About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Genesis 12:1-9 “Abraham: The Blessed”

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Who was Abraham – rather, who IS Abraham – and why should we care? Abraham is the focus of this month's series of sermons and every Sunday we'll be asking the question, Who is Abraham and why should we care?

Abraham is the starting point. In particular, Abraham is the Bible's starting point for faith. We read about him in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. In Genesis 12, God chooses Abraham and Abraham chooses God. Right there, in Genesis, Abraham has the world's first conversion experience. An evangelical Christian might say he was “born again.” All his life, Abraham's been following Middle Eastern tradition, worshipping his bagful of wooden idols, probably carrying the bagful everywhere he goes, because you don't want to offend any of the wooden idol gods. He's been buying the latest gods or subscribing to upgrades when the new version comes out...

and then one day, God speaks to Abraham. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 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.” (Gen 12:1-3)

This blessing, these three Bible verses, are the genesis of faith. You can be a Christian without knowing or caring who Abraham is – after all, it's Christianity, not “Abrahamianity” - you can be a Christian without knowing or caring who Abraham is in the same way you can be American without knowing who George Washington was, or who Thomas Jefferson was. You can be a Christian without knowing who Abraham is, but not for long. Why? Because Abraham was part of who Jesus was. Abraham is part of who the church is. The man the church has always claimed as the founding father of our faith is with us – his influence is with us, his spirit is with us - whether we know it or not. Abraham's story can shed light on our stories, and more... Abraham's story can become our story in a living, breathing way. Whether we know it or not, Abraham is with us.

And not just with us. Abraham is the founding father of our faith. And Abraham is the founding father of the Jewish faith. And Abraham is the founding father of the Muslim faith. All three of the world's great religions claim Abraham as their founding father. In the very global world of 2008, in the post-9/11 world of the United States, if we know Abraham, we know about more than just ourselves.

So Abraham is a genesis, a starting point, for knowing the story of Christianity, of Judaism, and Islam. And, closer to home, Abraham is a starting point for re-entering our own stories of faith. The road that ends with Jesus Christ begins with Abraham. Sooner or later, all Christian, Jewish, and Muslim roads – sooner or later their roads all lead back to Abraham.

Those are a couple of reasons why we should care who Abraham was and is. I say “is” because his influence is still very much alive – he's part of who we are and part of the reason we're here today. Abraham wasn't perfect, not by a long shot. He was a very flawed human being, just as we are. But Abraham had something going for him – and that would be God. Abraham may not have been perfect, but he was blessed. And that's where we start out today: Abraham, the blessed.


What's a blessing? Hold on, I feel this coming, I can't hold it: A blessing is nothing to sneeze at. (Everybody groan, now.) But it's true - “Bless you,” is what we say when someone spews their germs on us. (“Bless me,” is what we ought to say.) Whenever good things happen that we can't explain we say, “It's just a blessing,” meaning, it's yet another of those 14 billion things we can't explain yet serve to convince us that the cosmos is smiling uniquely on us. The Hindus call that “good karma.” In the first 3 verses of Genesis 12, God speaks to Abraham and uses bless, blessed or blessing five times in two-and-a-half sentences. Which would seem to indicate that God's blessing is more than superstition, karma or germ warfare.

When God chooses Abraham, God blesses Abraham. And it's not because Abraham sneezed, or because he was such a great guy who deserved some blessings. In fact, we know basically nothing at all about Abraham before this day at age seventy-five in his not-so-impressive life. God chooses Abraham, God blesses Abraham.

What's Abraham's blessing?

It begins, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great...”

First, “I will make of you a great nation.” (Meaning, your children and grandchildren will become a kingdom.) Let's set aside for a moment the tiny little fact that at age 75, Abraham has no children. We'll talk about Abraham as “Father Abraham” in coming weeks. That God would make Abraham's family into a “great nation” means what? A large nation, a powerful nation – maybe not a superpower, but a nation to be reckoned with. There's power in blessing.

Second, “I will make of you a great nation... and I will bless you....” Notice God doesn't say with what. God doesn't say, “I'll bless you with material wealth,” or, “I'll bless you with massive oil reserves,” or even, “I'll bless you with a strong sense of compassion, justice and morality.” God just says, “I will bless you,” without specifying how (in this phrase). God makes a conscious choice to choose Abraham. God doesn't pull his name out of a hat at random. God chooses to bless Abraham. Which means Abraham now has a purpose. Abraham now has God-given meaning in his life. There's purpose in blessing.

Power, purpose and third, God says, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you... and make your name great....”

There is prestige in blessing. Now be careful: God doesn't tell Abraham, “I'll make your name famous.” There are plenty of people, enjoying their 15 minutes, who are famous, household names. Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Elliot Spitzer. Their names are famous, but not exactly great. Blessing brings prestige  but not necessarily fame, and a famous name doesn't mean you're honorable. There's prestige in blessing, there's honor in blessing – not because of who you are, but because of who's giving you their blessing.

A blessing means power, purpose and prestige. But power, purpose and prestige for what? To get your name in lights? To be a guest on Oprah? Not according to God's blessing to Abraham. God's first word  to Abraham is, “Go.” Like Jesus' first command to his disciples after his resurrection, “Go, therefore into all nations,” God's first command to the first person of faith is, “Go.” Go where and do what? “Go to the land that I will show you, so that you will be a blessing.” “In you,” Abraham, “in you – all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So, in blessing there is power, purpose and prestige, not in having the blessing, but in sharing it. God's blessing is given to you to be given away. If you have a blessing, go and be a blessing. Let whatever power, purpose and prestige you have guide you in giving other people power, purpose and prestige, so they can give these to other people, who'll give it to still others, and so on and so on.

This is fun to do in summer: You take a water hose, turned on pretty strong so a good, focused stream is coming out. You point it at one person and what happens? One person gets wet. And then they chase you. But, you put your finger into the end of the hose, into the middle of that good, focused stream, and what happens? Water starts going everywhere. That one, focused stream spreads out all around so you can get a lot of people wet all at once, so everyone starts chasing you. At the point of contact, what was focused on one person starts splashing out on everybody.

Abraham is the point of contact for God's blessing to everybody. The point isn't that Abraham gets power, purpose and prestige, but that everyone does. God's aim is for everyone to get splashed with the cleansing waters of blessing. God's purpose is to restore all the earth, to redeem all the people, to re-make everyone in God's image, the way we're intended to be. So God says to Abraham, “Go. Go and be that blessing.” And he does.

Well, sort of. Like I said earlier, Abraham's not perfect, even with God's blessing as his marching orders. Which brings us to the last part of blessing: promise. Power, purpose, prestige and (last of all) promise. Notice that in God's blessing to Abraham, God always uses the future tense. “I will make of you,” “I will bless you,” “In you all families will be blessed.” Abraham is no overnight sensation. After all, he's only 75, he's got another 100 good years of life left in him. Blessings take a while. The last verse of the passage, verse 9, is one of my favorites. It says, “And Abraham journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.”

No matter how powerful a conversion experience anyone has, we all are journeying on by stages. God's promise is given now, but its fulfillment is in the future tense. Which sometimes makes us tense, because we want power, prestige and promise and we want them right now. A blessing may be all those things, but it's also a promise. A blessing has a future that we can't control and we can't see. A blessing always has an element of mystery. In order to fulfill the blessing, we have to get up off our hind ends and go – go to places away from home – go to places away from where we're comfortable. Sometimes it's places like Hazard, Kentucky. Sometimes it's places like four feet to the left and two pews forward to the person who's sitting there.

Go and be a blessing. Share your blessings, share whatever power, prestige and promise you have with people who don't have any. Go and make the future a place of blessing for the next generations. If Abraham can do it, so can you.