Having preached not too long ago on Jesus and Nicodemus today

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					   Genesis 12: 1-4a
   Pymble 20.3.11
   The journey begins with a step

Having preached not too long ago on Jesus and Nicodemus,
today I’d like to talk about the reading from Genesis about Abraham and Sarah –
and their call by God to leave their homeland.
When we move into Chapter 12 of this first book of the Bible we seem to be
moving away from the more mythical stories
of creation, the garden of Eden, and Noah and the flood,
to more concrete stories about historical people.
I’m not saying that there wasn’t a person called Noah,
but those early stories do read more legendary than historical.

From Genesis 12 however the stories appear more credible and connected to our
world – eg, people aren’t living 900 years and superhuman man-gods are no
longer roaming the earth like they do in chapter 6.
Even so, if we look carefully, we might see that the narratives of Abraham and
Sarah have been carefully shaped and crafted in order to make important
theological statements that we as readers are meant to hear –
that, of course, is the intention of the Biblical writers –
they are writing to tell us of God and his ways.
This story about Abraham and Sarah’s call is especially paradigmatic for all people
of faith. Put simply, their story becomes our story.
The writer of Hebrews understood this when he wrote to encourage his Christian
community,

      “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he
      was to receive as an inheritance, and he set our not knowing where he was
      going.” Heb 11:8

So we will be alert to what this passage says to us about the nature of faith in
God’s promise.
I hope to highlight 3 points from the text this morning:
1. the background of barrenness
2. the igniting of hope
3. the risk of the journey.
offering a story and a point of reflection on each.

1. The Background of barrenness.
Isn’t it ironic that God’s promise of countless ancestors comes to a couple that
couldn’t have children?
The hope and promise of Chapter 12 is set against the hopelessness of Chapter
11.
There the writer details the genealogy of Abram’s wider family
but it ends abruptly with the barrenness of his wife, Sarai.
Of course there are other families, but in the world of the text,
humanity’s best has come to an end and has nowhere to go;
there is no heir.
Barrenness seems to be a metaphor for the hopelessness of the human condition
without God –
the first 11 chapters point to this:
Adam and Eve could not follow the only rule they were given;
Cain murdered his brother Abel;
God lamented the wickedness of the world at the time of Noah;
and the tower of Babel was an attempt to be independent of God.
All these stories seem to find their conclusion in 11:30 where it simply and briefly
states “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.”
The writer seems to want to say that barrenness is the way of humanity.
In our modern world we can talk of breathtaking technological advances, of
amazing medical breakthroughs, of great engineering achievements but unless
these are done with an acknowledgement of God there is a barrenness to
humanity’s growth and development.
Too often our advances are marked by violence and self-service,
by pride and tribalism, or by destruction of the natural world and the maintenance
of inequalities.

So I ask you to reflect for a moment on what are the places of barrenness in
your life…
It may have been a particular moment in the past;
it may be an area of your life where you are struggling now;
it might be a relationship that is not flourishing as you’d like.
Where is the barrenness in your life?

As Alex shared in Coffee & Discovery recently, the Koroknay family faced a time of
crisis in Hungary in the mid 1950’s.
Hungary, which had been closely tied to Russia, moved into uprising and revolution
in a way not unlike Egypt and Libya in recent weeks.
There were marches, demands and demonstrations that led to the government
falling.
But just as the country thought a new day had dawned,
the Soviets moved to crush the revolution.
After so much hope of real change the army rolled in, in power and violence, and
many had to flee.
There must have been a great sense of hopelessness among the population after
achieving so much change.
They must have felt there options were at an end in 1956.

We’ll return to the story of Alex’s family shortly, but let us note at this point that faith
is often born amidst barrenness and hopelessness.

2. The igniting of hope.
Into the barrenness of Abram and Sarai comes the outrageous promise of God:
the promise of land, ancestors, and blessing
in a command, an invitation, to leave.
In order to discover blessing
Abram and Sarai were to leave their family, their homeland,
the familiar and comfortable way of life.
And they were to embrace instead
uncertainty, pilgrimage and relationship with God.
It must have been a dangerous option for Abram and Sarai and yet it was the way
that ignited hope and offered the promise of land, children and the purpose of
being a blessing to others.
For the Koroknay family, as the Russian threat grew and possibilities for a safe life
decreased, an option presented itself:
Leave and travel to Austria.
Leave family and friends,
leave the land that you love,
leave what you know and travel to the unknown.

I hope you can sense the tension that must have been in that choice:
the possibility of something new, of safety, of a better life for the children, a fresh
start away from the violence
but all against such loss, disruption and grief of leaving a homeland.

I wonder if you have experienced faith as that invitation to leave something –
maybe a place, maybe an attitude, maybe a way of life –
with the tantalizing offer of some blessing that is promised but not yet
realized.
I wonder if you feel that call today – to step out into uncertainty and to trust
God.

Faith is often experienced as the call to leave the familiar;
to relinquish comfort and security, and embrace uncertainty,
with only the embrace of God’s goodness for company.
Abram and Sarai were discovering that faith is believing the promise and trusting
the promise-giver.

3. The risk of the journey
Abram and Sarai did obey the call.
They left Haran where they had settled
they left some of their extended family;
they left the known
and stepped out with God on the journey of faith.
Commenting on this passage, Walter Brueggemann makes this insightful
observation of the choice faced by Abram and Sarai and all who follow in their
footsteps:

“To stay in safety is to remain barren;
to leave in risk is to have hope.”

Here is the heart of faith. Safety versus risk. Barrenness versus hope.

I think this observation remained true for Alex’s family in Hungary.
Even though escape would hopefully lead to safety and a better life,
it still entailed risk and uncertainty.
But a 7-year old Alex, his older brother and his parents made that journey across
the Austrian border, walking 20 miles in the darkness of night to find a new life that
eventually brought them to Australia and to us here at Pymble.

But the journey started with a step of faith. A risky leap into what was largely
unknown for them.
So perhaps we might reflect for a moment on whether we are willing to take
the risk of faith.
Are we really prepared to leave barrenness behind?
Do we long to embrace the blessing of promise?
Perhaps we feel the cost of renunciation is too great?

Jesus spoke of the cost of leaving things behind when he said,
      “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my
      sake and the gospel’s will find it.” Mark 8:35
There is loss and gain in the journey of faith.
But the issue is what do we value most?
____________

To have faith is to be on a journey, a little like Abram and Sarai.
We are unsure of the destination but we believe the promise,
trust the promise-maker.
and we travel with others who have likewise responded to God’s call.
As we sometimes say in a statement of faith taken from the UC’s Basis of Union,

     “We are a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; on the
     way Christ feeds us with word and sacraments, and we have the gift of the
     Spirit in order that we may not lose the way.”

God is indeed with us on the journey.

				
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