Abram was weary from the battle that had just ended. Local warlords had plundered the area; capturing Abram’s brother’s son and his family.
Abram led some 300 men, rescued the captives and returned safely. Abram was in the tent that was his home, pitched under the oaks of Mamre, in the land of Canaan. That night he had a vision… And the Word of the LORD came to Abram: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield. Your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram was not afraid.
He was not even awestruck! He answered the LORD with an incredulous question: Reward? What reward? What are you going to give me? We can imagine that he went on–I don’t need stuff. I live in a tent! Where would I put more stuff? YOU know I have no child to give my stuff to. My heir is my chief steward—an employee! And he is a Syrian!
But the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir.” The LORD told Abram that no one but his very own child would inherit from him. Then the LORD took Abram outside the tent, out from under the great oaks, to where he could see the stars.
“Look upward toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
This is a great story, but this is not the beginning of the story; Abram has met the LORD before.
The LORD called Abram from Haran, where he lived in his father’s house—a settled existence with a home and land. Abram heard the LORD call him to leave Haran, and go to the land the LORD would show him. This was a huge step into the unknown! Abram took his wife, Sarai, and his family, and animals, and lived as nomads.
Abram and Sarai left home and land—left everything they had ever known. Everything changed for them—they became different people: saw things in a new way. They grew into relationship with the LORD. They left Haran, a city of idol-worshippers—pagans who honored many gods—to follow the one God. They were called by the Most-High God, and they went where God called.
This is an important, foundational story.
It is one of the great stories of Western Civilization. It is a story we have to know if we are going to know who we are. You may recognize this story…maybe you’ve heard it before. Even if it is familiar, you may not know where Haran or Canaan are, but even if you can’t find them on a map, you know exactly where Abram and Sarai were: they were out of their comfort zone.
Abram and Sarai went on a great journey that crossed miles and the boundaries of great civilizations. Journeys often cover a distance, but they don’t have to. You can make a journey without moving a step, without moving an inch! You can make a spiritual journey, an intellectual journey, even a journey “out of your comfort zone.”
Remembering Abram, I am going to ask you to make journey—and it may be out of your comfort zone. You can go on this journey without leaving your seat. You may even laugh at what I am going to ask you to do. I want you to open a Bible and read with me. Turn to chapter 12 in the book of Genesis. I want you to look at the beginning of the Great Story of Abram and the LORD. In Hebrew it is called Lech Lech’a—which means Go! Go Forth! Read the first three verses [reproduced here in the text]:
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And 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. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” (Gen. 12:1-3 RSV)
The families of the earth shall bless themselves saying: “May we be like Abram.”
You know all the descendants God promised to Abram? Those like the stars in the heavens? We are some of those descendants! Just a little later in the story, the LORD changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name is changed to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah are the ancestors claimed by the three great religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The story of Abram is the story of the Covenant between God and God’s people. As the heirs of Abram and Sarai, we inherit the blessing God first gave to them: the blessing of relationship.
“Do not be afraid, said the LORD. I am your shield. Your reward will be very great.”
I invite you to think about Abram and Sarai, and how we are blessed in them. Most of all—I invite you to read more of their story. Lech Lech’a—Go Forth! God calls each of us to go on a journey, an endless pilgrimage of the heart, which forms us in relationship to God. May we be like Abraham and Sarah. May we not be afraid, for God is our shield and our reward will be very great.