Sermon, Sunday April 17, 2016, Easter 4C, Story Week 2,
Genesis 12:1-5, Psalm 33, Hebrews 11:8-9, Luke 3:7-9
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household 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.[a]
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.”[b]
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Like a weekly TV program needs to keep the audience in the story line, so we do with the greatest story ever told.
We have seen the ‘big bang” that God reveals himself as a personal God who wants to personally relate with his personally created creatures, especially the pinnacle of his creation, human beings.
The first humans cast a different vision of who they were and wanted to be. They wanted to be God and rejected God’s loving creativity in the process. This human disease of kicking against God and trying to take life in our own hands entered the human story.
Yet, God declared his total desire to pursue us and get us back to a loving relationship of peace – at great cost.
In the Story today, we discover that God decides to build a nation and through that new nation win us back to himself.
The main trust is that God builds a new nation to reveal God and God’s plan to get us back.
The People God Chooses
If you were going to build a nation that would be strong and that would last, who would you choose? Tall blond headed blue eyed strong members of the human race like someone once tried to do? Would you choose the artists, the tradies, the people on the land, the working people? Or would you choose the top thinkers, the high end mathematicians and designers and problem solvers? Would you choose people you could control like many a despotic ruler has done?
God chose people from Ur.
Ur was between the great rivers of the middle east, the Euphrates and the Tigris, where the once great city of Babylon existed. That tower was an extension of Adam and Eve: human beings climbing their way to heaven, trying to take God’s place. God limits the damage and saves the world from its insatiable appetite for self-worship and control of life. Languages and nations are scattered to the winds and weakened as a result.
But then God chooses to create a new nation in this area of the world. A different nation under a different leadership with a different goal and powered not by themselves but by the Creator winning the world back to himself.
A different Nation
God choose two seniors, Abram and Sarai to establish his vast nation. Very strange choice! They are very old. They are steeped in paganism. They are from families who worshiped pagan gods.
Whatever this new nation will be it will not be established or continued by human power and design. It is all God from the very beginning to it goal at the end.
Abraham, the “wandering Aramean” by faith in God’s word to him obeyed the voice of the Lord (Genesis 12:1-4a; Hebrews 11:8). He become the role model of faith for us all.
The Lord promises everything needed for a nation to be a nation:
- Numbers, fruitfulness, fertility
- A good reputation among other nations – respect in the international scene.
- His blessing on them and a reason to be a nation – not for self but to be the community through which the Lord would bless all communities.
- A few chapters later (Genesis 15) when this promises is stated again, the other crucial thing is added – a place, a land to live out of and fulfil their purpose.
Can you see God’s same heart on show here? All of this promise making is to bring his creation back to his garden – not “the garden of earthly delights”, but of delight in peace and loving kindness of the Creator.
God promises to work in this new nation to reveal his heart and his plan to win us back.
Turbulent times lay ahead, however, as the old problem of human beings taking matters into their own hands ensues. The results are painful.
In Genesis 16, 18, 22, Sarah proposes her own way to start the new nation. Sarah offers her younger worker, Hagar to Abraham and Ishmael is born. God still blesses Ishmael, but does not begin the new nation with Ishmael.
Abraham and Sarah, at 100 and 90 respectively, are promised their own child. Sarah laughs at this preposterous word of the LORD and the supernatural boy who is born to them is named Isaac which means “laughter.”
A Hard Test
In Genesis 18 God severely tests Abraham’s faith by commanding Abraham to offer Isaac, his one and only son, the son of the promise, as a sacrifice. This sounds familier to us! Remember, for the rejection of the Creator and all that is good by the first human being at the beginning, blood will be spilt to make things right. Someone has to pay the price for bringing us back to garden. We get a further sign of this here.
In Genesis 22, Abraham obediently responds believing that God could raise his beloved son to life from the dead (Hebrews 11:7). Little does he know what would happen long after this amazing act of faith up on the mountain…on another hill outside a city in another place and in a nearby tomb!
Isaac is spared and a ram is offered in sacrifice – the ‘sacrificial lamb’ in Isaac’s place. Centuries later another beloved Son will be sacrificed and is not spared (John 3:16). God will win us back at great cost to himself. But it also will take the faith of everyday people to trust him.
A Repeated Pattern of Grace
In choosing Abraham and Sarai to begin the new nation, God reveals a pattern that will be repeated over and over again in the Story of stories.
God chooses unlikely people to continue the effort to win all people back to his garden of peace and close friendship in community.
Why is this? Well, you have to be blessed in order to be a blessing. You need to be loved in order to be a lover. You need to be shaped by God’s word to be a person through whom the Creator brings God’s plans to fulfilment. And in the beginning and the end, it is all him and his goodness; his cost, his work which we are privileged to be a part of.
God is hidden in all of this. He has to hide himself in the opposites of what we want him to be because otherwise, with our ongoing disease of wanting to be God, we would take what he gives and take control of what he gives and take the glory for what he gives.
Just like he had to get Adam and Eve out of the garden not for his protection but for theirs – because God’s knowledge and life are far too much for human beings, so he has to hide himself in human beings that are much less then pristine, powerful or perfect.
This is bad news for the old Adam within that wants the glory and the rush of power and the satisfaction of control over life. It is very good news for those who simply want God and his life and love in their life and love.
You are the Story!
You have him and his love! God chooses people like you and me. God has chosen you to be in his beautiful garden of closeness and delight with him in your baptism.
The Lord has called you by your name and connected to you with all the other called ordinary people of God living with him in the ordinary but crucial things of life. God gives ordinary looking things that are his supercharged supernatural gifts of the Spirit to establish you, shape you, teach you, win you, keep you, love you.
You are part of this story of stories and we are part of this story of story and the story is still being written as we trust the Lord as Abraham trusted the Lord.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Chapter 2, God Builds a Nation
Timeless Truth: What sin changes, faith overcomes.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
“I will.” These are words of covenant commitment and promise spoken by a sovereign God to Abraham. God’s master plan to restore us to Himself gets a fresh start with these words. God is determined to fulfill His promise in spite of the frailties and failures of His people. God chooses to create a new nation through Abraham, revealing Himself to and working through this new community of faith. God promises Abraham saying “I will…”
- make your descendants into a great nation
• give this nation a land in which to dwell
- bless all other nations through the nation of Israel
And two thousand years later God’s Son was born, a descendant of Abraham, thus fulfilling the covenant promise.
This chapter demonstrates a striking duality: God using broken people to fulfill His unbreakable
promises. But on a day-to-day basis, God’s people continue to make bad choices that expose their ever-present sin nature. Abraham and Sarah, waiting for years for the child God promised, opt for a workaround to conceive an heir through Sarah’s servant, Hagar. Isaac and Rebekah raise a very dysfunctional family. Jacob perfects the “workaround method” by conniving and cheating his way through life.
But what sin changes, faith overcomes. In spite of their failures, God’s people respond in faith. Abraham picks up stakes and travels to a foreign land just because God said to. He gives his relative Lot the choice real estate, having faith God would still bless him. Abraham and Sarah, through laughter and tears, finally see God fulfill his promise through the birth of a son, Isaac. In a dramatic episode, Abraham shows he is willing to go so far as sacrificing his only son, Isaac, just because he trusts God. This foreshadows the willingness of God to do the same to his own Son. The key verse of the chapter is: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Therein lays the Gospel itself.
His family continues to demonstrate faith. By faith, Isaac finds a wife for his son. Jacob comes to faith after literally wrestling with God. By faith, Esau also shows Jacob grace and forgiveness. With every story, we are reminded that God works through flawed people who take steps of faith.
Icebreaker Question: Share a time when someone important in your life made a promise to you and kept it. Was there a time when someone failed to keep a promise? What was the result?
- Chapter 2 of God’s story opens with God calling Abram to make the sacrifice of leaving a comfortable life: homeland, friends, family and steady income. Describe an experience when God has called you to do something similar. What was required of you to obey His instructions? What were the results?
- God chose Abraham and his descendants to represent Him to others who did not yet know God. What parallels can you draw between Israel and the Church?
- Consider God’s interaction with each character in chapter 2 of The Story. What patterns can you identify? What do these patterns reveal about the character of God?
- Abraham serves as the example of justification by faith. Faith could be described as “trust in action based on God’s revelation.” Identify acts which demonstrate Abraham’s faith. What demonstrations of faith can you identify in your own life?
- Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for God to fulfill His promise of a child. Have you waited for a long period of time for God to act in a given situation? Are you waiting on something now? (Share the circumstance only if you are comfortable.) How might this example serve to encourage you? How can the group best pray for you?
- Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant, was treated harshly by Sarah, causing her to flee on two different occasions. What do you learn about God from observing His interactions with her?
- In Abraham’s culture, a name said a lot about someone’s character. God makes his relationship with Abram and Sarai official by making a covenant with them and changing their names to Abraham and Sarah. How has your character changed since your relationship with God began?
- Jacob said to Esau, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably” (p. 24). By showing grace to Jacob, Esau demonstrated God’s gracious character. To whom do you need to show grace?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights they wish to share.