(sermon note: 09-18 sermon note)
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 morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a guy who boarded an airplane to Detroit. As he made his way to his seat, he noticed the guy sitting next to him looked very worried. He asked him if he was afraid of flying. “No, my company is moving me to Detroit. I’ve heard terrible things about Detroit and I’m worried about my family.” The other guy told him, “Look, it’s not at all like the rumors. I’ve lived in Detroit my whole life. Find a nice home in a nice suburb, get your kids into a decent school, the community is great… you’ll be fine, trust me.” The worried guy seemed to perk up and said, “Hey, thanks man, you’ve really calmed my nerves, I feel better. So what do you do in Detroit?” “I’m a tail-gunner on a Bud Light truck…”
Having moved into unknown places a number of times in my life, I totally get the anxiety of not knowing what to expect. And it certainly didn’t help when all the rumors were terrible and frightening. Fortunately I had enough wits about me to realize that that was all they were: rumors. And rumors tend not to be true. They’re exaggerated claims meant to cause frustration, anxiety, and tension. I don’t really get why we have rumors. To humble each other? To attack each other? In either case, they don’t seem to serve any good purpose. They certainly don’t help us to serve each other, only tear down each other. No, I don’t think I like rumors and I would hope that you all don’t either. But getting back to our worried friend on the airplane.
I imagine I’m not the only one who’s been asked to move or venture into the unknown throughout their life. Many of us have experienced unexpected job changes or health crises, unwanted loss of stable relationships or sources of income. Many of us have been forced into those unknown situations whether we like it or not. And then what? We can either choose to be overwhelmed by the situations or we can choose to adapt to them. In either case, we have a choice. We can choose to be victims of our circumstances or we can choose to be masters of our fates. Truth be told, we’re all venturing into the unknowns of our lives. None of us know exactly how our lives will unfold. We just don’t know what situations will present themselves in our lifetimes. We don’t know who will walk alongside us, who will challenge or support us. We don’t know how far our bodies will carry us. We just don’t know! And what a blessing it is NOT knowing! God doesn’t want us to know exactly how our lives will unfold. Why? Probably because many of us wouldn’t choose to go about living our lives. We’d become paralyzed by fear and anxiety. Our lives would become overwhelming…all the little interactions, all the struggles, all the joys, all the decisions made along the way…they would just be too overwhelming. None of us could handle the entirety of our lives, only God can! God knows where we’ve been and where we’re going. God knows all the little minutiae of our lives…decisions made, situations experienced, people encountered…all of it. And God wants us to go about living our lives. God gave us these lives for a reason and a purpose. God doesn’t want us to become paralyzed by fear and anxiety. God wants us to grow. And the only way we can grow is by pushing forth into the unknown, much like a seed pushes through the unknown of the soil to reach sunlight and air and moisture. All of life is expected to grow and push through the unknown.
It’s no wonder God placed such an expectation on Abram. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Get away from all that you’re familiar with, all that you find security in, Abram. Why? Because you need to continue growing. You’ve become stagnant in your old age. You and your barren wife believe that you no longer are obligated to grow, to be an active participant in life. None of us has a right to stop growing. Only God can stop us from growing. But as long as we have the breath of life within us, we are expected to grow.
Now then, this expectation is not without its benefits. The encounter between Abram and God also teaches us this. “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.” Abram was rewarded threefold for his growth: the father of a great nation, the receiver of great blessings, and the owner of a great name. Pretty good reward for simply growing! For simply listening to God and going into the unknown land. Why such a great reward? Because in listening and obeying, Abram illustrated his deep and abiding trust in God. Friends, nothing pleases God more than when we place our complete trust in him and him alone. Nothing pleases a parent more than when a child places their trust in them. Trust is a powerful gift. God wants our trust, just as much as our love. Recall the wisdom of Proverbs, “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (3:5) This advice often rubs people the wrong way, as if it’s telling us we aren’t supposed to be insightful. Insight certainly has its place but oftentimes it quickly leads to a stop in growth. There is always more insight to be had, the wisdom to be earned. Don’t let insight stop your growth! Trust in the Lord and He’ll gladly give you more insight!
Yes, trusting God is just as important as loving God. Why? Because God knows where we’ve been and where we’re going. Remember the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “for surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (29:11) God wants us to grow into that hopeful future, He really does! We ought to gladly sing with David as he does in his 37th psalm, “commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your case like the noonday.” (vs. 5-6) Abram’s venture into the unknown illustrates the reward of trusting in God. Let us likewise go into the unknown of our lives fully trusting in God as well. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.