‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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…’
It seems you cannot get the full import of God’s amazing promise spoken, heard, and obeyed here at the start of chapter twelve of Genesis if you do not first pause for a least a moment or two in chapter eleven.
For the isn’t the promise all the more wondrous as you realize that in those closing words of the preceding chapter, the last of a lineage is drawing to a close?
That after all the other momentous stories offered at the start of Genesis:
- Creation in both of its tellings along with Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel;
- The Flood with Noah and his family and the ark all those pairs of species of all living things which then populated the earth on board;
- And the rise and the crashing fall of the tower of Babel.
Indeed, after all of these archetypal stories which offer us the chance to reflect on who we are, how we are connected to one another, and how we relate to the world…
After all of this, we are offered a genealogy of the descendants of Shem…
And oh, isn’t it so that we find ourselves skimming through a list of names which by now hold no more texture and meaning than the space they take up on the page — if they ever really did. Indeed, the chapter closes with a passing summary of the sons of Terah.
And in the end, it is only Terah. His son, Abram. His grandson, Lot. And Sarai, Abram’s wife. Who was barren.
Indeed, other than names, and lengths of years, and passing references to other sons and daughters, we hear nothing of these many generations except for this. Sarai was without child.
And with that, it would appear, the story was coming to an end.
Except, of course it wasn’t.
And that seems to be the point, doesn’t it?
- That when you and I come to the end, God offers a new beginning?
- That when life seems bereft of purpose or meaning, God fills it with exactly that?
- That by the fulfillment of God’s Promises:
- what was empty becomes full,
- that despair is replaced with hope,
- and that what was barren unexpectedly, even miraculously brings forth life?
But again, if one just jumps in at the start of chapter twelve, if all one knows of the story is these few short verses assigned this week, we might well miss this altogether.
And yet, the one who put the story together thought it important to point out that Sarai was barren. Indeed, isn’t it likely that the dropping of that one detail is enough to point to the yearning which this elderly couple surely still felt for something more? Might that tiny offering of some of the story that preceded this, give us an inkling of what might possibly have compelled Abram and Sarai to simply leave behind all they had known and to do so at an advanced age when anyone might think it would have been just fine for them if they had simply stayed where they were to live out their last days?
So it is that these days I am standing still in this story — in this named and lived experience and in so many others like it, remembering that this is how God always works.
Yes, of course, think of Isaac who was God’s first answer to that barrenness.
And then consider Isaac and Rebecca and their wondrous welcoming of twins: God’s blessing literally doubled in their arms.
And then for all that broke apart between them and their two sons after that, remember how eventually reconciliation replaced the deadly rift between Jacob and Esau.
And, yes, remember Jacob and all those sons (and a daughter, too) and how eventually even what had been horribly broken between them was also brought back together.
We can go on and on throughout the Wondrous Story that carries us week after week, raising up example after example of times when there seemed an ending which was no ending at all. Time after time where God’s Promise carried the day and where people stepped into those new days even as Abram and Sarai first did so long ago.
And, I expect, if we are paying attention, we can do so also in our own lives and in the lives of our own communities.
I think, for instance of two stories I offered in worship just this morning.
One is the story of one of our own who has had a tough year marked by loss after loss. Endings, to be sure. But of how out of those endings, a new beginning has somehow been wrought. And this morning her dog, Duke, came to worship with us. We blessed him during the children’s sermon for ‘ministry’ as a therapy dog. Those losses piled on, yes. And the grief was hard. But God was clearly not yet done with doing new things. And we had today.
The other was the story of one of our own who graduated from high school and who entered the Air Force just a month ago. It was the end of all he had known and all his family had known as their eldest headed out on his own. But in his going, he has found himself going deeper — with a growing awareness of the gifts with which he has always been blessed — suddenly seen in sharp contrast to the experiences of those with whom he is now. He has looked around and noticed that others do not have the kindness of family supporting them. And through his family, he has reached out, wondering if his church family might step in to ensure that others receive messages of support from ‘home’ even as he has. An ending, yes, but also clearly a beginning. And not just in the externals of leaving behind what he has always known for a new thing, but also in his own spirit going deeper than ever before. And all of us get to be part of this as we grow in kindness towards young people we may never meet. So for us as well, what seemed an ending, is another new beginning.
And on and on…
Indeed, I imagine there are as many such stories as there are people you gather with week after week.
And so I wonder with you now where you see the story of Abram and Sarai playing out in your midst
And I wonder where and how you have known the truth of this in your own life.
- When have you come to the end of chapter eleven thinking that must be all there is and then been awakened to the truth that God was not done yet? That in turning the page, chapter twelve holds new promises and possibilities?
- And what has it looked like for you, along with these ancient ones, to pick up and go towards something entirely new — perhaps long after you quit expecting such a thing was possible?
- And what would it look like in the place you gather week after week for such stories to be repeated, opening all of our eyes to see God at work in our midst all the time? Indeed, where is God doing a new thing where you least expected it? Where might you see God at work tomorrow, promising and leading us all into an entirely new day?