March 12 – “Easter Before and After: Take a Step,” Genesis 12: 1-4, Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17

You know those days where things just don’t go plan?  Last Saturday was the first time in weeks, probably since the big snow storm, that Meghan and I didn’t have anywhere we needed to be that day.  We weren’t going anywhere, we weren’t meeting anybody, the day was completely wide open.  I had big plans.  The DVR was getting full, we were gonna blow through that, once that was done we had some Netflix binge watching to catch up on, it was going to be the perfect wasted day.  Nothing of merit was going to be accomplished, we weren’t going to get the recommended amount of Vitamin D from the sun; my goal was for there to be an imprint when I left the couch, that was the plan.  Then Meghan got a phone call from her uncle.  He was coming to Charlotte to look at RV’s and thought that that might be a good opportunity for Meghan’s eleven-year-old cousin to come visit us for a little bit so she wouldn’t be bored/in the way during the RV shopping.  My day changed very quickly.  Entertaining a sixth grader had not been on the agenda.  She was not interested in my DVR, she wanted to do something.  And it was fine, it was a perfectly fine day.  But it was not the day I had planned.

“The Lord said to Abram….”  Other than some genealogy in the chapter before, that’s all the introductions to Abraham we get.  This man is going to establish the Jewish nation, he’s going to have a song about his many sons, and that is all we get, that’s how he enters the scene.  We know almost nothing about who he was before this moment.  We’re given no reason for Abraham being the one God chooses.  It makes me wonder, what do you think Abraham was planning on doing that day?  What was on the agenda for that day, what was he hoping to get accomplished that never happened because God chose that particular day to speak to Abraham and set an entirely new future into motion?  Because with all the things we don’t know about Abraham, with our inability to guess what he had planned for that fateful day, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that he hadn’t had planned what God had planned.  It’s a pretty safe bet that the to do list that day didn’t include hear a voice that no one else hears, pack up everything, leave the life you know behind, and go wandering until that voice tells you to stop.  This is story that brings with it a lot more questions than answers, right?  This is a story that leaves a lot left up in the air.  What is that makes Abraham the one who gets chosen in this moment?  What is it that makes Abraham decide to go?  Why did it happen at this particular moment?  We don’t get an answer to any of that.  What we get is a very straight forward conversation.  God speaks to Abraham, and keep in mind we don’t really get much indication about what Abraham knew about who God was or what God was about.  From now on when God is introduced it is always as “the God of your father, Abraham,” we don’t know what the connection is here, but God speaks to Abraham.  Not appears, right?  We’re not told Abraham sees God, just that he hears God.  I’ve mentioned before I think, the History Channel’s “Bible” series where God never speaks.  People say what they heard from God but the viewer never hears the voice.  So you’re left watching the story unfold based on things you can’t confirm.  Abraham hears God, and God makes a command and a promise.

“Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you a great nation.  Leave everything you know and go somewhere, I’ll tell you when you get there, and good things are going to happen for you.”  God’s never made a promise like this before.  We have no indication that Abraham has any kind of scripture but even if he did, he’d have nothing to go on.  God’s interaction with people before this point hasn’t been great.  Adam and Eve – kicked out of the garden and cursed.  Cain – protected from harm, but sent off away from his family.  Noah – saved from the flood but everyone outside of his family is wiped out.  The people building the tower of Babel – their language gets confused and they get scattered.  God has never acted on a blessing before.  There’s nothing for Abraham to fall back on and say “well I know this is true so I’ll trust that things are going to work out.”

And yet he does it anyway.  With nothing to fall back on, with no way of knowing how it is going to work out, Abraham believes the promise and obeys the command.  In this moment, God’s promise, purpose, and presence become the center of Abraham’s existence.  We don’t know a lot about Abraham before but we do know this: before this moment his life was without risk or promise.  From what we see Abraham’s life was pretty comfortable.  He has flocks, he has servants, he has the trappings of relative wealth in this society.  He family is fairly established in the city of Harran.  Chances are when he woke up in the morning he knew what to expect from the day.  His life was without risk.  But his life was also without promise.  When he woke up in the morning, he knew what to expect from the day.  It didn’t change.  His wife was barren.  Everything he was working for would eventually go to someone who wasn’t his own descendant.  There was no promise in his life.

In this moment that changes.  In this moment, God introduces something new into Abrahams life and into human existence that wasn’t there before.  Hope.  A gift that has yet to be given.  A promise that has yet to be kept.  A word that has yet to be enacted.  Something that will be, but isn’t quite yet.  In this moment Abraham is transformed into a daring hoper, someone who is defined by the ability to risk what is at hand for what has yet to be given.  God comes to Abraham and makes a command and a promise.  Abraham believes the promise and obeys the command.  Abraham hears the voice of God, and without any rational reason, without any evidence to explain it or data to back it up or previous experience to point to, Abraham trusts God’s voice.

For Paul Abraham is the model of someone who lives by faith.  He is able to follow God’s command because he trusts that God’s promise will come true.  His faith leads him to act.  That’s a significant component of faith for Paul.  It gets overshadowed and misunderstood some times because he was so adamantly against the idea that we work our way to a right relationship with God, but for Paul faith was never a matter of partial response.  It wasn’t a response of attitude only or action only, it was and is both together.  Faith is our full response to God.  Faith means trust in who God is and what God has done, obedience to the life God is calling us toward, and conviction that God is faithful.  It means, like in the case of Abraham, trusting God enough to risk what is for what has yet to be.

Now I want to make sure you hear me correctly, I am not an adherent to prosperity gospel.  I’m not saying that if you love Jesus and have a good attitude you’ll make a billion dollars and live long enough to have you brain put into a robot and live forever, that’s just not Biblical.  What I am saying is this: faith cannot sit still.  Faith, true faith, the faith that we see in Abraham, takes a step.

This week I was at Gardner-Webb for a lecture series that the school puts on each year.  During the break between part one and two I was standing against a wall on one side of the auditorium talking to a friend of mine who is still at the divinity school and the lights went out.  And they stayed off.  Long enough that you began to wonder if something was legitimately wrong, you know?  And my friend says “someone needs to walk over to that panel (it was on the opposite wall) and hit the switch.”  I said “I feel obligated to say that you could walk over and do that.”  “Nah, someone will do it.”

Nothing happens when we sit still.  Nothing progresses when we sit still.  That entire auditorium could have sat their believing the lights were going to come back on for years, someone had to take a step to make something happen.  But, by standing still we didn’t risk walking all that way just for someone else to get there first, we didn’t risk getting there and realizing we didn’t actually know how to fix the lights and look dumb, it was safe to sit still.  But the lights stayed off.  Abraham’s life before God spoke to him was without risk, but it was also without promise.  It was without the hope that there was more, that something greater could come from his time on Earth.  By taking a risk he embraced hope.  By taking a step he embraced faith.  Faith does not sit still.  We don’t see the Kingdom of God clearer by sitting still.  We don’t help to make the Kingdom of God come to earth as it is in heaven by sitting still.  Faith takes a step.  Whether it is Abraham moving toward a new land, Moses returning to Egypt to free his people, Peter and Andrew and James and John dropping their nets to follow where Jesus would lead, or Paul going across the sea into Europe to share the Gospel with a people who he did not know and who might not respond well, faith does not sit still.  Faith does not pull back because of fear.  Faith takes a step.  A step towards knowing God more.  A step towards embracing a group of people we would usually ignore or cast aside.  A step towards embracing a calling we’ve been avoiding.  Whatever the step in front of us, may we follow in the footsteps of Abraham and step boldly into the realm of risk, the realm of promise, of hope, of faith.

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