This morning I was talking about Abram’s journey, God’s promise and how things went pear-shaped in Egypt in two different places- the first was with a group of parents and children at our ‘Early Bird’ breakfast service, which involved telling the story and pausing for questions, while distributing toy animals and people to represent the increasing size of Abram’s household as he journeyed, and the second was with one of our congregations in a more normal situation. The ‘script’ for the story journey isn’t really intelligible, so i won’t post it here… but you can have a look at what i said later in the morning…
This week in our Bible readings we’ve been looking at the story of Abram (as became Abraham), and his descendants… we’ve been reading about promises, trust, betrayal, loss and above all God’s consistent love.
If the snapshot of last week was about how we’re created in the image of God, and our failure to live up to that, then this week is about God’s first steps to bring reconciliation- God starts to make peace with us, in the first instance through a relationship with one man- Abram.
God could have appeared with power and wonder in the city of Haran, causing all people to fall on their faces… but that isn’t the nature of God- thinking back to the garden of Eden, God’s relationship with Adam and Eve was that he walked in the garden, looking for them- not swooping over or summoning them into his presence. And so here, and repeatedly through Scripture and in our own lives, God comes at the most personal level that people can respond to- Abram hears God’s voice, see’s God and walks and talks with him; Jacob dreams of him and wrestles through the night… if we’re wanting to know God and are wondering why we struggle to hear him, the simple question is are we expecting to- are we waiting and listening, and are we responding when God has spoken to us? A friend shared that often people ask him what God might be saying to them… and the first answer is ‘this- the Bible’. This is one thing that God has said to us all, and if we’re struggling to know what God wants us to do, how to live etc… have we failed to look at his Word, and to apply it to our lives?
So, what is revealed in this passage that was true for Abram, and is also true for our lives?
Firstly- God made a promise. Abram didn’t ask for it or extract it… God started this. And Abram was willing to respond. A couple of questions I had as I read this- Did Abram know exactly where he was going? (No) What was God asking him to do? (Leave his familiar surroundings and step into the unknown) How do you think Abram felt as he left his hometown? (a mixture of feelings, but definitely nervousness was in there).
Few of us have probably had that direct call to leave our homes to follow God, but there is a parallel that we can each draw- when we come to faith, or commit to follow Jesus as a disciple, or actively decide to deepen our faith at some stage of our lives, we are making that step of leaving the known, and stepping into the unknown. God never told me where I would end up when I came to faith 26years ago- not in terms of place or the things I’d do. Its been a case of trusting him and seeing a short distance ahead- enough to continue things but not so much that I have my whole life mapped out in detail.
And then, as Abram is journeying, he pauses in Canaan- this is the place I shall give to your descendants… that’s great, but where do I go? Might be an answer, but Abram has grown to trust God, and so he worships- through the narrative of his life we hear of 7 different places where he stops, builds and altar and worships God- he’s not limited to one place, he certainly isn’t constrained by others, and his response to the things God puts before him is to worship. God is beginning to show Abram the answer, the promise, that Abram can trust him, and so he worships God. When God reveals something to us, either of his character or his promises to us, our human instinct may be to analyse it ‘how will that fit with everything else I’ve got going on?’ ‘how will my family/colleagues etc view this?’… but God asks us to trust him, and put him as the foundation in our lives that everything else rests on- not competing with them for time, but looking at everything from a perspective that starts with God- so we worship and pray and share our faith because to do anything else makes no sense; but we do worship and pray and share faith in the place and with the people around us, for them…
But in the midst of this, Abram feels that God’s promise is falling apart- there is a drought which leads to a famine- he can’t feel the presence of God and is uncertain of what to do… he’s no longer sure of the promise and can’t wait- maybe he feels the pressure of providing for his household, maybe there are others giving advice and so he goes to a place where he might find food- Egypt. Note that God didn’t say ‘don’t go there’, but neither did Abram ask for direction… as I read this I reflected that this might be one of those things that are neither perfect or terrible… its all in how we act in a situation like this. And that is where the problem comes. Abram now compounds his doubt that God would provide for him, with a fear that God will not protect him. And rather than holding back or waiting… he comes up with a plan which involves lying and deception- from right back at the beginning we know that God hates lying- that’s what led to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the presence of God.
In Egypt things get confusing- the lies don’t seem to cause too much of a problem, at least not immediately- Abram isn’t killed, Sarai ends up living in the palace, Abram is even treated well… but of course there’s one basic problem- Abram’s wife is now living with another man, and this has been caused by deception, and how is God’s promise going to be fulfilled in this situation? All too often, we resort to our own human thinking when God’s plan doesn’t seem to be working out, or at least not from our viewpoint… Abram is confused, and resorts to old habits. Its interesting to see how God responds… not with fire, brimstone and destruction- with something that Pharaoh understands and the Egyptians will respond to- we don’t know whether Pharaoh had ignored a recurring dream or other signs, but he seems to have understood immediately that the cause of the diseases affecting his house is his connection to Sarai and knows that she is Abram’s wife… And in a way that foreshadows the events of the Exodus, Abram and his household leave Egypt, with more than they arrived with…
Abram was in the middle of things, and its hard to keep your perspective there- you have to balance the immediate with the long term, the personal with the big picture. As we look at the Bible we can more easily see the whole big picture- the beginning of God’s restored relationship with humanity, starting with Abram and his descendants, the promise of a blessing for all people that would eventually come in the form of Jesus, and the restored relationship with God that is now available for anyone who asks. For us, here in Bishop’s Tawton, its important to know that we are within that narrative, each of us, and this church, that God’s promises to Abram hold true for us, that He will be with us, will lead us on, and will bless others through us if we trust him.