We are in the midst of a very strange time in the life of Trinity Christian United Church of Christ. We have been looking forward to May 28 for many, many months. Today was the day we planned to celebrate both Pentecost and confirm the 7 young people who have been preparing all year to Confirm their baptisms. And, then, starting a week and a half ago, disaster struck. Our choir members, who were joyously preparing for our annual “Music Sunday” began to fall ill with Covid-19. By this Tuesday, 8 members of our congregation had active Covid infections. Our Consistory decided to delay the Confirmation celebration to June 11. We couldn’t imagine proceeding while families of some of the class members were ill.
I decided to hold off on our annual Pentecost commemoration – We will have a delayed Pentecost celebration simultaneously with our Confirmation service on the 11th.
Instead, today we turn to the scripture that is suggested to be used in the liturgy on June 11. One of the things I learned from my Confirmation mentee over the past few months is that she thinks I don’t focus on the Old Testament enough in our worship services. Therefore, we are going to turn to the calling of Abram, when he was invited to worship and believe in our God and to stop practicing the polytheistic faith of ancient Babylon. Please turn with me to Genesis, chapter 12, verses one through nine:
Proclamation of the Scripture Genesis 12:1-9
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
Here ends this reading of the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Prayer of Illumination
Amid the distractions of these days, give us undivided hearts and attentive minds, O God.
Settle us with your Holy Spirit so that we might listen for your truth, and discern your guiding Word.
Message The Call of Abram
Abram is the forefather of the followers of God. He made the first human covenant with God. When Abram agreed to follow God, God agreed to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation who will be blessed throughout the earth. After the Covenant with God was agreed upon, God renamed Abram Abraham, so I will refer to him by his more familiar name. Things got a little weird for Abraham – many chapters of the Old Testament are devoted to describing the adventures of Abraham’s life – he was nomadic and travelled throughout the Middle East, he spent time in Egypt and got in the crosshairs of the Egyptian Pharaoh, he had to part ways from his loyal nephew Lot, he dealt with the challenges of his wife’s infertility, and he eventually became the father of sons who became the founders of three major world religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
While Abraham travelled around the Middle East, he worshipped God and devoted his life to God’s teaching and instruction. He was a herdsman, so Abraham, his entourage, and his flocks would migrate to new grasslands and allow his herds to graze. At each place he stayed for extended periods of time, Abraham built an altar where the family would worship God. In our reading this morning, Abraham built an altar at the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem.
What advantage did Abraham derive from committing to follow God? Abraham lived in a time period when people often couldn’t count on survival. Whole families were wiped out by plagues, illnesses, and warfare. In the grand scheme of humanity, agriculture was a relatively new experiment, and a crop failure could lead to the starvation of an entire community. Abraham’s family was also at risk form powerful warlords and king’s armies; diseases that could have killed his flocks of sheep and goats; and communicable diseases like measles, tuberculosis, cholera, dysentery, and whooping cough. We still have these diseases but we have antibiotics and we know about infection reducing strategies like hand washing and treating our water. Abraham didn’t have those advantages. When Abraham made his covenant with God, he was ensuring that his lineage would continue forever, and that he would become the “pater familias” of all humanity.
Abraham was very committed to God – his commitment is something for us to imitate and admire. He didn’t just have a relationship with God one-on-one – Abraham encouraged his wife Sarah to believe in God, his nephew Lot to follow God, his wider family to follow God, and his servants to follow God. Abraham’s whole family accepted the faith of Abraham. We also have a special responsibility to work to share our faith with our family members. We know that each person must choose for themselves what they believe, but we encourage our family members to follow God as well. We feel particular pressure to share our faith with our children – many faithful parents work to encourage their kids to also follow God. In a few weeks, now, we will have our Confirmation service and will delight in the commitment of our newest, youngest official church members when they profess their faith in God and chose to join the church.
Abraham trusted God even when it seemed like God’s promises were impossible. In a few weeks, we will read the scriptures focused on Sarah’s infertility. Sarah was much too old to become pregnant. Yet, God had promised Abraham as many descendants as stars are in the skies. Abraham trusted God. Eventually, God came through – Sarah became pregnant and Isaac was born. But, this was a miracle. And, then, when Isaac was a young man and had not had his own children, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac’s life – this sounds crazy to us, but at that time period in the Middle East, many religions practiced human sacrifice. Fortunately, God stopped Abraham from harming his son – but Abraham trusted God so much that he believed God’s promise to fill the world with Abraham’s descendants even when that promise seemed impossible. Yet, we are followers of an Abrahamic faith – everyone who believes in God, be us Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, is a descendant of Abraham. So, God’s promise was trustworthy and true.
Abraham trusted in God’s plan even though it was inconvenient for Abraham. Abraham was from Ur, an ancient Babylonian city. The distance from Ur to Haran, where Abraham travelled in today’s scripture, was 600 miles. Imagine travelling that far on foot. It would take ages. Next, God sent Abraham to Shechem – 400 miles on foot. Then, Abraham travelled from Shechem to Bethel – a lowly 20 miles. And, then from Bethel to Egypt – a mere 225 miles. Then back to Bethel, another 225 miles. And then to Mamre, which is now Hebron – 35 miles. And, finally from Hebron to Hobah, which is near Damascus, 160 miles away. In the years that Abraham was sent on journeys by God, Abraham and his family and his servants and his flocks walked 1665 miles…1665 miles on foot. I am exhausted if I walk 5 miles. Abraham’s faith was so strong he went wherever God directed him to go. Abraham’s faith was so strong he followed God’s inconvenient, exhausting, and possibly frustrating instructions. God promised Abraham his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, the land that would become the Holy Land. And, even though Abraham didn’t get to spend much of his life there, he trusted God’s promises, he trusted God’s plan.
As followers of God, we should work to be like Abraham. We should share our faith with others, including our family members. We should trust God even when it seems like God’s promises are impossible….as the Angel Gabriel reassured Mary when she found out she was pregnant with Jesus “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And, we should trust God when it is inconvenient….sometimes being a follower of God isn’t easy, but God’s gracious love for us will sustain us throughout our lives, will sustain us in our times of trial and our times of job. Let us work to be like Abraham, trusting God in all we do.
May we do so today and all days. Amen.