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01.07.18 Setting the Stage Genesis 12:1-10, 13:1-4 Sermon Summary

by on January 8, 2018

NOTE: This sermon was delivered in the first person, as Abram, and interspersed scripture and comment. The scripture is paraphrased in the first person, and is indicated by italics below.

This is how my story begins. The LORD said to me, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

I was to leave everything familiar: Country = national identity, my land; Kindred = my familial identity, my heritage; Father’s house = my inheritance. “To the land I will show you”: I thought, “Maybe you could be more specific?”

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. I liked this—the blessing thing—especially if this new god was powerful! But “families of the earth shall be blessed”? Sounds like a lot of responsibility, and I wasn’t sure I wanted this.

So I went, as the LORD had told me. I was seventy-five years old when I departed from Haran.

None of my friends were moving. They had children, and grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. They were settled.

I took my wife Sarai and my brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that we had gathered, and the persons whom we had acquired in Haran; and we set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

Let me tell you about my brother’s son, Lot. You know, families can be complicated: Someone runs off here, someone dies there, someone can’t handle something. So I ended up with responsibilities for “extended family.”

And let me tell you about our possessions and persons. I wasn’t prepared for this. I wish I had known. I would have been prepared to “travel lightly.” But we took everything.

When we had come to the land of Canaan, I passed through the land to the place at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Canaanites! Then the LORD appeared to me, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

I thought, “Wait. What land? This Canaanite land?!” Then, I thought, “Wait. This is my sacrifice, and my faith. And my offspring are going to benefit?!”

Then I realized: This God was long in vision. He demanded my service and my contribution for benefit of the future. Also, whatever I could contribute, no matter how small, this God would use for his purpose. That caused me to do some thinking.

So I built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to me. I built this altar to remind me that God had called me, and of God’s faithfulness. You don’t need an altar to remember these things. Maybe you have a special Bible verse, or maybe a special place. Maybe you have a special song, or a special friend. Maybe you could write a letter or give a gift.

These are the same thing. They’re all ways to build an altar today. Anything to help us remember that God calls to us and that God is faithful to us is an altar in today’s world.

But there’s another reason I build this altar: Not just to remind me, but to remind God. See, there were lots of gods in Canaan. I wanted some guarantees. Later realized this was ridiculous (I’ll tell you about that later.)

From there I moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched my tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there I built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. It seems I had begun to wander—from Shechem to east of Bethel. I also began to wonder: What do I really know about this god? What if I’ve made a mistake?

I remembered the altar I made in Shechem, so I made another one here. Couldn’t hurt.

And I journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb. Now there was a famine in the land. So I went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. I learned something else following this god. I had to walk by faith. There were no prescribed steps. Instead there were stages.

Stages can last a long time. Or not. They can take you some distance. Or not. They are unpredictable. Once I embraced stages instead of steps, my expectations changed. I experienced less disappointment. I was more open—like when the famine hit and we went to Egypt.

I still had some trouble in Egypt. God tried to teach me a lesson there—I didn’t learn the lesson. You’ll hear about that in a few weeks.

Then I went up from Egypt, I and my wife, and all that I had, and Lot with me, into the Negeb. Now I was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. Some things in Egypt did go well. I journeyed on by stages from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where my tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where I had made an altar at the first; and there I called on the name of the LORD.

You know, I keep coming around to this: Making an altar, remembering God’s calling and God’s faithfulness. I’m still walking with this God. Maybe you’ll join me and Sarai on this walk of faith. We had to leave the familiar. We don’t know where it is going to lead. We measure our progress by stages, not by distance. We build altars to remind ourselves and to remind God. And we always found it easier to travel lightly. We’re on a walk of faith. Maybe you’ll join us.


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