Hello-Goodbye sermon series - April 25, 2021

Genesis 12:1-10We often associate Abraham as the first one who was really faithful to God, but as I studied today’s passage and went further back in Genesis I saw (because I don’t remember making the connection before) that Abraham descended from Noah. (Somehow Noah was just in a black hole of genealogy in my mind). Anyway, Noah was the first who was really faithful to God and his story likely would have been told through the generations and could have been a touchstone for his great-great-grandson, Abram, when God called him.

According to our passage, God called Abram and Sarai and told them to go, leave their people, their land, and the home of their parents, and that God would show them a place. I don’t know about you, but for me, that seems like a lot to give up without much clarity about what’s to

come. How about you leave everyone that you know, what’s familiar, the farming you know in order to survive and God will lead you….somewhere…just somewhere….

I mean….I’d have questions—where are we going? How long will it take to get there? How will we know we’ve arrived? What will happen when we do get there? What if the people don’t welcome us? I really wish the Bible had included the internal dialogue of more people, including these folks. Otherwise, they just look so….devout—where are the normal people? The ones full of questions? The ones hesitant to just pick up everything and go into the unknown? And what was it that God said or did that was so compelling? How did they know—like for sure for sure that this would work out?

What we do know is that they went. Whatever compelled them, whatever convinced them, they went. And as I think about them, I’m pretty curious about why. Why did they go? And in looking for an answer, I’m drawn back to Noah. (Now before we dig in I think I probably need a disclaimer…I’m fairly unconvinced that Noah and the flood are 100% true as they’ve been depicted. I don’t think God flooded the whole earth. I don’t think Noah collected ALL the animals that roamed the earth and loaded them onto a big boat. I’m not sure if it was pure mythology (in which case I still think there’s something—a moral or a message—those who tell it are trying to convey) or if there is some bit of historical accuracy that lies in a particular area and a particular people being flooded—like a region, but not a whole country…certainly not a continent or a whole globe. Honestly, we don’t know what really happened. And I don’t know that we need to know what really happened. I think what does matter (whether it’s a pure myth or partial truth) is that Noah represents someone—a type of faith, a type of trust that was respected by his descendants. And, the rainbow in the story came to represent God’s own learning: a love of humanity, disdain for our sin, and acceptance that sin is simply part of who we are and it won’t be strictly abolished by us, so God will have to figure out other means--now, whether God needed to learn that or we needed to learn that God knew that...that’s a whole other theological conundrum that I won’t be solving for us). Now, back to our story….

So, I guess I wonder, if Noah was your forefather and his story your family’s lore, what would you believe about faith? Would you be left with an oversimplified model of faith? Believing that if you’re Noah and you do what God says you’ll be ok. But if you’re not Noah, you might not even have a choice, and regardless you’ll be destroyed. In simple terms, the distillation of Noah’s story could be: faithful obedience equals life, and disobedience equals destruction. So when it became Abram’s call—his choice to obey or not—was he working with this simplistic binary? Did he think he had to choose to follow God for fear of death? Or did he think he got to choose to follow God because of hope for the future? The scripture doesn’t give us any real clarity—so we just have to sort of play with it and try and see what makes sense.

What we know is that for generations to come Abram or Abraham is lauded for his faith, but I’m not sure that’s how he started. Sure, he did choose to follow. We see him pack up with his father, his wife, and his cousin and follow God’s leading. But we don’t know what that even looked like--just off they went. We see them build an altar and worship God. Then travel on and build another altar to worship God. They’re doing what’s right and good and faithful—and following the binary, they should receive life. And then, when it seems like it should all be coming together, a famine strikes. Not just a small food shortage, but a full famine. There simply wasn’t food. Maybe because of drought. Maybe blight. Maybe floods just after the crops were planted. We don’t know for sure, the particulars didn’t matter enough to be written down here. But the famine was severe enough that it was noted and Abram and Sarai were clear they couldn’t stay. They had to pack up and move—again. And I wonder how they felt then—how did their prayers sound?

Hey God, you asked us to leave everything and follow you and told us that you’d bless us. We did that. Like my great great great grandfather, Noah, we followed—we chose life, and yet, here we are on the verge of death—there’s nothing to eat—for any of us. Was this the plan? So we’re kind of wondering about those blessings you promised…where are they? Could we have some of them now? Was there something we missed? Are you sure you’re not going to ruin us?

What did faith look like to them? When it seemed God was quiet like God had gotten busy with other things? How do you follow faithfully when you can’t see or hear the one who is supposed to be leading? What did it mean for Abram and Sarai to be faithful in that chapter of their lives? It’s barely even noted in the scripture—but I’d venture it was no small thing. I mean really, God had talked to them, called them, and promised them and they followed faithfully along the way—setting up altars and worshipping God—and then everything starts to fall apart—and God seems to say nothing. So it’s not just that God was silent, but that they’re in crisis and God stopped talking. But still, they remained faithful—patient at the very least.

And I have to wonder, what was happening to the binary in that time? Had they believed that simply being faithful would lead to life without struggle? Or did they also remember the middle part of Noah’s story—where he labored and labored, worked and worked where he was ridiculed and mocked, and then where there were storms—big storms, violent storms, storms that flooded the earth--at least the earth as they knew it—and then waiting, waiting for the water to recede and waiting to see a sign of life, waiting to be confirmed that there would be life off that boat. Maybe Abram did rely on his great grandfather’s story—but not the simplified version—not the simple binary. Maybe it was the detailed version where there were struggles and battles and points of doubts and long periods of waiting and not knowing and maybe it was those bits that helped Abram to stay faithful despite the trials and the famine.

Maybe he had more faith than I was initially ready to give him credit for. Maybe he was convinced that God could call people to great things and promise blessings, but he also had the wisdom of his forefathers to know that even God’s plans have hiccups and hurdles. Maybe the greatness of his faith was that he was willing to go despite the lack of clarity and with the expectation of hard work and hardship. Maybe the particulars of the famine and leaving to Egypt aren’t told because he knew there would be challenges but the things he wanted people to remember were the blessings and the high points. Maybe he knew people needed to be encouraged to follow faithfully and they would find the hurdles in time. Or maybe he told all the nitty-gritty details early on, but with time the generations that followed Abram also learned that there’s hard work, sacrifice, and patience required to get where God has called you. So in time, they spent less time on those details—because they were assumed—and what they kept reminding one another of was that God dreams big dreams and enlists us to achieve them.

Now I don’t know about you, but that’s the good news I needed to encounter this week as I try and follow faithfully in the midst of tremendous uncertainty and lack of knowing. The obstacles are a given. Every faithful person has met them, from Noah to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and beyond….AND that it’s worth persisting…after all, where God calls us, there are blessings to follow. We don’t know when the pandemic might be “over”, or what it will look like to be the church after the pandemic, we don’t know how we might transform systems of injustice, we don’t know what the United Methodist Church might look like after the next general conference, we don’t know the things we don’t know!! And yet, God calls us to faithfulness. God says “follow me” and sometimes that means waiting when we don’t know where to go or what to do next, but also hoping and believing that God will see us through and make good on God’s promises.