Download or listen to Lenten Midweek III, “Abram Journeyed On” (Genesis 12:1-9)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Homeless, childless, wandering. Homeless: that’s Abram, whom Yahweh chose and sent away from his country, his tribe, his father’s house. For 100 years, Abram wanders, barely settled. Childless: Abram, whose name God changed to Abraham. It’s an ironic name, given the particular circumstances of his life at the point of Genesis 12. Abram means “great father” or “exalted father” and Abraham means “father/chief of many.” Neither of those describe Abram in Genesis 12, or even up to his death. At his death he had a total of eight sons, which is not exactly a multitude. Wandering: from Haran to Shechem, to the hill country of Canaan between Bethel and Ai, to the southern desert area called the Negeb. Then to Egypt and back again, to the place between Bethel and Ai, and finally to Beersheba and Hebron. Homeless, childless, wandering, yes, but with a promise: I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you; I will make your name great; I will bless those who bless you; him who dishonors you I will curse; in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. A six-fold promise, and right in the middle: you shall be a blessing. All of the things that Yahweh would do for Abram, making him into a blessing for the world. Abraham, taken out of his country, out of his tribe, out of his father’s house made into a blessing for all countries, all tribes, all houses. And so Abram journeys on, to Egypt and back. “Arise,” God says to Abram, “walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you” (13:17). And he does, building altars to Yahweh, calling on the Name of Him who had appeared to him. He walked north and south through the land, just as the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would do later. To Egypt and back, to the wilderness, to the land of promise. 400 years in Egypt, and they walk the way of Abram back to Canaan. Walk the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you. Joshua and Caleb walked the land for 40 days, and brought back grapes so big they had to carry a single bunch on a stick between them.
But the people were not worthy to enter the Yahweh’s Sabbath rest. So Israel journeyed on, and after 40 years in the Negeb, God brought them back to the land. They finally entered the land, and from Joshua to Solomon, Israel received from God’s hand the wealth of Canaan, from the Negeb to Dan. But still they were homeless, with burned temples and broken down walls. Still they were childless, like a tree that has been cut down to its stump. Still they wandered, to Assyria and Babylon as exiles in a land they did not know.
And so Jesus found them, wandering and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Do not be afraid, Israel. You who are homeless, having left your country. You who are childless, grieving the barrenness of your flesh. You who are wandering, not knowing where you are going, but only knowing that the Lord leads you (though sometimes you have to admit you have your doubts even about that). Do not be afraid, and hear the voice of a young girl chosen to be the mother of God: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:53-55). The blessing of Abraham, spoken to a wanderer and a stranger and a sojourner, was fulfilled in a man who had no place of His own to lay His head. He left His Father’s House, left the heavenly country, for a land He’d made but had yet to walk with His own feet. In the fullness of time, God gave a body to His Son, just as He’d given Abraham a son from his own old body. He walked the land, from Bethlehem in the south to Galilee in the north, and east into the wilderness for 40 days. He didn’t have to have righteousness counted to Him; He had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth. The Lord spared Isaac from the altar’s knife, but it was the will of Yahweh to crush His Son; He has put Him to grief (Isaiah 53:9-10). And yet, as miraculous as the birth of Isaac was from the barren soil of Abraham and Sarah, even more miraculous was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead earth outside Jerusalem. As Isaiah prophesied, “He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days…by His knowledge shall the righteous one, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:10, 11). I will make of you a great nation, and in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. And so it goes: make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Which is to say, make them wanderers, strangers, sojourners in the world. Once like Abram, you were not a people; now you, the descendents of Abraham by faith, are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy; but now you have received mercy. Sojourners and exiles, abstaining from the passions of the flesh, which war against your souls; bearing witness in the world of another land, another God, another home.
So by faith we continue to walk, no less than Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendents. The only difference is they had a promise of One who was to come, while we have the promise of the One who has come. They wandered, waiting. We wander in the world, but our home is wherever Christ is. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come,” coming down out of heaven from God. So even with our homes, and our children, and our cities, we know that it is through Jesus, the seed of Abraham, that we have been blessed. We know that even so, God will bless the people in whose midst we find ourselves, as the promise still goes out from this place: God raised from the dead Jesus your Lord, who was delivered up for your trespasses and raised for your justification. This is your righteousness, even as it was Abraham’s. For now we journey on, but the day will come when, together with Abraham, we will find our wanderings at an end, and we will wake up in the Land of Promise, a new earth under a new heavens.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/18/14