Thursday, 26 September 2013

Sermon on Genesis 12:1-9



Introduction

During my sabbatical over the last three months I’ve been able to do a lot of travelling.  First to Wales on retreat, then to Suffolk to spend time with the Mission to Seafarers.  Then I flew to Malaysia where I spent time with two churches, one in Klang near Kuala Lumpa, and then in Ipoh in the north of the country.  Then during August I drove with the family to Poland, and then to Italy, before returning to the UK and finishing my sabbatical with another retreat this time in Northumberland. 

I love travelling, visiting new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures.  But at the time of booking my flight to Malaysia I had no idea where I would be staying, what churches I would be visiting, or even if anyone would be meeting me at the airport.  I found this rather stressful, and had visions of stepping off the plane in an unfamiliar country, with no idea where to go or where to stay.  I had to trust that the Bishop of West Malaysia who was organising my placements would have everything arranged before I was due to fly out, which much to my relief it was!

Imagine then how Abram must have felt when he was called by God to leave everything behind and travel to a far off country.  Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show yousays the Lord.  Abram was stepping into the unknown.  He was leaving everything that was safe and familiar, his home, his friends, his country, his people, to journey to an unknown land.  At 75 years old, Abram could be forgiven for looking forward to a quiet retirement in his home city of Harran, not setting out of this great adventure. 
Put yourself in Abram’s position for a moment.  How do you think you would feel if to uproot yourself and leave everything behind, and travel into the unknown? 

Sadly we live in a world where there are many people who don’t have to imagine what this is like.  The United Nations High Commission For Refugees said that at the end of 2012 there were 15.4 million refugees around the world.  Conflict and persecution forced an average of 23,000 people per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their own country or in other countries.  There are around 6.5 million internally displaced people in the world –people who have been uprooted and displaced within their own country.  Much attention is of course focused on the crisis in Syria, but refugees can be found all around the world. 

For Abram however, it was not war or conflict that prompted to leave his home, but a call from God.  

Listening To God

It’s not clear how Abram received his call, whether God spoke clearly to him one day, or whether he had a growing sense that this was what God wanted him to do.  But what is clear, is that Abram had cultivated the habit of listening for God’s voice and obeying it.
Listening to God, and discerning what God is calling us to do can be challenging.  The reason many of us feel God doesn’t speak to us, is because we have not developed the habit of listening to him. 

When I am waiting to hear the voice of God, I want God to speak clearly and powerfully, so I am not left in any doubt that it is God that I am hearing.  But God rarely shouts to us, instead he whispers softly.

This is the lesson Elijah learnt when he was on the mountaintop (1 Kings 19:11-18) waiting to hear God’s voice.  As he waited he experienced a great wind, an earthquake and a mighty fire, but God wasn’t in any of those, instead God spoke to him in the stillness and silence.
If we want to hear God’s voice, rather than expecting God to shout to us from across our busy lives we should hunger for the Holy Spirit’s quiet whisper in our ear.  You can only hear a whisper when you’re standing next to the person you’re talking to, so that your ears and their mouth are intimately close, and I think that is why God whispers to us today. He wants us to make time in our busy lives to draw close to Him, He wants us to approach Him daily so that we can hear and recognise that intimate whisper as God’s voice, and then respond in obedience.
Trusting God

Abram hearing God’s call, responds in faithful obedience.  It was a response that was based on love and trust.  Although Abram was venturing into the unknown, he trusted that God would not fail him.  He knew that whatever challenges or obstacles, dangers or threats he would face, God would be there for him, and help him to overcome them. 

Trust is essential for any healthy relationship to flourish and grow, and the same is true for our relationship with God.  When God calls us to something new, we need to know we can trust him. 

When Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus on the water, he was fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus.  It was only when he took his eyes off Jesus, that he began to sink.  We need to look to Jesus, and place our faith in him.  The theologian Karl Barth said “To hold to God is to rely on the fact that God is there for me, and to live in this certainty.” 

Despite Abram’s age, and the fact that his wife Sarai could not have children, Abram trusted that God would fulfil his promise to make him into a great nation, to bless him with land and descendants, for he knew that what with man is impossible, with God is possible.  That is why Paul in Romans writes that Abram “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:20-22)

God’s Plan

When Abram received God’s call, he also received the promise that God would bless him.  But this was not just a blessing for Abram and his family alone.  The blessing was for the whole world.  God said “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).  This promise was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus, who was a direct descendant of Abraham. 
When God calls us, and blesses us, it isn’t for our own sake, so that we feel good, happy or comfortable, God blesses us in order that we may bless others. 
There is an old hymn which has as its chorus these words:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

The blessings that we enjoy from God, of life, love, the Holy Spirit, the right to be called children of God, forgiveness, mercy, grace, eternal life, are given to us so that we may in turn bless others.  No wonder Paul declared "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ"  (Ephesians 1:3). 

The more we share the blessings we have received from God, the more God blesses us.  Jesus said “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Conclusion

Just as God called Abram to journey with him to a new land, so God still looks for people who will get to know His voice and do what He says.  Just like Abram, God’s desire is that YOU have a personal relationship with Him, and know Him in such a way that YOU will want to obey Him in everything!

Through faithful obedience to God’s call Abram discovered, and you can discover too that truth and obedience releases the heart and hand of God to use YOU, to bless YOU, your family, loved ones, community, nation and every nation on the earth!  As we walk in faithful obedience to God, we see the power of the Gospel released in and through our lives and the Church to impact every nation on earth.