Text: Genesis 12:1-9
Would you do it? If God called you like he called Abraham – or Abram as he’s called in this story – would you do it? Would you go? Would leave your home, your family, and your hometown on the idea that God would lead you somewhere, but where that somewhere is….you have no freakin’ clue?
I’m not so sure I would.
Kelly and I were on our honeymoon in Quebec City, Quebec. And we had made plans to head to the battery and garrison, which is what we left of the old fort the French built. Our hotel was, according to my estimation, about a 15 minute walk, a fairly straight shot north. So we start walking, Kelly leading because she’s got a better sense of direction than I do. (Sorry guys, it’s true…women win that battle.) And as we’re walking, I realized a couple things: we’re on the wrong street, headed in the wrong direction, and the scenery looks nothing like the Old City, or the entrance to the battery and garrison.
So at this point I ask Kelly, “Do you know where you’re going?”
And she replies, “Yeah, to go see the battery and garrison.”
And I replied, “No we’re not; we’re going the wrong way; where the hell are you going?”
And on this day, I created the first fight of my marriage. And it was NOT good.
What I learned when it comes to getting to destinations, I like the direct, planned route. I like to know exactly where I’m going, and how long it’s going to take, and where each turn is gonna be. And knowing this about myself, I wouldn’t likely do it; I wouldn’t so inclined to follow God’s call like Abraham.
The idea of jumping right in, flying blind, not having a plan, giving up so much certainty and comfort to answer God’s call – I just don’t think I’d do it. Heck, my own call to being a pastor had more certainty than Abraham’s call in our story. And maybe you’re like me too….when it comes to responding to God’s call, the idea of flying blind….no thank you..
But you know what? I might do it and you might too – if there’s some assurance of what’s around the corner. You know, if we can assured that what’s on the other end of the journey is worthwhile. Maybe like a reward…..maybe that’s why Abraham answered God’s call so willingly. The blessing of a great name….becoming a great nation…..the blessing of the Promised Land.
This name might sound familiar to you: Joel Osteen. Maybe you’ve seen him on TV, or you’ve probably heard of his books: Your Best Life Now & Become a Better You. That big, toothy smile; the nice suit; the slicked back hair; the strong southern accent. Anyway, Osteen and his wife Victoria are controversial figures in Christianity – their basic message is this notion that God’s blessing is a reward for being faithful. And that blessing takes the form of material things: wealth, good family, nice home, cars, a better life…the “American Dream.” Their mantra: “God wants you to be happy; to be blessed with the life you’ve always dreamed of – the best life possible.”. Anyway, Joel Osteen’s wife caused quite a stir with a sermon she gave about a month ago. Here we’re her words:
“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God we’re not doing it for God — I mean that’s one way to look at it,” she said from the pulpit. “We’re doing it for yourself, because God takes pleasure when were happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning … just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy.” She added, “When you come to church when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.”
In other words, this whole Christian faith, following God thing, it’s about you. It’s about you making a life that makes you happy, because that what God wants. And for those that work at that, God certainly rewards them.
Now maybe you’re cringing at that; as Lutherans, we believe “it’s not about us.” We believe that it’s about what God does for us in Jesus Christ. We respond to God’s call because of the PROMISE of blessing, the promise of grace and forgiveness….and we’re free to answer that call.
But I wonder, as much as we scoff and make fun of people like Joel and Victoria Osteen….their church averages about 44,000 every week in attendance. Joel had two books open #1 on the NY Times Bestseller list, selling millions of copies. I wonder, while we and other Christians condemn their message that blessing equates to worldly prosperity….the truth is we and all of us secretly really, really like it. We like the idea of a reward for our faithfulness, for following God. And you know what? It makes responding to God’s call a whole lot easier if we know God’s dangling the happiness carrot at the end of our journey.
If that’s true, then this is really how the first two verses of today’s story should go: “Now the LORD said to Abram, “IF YOU go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. THEN I will make of you a great nation, and THEN I will bless you, and THEN make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
What does it mean to be blessed by God? In the Old Testament, blessing is traditionally less about the object of blessing as it is the promise of relationship with God. In this way, God calls Abraham to go, the way uncertain and at times difficult, challenging his faithfulness. But Abraham goes with the promise of blessing – the promise of God’s faithfulness, an enduring and everlasting relationship that will see us through to the end of all things.
And this blessing, it is so that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Responding and living into God’s call becomes a witness to others that God’s promise of blessing, the promise of relationship is for them as well. Or as I’ve said before, we are blessed….so that we might be a blessing to others. Blessing not about us. It’s not about becoming a better you and it’s not about God wanting us to simply be “happy” – whatever that means these days.
Blessing is about an enduring relationship with a God who takes us through the peaks and valleys of life; who stays faithful to us when we’re faithful and even more so when we’re not. It’s about a God who led Abraham and his family 350 miles on foot through the desert of present-day northern Iraq, over the mountains of Jordan, and to Israel. It’s about a God who remained faithful to Abraham even when he passed his wife Sarah off as his sister to save his own skin, and a God who remained faithful to the promise of a son, even when Sarah laughed in her lack of faith and trust at God for such a notion.
And such a notion of blessing…..maybe we can go after all…..we can be faithful, we can be church, we can tell others about this God, and we can be a blessing to others….even when we have no freakin’ clue what that looks like or how it’s going to work out. Amen.