Scripture: Genesis 12:1-4a
We all have gone or are going on a journey - an act of traveling from one place to another. What kind of journeys have you experienced? (road trips, school, self discovery, grief, faith)
We often think of journeys as these epic trips - when in fact the root of the word comes from a Latin meaning of “a day’s work.” Each day is a journey from sunrise to sunset, from the alarm clock to the bedtime story. From the most mundane of journeys, like a regular day, to the most epic of journeys, like a cross-country roadtrip or a lifetime faith exploration, our journeys have ups and downs, expected and unexpected turns, joys and sorrows.
And that’s what our covenant exploration is about today: God calling us to and pledging to be present in our journey.
It’s our 2nd Sunday in Lent and this year we are reading about the different covenantal stories in the Bible. A covenant - a self-giving pledge to another - as opposed to a contract - an “eye for an eye” agreement. God makes covenants with the people, not contracts.
Today, we read a small snippet from the story and covenant with Abram, whom we often know as Abraham. As happens in biblical stories, sometimes people’s names are changed through experience. In this case, Abram means “exalted father, high father” and Abraham means “father of many,” which tells a piece of the story, as this man becomes a father to a multitude.
These verses start the story of God calling Abram to leave all that is familiar to him - not only his house, but his friends and his land and his country! God asks Abram to pack up and start a journey - without telling him where the end point is. That is bold! Most journeys I’ve started have had some sort of end goal in mind, even if it changes during the journey.
God pledges in this calling of Abram to journey with him. “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."
God pledges to be with Abram through the ups and downs, the expected and the unexpected, the joys and the sorrows. This is God’s major covenant with the people. E. A. Speiser says it well: "Abraham's journey to the Promised Land was thus no routine expedition of several hundred miles. Instead, it was the start of an epic voyage in search of spiritual truths, a quest that was to constitute the central theme of all biblical history" (Genesis, The Anchor Bible).
Think of what God has already journeyed through with humans at this point - humans being created in the beautiful garden and then trusting the words of a snake; the flood (which we read last week) and then a re-start of humanity; the tower of Babel where humans were pooling their intelligence to try to achieve divinity and then God tumbling that down and introducing diverse languages. God is already going through the turbulent journey of humanity - this pledge makes it official and, additionally, God says that from Abram a family, a people, will grow and flourish.
God hasn’t and will not give up on the people. God will journey with the people through ups and downs, which is how I read the line “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you?” At first read, that line seems to describe a “tit for tat” attitude, which is not the God I know, yet this is the pledge given to Abram. When I read that line and couple it with the teachings of Jesus that I know where he says “you have heard it say but I tell you...,” then I know that God is not a “tit for tat” God.
To me, this line, this verse reiterates that God will be with Abram and the multitudes to follow in all the blessings and curses, the ups and downs, the expected and unexpected, the joys and the sorrows.
And Abram needed that pledge from God because he was about to face three very common fears: ignorance, inclusion, and impossibility. (Journey with Jesus website)
First, he was ignorant of where he was going or how he would get there or who he would meet or anything else.
Second, he was going to be a stranger wherever he went - leaving his home country - and, therefore, relying on others to include him and his mindset needing to include others. He would face a need for much inclusion.
Finally, he was facing the impossible of being a “father of many,” as he was 75 years old and his wife of similar age. (For those of you here 75 or older, what would you think if God said you’d begin a family?)
Abram’s journey may have had much excitement at the beginning, and it definitely had much fear. Ignorance. Inclusion. Impossibility.
And so, I’ll return to that question posed at the start of the message: what journey(s) have you been on, what journey are you currently on? How do you see God journeying with you through the ups and downs? Where do you see the same fears that Abram faced (ignorance, inclusion, impossibility) in the journey? Are you wanting to shout to God “are we there yet?!?”
Knowing the conversations that I’ve had with many of you, I know you are facing journeys. Grad school. Parenting. Careers. Book-writing. Spiritual growth. We can be encouraged from Abram’s journey and how he was willing to start the journey - not knowing exactly where it would lead - and how his journey was certainly not perfect.
And how about our journey - as a church community? We are on a collective journey - a journey to grow in our spirituality and service. God pledged to Abram that he would bring a family forth from him; as Christians, we are a part of Abram’s family. What ups and downs do we face together? For those who have been members here many, many years, you have certainly journeyed through a lot of changes together. As a church, how can we address fears of ignorance, inclusion, or impossibility? How can we have the conversations needed to keep moving forward?
Just like any other family - biological or chosen - we are made up of imperfect people and, thus, our journey will be imperfect and messy. It will have lows and it will have highs! We need to trust in God showing us the way when we need it. We need to remain open to including those who are strangers to us. We need to remember that what we see as impossible, God may have a way of making possible.
As we reflect on the journeys we travel in life and how God is present with us, I think an insight from Rashi, an 11th century French rabbi well-known for his commentary, is so helpful (https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/judaism/2000/11/birth-of-a-covenant.aspx). He notes that the Hebrew root word which is vaguely translated “go forth” really has a nuance of “go for yourself” or “go to yourself” in it. When we respond to a call from God to journey, we are journeying “to ourselves”. It is when we work to align our journey with God’s will - with God’s justice, God’s love, God’s wisdom - that the covenant relationship really comes alive. It’s not for our own selfish good - but for a greater good of God’s family.
No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, God is with you. Amen.