Into a new land (Evening Communion)
Genesis 11: 31-32 & 12: 1-10
(The service starts off with asking who Abraham’s father was)
I think it is fair to review our faith every now and again.
I think it is fair to reflect on what we do and why we do it.
If we don’t do that deliberately then every now and again that process of reflection will be forced on us, usually in an uncomfortable way.
For instance we get a serious illness and that forces us to think about what we have done with our life.
Or someone we love dies, or we watch someone close to us face that devastation, and that forces us to think about our lives, and the people in them and how we have spent the time we have with them.
About this time last year I started to get stress pains. Nothing major.
But what had happened was that after the heart attacks I had been told to slow down, and I had.
But over a couple of years people had come up to me and said, ‘Could you do this?’ and I would say wise things like, ‘Yes I will try it, but if I feel that the stress of it is too much then I will give it up in a few months.’
A few months would go by and I felt fine so I would carry on doing the work.
Then someone would say, ‘We need help with this. Any chance you could help?’
And I would reflect on how my health was, and my health felt fine, so I would say, ‘Yes. I can do that for a while, but if my health suffers I will stop.’
And a few months later I would still feel ok so I would carry on that job.
And after two years of doing that, taking on jobs, but never giving them up, it had all piled up again and the stress took its toll.
I ended up in hospital and a major review of what I did and how I did it took place.
I’m glad I did the review, I just wish that I had had the wisdom to do the review before I was forced to.
Here’s the thing.
I suspect that the Bible is misread too often, because we misunderstand how it should be read.
If you read the Bible as a history book then what you get out of it is history and the most important thing you get out of it is what happened when. And all the discussion you get about the Bible is arguments about when exactly King David was on the throne or what route Moses took through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land.
If you read the Bible as a science book then what you get out of it is science and the most important thing about the Bible is the facts. So you get arguments about how the world could be created in seven days, or how 5,000 men could be fed by five loaves and two fish.
But what if the Bible was really written as a book of reflection, that each part of the Bible was meant to help us reflect on our life, and to reflect on our life before something terrible forced us to reflect on it?
Then maybe we could see insights about our lives that we need to see, or need to be reminded of.
So we come to this passage in Genesis.
Abraham has been called to move, to leave that which he knows and go into a new land.
A bit like our journey into the future.
I am sure that as Abraham thought about it, it was a scary thing to do, in the same way that when we think of the future of the church, or our own future, it can be a scary thing to contemplate.
So let’s go through this reflection.
It starts off with Terah who gets a vision of moving from Ur in Babylonia to Canaan. He doesn’t make it. He gets to Haran and then settles there.
So here is my first negative point when we reflect.
We often make the mistake of thinking that when we reflect on our faith that we start with us and what we have done. We don’t.
Our story often starts before us and is influenced by what has gone before us.
There might have been a better story, a different story that should have been written, was meant to be written.
What if the story God hoped to be written went like this, ‘The Lord said to Terah, ’Leave your country and go to a place I will show you. I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing.’
We know that Terah left Ur and started on a journey to Canaan. I think it is fair to presume that he was given the same vision as Abraham. But he didn't become famous, because none of you knew who he was.
I want to make this clear. Terah gets a vision from God and kind of gives up on it.
That is the example that Abraham has. Abraham sees someone, Terah, with a vision from God and that vision doesn't really go anywhere.
So why should Abraham follow it?
Did the vision fail because of Terah?
Or did Terah fail because the vision wasn’t worth it?
No matter what the answer to that question is, it will put doubts in Abraham's head.
If the vision failed because of Terah, then how can Abraham be sure that the vision won’t fail again because of Abraham?
If the vision failed because it was a bad vision then why would Abraham want to follow that vision?
When we reflect on our faith that is often the reality where we start from.
We think our faith starts with what we are doing or what we have done.
But our faith starts off from all the influences that touch us before we do anything.
I say that because sometimes we should give ourselves a bit of slack.
Our weaknesses are often things we have learnt before we had a chance to know better.
So here is positive point number 1...even with all those inherent flaws that Abraham already had, God still gave him the vision.
Abraham doesn’t start with a clean slate.
Abraham doesn’t start this journey already being perfect, that God has looked at all the people of the world and Abraham is the most perfect to do this journey of faith.
Abraham starts of flawed.
The only example that he has is a bad example.
God knows all that, and God gives him the vision.
So negative point number 2.
He starts off well. He goes all in on the vision.
He takes his wife, his nephew Lot, all his wealth, all his slaves and leaves and goes to Canaan.
And he gets to Canaan and he thanks God for the journey and God tells him this is the place that he needs to settle down, and he builds an alter to God there, to show that he is putting his roots down, building a foundation down.
And he settles down.
And then thinks, ‘Was it this exact place I was meant to settle down?’
So he moves to a place between Bethel and Ai because that seems a bit better.
And he is definitely settled there. He builds an alter there to show that he is putting his foundations in that place.
Because it is better than the first place.
But what if the next place is a bit better than the second place, so he goes further south...and doesn’t build and alter there, because why go to all that effort of putting down your foundations when maybe God has another place for you.
And then he moves so far away that he is no longer in Canaan but now in Egypt.
I call this the theory of falling off the cliff edge.
If I was to say to someone, ‘Run to the cliff edge and then jump off to your doom,’ no one would do it. It would be obviously stupid and self destructive.
But if it is so obviously stupid and self destructive then how come so many people do it?
Every day we watch people jump off cliff edges.
They die of drug abuse.
They wreck marriages.
They destroy relationships.
They get into huge gambling debts.
They get cancer because they smoke too much, they get diabetes because they eat too much of the wrong food.
The thing is, they don't start off by thinking, ‘I want to do something reckless like jumping off the cliff.’
They say to themselves, ‘I will take one step to the cliff edge, just to see what it is like, because it is a bit exciting.’
‘I’ll just flirt with that workmate because it is fun, it doesn’t mean anything.’
‘I’ll try that bingo site just to try it out, it’s just breaks the boredom of the day.’
‘I’ll have that drink at the end of the day as it helps me relax, life is too stressed.’
And somehow years later they find themselves at the cliff edge and it seems too far to go to get away from the edge.
We fail. Abraham failed, we fail.
And the reason we fail is because we wander.
Abraham literally did.
So do we.
We have a vision and we get there, and then our mind wanders off and suddenly we find ourselves in Egypt and in trouble and we wonder how that happened.
So positive point number 2.
We need to remember the vision.
And our vision is the same as Abrahams.
Not that we will be given land, not that we will have more descendants than the stars, not even that we will become famous.
‘I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing.’
Really the whole of the Bible is trying to remind us of this truth.
God blesses people, so that they may become a blessing to others.
And each life the Bible looks at, it asks how that vision has worked, or not worked.
So some have got blessings, and failed to bless others, and we see the consequences of what happens.
Some have had blessings and others have been blessed because of them, and we see the consequences of their actions.
And we are asked to reflect, which of these choices do we want for our lives?
And don’t worry if you have failed, because Abraham gets a few more chances.
And don’t worry of you even make the same mistake again and again, Abraham does that and gets more chances.
And don‘t worry of you are uncertain what to do next and wander to a new wrong place, Abraham does that too and still gets another chance.
And don’t worry if you feel you need to argue with God because you are not sure whether God is going to do the right thing, Abraham does that and God doesn't mind.
And don’t worry if you’re inconsistent, that one day you can take on the world and the next day you botch things up, Abraham does that too, it doesn't stop God helping him.
As long as we go back to the vision.
See that God has given us blessings, and realise that we have been given those blessings so that we can be a blessing to others.