Abram must have felt pretty lousy. They’d traveled a ways to get to Haran. It was his father’s idea in the first place.
And now, they’re all sitting around the on the deck, talking about the Dodgers and watching the hot dogs burn on the Weber grill Dad got for Father’s Day last year. Life has gotten pretty lousy in Ur.
Abram lost his job down at the plant. Terah, Abram’s father, has a case of gout that’s been keeping him up nights. The neighbors all seem to be moving on, pulling up stakes. The paint is starting to fade on the endless rows of shotgun houses; the grass is uncut; plywood begins appearing in an attempt to plug the gaping holes left by rock-throwing kids.
Terah, in the face of podiatric distress and escalating urban blight, sets down his PBR, snuffs out his Marlboro Red, turns to Abram and said, “We gotta get out of here.”
But Abram, unexcited as he is about living off unemployment checks, is a cautious man—a man not given to radical change. He finds the idea of moving on too painful to imagine.
Nobody would confuse the old home place with a palace, but it was the only one he’d ever known. When he’d gotten married, he anticipated it being a launching pad to a new and possibility-filled life.
Abram and Sarai were going to live in his folks’ basement a couple of years until they could save enough money for a down payment. Then they’d have some kids. Abram was going to coach t-ball, and Sarai longed to join the PTA.
But they met an enormous roadblock. After a few hundred dollars in early home pregnancy tests, and countless trips to the doctor, it became clear that they’d never have to worry about buying Baby Einstein videos. Sarai, as Genesis 11:30 tells us, was barren. Couldn’t have children.
That they can’t grow a family is an enormous psychological and economic blow in the Ancient Near East. They don’t know what to do. Fertility doctors are so expensive. And with Abram losing his benefits, and drawing only unemployment, they can’t seem to find any hope on the horizon.
So the paint begins to peel on their dreams. Not much to do with those dreams now but box them up and drop them off at the Goodwill on the way home from the Unemployment Office.
Maybe they should go. Lord knows staying here is probably easier … but then again …
Still, it’s hard to leave the place that gave birth to those wild ambitions. It may not be much, but it’s all they’ve ever known. Then, Terah, pipes up and says, “We should go.”
And I can imagine Abram and Sarai’s response. “I’m not sure that’s such a great idea, Pops. Things aren’t spectacular here, but at least we know we can survive. Out there … I mean, who knows?”
But go they do. They drained the water bed, packed a few cans of Beanie-Weanies, loaded up the old Chrysler Town and Country, and like the millions of sojourners who would one day also pull up stakes to seek a new start, they headed off into the unknown.
But along the way, Terah dies. Abram feels pretty lousy. Out here on the road, all their stuff packed up in a squeaky Uhaul trailer, like the Joads on a trek to California, a long way from home.
Our text says that God spoke to Abram. You’d think that God might be a bit more sympathetic—I mean, since it was God’s idea in the first place and all.
But it’s clear that God has never taken any pastoral counseling classes. If God had, Abram might have heard something like, “I’m so sorry. You’ve been asked to do too much. You need the safety and security of what you know. Go back home. See if the realtor’s had any bites on the old place, and if not, move back in. Regroup. Settle back in. Something’s bound to turn up. Because staying out here is way too risky.” Pastoral care is often more about helping people to feel comfortable, about preparing them for more failure … than about preparing people for the new adventure God has in mind.
But God skipped Pastoral Counseling in seminary. God says, “Go,” and not, “Go back.”
God says, “Go from. Get up. Take off. Quit sitting there pondering the way things might have been if only you’d gotten a few breaks. Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. Just go.”
“I don’t know. We usually like to play things a bit closer to the vest. You know … hedge our bets. Just where is this land anyway?”
And God says, “I’ll let you know when you get there.”
That’s it. No Google Maps. No Yelp recommendations. No Expedia. Just GO!
“But why should we do this?”
God says, “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.”
When backtracking, finding the comfortable surroundings of his hometown sounds like the sanest thing to in the world, what does Abram do?
God says, “Go.”
And Genesis says, “So he went.”
Don’t you find that peculiar? Faced with a choice between a past he knows and the promise of a future he can’t quite wrap his head around, Abram throws up his hands and walks into the unknown.
We who live in a world beset by a whole caravan-load of problems ourselves—problems that make the future just as uncertain for us as it was for old Abram—we understand how difficult a choice he must have had. With the fate of healthcare for millions of people up in the air, with questions about Russian interference in our elections, with the fate of millions of immigrants and refugees in doubt, with charges of wiretapping by one president against a former president we know that the future is much more unstable than we’d anticipated.
Heck, since the Cubs won the World Series, I think we all need to be open to the possibility that the Apocalypse is much closer at hand than even the Left Behind guys feared.
No. Like Abram and Sarai, we know a thing or two about the uncertainty of the future.
Out of the barren wasteland comes a voice. But whose voice is it, and where is it telling Abram to go?
How’s he supposed to get there?
How is it possible for him to be the father of a great nation, when he can’t even coax a tiny baby from his wife’s womb?
How will he bless all the nations of the world when he knows himself that he’s just a nobody a long way from home?
For all Abram knows, these are just words, words he can’t make sense of, words he can’t verify, words he can’t even conceive. He can’t prove any of them. A disinterested bystander might reasonably try to dissuade him from listening to them at all. After all they’re just words, right?
And seriously, what kind of lunatic listens to still small voices anyway?
Nevertheless, Abram gets his wife, his nephew, and his stuff together and heads out toward the great unknown. He has no idea where the words may lead him.
But still he walks.
He walks in the faith that the place to which the words call him is a new place created for him, and that it’s infinitely better than the shotgun shack with the galley kitchen and flaking plaster he left behind in Ur.
He walks in the faith that the womb of his childhood sweetheart, though it be dry as dust, will flower in the spring—not because he understands the biology of it anymore than he understands the rest of it, but because the words that come to him in the still of the night paint a picture of a world filled with children, and birthday parties, and endless reruns of Dora the Explorer.
He walks in the faith that somehow through the faith he walks in the world will be changed in ways that will be impossible if he just stays home and does his crossword puzzles and watches Wheel of Fortune.
He hears, but he cannot see. But still he walks.
Where does that kind of courage come from? You know what I mean, right? What kind of store do you have to go to to pick up the econo-size box of audacity that will allow you to launch out into the unknown, with only the knowledge that doing so is a risk that might blow up in your face?
You could play it safe, of course. Nobody would really blame you. But somehow you know that to do so is to turn your back not only on who you are, but on the kind of world you almost don’t even dare to imagine is possible—but from which you can’t afford to avert your gaze, for fear that it will all just disappear.
You see your next door neighbor from Afghanistan, the guy who makes the best brisket in the neighborhood. You see the pain in his eyes when his nine year-old comes home with a tearstained face … again.
Sitting around the table, elbow deep in sweet potato casserole and cranberry relish, you see how your lesbian sister shrinks at Thanksgiving dinner when aunt Lucille starts in, asking all the nieces when they’re finally (for the love of all that’s holy) going to find a good man. But the worst part is, you look over at your mom, and she’s nodding enthusiastically. You see your sister cringe once again in her private pain.
You see the little Mexican girl peeking through her window as you drive down your street. It’s 8:30 in the morning. “Why is she not in school?” you wonder. Then you happen to see her mother quickly shooing her from view. After the child is gone, the mother creases her brow and scans the street for the infamous black van that threatens to tear her world apart.
We see these things all around us. The terror and the pain, the injustices that unmake whole worlds. We see the addiction, the bigotry, the isolation, the poverty, the depression, the racism. But venturing out into all of that, getting our hands dirty, blisters on our feet from walking alongside those on difficult paths seems unimaginable. Things are, if not perfect, then at least comfortable enough right where we are.
But maybe God’s calling us to set out on a journey from the only home we’ve ever known—to go to foreign lands, where people don’t speak our language, where the customs and the things people take for granted as “real” and “possible” are different, where the road is treacherous and uncertain—foreign lands that exist just down the street for us, or on the other side of town.
If we stay in Ur, if we choose only that which we know, then the world where others don’t have the luxury of comfort and certainty may continue to deny justice and peace to our neighbors.
If we choose the Barcalounger over listening to the voice of God, then the world will have lost a chance to be blessed by us. And that will be a huge loss, because we are a gift God gives not just to our family and friends, but to the whole world.
Here’s the problem Abram faces: He can stay where he is—in a barren and hopeless … but safe place—or he can follow God’s voice and venture out into the unknown.
Following God’s voice is risky. What if he misheard or misunderstood?
For Abram, though, the only way to find God’s blessing is to risk everything and go. If he goes, not only will he find blessing for himself and the family he hopes one day will be his, but the whole world will be blessed through him.
And we, who stare into our own beclouded future, God maybe is busy calling us, too. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house. Go from the safety of the world you know, from the security of the land you now inhabit, from the familiar, the sheltered, the protected. Gather yourselves and get moving. I’ve got work for you to do. I have a place for you to live. I have blessings to give you, people for you to bless. I know it’s a risk, but, the way I run things, there are no blessings without risks.”
But where, O God? Where are we to go?
“I’ll let you know when you get there. Just start moving. Because the land that I will show you, while it may seem foreign and odd and threatening, is the land you need—the land that needs you. Trust me.