willing to obey God against everything he, no doubt, felt within. With Isaac bound on the altar awaiting his death at the edge of his father's knife, God provided a substitute, a ram to sacrifice. But not before Abraham took his steps of faith to the brink of the darkest wilderness he had ever faced. God was faithful to his promise and Isaac lived and his descendants became great. (Gen. 22:1-14)
Yes, Abraham (and his wife, Sarah) had doubts and were far, far from perfect. Even so, we, today, as followers of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, look to Abraham as a "father," a father of faith. We are sons, so to speak, sons of Abraham, a part of God's promise to him -- and heirs to that promise.
Remember the song some of us learned as kids? Want to sing along? "Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, so let's just praise the Lord."
(Dare we do the motions in church?--optional)
right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, nod your head, sit down.
"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house," God said to Abraham, Go to the land I will show you. . ."
You know ... we may feel the same way about those words and the story of Abraham as we do about that little song we just sang:
"It's for children. It's for the young. Sure, it's fine to talk about making a journey of faith. But I am past the years when such journeys were exciting. I'm older now," some (or even most) of us may say. Journeys of faith are only for the young. Speak to me, instead, about life in Haran.
Well, I'd love to that. Only there aren't that many biblical passages to which we can turn. Yes that's where they went to get a wife for Isaac when he grew up. But they never lived there. Yes, Jacob fled to Haran and spent many years there to acquire his wives Leah and Rachel. But as soon as he was able, Jacob left there also. That's it. That's all Haran is remembered for -- a place to leave behind.
Those of us who believe that a journey of faith is only for the young, ought to remember another little bit of information almost snuck into scripture -- a footnote that was, perhaps, inserted intentionally by God. How old were Abraham and Sarah when they took this supposedly "youthful" step of faith? Well, according to scripture, he was 75 and she was 10 years younger than he (a real youth).
Even if we are not terribly literalistic about those ages, they still say the same thing. Abraham and Sarah were no Spring chickens. Doesn't that shed a whole different light upon this scripture? Doesn't that shed a whole different light upon us? How many Abrahams and Sarahs do we have sitting in this room? Age is not an excuse, it's an opportunity. Instead of bemoaning our age, we ought to be rejoicing that God leads the young and the old, and that in God, all things are possible. Our cynical laughter can be transformed into joyous good humor. Remember, Sarah gave birth to the child of God's promise in her old age.
What steps of faith are we taking now that will be an example to the little ones in our midst? After all, Abraham didn't come by the 'journeying spirit' only when God said, "Go." His father, Terah, left Ur of the Chaldeans with is family and settled in Haran. (Gen. 11:31) So Abraham had this example to follow when God came and said, "Go." What steps of faith are we -- all of us, not just the young -- what steps of faith are we taking now?
We know that a journey of faith doesn't necessarily mean for us to pack up our belongings and move, though it has meant that for some in our midst who have come and gone. This story does encourage us to be open and ready to move in the directions God might be calling us to go right here and now, young and old alike.
Where is God challenging us to go right now? As a congregation, we have proved to be up to a challenge. As the chairman of your church board, let me share a few "proddings" from the Lord that I've thought about:
The amazing thing about stepping out and walking with God is that in so doing, we become a blessing -- as a church, as individuals. Isn't that what we really want to be? Not in any super "pious" way that turns people off, but rather in a warm, down-to-earth, loving way, that turns people on.
Shouldn't that be the glory of the church, to turn people on, to help them come alive and bless themselves, and bless others, and bless us? Such is not only possible, it's a promise of God. All we have to do is take that first step of faith. God will provide the rest. See you along the way.
©1996Peter L. Haynes
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