In Hebrew, God speaks just eight words of direction to Abraham. Then, Genesis says succinctly, “So Abraham went as the Lord told him.”
Oh, God offered wonderful promises, but – truth be told – they are pretty vague.
Abraham and Sarah were not told where they were headed. Only that it would be shown to them. They were told they would be a blessing to others. But not how. They were promised to be made a great nation. Even though they were childless.
I should be inspired by Abraham and Sarah. Instead, I experience a sense of consternation over their decisiveness.
It displays a spontaneity and willingness to trust God that challenges those of us – like me – who weren’t born yesterday. We’ve seen enough changes and supposedly great new ideas that didn’t go anywhere. We are more inclined to wait for a careful long-range planning process. I’d like to know the sustainable, achievable, measurable, realistic and time-related goals for the process. I’d like to be clear about what the one who is the instigator of these plans is promising to invest in this undertaking.
The truth is I have also been inspired and disconcerted by members of my congregation.
I have said we don’t expect old people to pick up and move to a new place or undertake some new endeavor. In fact, many in this congregation do just that. Call yourselves what you will – older, seniors, elderly – you are doing a new thing, despite your age. After decades in one place, you move to another – maybe here, maybe there, maybe halfway across the country. You decide to change your lifestyle, so you downsize and you downsize again, and maybe you do it again. You establish new friendships, begin new relationships, take on new responsibilities within your family. Get married again after decades of happy – or unhappy – marriages. You call yourselves retired, but there is nothing retiring about you.
You are inspiring and your willingness to get up and go – literally or figuratively – reminds me of the faithful people of the bible.
Have you ever noticed how often people in the Bible are on the move? It’s not just Abraham and Sarah. It just starts with them. It is hard to find anyone, who is faithful, who isn’t hearing God speak and having to get up a go to some new place.
You certainly cannot follow Jesus without getting up to follow him, and you cannot get up and go without leaving something behind. Jesus spoke and those first disciples left behind their families and their professions. Others would have to leave behind their sin or their wealth, or their position in the community. Some even had to leave behind their grief over the dead. Jesus is always moving, and he expects his followers to travel pretty light.
Most of them seem very aware that puts them in a vulnerable position.
And perhaps it is this that disturbs me so much about Abraham and Sarah. God speaks, and they are willing to make themselves vulnerable. To leave the safety of what is familiar. To go with only what they can carry. To head off to some other place, that is some other people’s place. There they will have to accept the hospitality of strangers and, also, endure threats and challenges from strangers. They will find out there are other ways of doing things than those to which they have become accustomed. They will have to find out if God is still speaking in the new place.
James L. Mays says of this pivotal story of Abraham and Sarah; Faith is the creation of the word of God. The possibility of faith is found only in the fact that God has spoken. God speaks, and we respond, and there is faith. Or we don’t. God speaks, and we stay where we are, pretend we have not heard, recount our possessions, ask for the long-term plan – we are faithless.
The corollary, Mays says, is that we shouldn’t move until God speaks. We shouldn’t speak until God speaks.
But by God, when God speaks, if we are faithful, we must go. It is alone this command to go—from our world into God’s—which offers a lasting, a truly different newness, a revolution that brings radical change in ourselves and in the world.
We tell young people to go wherever they want in the world, do whatever catches their interests. We tell them to go and make a name for themselves That’s what our culture expects of us. To follow our own will, perhaps become popular and then forgotten after our fifteen minutes of fame. Abraham and Sarah, all the faithful disciples of Jesus, we are called to do the opposite. We are told that when God speaks to us – no matter how old we are – we go into the unknown and do what is in the interest of others, and we will be known through those who come after us.
God speaks to bring about an entirely new reality by the faithful movement of God’s people. Our pilgrimages make no difference if we set the goal. All our carefully laid plans will not create real newness. They will merely refurbish the old.
God speaks to us where we are, as we are, so we will go from the place we live to another place. God speaks, so we will go and be a completely different world than the one we live in: a people who know the mighty blessings that have been poured into our lives, a family of brothers and sisters share their blessings with others, a fellowship in which giving is more honored than possessing, a nation which regards the interests of others.