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"Abraham, Child of the Covenant" -- Jim Eby -- June 8, 2008 "Abraham, Child of the Covenant" -- Jim Eby -- June 8, 2008

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   Discussion: "Abraham, Child of the Covenant" -- Jim Eby -- June 8, 2008
Jeanne Gay · 10 years ago

Summit Presbyterian Church                                                                                                            June 9, 2002

Delivered by Jim Eby                                Abraham, child of the covenant                                Genesis 11:31 - 12:9


There’s a bit of mystery here in this passage from Genesis.  What do you suppose it was that caused Abram’s father, Terah, to pull up stakes and leave the city of Ur in Babylonia?  What caused him to leave the security and land and family and set out on a trip up and across that strip of land we call Athe fertile crescent@?  What caused Terah to take his most valued possession, his first born son, Abram, Abram’s wife Sarai, and his grandson Lot and begin the journey?  A journey of 1,000 miles.  What caused the four of them to begin that long, long pilgrimage?  Those weren’t the days when your company transferred you time after time after time so you might live in nine different places in your life time.  No, those were the times when you lived in the same place for nine generations.

Something radical must have happened to cause Terah to leave the grave-site of one son, to leave his third son and the place where he had grown up.  Something life-changing must have happened to cause Terah to take his son and daughter-in-law and grandson and begin that journey to Canaan.

What prompted that journey?  We have no record that will tell us, but I have a fantasy.  Do you suppose, is it just possible that God called Terah to make that trip?  Had Terah left hearth and home and begun that journey as a faithful response to the call of God?

That’s my fantasy.  And my further fantasy is that something interrupted that journey.  Something caused that party of four to settle down at Haran, at the top part of the fertile crescent.  Was Terah feeling old?  Was he sick?  Had something or someone blurred his vision of that call from God?  Had their resources run low?  Had they found a farm they couldn’t refuse?

We have no clue.  All the biblical record tells us is that there at Haran, the four stopped, half-way to faithfulness.  And there Terah died.

It’s an awkward place to be, isn’t it?  Half-way.  If you are on an airplane trip, it’s called the point of no return.  You are at that place where you are closer to where you are going than you are to the place from which you began your journey.  If you run into trouble, it’s smarter to go on that it is to try to turn back.

It’s an awkward place, but it’s also a place filled with promise.  You have already accomplished half of your objective.  It’s like you are on the down-hill slope, headed for the finish line.  The goal is in sight and you often develop that second wind that makes achievement possible.

Unless there are things that would hold you back, that would tempt you to spend your time and energies on something other than your original objective.

We don’t know whether that was what happened to Terah, other than the statement that he died in Haran.  And then, suddenly, almost abruptly, our narrator tells us, AThe Lord said to Abram, ALeave your native land, your relatives and your father’s home, and go to a country that I am going to show you.@A (But Abram had already done that!  These must have been the same words spoken to Terah that had not been followed obediently B so they are the words for the next generation -- Abram is invited to do what Terah didn’t.)

How did Abram know it was the Lord speaking to him?  Somehow Abram knew about this Lord who called him to continue to journey.  Again I fantasize that Terah had told him, father to son, the same way you and I tell our children that which we know about God.  And somehow, when Abram head the Lord speak to him and call him to make the journey and made a covenant with him, somehow Abram was able to recognize this was the Lord speaking, the one who was his creator and redeemer and sustainer, and Abram was able to respond with faithfulness and begin the last leg of the journey from Ur in Babylonia to the land of Canaan.

Abram wasn’t a young man any more, although he wasn’t feeble and decrepit at 75.  According to the Genesis calendar, he was to live 100 years more.  So, he was in the middle years of his life, comfortable and prosperous.  As his father’s eldest son, he, of course, inherited the lion’s share of the estate when Terah died.  He was at least prosperous, if not royally rich.  He probably owned land there in Haran; he had slaves and was respected.  And suddenly, he announced that he was going to respond to God’s instructions.  In obedience to God’s call, Abram was going to leave his country, his kindred, and sell the land he had inherited and begin this pilgrimage into the unknown B in obedience.

In obedience.  In response to the covenant God made with him.  The narrator remembers it this way: God said: AI will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation.  I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing.@

We need to be very clear that we understand that Abram was not called, he was not selected, because he had done something meritorious.  God’s invitation to Abram was pure grace, it was an undeserved gift.  Of course, he was not called to be a pilgrim for his own sake.  He was called and given the promise of God’s blessing, for the sake of the whole world.  He was blessed that he might be a blessing.  He was named child of the covenant so that others would be drawn into that covenant.  That is always true of all of God’s gifts.  Blessings are meant to be shared.  Yeast is meant to be hidden in dough.  A lamp is meant to be put on a stand.  Salt is meant to lose itself as it provides taste.  And Abram was meant to be the prototype of faith and trust which exhibits itself in obedient pilgrimage.

It’s been a long time now, some 50 years, since one young man graduated from law school.  He was successful by the usual standards.  During the last of his years in school, he and his partner were operating a $50,000 a year business.  That was a ton of money back then.  Within a few years after graduation, he was worth $1,000,000, had a salary of $100,000 a year and had revised his goal from simply being a millionaire to that of acquiring ten million dollars.  And then his life began to crumble around him.  He was fortunate enough to have met an unusual farmer - preacher - Greek New Testament scholar named Clarence Jordan.  And when the young man’s world came unglued all around him he went to Koinonia Partners and to Clarence in Americus, Georgia.  The result of that visit was that he and his wife Linda identified a vision they felt God had given them, and they started, like Abram, on a pilgrimage.  They sold their business to which they had become enslaved and gave all the money to charitable causes.  Then they gave themselves to service at Tougaloo College, then in Americus, Georgia, and then in Zaire.  They began to organize villagers into teams that built houses out of the materials at hand, and village after village realized the joy of affordable homes that gave them a whole new way of living.

Those of you who have worked on or read the incredible story of Habitat for Humanity know that young man’s name is Millard Fuller.  His ministry since 1965 is a result of his hearing God call him to leave the image of success that was eating him up and to spend his life giving instead of getting.  He began to live in such a way that he understood the reality of Jesus’ words: AWhoever tries to gain his own life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it.@  And day by day, other lives continue to be touched and other people are beginning to experience God’s love and grace through the ministry of Habitat for Humanity. 

This Genesis passage says there is yet another observation to make about Abram B his pilgrimage was made in obedience and in worship.

The first thing they did when they got to the promised land was to build an altar there to God.  They worshiped, they gave thanks for the way God had kept covenant.  They placed a marker, a physical reminder, that it was God who had brought them safely on the long and often dangerous journey from Haran to Shechem.  It was God who had provided for their safe journey across the desert and the mountains.  It was God who had made it possible for Abram and the crew to travel in obedience.

And when they knew that, when they recognized that, they had to give thanks for the way God had kept covenant.  They worshiped and recommitted themselves to continue to journey wherever God would lead them.

Those are the appropriate responses for us to make today in answer to God’s call.  Obedience and worship.  We have not yet reached the end of our pilgrimage.  We have not yet fully matured in faith and action.  There is still work to be done and travel to be attempted until that time when we, like Paul, have completed our race, fought the good fight and are accepted as righteous.

Let us remember our own baptism.  Let us claim our heritage as children of Abraham.  Let us be about the pilgrimage he began as a child of the covenant.

Our Father, we hear your call to grow into more mature disciples of our Lord and Savior.  We know your summons to join the parade of pilgrims.  Help us to follow, even as we ask the questions B AWhere are we going?@ and AWhen will we get there?@  Help us to trust and respond.  In the name of our risen Lord we ask it.  Amen.

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