W ITH SUMMER OFFICIALLY HERE, it’s the time of year to travel. Maybe short trips to the beach, longer trips to the mountains or even cross-country trips to see the USA in a Chevrolet.
But for many of us, there are no road trips this summer. Safety concerns brought on by the coronavirus have hampered travel.
So, we’re going to take a virtual road trip this summer. Each week,we will hop on our camels or walk the dusty roads with folks in the Bible who are on the move.
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TODAY, WE LOOK at Abraham and Sarah. They move to a new town.
About 4,000 years ago, a multigenerational family left the city of Ur in southeastern Iraq and settled in Haran, Turkey. The father died. The youngest son, Abram, hears a voice that says, “Move away from here.”
At age seventy-five, believing that was the very voice of God, Abraham moves to the land of Canaan. He along with his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, their servants, and camels loaded with their earthly possessions. The rest of the story is about living in this new but uncertain, promised but often treacherous, life in Canaan.
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GOD MAKES some big promises: land to a landless people, offspring to a barren couple. Many things need to happen before this promise will come true. And some of these events in Abraham and Sarah’s future are less than pleasant.
Before this story is over, Abraham will almost lose his wife in Egypt (Abraham passes his wife off three times as his sister to the foreign ruler); there will be much pain with Hagar and Ishmael; the barren couple will finally experience the joy of an own son; they will come close to losing him, and that is only in their own lifetime.
That’s not even mentioning the trials and travails that happen in their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s lives.
This extended family leave Haran in faith, not knowing where they are going, or even why, except that God has spoken to Abraham. They journey from what they know to what they did not know, from what they have to what they did not have, from the comfortable to the strange and the unpredictable.
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TODAY, MOST EVERYTHING in our culture, education and employment encourages us to journey in the opposite direction: from the unknown to the known, from what we do not have to what we think we want and need, making every effort to remove the strange and unpredictable in order to guarantee the safe and the secure.
Unsatisfied with mere promises, we demand absolute guarantees. While we demand clarity and act timidly, Abraham acted wholeheartedly without absolute certainty.
Daniel Clendenin writes about this road trip and the fears related to such a life change. Let’s look at Clendenin’s three deeply human and unusually powerful fears.
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FIRST, GOD CALLS this couple to leave their geographic place and everything that is familiar to them — customs and comfort, family and friends, the regularity and rhythm of their lives. They journey from clarity into a future of ignorance.
Sarah and Abraham embrace their ignorance. They relinquish control. They chose to trust God’s promise of blessings in a new and strange place. But this requires a second choice. Abraham and Sarah leave a geographic place but also a mental place. They leave behind small-minded, parochial vision, the tendency in all of us to exclude the strange and the stranger. Hebrews 11:8–9 says they live “like a stranger(s) in a foreign country.”
Genesis 12 speaks a powerful word today in those instances when we are called to leave behind all that is known; to relinquish all our comforts and securities; to follow God with closed eyes; to depart on a road trip without a map.
The journey may be long, sometimes much longer than we may have thought. It is a journey with many ups and downs, many joys and sorrows. But it is journey filled with many, many promises — the most important being the promise of God’s presence to show us the way.
Our common tendency is to fear the other, to suspect and marginalize the strange, to dismiss all that is different from who and what we know. It is a call to inclusion of people who live differently, speak differently, whose history and culture are different. To live among them, not in a position of power but as a nomadic stranger.
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THERE IS ONE PROBLEM about God’s promise of children to bless the entire world through a single couple who, in obedience, journey into the unknown.
Humanly speaking, they face an impossibility that brings them face to face with their own powerlessness to alter their circumstances.
Biologically speaking, barren Sarah and impotent Abraham were “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12). They are impotent; powerless. They scoff at the idea that Sarah will bear a child and become “the mother of nations” (Genesis 17:15–16).
But God rebukes them:
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14)
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AND SO, THIS ELDERLY COUPLE believe that God had the power to perform what God promised. They move beyond their fear of powerlessness to faith that God can, quite literally, make something out of nothing. After a few false starts that included chronic lying about his wife and bearing children by his slave Hagar, Isaac, the son of promise, was born.
When God called, Abraham and Sarah move beyond understandable human fears — ignorance, inclusion, and impotence. Instead of lamenting their ignorance and the loss of control, together, they embark on a journey into the unknown.
Instead of fearing inclusion of the strange and the outsider, they trust God’s promise of a universal blessing for the whole earth.
In the face of their own profound impotence, they believe that God can do the impossible. In doing so, Abraham becomes “the father of us all.” Sarah becomes the “mother of many nations.”
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WHEN WE ACKNOWLEDGE our ignorance. When we embrace inclusion. When we accept our impotence, we open the door to God using us in powerful ways to bring blessing to nation and world.