Passage: Genesis 12:1–12:8, Genesis 12:9–12:20
This past week my wife and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary, which isn’t a whole lot I know, but it’s kind of shocking to me. 1) That my wife would want to be married to me for 8 years. And 2) it really doesn’t feel like 8 years has past, at least for me. I imagine for Emily it’s felt like an eternity. But for me it’s been great.
I’m always fascinated by how time seems to fly, I mean I just had my 10thyear college reunion last year and it did not feel like a decade since I’d been in college. I can still remember those days so clearly. But then I thought about everything I’d done since graduating, gotten a masters degree, became a pastor, got married, had two kids, moved twice and yeah, that’s a decade’s worth of stuff. And when I think since getting married Emily and I have moved twice and had two kids yeah, now I can see how it’s been eight years. But its still strange for me because I can remember planning for the wedding so vividly and those memories don’t seem that distant for me.
When we were planning for our wedding I was very involved at the start. We had to find a venue to hold 225 people because my family is massive. So I made a ton of calls to wedding venues all over the area. I had a spreadsheet of places that I had called, still needed to call, whether or not the ones I had called would work for us, and basic pricing info. When they sent back information I created a binder. I went and did site visits with Emily and her mom for three or four that seemed promising. When we decided upon a place they gave us a list of recommended vendors. I was there interviewing photographers and DJs. I sat out flowers. But you can bet I was right there for all the cake tastings. I missed a UNC ACC tournament game to pick out stationary for our invitations. For a guy, I think I was pretty involved.
But once we had a venue, had picked out a menu, had a photographer and a DJ and a cake and flowers, had ordered the invitations and done the seating arrangement I figured we were done and bowed out. What more was there to do?
Apparently a lot.
A lot of stuff I didn’t do.
A lot of stuff that did have to be done.
I was just not going any further.
Today I want to explore this phenomenon we seem to have as humans to either be big picture people or detail people. And while this could be an interesting thought experiment if I were to make this about group projects or job performance, what I’m really interested in is how this applies to our discipleship.
But before we get to us let’s look at someone who can hold a mirror up for ourselves. We are going to look at one of the pillars of what it means to be faithful. Someone who embodies what it is to sell out for God. Or does he? Let’s take a look at Abraham.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “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; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. ” 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
So Abraham, or Abram at this point, was hanging out living his life. That is until he hears the voice of God. God says Go. Leave. Move. Leave everything you have, everything you know and go to a place I’m going to show you. But here’s the thing, we read this in a highly transient time and a highly transient area and because of who we are and where we live we don’t see not only how scandalous this is but also how dangerous. In the ancient world there was no transience. There was little to no mobility. Your family was its own self-sufficient society. You had a job within the society of your family. Most of it was geared around protecting your collection of animals.
What would you need protection from? Certainly wild animals and predators. But also neighboring tribes and families. Because life in the ancient world wasn’t ordered where you decided upon set boundaries for land and everyone abided by them. Frankly that’s not even the case now. This was the Wild West. This was the Age of Empires. Anyone remember playing that computer game? You’d be exploring for minerals and resources and if you came upon a member of another tribe it was on and you needed to gear up for an attack? Well in the ancient world you were always under threat from the families that live around you.
So when Abram is called to leave his father’s land we aren’t talking about a headhunter calls and says have you ever considered the West Coast. Abram is leaving everything he’s ever known, he’s leaving with some resources to start over but it’s not clear how self-sufficient they can be from the jump, he’s leaving behind a measure of protection and security, and God says I’m going to show you your land. Well here’s the flaw in the plan: it’s likely that the land God will show them will be someone else’s land. And Abram and whatever band he can gather to go with him will have to fight to win that land. And then will have to keep fighting to keep that land.
Abram isn’t being asked to relocate. He’s being asked to give his whole life fighting and scraping and grinding to build a little bit of something that his sons will have to give their lives fighting and scraping and grinding until they can get a smidge of legitimacy.
But even given all this Abram goes. He says yes. He leaves. He follows the voice of God out into the great unknown.
This summer our series is about looking at two passages, which are, located right next to each other because I think there’s a lot to be gleaned when we can look at two passages side by side. And to me this is a prime case. Because this first story is about Abram going off, leaving everything behind, to face an uncertain future that will certainly be exponentially more difficult than the life he is leaving. He does it because he is convinced God is calling him to this. He is convinced this is what God wants from his life. So he goes. And you know what happens right afterwards? Well let’s take a look.
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
So Abram leaves his father’s land, he leaves his tribe, he leaves every idea about his life he’s ever had. And he goes out in search of a future that is on the one hand God ordained and on the other hand inherently dangerous. He knew when he set out that his journey would involve risk, would involve danger. He knew he wouldn’t always be safe. He knew all of that before he took one step.
And yet, the first thing that happens is a famine drives him to Egypt. But before he can get there he says to his wife, when we get there men will want you. And not just the lax bros, but like real powerful people. Who will have me killed just so they can be with you? So like let’s not let anyone know we’re together because I don’t want to die. Say you’re my sister, okay cool.
Now think about this from Sarah’s perspective. There are two outcomes in Abraham’s logic. The first is they go into Egypt as husband and wife, someone powerful wants her, so he has Abraham killed in order to take Sarah as his wife or concubine. The second is they go with Abraham’s plan and they pretend their brother and sister and a powerful person takes Sarah as his wife or concubine. The outcome here for Sarah is the same. She’s forced into the bed of someone else. Abraham’s brilliant plan doesn’t change her outcome; he’s not protecting her. It only changes his outcome. He’s only protecting himself. What a charmer.
So Abraham and Sarah go into Egypt and sure enough the Egyptians notice Sarah’s beauty. And she’s taken to Pharaoh. And she’s made one of his concubines. Pharaoh rewards Abraham. He gives him livestock, camels, servants. Abraham is living large! But this isn’t right. So Pharaoh’s household is stricken with disease, Pharaoh finds out what has happened and sends Abraham on his way.
So up until now I’ve been pretty hard on Abraham. To be fair he deserves it. But one might argue he acted shrewdly, he knew the road would be hard for him so he did what he had to do in order to 1) survive and 2) gain some wealth and resources. I wouldn’t want to make that argument because when someone counters with “he pretended his wife was his sister to save his hide” you lose. But still.
Here’s where I really struggle with this story: Abraham had faith enough in God to blow up his whole life, to put not only his future but the future’s of the people who came with him and the future of his sons and his progeny into God’s hands but he didn’t think God would get him through Egypt?
Abraham assumes all the risk of leaving his father’s land, his father’s house, and his tribe to go off to start his new tribe, which is something unheard of in the ancient world. He does this on faith. Other parts of Scripture and the tradition praise him for this act of faith. And yet he can’t walk into Egypt with a pretty wife and have faith they’ll be ok?!
The incongruity of it all confounds me. I can’t square this circle. I can’t make these two stories resolve.
In fact, it’s almost as if these two stories are written about two decidedly different characters, to entirely different people.
And yet in the incongruity, as this story seems to be about two entirely different people, ironically enough I think we see ourselves.
I started this off talking about the difference between being about the big pictures or being about the details. Abraham was clearly about the big things. Leave your family. Leave your home. Leave your future. Go where I’m leading you. Check. Done. No problem. But when it came to having faith in the small things, he doesn’t quite make the grade. God’s got your back when it comes to making of you a great nation but not when it comes to you not dying in Egypt because your wife is cute. But I see this dichotomy playing out in my own life. I trust God to redeem the cosmos, I trust God to make all the things I find wrong with this world right, I trust God to bring about the perfect Kingdom in God’s own time but I don’t trust God with my finances? I trust God with my eternal salvation, I trust that God has worked out and won eternity for me but I won’t trust him when I feel the Holy Spirit nudging me about a decision that’ll effect the next year or two of my life?
How often are we willing to believe, to have faith in God for the big things? We trust to God the future of the universe and our existence after death. Pretty big stuff, amiright? Why is it easier to trust in those things, to have faith in those things, to leave those things to God than it is to leave a much smaller matter in God’s hand?
I wonder if it’s a matter of consequence? When Abraham left his father’s land the future was generally unknown. He might have had an idea of what he was giving up but it wasn’t immediately pressing upon him. It was as hypothetical as the future into which he was walking. Sure he might have known he’d make enemies in carrying out this plan but the enemies were faceless.
Then he goes to Egypt and there’s a problem he can see. He can comprehend. He can see the faces of the men who will kill him. He can see, he can picture the consequences. The potential outcomes were things that were inside his frame of reference.
Why can we give the big things to God while not trusting the small things? Because we can picture the small things. We can comprehend the small things. We can play out the string in our mind what the small things look like. We can give the big things to God because eternal salvation and the redemption of the cosmos are outside the frame of what we can imagine and comprehend. I can’t imagine what heaven will be like. I can imagine what giving 10% of my income will do to my bank account. We are more willing to surrender the fate of things we can’t imagine than we are to surrender the fate of things we can.
There’s a logic to it but I think it’s a backwards logic. And so I’d invite us, today, to consider what small thing we might trust to God. What real life thing can you give to God today? How can you begin to trust God with the small things the way you trust God with the big things?
So this summer we are doing something different to try to connect to each other, connect to God, and to dig deeper into our Scripture. We’re calling it our summer extensions. This is in keeping with how we understand our mission and how we understand discipleship here. Often over the summer our regular small groups take a break and we all need, whether we are in a regular small group or we want to explore that dimension, to connect with God and others in a way outside the sermon. So we are going to take some time right now to dig deeper into this passage in a way that fits how God has made you.
Over here we are going to ask everyone who wants to talk about this in a group to gather some chairs and we have a couple questions for you. At this table back here we have a group project that will access different aspects of this story. At this table back here we have journals for those of you that might be more introverted to dig deep into the text. And finally if you want to connect to this story through prayer we invite you to circle your chairs over here.
One quick note to the journalers. We’d love for this summer journaling to become a communal experience. We’d love for you to take some time to journal and leave it behind. However, if you don’t feel like you can be authentic if you are forced to leave the journal, feel free to take it with you. And bring it back next week!
But go forth and I’ll call you back in 10 minutes for communion.