THE GEORGE WASHINGTON OF MONOTHEISM[1]

GENESIS 12:1-4

JULY 19, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            There have been a number of hidden camera shows over the years, but the first Candid Camera, set the bar. One episode involved a man who took his film to a one-hour photo developing service in downtown Chicago. He left his film and returned an hour later to discover that the place was no longer a one-hour photo shop. Now it was a one-hour dry cleaners.

            The confused man hesitantly entered the store, met the same clerk, and asked about his film. The gentleman behind the counter said, Was that a suit or just shirts?

            The man replied, It was 35-millimeter film.

            The clerk asked, Was it to be pressed or just cleaned?

            The man said, It was film to be developed.

            The clerk said, Do you want to look through these suits to see if one of them belongs to you.

            The man, getting a little agitated by now, said with a bit of tension in his voice, I didnt have a suit, I had film.

            The clerk, then, asked the gentleman if he ever watched TV.

            He said, Sometimes.

            Then the clerk announced, Smile, youre on Candid Camera!

            Our passage for today has a Candid Camera feel to it. Our passage describes an encounter between God and a seventy-five year old childless, married man. Surely, God could not be asking this seventy-five year old man to do what God wants him to do.  It must be a joke, a prank of some sort. Listen to it.  Genesis 12:1.

 

            Now the Lord said to Abram Go from your country and you kindred and your fathers house to the land 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. Abrams was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

 

            Tremper Longman III, whose book, Old Testament Essentials, we are using for this sermon series, calls this one of the most important passages in the Bible.  Why?  Well, in it we are introduced to the father of three monotheistic faiths. We are introduced to the father Christianity, the father of Judaism, and to the father of Islam. As we unpack this third Old Testament Essential, a look at a person named Abraham, I want us to note a couple of things.  First, I want us to note the request, and second, I want us to note the promise.

            The request Go from your country and your kindred and your fathers house to the land I will show you.

            As far as we know, Abram was a wealthy landowner at the time, living in what is now northern Iraq. He had family, friends, an honored place in the community. He was also seventy-five years old. God was asking a lot of him to pick up and go.

            Did you know that roughly fifty percent of all Americans never do such a thing? They never pick up and go to another country, or even to another state. Trudy and I have lived in five states, California, Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Florida.  Those of you in the military have moved around, but thats not the case for fifty-percent of all Americans. We often describe our country as being very mobile, but fifty per cent of Americans live within 50 miles of their birthplace. A lot of people, given a choice, like to stay anchored close to home. A number of folk are more comfortable in familiar surroundings, and its not always easy to move away from home.

            I think of the article about two Irishmen who set up a company in order to sell dirt, genuine Irish dirt, to Americans. The two men say the demand for this official Irish dirt was phenomenal. They sold one million dollars worth of their product in a very short time. One elderly New York businessman placed a $100,000 order so he could be fully buried in genuine Irish soil. My guess is that gentleman was very, very homesick. His body was in the US, but his heart was still in his homeland. That happens to many people who are transplanted to another culture. They miss the sights and sounds and perhaps even the dirt of home.

            A woman named Janet Ross, a native of Texas, joined her Navy husband on his tour of duty in Japan. The first thing Janet did was look for a job to supplement their income. She was pleased when her first interview netted a secretarial position at the nearby Army facility. She was sure her typing skills had landed her the post. But a few weeks later her boss, a full colonel, called her into his office. He proceeded to admonish her that she was too quiet. The reason I hired you, he explained, was your delightful Texas accent. Im homesick for someone who can talk right.

            Well, not everybody agrees that Texans talk right, but if weve ever lived in a culture other than our own, we understand. We understand Dorothy when she clicks the heals of her ruby slippers together and says, Theres no place like home. Theres no place like home.

            So Gods request was a big deal, especially if Abraham was somewhat of a home body. Of course, it might have been no big deal at all.  He might have been an RV, get your motor running sort of guy. Gods request may have been the nudge he had been waiting for all his life, to pack up and explore outside world.  He may have had travel brochures in his nightstand.

            So he went. In one of the most understated verses in all sacred literature we read, So, Abram went, as the Lord had told him …” God asked Abraham to leave his home and go to a new country, and he did. He went. I think of one of my boyhood heroes Bobby Richardson.  He played second base for the great New York Yankee teams in the 50s. After he retired he became a national leader of and featured speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. At one of their banquets he prayed, Dear God, Your will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Amen.  Thats Abraham.  God asked.  Abraham went.

            Of course, if Abraham had any reservations about leaving home, the promise overcame his reservations. Note the threefold nature of the promise. First, God promises Abraham that he will make him into a great nation. What does it take to be a nation? Well, in the first place, you need land, and God says I will direct you to that land. Second, to be a nation you need people.  So, implicit in this promise are descendants for Abraham. Three chapters later, God will make the promise of descendants more explicit.  In the fifteenth chapter of Genesis God tells Abraham that his descendants will number as many as the stars in heaven.

            The second major element of Gods promise to Abraham was blessing. God promises to bless Abraham, but not to the detriment of other human creatures.  God says he will bless Abraham so that Abraham will be a blessing to others. In light of this promise, Im going to do something here I do not usually do.  Im going to get a little preachy, so Im giving you a heads up.  Whenever Abrahams descendants, whether they be Jews or Muslims or Christians cease to bless others, they are being disobedient to God.

            As you know there have been Jews and Muslims and Christians who have done terrible things in this world and they have explained it by saying something like, God told us to do it. Let me say this. Whoever hears a voice telling them to do something hateful, something destructive, that is not the voice of God. That is the voice of Old Redlegs. God calls Abraham, and his descendants Jews, Moslems, Christians to be a blessing to those around them.

            One last promise I will make your name great. Right now, here in Genesis 12, his name is Abram. The name Abram means exalted father. Its the name of a patriarch.  How that name must have haunted Abram, his being seventy-five and childless with little hope of children on the horizon, after all his wife Sarai, was way beyond her child-bearing years. We can almost hear people saying, exalted father, not! Well, twenty-four years later, God gives Abram a new name, the name by which history knows him today, Abraham. That name means father of many. It underscores the Gods promise of descendants.

            What grade would we give God when it comes to keeping this promises? How about a great nation? Most of us here would call Israel a great nation. How about being a blessing to others? Ask most Christians or Jews or Moslems what their faith means to them, how their faith has blessed them. I would say God came through on that promise.  How about making his name great? How many would say the name of Abraham has been known through the centuries?  I would.

            The only problem Abraham faced with these promises was the timing of these promise. I wont get into all the details of his life, but at times Abraham assumed that Gods promise delayed was Gods promise denied.

            Have we ever made that same mistake? Weve offered up a prayer to God, but seemingly no answer came, and so we assumed that God wasnt listening, or didnt care, or at least had said, No.

            Most of us understand that God doesnt measure time like we measure time. The writer of 2 Peter cites the words of the Psalmist and declares, But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). Time does not mean the same thing to God as it means to us.

            It was Einstein who introduced us to the theory of relativity, often illustrated like this. A second seated on a hot stove seems like an hour; an hour in the arms of your beloved seems like a second. Time is relative. So when we go to God, what seems to be a no is often simply a not yet.

            We can be impatient. I know I can. We want what we want and we want it now. But there are some things that cannot be hurried. Gods timetable is not our timetable. In a true Candid Camera moment, Abraham and Sarah did give birth to a child, but it was not until Sarah was ninety and Abraham was one-hundred. We dont know why God waited so long. Maybe it was to grow Abrahams faith. After all, later he would be known as a man of great faith. Maybe God knew that Abraham and Sarah, for one reason or another, were not ready for this blessed event. Gods understanding of our needs is far greater than our understanding.

            Pastor Richard Overgard said that when his youngest daughter was about three years old she came to him and said, Daddy, Id like to have a red convertible. Three years old.

            Her father said, I know what you need, honey, and he bought her a red tricycle. He heard what she wanted, A convertible, but he knew what she needed, wheels. He gave her what she needed and could handle.

            When she was 13, she came to him again and said, Daddy, Id still like to have a red convertible.

            He said, I know what you need, honey. And he bought her a red bicycle. Again, he gave her what she needed, wheels, and it was something she could handle.

            God is very much like that, says Pastor Overgard. We ask for the things we want and He gives us what we need. Then he adds, I guess thats why Im still driving a VW instead of a Cadillac.

            Now, he says, his daughter is married. So when she comes and says, Daddy, I still want a red convertible, he can hardly wait to say, Well, ask your husband.

            Amen.



[1] Message adapted from Leaving Home, a sermon by King Duncan.