The call of Abraham in Genesis 12 is an unlikely beginning to God’s plan of salvation for the world. In many ways, Abraham was unqualified to play this most crucial role that God asked him to play. Yet he was successful. Why? Because of God and his grace. We can be sure that when God calls us, he, too, will give us everything we need to be successful, too.
Sermon Text: Genesis 11:27-12:9
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Adam LaRoche was a major league first baseman for 12 years. In fact, he began his professional career with the Atlanta Braves in the early 2000s and played with them for a few years. During spring training last March, he quit. Suddenly. It turns out that for the past six years his son Drake, who is now 14, had been allowed by all the teams that LaRoche had played for to accompany his dad to the clubhouse each day. None of the other players seemed to mind; in fact, they liked having him around. But this year, the Chicago White Sox management put their foot down. The kid can’t be in the clubhouse. His teammates briefly staged a walkout in support of LaRoche and his son, but it didn’t work. And so, in response, LaRoche did what no one expected him to do: he quit baseball. Just walked away.
And in doing so, he walked away from the $13 million that the White Sox were going to pay him this year. Who would do that? Doesn’t that seem crazy? To leave behind your career and livelihood; to leave behind your status as a member of one of the world’s most elite clubs—those relatively few athletes who are good enough to play baseball at the highest level; to leave behind, well… a guaranteed $13 million! Even if he were riding the bench this season, he’d make that money!
In a recent ESPN magazine article, LaRoche was asked about his plans today. He said that he and his family are now traveling in an RV along the West Coast and Canada. They don’t have a destination. They don’t know how long they’ll be gone. They don’t really have a plan.
If you think about what LaRoche gave up in order to take this trip with his family, it’s safe to say that it’s probably the most expensive family vacation in history!
My point is, if LaRoche’s adventure seems costly and slightly crazy to you, then you might appreciate the costly and seemingly crazy adventure that Abraham and his family went on. By the way, in today’s scripture, he’s called Abram. Later on, God will change his name to Abraham, which means “father of many nations.” His wife Sarai’s name is also changed to Sarah. I’ll call them Abraham and Sarah in this sermon.
The first thing I should point out in today’s scripture is that just as God called Abraham to his particular ministry, so God calls all of us Christians. Did you know that? First he calls us to become Christians in the first place, to believe in Jesus and follow him as Lord. Then he calls us to perform specific tasks using the gifts that he’s given us for ministry. Yes, there are people like me who are called to a special kind of full-time ministry—as an ordained pastor—but all of us are called to ministry. We United Methodists recognize this in our Book of Discipline, and we recognize it when members of the church enter into a covenant with God to use their particular gifts in ministry with this local church.
So we’re all called, individually and collectively as a church, to do something for God. For instance, even last weekend, I believe our young people were called by God to do the good work they did serving unprivileged inner-city kids by working at Camp Grace. And someone might object: “Hold on. God has never spoken to me in an audible voice the way he spoke to Abraham. So how do I know that I’m ‘called’?”
First, we don’t know whether or not God told Abraham to leave Haran for the land of Canaan in an audible voice. For all we know, God spoke to Abraham the way God usually speaks to us—which is, through our thoughts. We have an intuition that God wants us to do something. We pray about it. We talk to trusted Christian friends or our pastor.
And sometimes we can discern what God wants us to do by looking at our circumstances.
For instance, let’s notice something in Genesis chapter 11, verse 31. After being introduced to Abraham’s father, Terah, and the rest of his family, we’re told that Terah moved his family from Ur of the Chaldeans, which is present day Iraq, and he intended to settle them in the land of Canaan, which would later be known as the Promised Land. Except they didn’t make it that far. They ended up settling in a place called Haran, hundreds of miles northeast of Canaan. So in today’s scripture, God ends up telling Abraham to go the rest of the way, to complete the journey that his father started, to go to the land of Canaan. Which he does.
But my point is, Terah set out for the Promised Land—not because God called him—in fact Terah was an idolater; he didn’t know who God was—but he wanted to go to the Promised Land for his own reasons. Unbeknownst to him, however, he was being guided all along by God, because God knew what he had in store for Terah’s son Abraham; he knew that Abraham and his descendants would some day inherit this land.
So even though Terah himself didn’t hear God’s call when he left Ur to go to Canaan, he was nevertheless acting under God’s guidance and direction. This is what we mean, theologically, when we talk about God’s sovereignty—about God being “in control” or in charge. This is often how God works in our lives. God is working in ways that we often can’t see or even understand. Oftentimes we can look back on our lives and say, “Ah! I can see how God was guiding me back then—how he was taking care of me. It wasn’t clear to me at the time, but it is now!”
The good news about God’s sovereignty is that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we can say, “I’m here right now because God wants me to be here. This is part of his plan for me at this moment. He may not want me to stay here for very long, but I can be confident that he’s using these circumstances for my good, for the good of my family, for the good of other people, or for the good of the world.” We may or may not know what that plan is, or how God is using our present circumstances as part of his plan, but we can be confident that he is.
This gives me great peace of mind. How about you?
But even if we have a strong sense that God is calling us, that doesn’t mean that God will supply us with a lot of details. God doesn’t give Abraham a lot of details; he doesn’t even tell Abraham where exactly he wants him to go. “Go… to the land that I will show you.” O.K., God where is that, exactly? God doesn’t say.
I’ve never had a good sense of direction myself. And in this age of GPS, it’s only gotten worse from lack of practice. I depend on my GPS! I follow it blindly. Otherwise I’m lost! So recently, I read, with horror, about something that has become too familiar to park rangers at Death Valley National Park in California: They call it “death by GPS.” It’s what happens “when your GPS fails you, not by being wrong, exactly, but often by being too right. It does such a good job of computing the most direct route from Point A to Point B that it takes you down roads which barely exist, or were used at one time and abandoned, or are not suitable for your car, or which require all kinds of local knowledge that would make you aware that making that turn is bad news.” And people sometimes die as a result. But not usually: The article describes a woman in Bellevue, Washington, who drove her car into a lake because her GPS said it was a road. A man in Yorkshire, England, almost drove his car off a cliff.
I worry that that’s going to be me some day!
The good news for us Christians is that while God may not give us a lot detailed directions, like a GPS, he’s also not going to lead us off a cliff! He is, in fact, infinitely more trustworthy than a GPS!
And so Abraham had to do that incredibly difficult thing: he had to trust! And trusting God is hard. Let’s face it.
Well, just ask Adam LaRoche… Remember, he’s the major leaguer who walked away from $13 million and went on a road trip. I should mention that he is a deeply committed Christian. And according to that same ESPN magazine article I mentioned earlier, it turns out that last fall, LaRoche and his best friend and fellow major leaguer, Blaine Boyer, who pitches for the Milwaukee Brewers, went to southeast Asia in order to—I kid you not—rescue underage girls from sex trafficking through an organization called The Exodus Road. It involved going undercover into brothels with hidden cameras—identifying the girls and their bosses. It was risky. It was life-threatening. As Boyer said, “If you make a wrong move, you’re getting tossed off a building. We were in deep, man, but that’s the way it needed to be done. Adam and I truly believe God brought us there and said, ‘This is what I have for you boys.'”
God brought us there and said, “This is what I have for you boys.”
So… why would LaRoche and his friend do this risky, life-threatening thing? Because they were called by God.
And while we probably won’t be called to put our lives at risk, each one of us Christians is called just the same as Adam LaRoche… and Abraham.
And when we are called, we may have perfectly good reasons for not answering the call. Abraham certainly did! After all, he was 75 years old when God called him. Not exactly a spring chicken. When we get to be 75, we start thinking about slowing down, retiring, taking life easy. It’s not usually a time to think about beginning some bold new adventure. But God doesn’t necessarily respect our retirement plans. Ask Dick Hurlbut. He and his wife, Suzanne, are members of our church who retired and moved to Sun City Peachtree. Dick is also a Stephen minister through our church. He was sharing in Bible study last Sunday night how he’s gotten involved in hospice care. He visits patients at a nearby hospice facility. He sits with them, reads scripture with them, prays with them. He said the idea of ministering to dying people was so far outside of his comfort zone, and he was filled with apprehension and self-doubt when he started. This wasn’t at all what he trained for, what he did earlier in his career. But when God called him to do this thing for which he felt unqualified, he answered the call. And his life has been blessed—just as he’s blessed the lives of others… just like Abraham was blessed… to be a blessing.
So what else made Abraham “unqualified” to answer God’s call?
Well, not only was he 75, he didn’t have any children, yet God told him that he would make him into a great nation, and that through his offspring he would bless the world. How’s that going to happen if he doesn’t have any offspring? Moreover, even when he and his wife were of childbearing age, the Bible says that Sarah was unable to have children. So how are they going to have children now? He’s in his seventies. She’s in her sixties. It just seems so unlikely!
No, it seems impossible!
And it must have seemed even more impossible 25 years later, when God’s promise to Abraham still hadn’t come true, and he still didn’t have the promised son through his wife Sarah! Good heavens, I have trouble waiting in the Chick-fil-A drive-through for 25 seconds; how much harder is it to wait for 25 years!
And, by the way, it’s not like Abraham was perfectly faithful and without sin. And if you read his story, even after believing in God, he gets into trouble. He makes a lot of mistakes. He doubts God. He sins.
We’re in this election season right now in which all the candidates tell us how well-qualified they all are to become president. So we should elect them. But when God elected Abraham to play a far more important role in world history than any president plays, it’s almost as if God goes out of his way to show how unqualified Abraham is!
And this happens a lot in the Bible!
When God calls Gideon, in Judges 7, to lead Israel in battle against the Midianites, God tells him: “You’ve got too many people in your army to go to war against Midian. You have to get rid of some of them. So God has Gideon say to his men: “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.” At that point, 22,000 troops leave the army and go home. There are only 10,000 left. But God says that’s still too many! So God devised another test, until there were only 300 men left. From 22,000 down to 300. And God says, “That’s just enough!” And those 300 defeat the Midianites.
Why does God do that? Because, he tells Gideon, “If you had 22,000 men, or even 10,000, you’d be tempted to think, ‘Look what we accomplished? Aren’t we awesome?’ But if you’ve only got 300 men against an army of tens of thousands, well… It will be clear who’s responsible for the victory… It will be clear who’s responsible for your success. It’s not you—or your 22,000 men, or your particular gifts or skills or resources or money. None of those things will make you successful.”
No… God wants Gideon to know, and God wants Abraham to know, and God wants Hampton United Methodist Church to know that it’s not up to us to bring the victory… It’s not up to us to make this church or anything else we’re involved with a success! God is responsible for our victory! God is responsible for our success!
And God is more than happy to test our faith until we know deep down in our bones that it’s really true! God will give us the victory! God will make us successful! If only we will do what?Trust him!
Brothers and sisters, I know as well as any of you the challenges that our church faces. We constantly feel as if we don’t have enough of what we need—whether it’s money, or people, or young people, or young families, or children, or musicians, or choir members, or whatever… We feel as if we don’t have enough to do what we believe God is calling us to do. I get it! And then when people leave the church—leave their church family—for any reason, it absolutely breaks my heart. And I feel like a failure. And of course I worry. And I feel afraid. “What am I going to do?” And maybe you do too.
But maybe our Lord is telling me, “Brent, it’s not about you—it’s not about whatever gifts or skills you possess, or don’t possess.” And maybe he’s telling us—this congregation—“It’s not about us—the gifts, the skills, the resources that we possess, or don’t possess.” Maybe this morning the Lord is saying, “It’s about me… Trust in me.”
Do we believe that? Do we really believe that?
Because he’s telling us as a church, just as he told Abraham in today’s scripture: Get moving! It’s as if our church has settled into this place of comfort, this place of safety, a place of familiarity, this place of little risk—a place not unlike Haran, where Abraham had settled. And it’s as if God is telling us, “You’re missing the action. I never intended for your church to get comfortable, or to be content, or to feel satisfied here, in this place, while so many people outside the walls of your church are living and dying without being in a saving relationship with my Son Jesus Christ! Your mission is to them. Your mission is for them. I have put you here for their sake. Go to them! Rescue them. Save them!”
But if we don’t, we can expect that the backbiting, and the gossiping, and the petty things that so often divide us from one another will only grow worse. Until we, as a church, die.
The land of Canaan is all around us. Let’s not stay here in Haran. Let’s go.