Abraham’s Counsel to Sarai (watercolor circa 1896-1902 by James Tissot)

I’m gonna tell y’all a little secret about me. I hate following orders for the sake of following orders. Check this out. My Boy Scout troop was sponsored by an American Legion Post. Boy Scout troop 237 in Huntsville, Alabama, was sponsored by American Legion Post 237. I was the first boy to start as a Scout in that troop and work my way up to Eagle. I was Senior Patrol Leader three times which means I had been elected three times to be the boy who could tell the other boys what to do. The American Legion awarded my brother and me the American Legion Medal of Valor for saving our Dad’s life during a grease fire in our home. The members of American Legion Post 237 had big plans for me. They wanted me to go into the military where they hoped to see great things from me. There was just one problem. I hate following orders for the sake of following orders. Obedience for the sake of obedience has never been something I handle well. My least favorite words growing up were, “because I said so.” However, for Father Abraham it was a different story.

Father Abraham did not start out as Father Abraham. Abraham started off as Abram. In Biblical Hebrew Abram means, “father”, and yet Abram has no children. Abram’s wife Sarai is barren. Sarai cannot bear children. The man called father is not the father of anyone. (pause) Here’s something else. We know next to nothing about Abram before God calls Abram to, “Go,” in Genesis 12.

We know Abram followed his father Terah for 75 years. Terah intended to travel from Ur of the Chaledeans to the land of the Canaanites, but settled down in a place called Haran. Haran was a large place of business and trade about half way between Ur and the Canaanite lands. Haran was a center for the worship of the moon from the time of Abram on up to the time of Roman Christianity. We don’t know if Abram had worshipped the moon like the rest of the people of Haran. We don’t know if Abram was a good man. We don’t know if Abram was righteous before God. We don’t even know if Abram knew who the high God Yahweh Elohanu Tsavaoth is. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about who Abram was before God called out to him. What we do know is in the midst of Haran, this place of pagan moon worship the Lord God Almighty spoke to father with no sons, Abram. God calls out to Abram and promises to change Abram from an Abram = father, into an Abraham = father of nations.

This is a HUGE promise. Please keep in mind at this time in history there is no concept of heaven as paradise. There is no concept of hell as eternal damnation. At this time in history there is only the waiting place called Sheol. For a person to live forever they must have children who will carry on their name. For Abram to be married to a barren woman and suddenly be promised what amounted to immortality must have been a very big carrot for this father of no one, Abram.

The question is to what and to where is God calling Abram? There are over 600 laws, regulations and commandments in the Old Testament, but it did not start out that way. For Abram it was simpler. God simply said, “Go” (Gen 12:1). Go away from everything familiar; from all of your friends, family and support structures. Go away from any power or prestige you may have once held: Go. Go and trust God to show you what comes next. God says, “Go,” and in exchange God will change Abram into an Abraham. God will bless those who bless Abram. God will curse those who curse Abram. And through Abram all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 12:1-3).

However, there is a catch. Abram must be obedient. Abram does not receive any of the promise unless Abram is obedient. Abram must go to lands he has never seen. Through Abram God will be a blessing to those who bless Abram and a curse to those who curse Abram. Through Abram all the families of the earth shall be blessed. When an Egyptian Pharaoh took Sarai as his wife the Lord cursed the Pharoah. When Abram’s nephew Lot was kidnapped God handed five armies into the hands of Abram and his 318 men. Through the descendents of Abram God sent God’s only son to be born of the house of David – a descendent of Abram. Through the obedient sacrifice of God’s only Son Jesus Christ all the peoples of the earth have been blessed with the gift of salvation. We have all been promised more abundant life if we will just turn to God; believe in God’s promise as Abram believed; and work to live our lives in obedience to God’s calling.

However, to be obedient requires surrender – surrendering to the Lord. Surrender is hard. Surrender is hard for me because too often I think of surrender as quit – as in I quit fighting for the things I want or the things I believe to be right. For that same reason obedience is hard because I’m like a lot of people. I like to have things my own way. The problem is too often when I try to go my own way I fail. (pause) It’s okay to fail. It is not okay to quit. What’s frustrating about failure is I know how to succeed. The way to succeed is to turn to the Lord first. I become very frustrated with failure because I know success comes from the Lord. Success in the Lord does not always look like my idea of success. However, every time I have put service to the Lord first God’s success has followed.

Proverbs reminds us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). In short we are called to follow the words of that old hymn of the church. We are to, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way; to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Even through all of the strong arguments and suggestions, obedience is easier said than done. Abram certainly had his struggles. There were hard days. Abram and Sarai travel to Egypt. Once there instead of trusting God Abram has Sarai lie and tell folks Sarai is Abram’s sister. Sarai is courted by the Egyptian Pharaoh, and Abram nearly loses her. After Abram and Sarai tried to take matters into their own hands by Sarai giving her hand maiden, Hagar, to Abram that Abram might have a son through Hagar, God told Abram to send Hagar and the child Ishmael away. Ishmael was likely 10 or 12. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been. Being obedient to the Lord is not always easy. Sometimes there is heart ache. Sometimes there is pain. However, throughout the tough times there is the promise. God promised a blessing.

Now, God made a promise of blessing to Abram in Genesis 12. God will bless those who bless Abram. God will curse those who curse Abram. And through Abram all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. Through Abram’s family line Jesus Christ was born. Through Jesus Christ’s obedient sacrifice all those who accept Jesus’ gift of salvation, and are then baptized, are adopted into God’s holy family – the descendents of Israel, and take a share in God’s promises to Abram. However, we have to make Abram’s choice. We have to be willing to be obedient. We have to work to be a blessing to others.

Too many churches in the United States have become comfortable sitting right where they are. They know the people in the community know the church is there. They know the people in the community know what the church can offer, and yet people do not come to their church. Why is that? Why don’t people come? Could it be the Church is not being faithful to God’s command to go? God’s call to Abram was to, “Go” (Gen 12:1). Jesus’ command to all of us is to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matt 28:19). As a family of believers how faithful are we being to God’s call and commandment to Go? Perhaps the reason we have not received more of the blessing from God is because we have not yet been faithful enough to God’s call to, “Go.”

Sisters and brothers, obedience to God’s command is not a simple thing. We are often called to be obedient when we do not understand. We are often called to, “Go,” when the going is tough. It’s not always tough because of the circumstances. Sometimes “Go”ing is rough because it means saying good bye to places and to people who have become more than acquaintances. Obedience comes down to being willing to follow Abram’s example. Abram wasn’t ready. Abram clearly wasn’t good enough. Abram just did what God asked of him, and God did all the work. Through Father Abraham we have all received the blessing of God’s salvation, and the call to, “Go.” Will we be obedient to God’s call? Will we be obedient to God?

In the Name of Jesus Christ – Amen.