The father of Abram had made a good living in Ur. Ur sat on the banks of the Euphrates not far from the Persian Gulf. Today this is southern Iraq. Nevertheless, silt deposits had made navigating the river difficult and the economy was in trouble. So Abram’s father decides to move the family to protect the prosperity. So Abram and his wife Sarai, along with Abram’s brother’s family, and Abram’s nephew Lot, from the son of his dead brother, move, along with their dad and settle in Haran. Which is now on the Turkey-Syrian border.
In Haran, the patriarch dies. Now Abram turns his attention to his legacy. He already had wealth and success, but he had no legacy. He and Sarai had been unable to have a child, so a legacy would involve more than an heir. Abram longed to leave behind something larger than the sum of his possessions. When we stand at crossroads in life, like Abram we begin to listen again. When we are busy we speak but when we are at a lost, we tend to listen. And this is what Abram heard.
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.2I 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]
The future was calling. It is hard to hear tomorrow when we are obsessed with today and yesterday. Abram was as guilty as the rest of us. It’s especially hard to hear when “here and now” is good. Abram had contributed to his father’s prosperity. Most men would have traded places with Abram. But like his father before him who left Ur for Haran, Abram would build his future elsewhere.
The Lord as the scripture says had summoned Abram to an unknown destination. It would appear leaving was more important than arriving. Leave behind the comforts, the safety, the familiarity, get out of town. So Abram set out, not knowing where he was going, except that God had authorized the travel plans. Inertia, the resistance to change, is a law of physics. Human nature tells us to sit still, to not rock the boat, play it safe, don’t show your cards, be prudent—-so it would appear that inertia can, at least, be overcome by a mystical experience with God. Because against his human nature and the social pressures of the day, not to mention the pleadings of Sarai. Abram “loaded up the truck” and moved . . . well, he got moving.
The natural order of things is to move from the unknown to the known. It is our nature to make decisions which bring relief not distress. In high school, we are relieved when we move from the unknown (I don’t know where I am going to college) to the known (I’ve been accepted at). After college, we are relieved when we move from the unknown (unemployment) to the known (I got a job). They ran a test at the doctor on Wednesday (the unknown) then we were relieved when the doctor called with the results (the known). The irony should not be missed—-we need certainty and answers. Yet Abram’s journey begins with uncertainty and questions, like all pilgrimages of faith.
Where is the “promised land?” The short answer is, not the land where God dwells but the land God calls us toward. The promised land is a spiritual destination. A place where we follow without reservations and with great joy. Of course, it is a moving target.
Naomi Rosenblatt describes our role models for this journey;
Abraham and Sarah remain such fitting role models for us today. They were born to a Babylonian culture, not unlike our own—one that worships materialism and neglects the life of the spirit. But having exhausted the limits of materialism and rejected it for a more spiritual life. Abraham and Sarah do not take a vow of poverty. . . when they go forth . . .Abraham and Sarah take their worldly goods with them[ii] —
Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran;[iii]
Because now, while they have wealth they are unencumbered by their possessions, instead of being treasures the wealth is a tool to further the mission. Same amount of money but a different relationship with it.
Years ago, I knew a couple named Ray and Karen Morris. Ray’s father had a great deal of wealth. When he was in his 20’s Ray’s dad borrowed money from the bank to buy a small office supply and copying business. By the time Ray and his sisters were teenagers the business had increased to over 10 stores. When the kids returned from college, their dad offered the business to them and he moved to the country. In retirement this father-entrepreneur started building and operating coined operated car washes, just to have something to keep him busy. Years later he would sell this business that composed of 7 coined operated car washes. But back to Ray. Ray was the oldest of the kids and in addition to the operations of the copy business, which now had over 24 locations, Ray owned and operated a cabinet making business.
A few years back I get a note from Ray and his Karen. They are telling me they are walking away from the copy business and from their beautiful house that sits by the lake, with the driveway that is a quarter of a mile long. They have decided to go to Singapore to be missionaries. Ray’s going to build homes for the people and they are going to live among the people and share Christ love, and if need be they will use words, but, at first, they will use hammers. Like Abram, they heard a call to leave their father, to leave the comfortable life they had always known. They were going to use their money not be imprisoned by it.
God’s call upon Abram’s life is a call offered to each of us today. It’s a call that challenges conventional wisdom. God calls us to move beyond three very human, powerful and deep-seated fears —
The fear of the unknown. We prefer the known but God calls us forward, he calls us away. Moving forward and moving away we naturally move toward the unknown. God called David from a field to the seat of leadership, he was unfamiliar with the art of leadership. God called Moses from a similar place to be a community organizer, but what did Moses even know about people, much less organization, he was a self-employed herder. God called Paul from the prosecutions chair to the defense chair, but he was also unaccustomed to the work of a missionary. Of course, God called Abram from a nice house in Haran to a tent in the desert, Abram is called to the unknown.
The second fear, natural to our species, is the fear of others who are different from us. Abram’s life had been spent with his family, his kind of people. His kind were settled business types, people who were respectable business leaders. Now Abram is sent into the world of the nomad. He meets new people, different people, people like those of Sodom. But if all you ever do is stay with people you are comfortable with you’ll rarely leave your home. To be the blessing, Abram would need to accept, embrace, respect, and love those different from him.
The third fear native to us is the fear of being powerlessness. We don’t like impossible situations where the odds are stacked against us. No one likes to fail. Certainly no one likes to fail after they have had so much success. Abram is old, Sarai is old, and from them will come a seed that will be like sands on the seashore. Talk about your uphill situation. Well, that would be like starting a logging business with a single truck, or moving to New Guinea without speaking the language, or deciding to open up a free clinic without being a doctor, or walking to a boat on top of the water, or feeding a large crowd with a catfish platter. What makes it a challenge is the risk, not the reward.
What we have here is a man late into middle age who has none of the advantages of youth. He is no longer naïve and innocent or strong and quick. Age, however, has offered him an exchange for his youthful vigor. He has a higher goal than money, a more noble purpose. Like Oskar Schindler, who rescued Jews from their German persecutors, youth was only preparation, now is the time to live.
Abram’s midlife crisis is typical; women and men, wealthy and economically challenged from the America’s to Africa have experienced a similar feeling. It’s Abram’s response which is not typical. Most of us go as far as griping (that’s a big risk) about our lives and dream of starting over. Yet most of us turn a deaf ear to the “spirit’s call.” Instead, we protect what have built and save for a rainy day.[iv]
The longest and hardest journey is not the exterior journey but the interior journey. The hardest journey is not moving from here to there it’s moving from making it, to accepting a new challenge. The promised land for us is not a place on a map, instead, it is a place where the world’s great need is touched by our hand.
Lent, is not merely about giving up chocolate, meat, or alcohol. Those are only external reminders of an internal transformation that we seek. Lent goes beyond the sins we commit to the faithfulness we omit. Our ultimate journey is to move from our
exclusive, timid tendency to live boldly allowing God to lead us into the unknown, courageously loving those different from us, and to bravely stand faithful in impossible situations. Lent calls us to get our hands out of our pockets and use them to touch someone. I’m not asking have we heard God’s call. Instead, I’m asking isn’t it time you responded to God’s call