Everybody, everywhere, all at once doesn’t sound like an exaggeration when it’s your zip code, your neighborhood, your family. The call that instigated Abram’s leaving home was compelling. One doesn’t pack up a portion of their family and head toward a random destination without there being some hint of hope that where they are headed is better than the horror they presently know as home. This isn’t a parody of someone’s misadventure, it’s happened before. It’s happening again.
Like the first couple, we doubt God’s provision and desire to be more godlike than the reflection of holiness humanity was created to be. Like Cain, we allow jealousy to skew our perspective into thinking that another’s good fortune has to mean less is available for ourselves.
The choices seem insignificant, at least compared to the consequences, but the circumstances escalate: Adam and Eve ate themselves out of house and home; Cain, in jealousy, took out his brother, which resulted in him being sent into the first witness protection plan (some of you will get that later).
Following their lead, Lamech responds to being wounded with murder and expects grace without repentance. Reciting the sound bites camouflages an important thread, because eventually each one named here responds with humility to a divine promise. Eve, who claimed the godlike status of creator at the birth of her first son, acknowledges the gift from God of her third son. Cain, the elder brother who despised his younger sibling, accepted God’s gift of social security so he could safely walk the byways among a people randomly practicing capital punishment. Even Lamech recognized the great wickedness among humanity, and said, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” [Genesis 5:29] “This one” being his son Noah, whose name means “rest.” Even after the restoration of the flood, each generation’s inclination toward evil escalated. In hindsight, total destruction may seem excessive, but from the vantage point of the creator of life, murderous jealousy, ongoing acts of violence, and unmitigated immorality require a response.
We’re following the canonized headlines which record the migration of multitudes of people groups. Academics like myself will focus in on their defined status, their distinct origins, and the diversity of cultures. But around the dinner table, someone’s going to reflect upon their circumstances - cataclysmic climate disasters, rising death tolls, sweeping communication failure - society suffering a major dismantling just as it appeared they had found a bit of unity, a common cause, a possibility of nonpartisanship. We have a purpose and a plan; we need everyone to participate. Eventually, someone recognizes that their unity actually requires uniformity, their projects promote peculiar progress, their gains sideline God’s good, and remaking a name for themselves, in actuality, compromised their intrinsic worth. Confusion as they mitigated merging cultures that they did not understand. Desperation as they sought others whose dialect resembled their own. These headlines described their attitudes as arrogant, wanting to make a name for themselves.
Whether dynamic directors, or energetic execs, or governing generals - when human leadership displaces the creator God, we should expect a divine intrusion. Like the signature pan of a Spielberg camera, God will respond to vengeful murder, societies that ignore their poor, systems of inequity designed to disenfranchise those we other, and the idolatrous disregard for the divine code for conduct toward Creator and Creation. God will intervene, and it is now that God speaks.
Compelled to leave their home in what is now southern Iraq, the family embarked on a 600-mile journey resettling temporarily in what is now southeastern Turkey. After his father’s death, they received a world-changing promise. [Genesis 12:6] Now, some four hundred miles along that journey, while sitting under a camp one day by a great oak, God appears; and again, God speaks.
Later, Scripture will clarify that no human can see God and live. So, most scholars conclude the visitations were likely an angelic vision or human form. [Exodus 33:20] It suggests a different encounter. Like Adam and Eve before him, and Moses after him, Abram walked and talked with God. The two fellowshipping together under the stars, perhaps in the cool of the mornings, rehearsing the reality of the moment, proposing possibilities for the future; it’s what friends do when they trust one another genuinely, honestly, with their hopes and with their horrors. And when God speaks, Abram hears. He hears comforting, covenantal words. He hears a promise. It’s the first such appearance with these kinds of words that are mentioned in the Torah. [Gifford, Kathie Lee; Sobel, Rabbi Jason. The God of the Way (p. 7)]
An incredible promise: Abram, a childless man in a society where your future is dependent on the provisions of your sons, has already left his father, his family. But he has a divine promise for his future. A future that will impact every people group around the world.
God’s concern for one that we read about here is always about the many. Abram and Sarai, like Noah before them, are only slightly distinguishable from their neighbors. What makes them different is their willingness to extend hospitality. What makes them different is their willingness to try a new thing if it promises to recover God’s original intention for the cosmos. What makes them different is their willingness to believe in and to trust God.
This is the God who contributed character to clay and offered humanity life. Commissioning humanity to inhabit the earth, God has provided land and nourishment and purpose. But the temptation to make a name for ourselves is as great now as it was then. Rather than be called divine facsimiles, we modify our identities with nation and notoriety, position and prosperity, desirable and divergent. And just when humanity designs a plan to unify, it begins by displacing God.
The God who walked in the garden with humanity is assigned a position of distant deity in the heavens. The Creator who provides the luxuries of life is accused of holding out on us. The One who is the source of all that is is disregarded, disobeyed, and diminished. But God is not a figment of the human imagination to be replaced by the ideologies of ethics, economics, or ecology.
So, just when humanity discovers an alternative agenda for the survival of some, God reestablishes a covenant for the cosmos. God calls Abram and Sarai in order to save God’s universe. God’s messengers deliver an incredible promise to Abram. They are given a responsibility, not just a resource. God intends to bless all the world through Abram. But the program will not be a setting for the next action movie limiting the special effects to human hospitality.
Abram’s descendants will demonstrate the character of God with such a compelling peculiarity, humanity will be restored to bear the image of God in the flesh. This is incredible, not because God returns to the original design of creation, it’s incredible because Abram is an old, childless man. Any adult who desires to be a parent gets this. Not wanting to make a name for themselves but desiring to create a community who share a heritage and a hope, a heritage that enables one to tell the stories of their ancestors with honor, a hope that things for the next generation will genuinely be better than it has been for the previous one. Except for that to be true will require one to take responsibility. Children don’t raise themselves, at least they don’t do so well. And since I don’t have children of my own, I know this because being the fun auntie is less responsibility than being the ever-present parent. Abram and Sarai are given a responsibility, a responsibility that will affect all humanity because God is making a promise to all the world, a promise of hope, a promise of happiness, a promise of health, a promise of wholeness. It’s an incredible promise. It’s incredible because this is God loving the world.
Jesus didn’t get the idea of God loving the world in the New Testament two thousand years ago. This has always been God’s intention for the world. God, from the very beginning, has been forming a people with whom God’s spirit so evidently abides that the world takes notice of the character of a good God. And that’s an incredible promise.
So, Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired, and they went toward the place God promised.
And we know this promise because it’s our family story. Whenever we gather around the dinner table, the table that Jesus offered as a preview of the banquet that God plans when creation returns to that promised land of flourishing where every nation, every tribe, every tongue will once again know that God is and God is good and God hasn’t given up on the world. So, we tell this story around a dinner table where we reflect on the circumstances of this promise - an incredible promise. And it’s incredible especially when we look toward it today, so many millennia later. One would like a promise made by the Creator of the Universe to be more quickly fulfilled. You think God would understand the urgency of time. We humans may be created in the image of God, but patience is not perfectly replicated in the flesh.
What God was doing would not always make sense. It wouldn’t make sense to Abram’s natural mind. It doesn’t make sense to ours. But Abram, when we record his story, demonstrates a faith that did not waver because he trusted and rested in God’s faithfulness. He trusted and rested in God’s timing. A God whose timing in our lives is one of those things that often trips us up when we are waiting for God to show up, and we ask questions of where is God and why are the things happening that are happening.
I don’t have time today to finish their story, but you’ve heard enough of their story to know what, in the midst of our questions, the family dinner table tells us: keep trusting God. The family dinner table conversations acknowledge our circumstances – that things are still broken – that the world is still trying to make a name for itself. But we have a heritage, a heritage and a hope. And when we get it right, we are the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. We are those who, when we are a blessing to the world, the world will know that God loves the world because God has shown up in a people who follow in the flesh God made known in Jesus.
We are the people called Christ-like because we offer hope, we offer hospitality, we demonstrate what faithfulness that honors God looks like. And the world around us is truly blessed.