It is tempting when we come to Genesis to want to ask historical or archeological questions. We want to know when this happened. What was the date? What was the world like, how advanced was human civilization. How long did this journey take? We want to know exactly where the oak of Moreh is. And exactly where did Abram pitch his tent? Where is this place with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east? But the questions these early stories are working to answer are completely different questions all together.
Genesis means “beginning.” And in the beginning there was no history, there were no maps, there was nothing. In the beginning there was God. And these beginning stories work to tell us about God. God spoke into the void and the world was. God reached into the dirt and formed humans. God walked with those humans in the dusk of the evening and was with them as they took their first steps into the world. God worked with them when they made poor choices. God was grieved when they turned against one another to do harm to each other. And then after destroying most of everything and giving humanity and all the earth a fresh start, God made a covenant with them and with all creation to never do attempt to do that again.
These stories are telling us about God, about God’s relationship with creation, about God’s relationship with humanity. About Gods’ love for us, God’s care for us and about all the ways God is reaching out to us, from the very beginning of creation. So as we come to the story of Abram, we may want to know the answers to questions that ask where and when but that is like expecting the story of Peter Pan to give you a understanding of the geography of London or expecting Einstein’s “The Meaning of Relativity” it to explain to us about the political landscape of the world of 1920s. Although, the real geography of London might have been in James Matthew Barry’s mind when he wrote Peter Pan, that it is not what he was writing about, it actually has nothing to do with even the underlying questions that are at play in the story. Likewise, the political climate of the 1920’s probably had some effect on Einstein when he gave the lectures at Yale on his ground breaking theories. Upon finishing this book, you will have a better understanding about a great many things, but you will be sorely disappointed if understanding politics in the 1920s is what you were hoping to gain.
When we come to Genesis, to these beginning stories, we need to remember what beginning this is telling us about. It is the story of the beginning of God’s relationship with humanity, the beginnings of a great story about of God and how very much God loves and cares for us, it is the beginning of the story of our salvation, of the redemption of all things. Although we may be able to glean some history, some geography, or sociology, these are not the questions these stories are answering. To think Genesis is a source of information that it is not attempting to relay, is ghastly unfair.
So let us come to this story with fresh eyes and try to figure out what it is that this story about God coming to Abram is trying to tell us about God and about God’s relationship us.
When the earth was not very old and the people of the earth were still learning about how to listen to God and were a little unsure about the identity of God, there was a man named Abram. And even though the story of God and humanity does not begin with Abram, the story of the people of God begins with here with God and with Abram.
So one day when Abram was minding his own business, going about his daily life, going about same things his nomadic life required of him on a day to day basis, doing the same kinds of things that his father and his father’s father had done before him, suddenly out of nowhere the general routine of his life was interrupted by God. God came to him and spoke to him and God asked him to do an extraordinary thing. God asked Abram to leave his father and the land of his father and go to the place where God would lead him. God did not get any more specific than that, just go, and God would lead.
God then told Abram, if he chose to embark on this journey with its unknown destination, then God would bless Abram, his name will be great, he will be a blessing and through him God would bless all the families of the earth. Essentially God would bless Abram and through that blessing, Abram would bless all of everyone.
This promise of being a blessing is reiterated to Jacob when God renews the promise given to Abram ( who later known as Abraham), “. . .your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” The promise given to Abram and then again to Isaac and then to Jacob and then from through carried down to the people God is one of greatness and one of blessing, not merely a blessing given to Abram or Isaac or Jacob or to a certain group of people but also that they will be a blessing, not simply to loved ones, or those encountered, but to all the peoples. God blesses Abram so that he can be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.
And let us be frank, we are Christians and we know the ultimate blessing is the blessing of Jesus Christ, the blessing of salvation, the blessing of redemption. God’s love from the moment God reached into the dust and formed us by hand has been extended to us. From the moment of the fall, God has been reaching out to us to mend what we broke in our disobedience. God’s desire is basically to walk with us in the dusk of the evening and to talk with us, as friends, in a deep, intimate and enduring relationship and that relationship, the mending of what was broken, and redemption is the blessing that the people of God are carrying into the world. Understanding Jesus Christ, the salvation, the redemption, the restoration of the relationship between God and all creation is at the heart of this blessing. And it is our call to be blessed as the people of God and to carry the blessing into all the world.
The promise is a call and that call is to be a blessing, to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth; to reach out beyond ourselves, beyond our family, beyond our kindred, our clan, beyond our nation and our national ties, to reach beyond those who are like us and with whom we resonate, to those who are unlike us, to those who are beyond our sphere of comfort, to those who are different than us, who speak a different language, who eat different food, who live lives that don’t make sense to you or me, who think about the world in ways that we do not and whose priorities and values are beyond us, to reach out to beyond ourselves and allow people, especially those most unlike us to be blessed through us.
From the beginning God’s desire is for all the people of the earth, for all humanity. God’s love is for everyone, relationship with God is for everyone. Even as God was setting some aside, such as Abram and later the Israelites, that choosing, that setting aside was not for the sake of the chosen, it was always for the sake of the world.
From the beginning it is God’s intention that the people of God; the people who know God, who love God, who listen to God and follow God to the places God leads; is that it is through them that God reaches into the whole world. It is through the people of God that God reaches the world with blessing, with God’s love, with salvation. It is through us that God intends to bring redemption to all creation. Even in choosing Abram and choosing his descendants, God’s plan is bigger and wider, and broader than simply the decedents of Abram. The intention was always for all the families, all the people of the earth. God was not excluding all others in choosing Abram but working to be incredibly and mindboggling inclusive through Abram. God was never stopping with just a few, just a certain group or gathering, but through the people of God, to call all the people of the earth back into relationship with God. The ultimate plan of salvation is not for the redemption of some but redemption for all.
God’s plan is to bless all the world through Abram, through those who come to be known as the children or people of God. The call is for those who believe, all those who live their lives following God to the places God leads, those who are in relationship with God, that for us (Christians), to reach out beyond ourselves and bless the world around us. To carry the love of God which we know, the salvation of God which we are working to understand, the redemption of God we are experiencing to those who do not yet know or understand or have yet to experience. This is part of God’s promise to us, that through us, all the world will be blessed. We are a blessing, we are to be a blessing, and we are to live lives that bless our world, the people of our world. Our very lives are to be lived sharing that blessing, being that blessing. Whenever we go from this place we take that blessing with us where ever we go, to whomever we meet. So let us go from here today remembering that we are vessels, we are conduits, and we are vehicles through which God reaches into our world and blesses our world. Let us go, knowing that it is through us that others will come so know God’s love. It is through us that others will come to understand salvation and it is through us that others will experience redemption. Let us open ourselves up and be people who are continually reaching into all the dark places, all the lonely places, all the abandoned places; continually reaching out to people beyond ourselves, beyond our family, beyond our country of origin or nationality, beyond those who are most like us to those who are different than us, unlike us, to those we may not understand, to that who might not make sense to us, who might not be the people with whom we are most comfortable, because God did not call us to merely bless those closest to us, those most like us, those who seem safe, but God calls us to be blessings to the whole earth, to everyone and that means EVERYONE!