A sermon preached on Genesis 11:27-12:9, August, 11, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week eight of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
The Line of Promise Goes Crooked
Today we begin Genesis part two, which focuses on God and his covenant people. Even as we do, though, we have to reach back in order to see what’s happening. At the beginning of our reading today, we heard of Terah. Who was he? Abraham’s father. If we go back further, what we’ll discover is that Terah is a descendent of Seth. Hopefully you remember from Genesis 4 that Seth is the line of promise – the line through which God’s promises of salvation will be fulfilled.
Only, not so much. At the end of Genesis 11, things look bad! Even the people of the line of promise are worshipping other gods. Besides the context of Ur, which we’ll talk about in a minute, Joshua 24:2 explicitly says, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.”
So, with judgment placed upon the Tower of Babel, and the very line of promise dwindling down, human history comes down to an exceedingly fine point: a barren woman and her aged husband. This is how God worked for the salvation of the world. This is how God works in the lives of men and women today.
We’re going to focus on the call of Abraham today – both what he was called from and what he was called to. In this, we’re certainly going to how Abraham was and is unique (he was called to establish God’s own covenant people), but we’re also going to see how the call of every Christian is deeply embedded in Abraham’s call.
Called From (vs. 11:27-12:1)
Called from Ur and Haran
What do we know about Ur (meaning “city”)? If you’re like me, you might think about Ur and picture some goats and a few tents. – not much going on in Ur town! People often mistakenly think of Abraham as a nomad. He wasn’t. His story begins a city-dweller. In fact, the Ur that Abraham would have known is well attested to historically as bustling, having a population of around 250,000 people. It was a busy and lucrative center for trade and commerce, with goods coming from as far off as India. At the center of the city was, you guessed it, a ziggurat dedicated to the moon god Suen or Sin, though the city was a mélange of polytheism, with more than three hundred gods being worshipped. Joyce Baldwin summarizes:
“From this background God called Abraham. Despite the predominant materialism and money-making, life in Ur was culturally rich and comfortable, and there must have been many good reasons for wanting to stay there. On the other hand religious rituals in Ur were degrading, with their involvement in magic, superstition, and prostitution. If a break were to be made, and the light of God’s truth followed, physical removal from the whole environment was essential.”
Turning from Abraham to us for a moment, can anyone tell me what church or ecclesia in the Greek means? It means, “called out.” You may not be called out physically, but when you receive Christ, you will no longer be at ease and at home. And that’s okay. The Christian life in this world will always be a pilgrim life.
One early Christian apologist, writing in the Letter to Diognetus, put it this way:
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. … And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven.
Famously, this disciple then later writes, “To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body.”
Called from family (personally called)
Verses 31-32 tell us that Terah began to go forth from Ur, but stayed in Haran (Haran means “crossroads”. It was also dedicated to moon-god worship). Abraham was called to personally go forth from his country. I love how the old King James Version puts it here: “get thee out of thy country!” He was personally responsible to receive the call of God upon his life. And so are we.
May we come to the Lord and to his Body, not because we’re trying to please someone else, be that a spouse or a parent, but may we come because we’re responding to the call of God in the gospel.
Called from barrenness
I’ve already made mention of the spiritual barrenness Abraham was called from, but physical barrenness. Chapter 11, verse 31 says simply this: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.”
So, the people of promise have no child! No descendants! And from these, a great nation will spring forth! How? Because of human ingenuity? Invitro fertilization? No. The power of God.
For all time, Abraham stands as our father and we as his children because we hold this in common: we were as good as dead and God raised to new life. Abraham believed God for what he could not in himself do, and as Paul says, this happened for our sake, because, “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:24-25). As it’s been said, “What do you bring to your salvation? Only the sin that made it necessary.” Do you know barrenness as Abram and Sarai did? Have you received Christ in this way? Then rejoice, for you are no longer called barren, but blessed.
Called To (vs. 12:1-4)
Called to unlimited trust
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
Well, that’s real specific, isn’t it!? Hebrews 11:8-9 says, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” The supernatural promises of God call forth from Abraham an unlimited trust.
It’s been said that authentic Christian faith is not merely believing in God, but believing God. Let me ask you: if you have seen the depth of mercy and love that God has for you in Christ, what can’t God ask of you? You can’t come to the Lord and say, “I’ll trust you, but I’m staying put.” No, instead we learn to say take me as I am, and take me where you will, just like Abraham did.
Called to total provision
Four times within these verses, God says that he will bless Abraham or make him to be a blessing for the sake of the world. There will be provision for the journey. In fact, total provision from God.
I don’t mean this in some prosperity gospel kind of way, but what I mean is that if you have Jesus, you have enough to sustain you in the pilgrim trail of faith. Yes, you’re going to be called out of your Ur. Yes, you’re going to be called out of your family, but you will be called to the provision Christ gives for the journey. St. Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians by telling us how great the spiritual blessing is that has been poured out upon us:
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. … 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.” (Ephesians 1:3,7-8)
Many have been talking about the apparent falling away of Joshua Harris, former Christian author, writer, and evangelical. I don’t know all of the details surrounding his repudiation of the faith, but here is what I do know:
if he would have humbled himself and taken his doubts and confusion to the Lord Jesus, Jesus would have been able to handle them. And he still can. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Pray for Joshua, but don’t let someone else’s hardness of heart become your doubt of Jesus’ provision for the journey of life.
Called to bless the nations
Here’s where we’ll end. Let’s reach back to chapter 11 and remember that at the Tower of Babel, the nations of the earth were scattered. In Abraham, they are gathered back. THE promised descendent, the rescuer, the redeemer, will come through his line, and all nations will be blessed through God’s work, seen in Abraham.
And so, all glory to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen.