"Go West, Old Man, Go West!"
A sermon based on Genesis 12:1-8
Sunday, March 20, 2011 – Lent 2A
In the mid-1800's Horace Greeley, an American politician and newspaper editor, spurred on expansion to the West dubbed, "Manifest Destiny," when he advised, "Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country."
In our text for this morning, God told Abram, whom he would later rename "Abraham," that Ur of Chaldeans was not a place to live in. The gods were many, the dust disgusting, and the morals were deplorable. So God told Abram, "Go West, old man, go West, to the land I will show you. Go west, old man, strengthened by my promises."
Listen now to the account of Abram's call from God. And learn how God calls us to do big things, just like he called Abram to do, and learn how God motivates us by big promises, just like he did for Abram. Genesis 12:1-8…
The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
4 So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
6 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. 7 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.
8 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.
I. God Calls Us to Do Big Things
"Pack up your stuff. Load it all up. It's time to leave behind all your family and friends. Time to leave behind all that is familiar and comfortable. Time to head West. We're moving… from Raleigh, North Carolina to a new home, about 4,500 miles away. We're going to Kenai, Alaska."
"Where's that, dad?" my son asked.
"Well, look here on this map. Here's where we are. Here's where we're going."
I still wonder how much my kids understood what I was telling them when I explained that dad had accepted a call to Kenai, Alaska. Did they really understand all that this big news I was telling them meant? Or did they just go along with it, trusting that mom and dad got it, mom and dad would still take care of them, so they'd be okay?
They might have a good idea of how Abraham must have felt when God broke the big news to him: "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go..." And before he could even ask, "Where's that, God?" God told him: "None of your business! Enough questions! Don't worry about all that!" Just, "Go to the land I will show you."
And how does Abram respond? "No way, God, not until I get a little more explanation as to what this is all about. At least, not until you tell me where I'm heading. Ungh, uh! I'm not going anywhere!" No! Verse 4 says, "So Abram left, as the Lord had told him…" That's it! No arguments. No questions. No hesitation. He just packed up his stuff and got moving.
And he was no spring chicken, either! Did you catch how hold he was? "Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran." I imagine that at seventy-five Abram was getting ready to settle down and enjoy his retirement, not relocate. And remember he couldn't just hop on a plane or even sit in a car. Most of his 800 to 900 mile move would be on foot! That's almost like walking the Iditarod Trail from Willow to Nome. And the environment could sometimes be just as harsh crossing the waterless desert on the way.
No wonder the author to the Hebrews sang Abraham's praise in Hebrews 11:8: "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." A hero of faith indeed!
Now you know that God calls us to do some pretty big things too, doesn't he? He might call you to pack up and move away from family and friends and move outside of Alaska or head off to college. Or he may not. He may not say "Go West!" or "Go South!" Maybe God's calling you to stay put and do some pretty big things right here. "Go home!" he may say. Or "Go to work!" Or "Go serve right where you are in life."
God has called you to be patient and loving, kind, and forgiving to the people in your life. And at times that might seem more difficult to do than moving a few hundred miles on foot. God has called you to work on your marriage and serve your spouse, to love your kids by training and instructing them, to forgive those who hurt you, to obey and honor your parents, and to work diligently and faithfully at your jobs. God has called you to do as Abraham did and to call on the name of the Lord, to worship him, to proclaim what he's done with others.
And often the routine, day to day tasks, the so-called "little" things of life that God calls us to do each day, are the more difficult challenges. We can't argue, "If God appeared to me and told me to move like he told Abraham, if God asked me to surrender my body to the flames, if God asked me to make some big and great sacrifice for him, I would surely obey him," and then ignore the "smaller" things he does call us to do for spouse, neighbour, child, parent, co-worker, and friend.
So when we compare our lives to Abraham and the great faith he had to blindly follow God's command, we clearly see how we've failed to sacrifice much smaller things than he did. We've failed to love God like Abraham did: more than country, more than family, more than nice homes… more than our comfort, more than our happiness, more than ourselves. We fail. And for such failures, we deserve no blessings, but only God's curses in our live and in the life to come.
And to be honest, so did Abraham. Bold as his faith was here, he didn't always show such an exemplary faith. And even those times that he did, it wasn't something he worked up in himself. So, how could Abraham have such a bold faith to go West even as an old man? How can we have such a bold faith to do the things God calls us to do? The answer is one and the same: Because of God's gracious promises…
II. God Motivates Us by Big Promises
The Lord had said to Abram… "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…"
Wow! Pretty cool promises, huh? I'm going to make you prosperous, famous, and rich. Anyone on your side will be share in your blessings and anyone who opposes you, (which literally in the Hebrew says, "whoever belittles you") will be cursed by God! In other words, Abraham would have God on his side and would be untouchable. How these promises must have strengthened Abraham as we ventured off into the unknown to follow God's call!
But that's not all God promised. God gave him so much more in the last phrase of his promises: "and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." But what did that mean? How would every person who would ever live be blessed through Abraham? God clarified the promise in Genesis 22:18 when he told Abraham, "through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed." The descendant of Eve that God promised would crush satan's head would come from Abraham's family tree. And Abraham understood that this is what the promise was really all about.
Jesus said in John 8:56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." And God said through Paul in our epistle lesson (cf. Romans 4:3), "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Romans 4:3) Abraham understood that he had God's protection and blessing, his love and favor, not because he was so good, but because God was so good to him. He relied on God's grace and he received God's blessings by faith in the promise.
Abraham could act with bold faith because of God's gracious promises to him—and especially because of the promise of the Savior. The author to the Hebrews explained why Abraham was so bold to act in Hebrews 11:9, "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Through the Savior that would come from his family tree, his sins were forgiven, and heaven was his. What big promises God made!
And you know that God has made promises that are just as big to you. God promises to bless you! Romans 8:28 says, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…" God promises that those who curse you will be cursed. Jesus said in Luke 10:16, "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me." And God promises the blessings of Abraham's offspring, the Savior of all nations, to you too. God said in Galatians 3:8-9, "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." The promise is for Gentiles, that is, non-Jews; for Gentiles like the Samaritan woman at well, for Gentiles… like us!
You see, God the Father told Jesus, "Go South, Young Man, Go South… to Jerusalem, to the cross, to suffer hell for these lost sinners!" And Jesus went south from Capernaum and Nazareth, through Samaria, to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, to the cross. Was it convenient to be mocked and ridiculed? Was it fun to be tortured and crucified? Was it easy to endure the hell of separation from the Father? Of course not!
But Jesus knew what was at stake: the salvation of every soul! The salvation of your soul! And as hard and difficult and painful as it was, God kept his promise out of love for you. Jesus took on the sins of the world with all of our guilt. He paid the penalty of hell that they earned.
And now, by faith, God credits all of Jesus' work—his perfect life, his innocent death—to us as our righteousness. We are forgiven for every time we've doubted God's promises or his love for us. We're forgiven for every time we've hesitated to follow his commands. We're forgiven for every disobedience and sin! And now we too look forward to "the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Through the Savior that came from Abraham's family tree, our sins are forgiven, and heaven is ours. What big promises God has made to us!
Now, these promises that God has given, the kindness he's already shown, the heaven that is ours right now, that we'll experience one day very soon… these all move us to love God above all else, more than country, more than family, more than nice homes… more than our comfort, more than our happiness, more than ourselves.
And God's gracious promises move us to eagerly serve him in thanks… in the big things and the small, to be patient and loving, kind, and forgiving to the people around us, to work on our marriages and serve our spouses, to love our kids and to forgive those who hurt us, to obey and honor our parents, and to work diligently and faithfully at our jobs, to do as Abraham did and to call on the name of the Lord, to worship him, to proclaim what he's done with others. For these are the things God has called us to do and strengthened and motivated by his gospel promises, we can do them. We will do them, for Jesus' sake, amen.