Our reading this morning: Genesis 12
This morning begins our Narrative Lectionary series for the summer and today we are beginning in the beginning with the book of Genesis, at the story of Abram. It is important to remember that these stories that we will be focusing on the next several weeks would have been familiar to Jesus as well and he often referred to them when he was preaching and teaching.
At this point in the biblical story, Adam and Eve have been displaced from the Garden of Eden, Cain killed his brother Abel, Noah built the Ark the flood destroyed the earth and the Tower of Babel debacle which led to various languages among these ancient people. Abraham or Abram as he is called in this earlier biblical story, is considered one of the patriarchs of the Christian Church– an important figure in the Biblical story. However, he plays a prominent role not only in Christianity but Judaism as well as Islam. Each of these three religions claim ancestral identity with Abraham; Jews and Christians through the lineage of Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah and Islam through Ishmael – the son that Abraham had with Sarah’s servant Hagar. Even the Gospel writer of the book of Matthew must have believed that Abraham was important in the life of Jesus as he begins with Abraham in the genealogy of Jesus.
Our scripture reading for today begins with the call of Abram. Abram isn’t called Abraham until Genesis 17 when God declared Abram’s new name: “Abraham” – “which means “father of many nations.”
So, at this point in the biblical story, we know that Abram was chosen by God and was promised descendants, land and Blessings. It is important to note that the promise of land would have been a big deal to Abram. He and his family were nomadic herders who often made agreements with villages to manage their livestock- but they had no permanent relationship with any village or land. After the promise of land by God Abram and Sarai should have felt like they were living the good life!
But as we read our lesson further, there is a famine! Not enough food to support Abram and his family so they set off for Egypt. Abram may have been saying to himself and possibly to God – What good is having this land if there is no food? If you really wanted to bless me, you could have given me a land filled with flowing milk and honey. Now I have to leave this land and look for food. It’s just not fair. I relied on your blessings God and this isn’t what I bargained for!
So Abraham leaves this land he is given. He heads for the land of Egypt which is ruled by the Pharaoh. But before he enters Egypt, he must have panicked! What if the Pharaoh wants Sarai for his harem? Suddenly he forgot about all of his blessings that have been bestowed upon him and he asked his wife Sarai to pretend she was his sister. Now, in Abe’s defense, it wasn’t a total lie – tradition states that she was in fact his half-sister –it was common for families to intermarry – to keep the blood line going. But he did leave out one important fact – she was not only his sister, but his wife! Obviously Abram wasn’t relying on God to protect him and Sarai in Egypt.
We don’t know exactly what Sarai may have said to Abram – I know what I would have said! Imagine, your husband being more concerned about himself than what may happen to you when you are part of Pharaoh’s Harem. Never the less, she acquiesces to his request.
But in the end this deceit backfires and the household of Pharaoh is afflicted with plagues and ultimately Abram is sent packing, along with his wife and all they owned.
So you all might be thinking – this is a great Old Testament story, but what exactly does it have to do with me?
If we deconstruct this story, we find several gold nuggets in which we can glean from this particular scripture.
First of all – God blesses us – and we know this because we are the descendants of Abraham, those whom God has chosen to bless. We often think of the Jews as God’s chosen people, but in reality if we look at the lesson, God blesses all the descendants of Abraham. In fact, this covenant of blessings and land is reinforced in Genesis 17 where God tells Abram You shall be the ancestor to a multitude of Nations. In many of the Gospel stories, Jesus made it perfectly clear that God loves and blesses all, Jews and Gentiles alike, even though we don’t deserve it. Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize the blessings that God bestows on us.
We rely on God to give us blessings, to extol on us what we want and too often become upset because they didn’t quite measure up to what we expected. We want our promised lands to be perfect, without any complication or hardships. After all, if you look up blessing on Dictionary.com it states: a blessing is a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness. The new land given to Abram certainly didn’t bring him happiness! So, how exactly was this blessing from God? God’s blessings may not be as immediate as we would like. Hebrews 11: 39-20 states: Yet all of these (ancestors) were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised since God had provided something better. – God had provided something better.
God is in control of our blessings and how we receive blessings. Not too long ago we read the gospel lesson in which the disciples were mourning the death of their friend and leader. They thought it was all over – but God in his wisdom had other plans- the crucifixion of Jesus resulted not in death, but everlasting life – not only for Jesus, but for all of us!
This story is also critical to how one can view the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. If you ask people about the roots of this conflict, many will say it is about land and who should occupy this holy ground. Numerous persons, including Christian Zionists believe that this land mass was given by God to the Jewish people because of this particular story. Again, we need to read a bit farther to Genesis 17 where God tells Abram that he will be the father of a multitude of Nations -plural.
The early church that began in this area after the Holy Spirit appeared at Pentecost included both Jews and Gentiles. Unfortunately this battle for land and control has been fought since the time of Abraham with the land coming under the power of many different political rules, including Canaan, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome, Britain, Jordan and now Israel. How ironic that this small land mass about 1/19th the size of the State of California, which is the nucleus for the beginning of our monotheistic religions, has been the object of wars under the umbrella of religion.
As of now, only about 2% of the population in this area is Christian and it is slowly shrinking – how sad to think that there may not be any Christians in the area that was home to the ministry of Jesus Christ, the place where Christianity began! God may be calling you to advocate for those who are being displaced from the land. God may use your voice as a blessing to those who are oppressed.
Genesis 12 also tells us that God’s chosen people are not always bearers of blessings to others. While Abram was blessed by God with land and descendants, he didn’t pay it forward with his Wife Sarai. Abram instead became egocentric, focusing on his needs rather than the physical and emotional needs of Sarai. Abram and Sarai could have lived in peace in Egypt, Abram’s lie or his sinful human nature created less than ideal circumstances for them both.
Now it could just be basic human nature that made Abram panic for his own safety – it certainly seems this wasn’t a scenario that he would have thought out before his trip to Egypt. Not much different than some of our “quick decisions” that may have negative consequences towards others, because we are putting ourselves first. We may decide we are sober enough to drive after several drinks. We don’t feel like paying for a taxi to take us home when we have our own car – not thinking of the consequences our actions may have towards others.
We lie to ourselves that we are in control. In fact, we want to be in control, in control of our own destinies. However, following God means giving up our own control – it’s not about us. For us, Jesus is our role model of putting ourselves in God’s hands. Jesus, the Son of God, gave up control to God the father when he was tempted in the wilderness, and more importantly when it came to his death upon the cross. We profess that Jesus was fully divine as well as fully human – that human part must have created inner conflict for him, especially when it came to the crucifixion. Giving up control can come with anxiety, and fear of the unknown.
However, with blessings comes responsibility. Abram had the responsibility to give up his control to God and to put the needs of others before his own. He had the responsibility to teach his descendants about having faith in the one true God. We too are given this awesome responsibility to teach the faith, to serve God with all our hearts, minds and souls and to put our trust and faith in the blessings that God promises us. It also means that we need to surrender our control over to God.
I will close with a quote by Toni Sorenson about surrendering to God.
The word surrender has some shadowy connotations. We think it’s weak to surrender, but sometimes it’s the bravest thing we can possibly do. It means to give our will over to another . . . and when that other is Christ, we are surrendering our pride, our self-reliance, our will to do things our way. We trust Him more than we trust ourselves. The origin of the word surrender did not mean to give up, but to give over. We give our will over to God, let Him do what He will with it, and in the process we lose nothing, but gain much.
Surrendering to God doesn’t guarantee us that we won’t experience disasters through no fault of our own, Surrendering doesn’t mean we will have everything our way and in our time, but surrendering to God does promise great blessings – that of God always with us and the promise of everlasting life. Next Sunday you will hear about another important biblical Figure who relied on God to get him out of a pretty tough situation — This is a story that soap operas are made of. So be with us next week as we continue the biblical story.. Amen.