Sermon

Genesis 12:1-4a

Go and Be Blessed

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Genesis 12:1-4a

Go and Be Blessed

The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel

May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Three years ago now this week, I was making my second trip to Eugene . Two weeks before Margit and I had been invited to come to Central Lutheran Church for an interview to be the pastor here. We had a delightful time staying at the bed and breakfast, being taken to dinner and driven around town, meeting people from the call committee and the church. I still remember the afternoon storm when strong in-line winds toppled Douglas firs and put much of this community in the dark. We found it quite ambient to dine by candlelight at one of your homes. I was quite impressed, coming from northern Minnesota , to find daffodils in bloom in February and the precipitation to be liquid rather than snow!

It is not so easy to move cross-country at fifty. Some of our friends back in Minnesota told us—”Don’t you feel young, starting over at this age?” Well, I don’t know if I have felt young in this move. I came here with brown hair and now it pretty gray. I’m not sure that uprooting and leaving friends and family and starting in a new place and position at fifty is the easiest thing to do. But at least fifty isn’t seventy-five! That is the age of Abraham when God called him to go with his wife and nephew from Haran in Mesopotamia to a new land. He did not know where he was going and did not have the luxury of visiting Canaan before he went. No one put them up in a lovely bread and breakfast or took them to dinner in the finest restaurants. Abraham simply heard God’s call to go:

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house

to the land that I will show you;” and he went:

so Abram went, as the Lord had told him.

Our first lesson text is bracketed by these simple and powerful sentences—God’s call to Abraham and Abraham’s obedient response.

In our pastor’s text study, one of the retired pastors said that as he has aged, he has become more aware of God’s personal call to him. When he was active in parish ministry and church work, he remembered that he was often so busy that he wasn’t so aware of what God was calling him to do. In retirement he takes more time to pray and reflect and discern God’s purpose for him. At the leadership conference that I recently attended, we were very much encouraged to take time for mediation, for that sort of prayer that listens to God rather than just talks to God, to read Scripture not to prepare for the next Bible class or sermon but again to ask what the words mean personally and to listen to what God is directing us to do through those words. We all need time to be with God and discern God’s purpose in our lives.

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If we look at our Genesis text in this personal and devotional way, we find that God is calling us to faith and trust in Him. At this point in ancient history, Abram was just like all the other pagans around. There is nothing in the Bible that says he was any different from anyone else—neither more rebellious nor more righteous. What we know of him before this point is that he and his wife Sarai and brother’s son, Lot, had gone with his father Terah from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran . This in itself was quite radical in the ancient world to move so far from one’s ancestral home and people. We know from archaeology that Ur was a great city with perhaps the highest cultural standard in the world—Abram may have been a nomad but was no backwoodsman.

But there was nothing so special about Abram and Sarai and Lot in themselves. This text is not so much a story about these three people but a story about God. God is the actor in this account. It is Yahweh, the Lord, who calls to Abraham and tells him to go and leave country and kindred and father’s house and to trust in God to show the way. Can we read ourselves into this text? Can we discern God’s call for us as individual people and as a congregation? I am convinced that God has a purpose for each person. God is calling each one of you to faith and trust in God and to live out that faith by doing what God intends you to do. God is calling us as a congregation to discern God’s will and to go and follow where God leads us.

How do you discern God’s will? Well perhaps you will hear the Lord calling to you as Abram did or Moses did or Samuel. Sometimes it seems God hits us over the head with a two-by-four to tell us to move on. At other times God is present in a still small voice rather than the earthquake or the fire or the wind.

Did God tell me in a dream to rise and move to Oregon or right it on the wall? No, but I hadn’t applied for this job nor did I seek to move here. I had simply met the interim assistant to the bishop of the Oregon Synod at a pastor’s conference in Minnesota , visited with her, and some months later I got a telephone call asking me to interview here at Central Lutheran Church . Meeting the call committee was just a delight. You folks on the call committee were just superb and I especially liked how you patterned the interviews—first having some social time with individuals and then the whole committee and finally having the formal interview. This way the words of the interview could be put into context with other conversations. Then came the hard work of prayer and discernment. Is this what God wanted for the congregation and for me? I am convinced that God had a purpose in calling me to Central Lutheran Church , to leave home and family and friends and move to Eugene .

How do we undertake discernment—for any decision, for finding out what God is calling us to do? Pray. Pray often and both ask and listen. Read the Scripture. Listen to intuition—oh my, this is so important because we can blind ourselves to what God is telling us! If something does not feel right, then perhaps it isn’t right. If we have any doubts about something being God’s will then perhaps it is not. And then talk to other Christians. Jesus promises to be with us and especially with the two or three or many who are gathered in His name. Ask for the prayers of others and listen to their advice. Sometimes other people can see things we cannot. And then after this time of discernment, we make a decision trusting in the Lord’s presence and blessing, realizing that God may not have just one will for us but can bless us in any number of decisions we make. God who promises to bring good out of evil can even use our wrong decisions for His glory and purpose.

God will bless us as individuals and a congregation as we seek to do God’s will. Our text is really about blessing for ourselves and other people. The word Barakah , “blessing,” is used in some form five times in this short text. As Abram follows God’s direction, God promises to make of him a great nation, to bless him and make his name great.

Some years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Hebron in the Holy Land . It was here that Abraham bought a cave to bury his dead, the cave of the Machpelah . Today it is a mosque for Muslim prayer that is also used on Saturdays as a synagogue. It was built as a crusader church. You walk through the darkness of the building and go down into the underground cavern. There you find a row of tombs—Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. Each is covered by a funeral pall. On the pall of Abraham’s tomb are words in Arabic: “This is the tomb of the prophet Abraham/ Ibrahim / may he rest in peace.” After 1967 when the Israelis captured Hebron , they added another inscription in Hebrew, Avraham Avinu , Abraham, our father.” When the Christian Crusaders conquered this region, they named it the Kingdom of St. Abraham .

Abram heard God’s call and he obeyed and he was blessed. Abram became Abraham, the “father of a multitude.” Out of all the people in the world, God called this one man and his wife and nephew to leave what was familiar and safe and go off to a new land and country, to form a new people, and they were promised a blessing. God fulfills the promises God makes. Today 2/3 of the people on this earth, Jews and Muslims and Christians, claim Abraham as their spiritual father. We look to Abraham as an example of faith. We are Abraham’s children through our faith in Christ, the descendent of Abraham and Son of the Living God. St. Paul , in our second lesson from Romans , makes it clear that it is the faith of Abraham in responding to God’s call that makes him righteous:

To one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly,

such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Abram was no more godly than any other nomad from Haran but God in God’s grace called him to form a new people, God’s own people. It was God’s grace that called Abram and God’s power that allowed Abram to respond. It is God’s grace that empowers us to go and follow God.

Finally it is important to see the point of God’s calling Abram and us. God calls and blesses us so that we might be a blessing. Abram is called to follow God so that all the families of the earth might be blessed. Our faith is not our private possession, nor does God want us to keep our blessing to ourselves. As individual people and as a congregation we are only obedient to God’s will when we reach out to other people This week we received a certificate from India Partners—Central Lutheran Church is an ambassador congregation for our support of the work in India. Next Sunday our mission team will report on their recent trip to Guatemala . This week I met with one of you to discuss a mission trip to Jamaica next year. Our young people are planning to build a house for poor people in Tijuana , Mexico this summer. We support benevolence here in Eugene and around the world with our gifts and tithes. We have been richly blessed for the purpose of being a blessing to others.

Go and follow God’s call. Be blessed. God promises to bless you when you follow in faith. Be a blessing to other people and fulfill God’s will for you. Go and be blessed, be a blessing. Amen.

—Copyright 2005, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.