When my father had to move into St. Luke's Nursing Home at Chermside, we were advised to bring into the room a whole collection of familiar objects - photos, wood carvings - things that had meant something to him when he was in better health. That Nursing Home room had to become his home.
Some people seem to be often on the move. We had just a small taste of this on Long Service Leave. For ten weeks or so, our tent was our home. We organised our beds and kitchen area the same way in every place we set it up. Our surroundings might be different, but our home was the same. Added to that sense of consistency, of course, was the awareness that, back in Brisbane, a more permanent home was awaiting our return.
This year, as we prepare ourselves for the Easter season, we are sharing some Old Testament stories about God's people and the choices they had to make.
Today we are thinking about Abraham. The New Testament book of Hebrews says that "he left his own country without knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as a foreigner in the country that God had promised him. He lived in tents " (Heb.11.8b-9a). Just think of that! He didn't know where he was going, and when he got there he still hadn't really arrived! Abraham didn't know where he was going, but he did know to get there! We are told that he lived "by faith"; and he was called the "friend of God". Those sound like two very important keys to his life.
In Genesis 12 we read of the incredible promise God made to Abraham - "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's house, and go to a land that I am going to 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. I will bless those who bless you. But I will curse those who curse you. And through you I will bless all the nations" (vv.1-3).
Abraham's father, Terah, had taken "his son Abram, his grandson Lot, who was the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, Abram's wife, and with them he left the city of Ur in Babylonia to go to the land of Canaan" (11.31). That's a journey of over 1000 kilometres - no jets or cars, probably at that stage no horses either - camels and donkeys may have been used to carry loads, while the people walked to keep pace with the cattle, sheep and goats. We are told that Terah died in Haran at the age of 205. So he still had another 60 years to live after Abraham left Haran.
So now Abraham hears the call of God to let go of the security of Haran and to move on to the land of promise. Abraham was, in fact, unsure of his destination. As we read the story we know it is the same land - Canaan - towards which his father had planned to take them years before. But it was more than 700 kilometres further on. It seemed both sensible and comfortable to stay put in Haran. But that land is now not just the land of Terah's dreams, but the land of God's promise. Abraham believed God and set out. What an amazing promise! The Lord is going to bless him and make his name famous so that he will be a blessing In fact, through Abraham the Lord will bless all nations.
That seems a lot for a lifetime. Moving from Haran to the land of promise was going to be challenge enough. How is he ever going to be a blessing to all nations? All sounds a bit difficult for a man of his age! Perhaps, when his name has become famous, nations will come to him. That might be more convenient. Better coverage that way! Still, it's a lot to squeeze into a life that's mostly completed!
But there was more! "I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation." So that's how this blessing will reach out to all nations! It doesn't all have to happen in one lifetime! And yet, at the age of 75 years and his wife not far behind, this must have seemed even more impossible. And when there seemed to be nothing happening (after they had lived in Canaan for ten years - 16.3), Abraham, at the suggestion of his wife Sarah, sought fulfilment of the promise through Hagar, an Egyptian slave-girl - that union was not the purpose of God at all and its results are with us to this day. Abraham was now 86 years old (16.16) - time seemed to be running out!
Thirteen years later Abraham was 99! That's a time of excitement in a cricket match. And it's a "hope he/she makes it" feel about that score in a human life too! That was when the Lord appeared to Abraham again, "I make this covenant with you: I promise that you will be the ancestor of many nations I will give you many descendants, and some of them will be kings. You will have so many descendants that they will become nations I will bless [your wife Sarah], and I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and he will become the mother of nations, and there will be kings among her descendants" (17.4,6,16).
Now that is just too much! Abraham thinks, "Can a man have a child when he is a hundred years old? Can Sarah have a child at ninety?" I mean to say, that would 18 years older than the oldest mother recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. That was a stillbirth and, having taken place in 1776, is regarded as unauthenticated!
And maybe at that age, we've not only given up hoping for children, but perhaps are not particularly wanting the burden of a child! "Why not let Ishmael be my heir?" Just let that one sink in! Try to do a rethink of Biblical history. Try to imagine Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein and all the other Arabs as the heirs to the promises of God God in his mercy and grace can do all sorts of things for people. Jesus came and lived and died for them. Somehow I tremble to think of the means by which they might have conspired to put him to death! The Jews have been a stubborn enough lot for the Lord to deal with. Ishmael was not the child of promise. When we look at the genealogy of Jesus, we are amazed at some of the names (and incidents) recorded there. God can work all things together for good, but he was not about to use Abraham's unbelieving blunder with Hagar for the fulfilment of his promise!
Supposing an important person in the space programme phoned to invite us to travel in a spaceship to a space platform - like a house circling in space - how many of us would like to go? What are our reasons for wanting to go - or to stay behind?
Going into space is risky. We aren't designed to live in space. We would be totally dependent on our support systems. We would need to have complete trust in the rocket, the space platform and the ground crew.
For Abraham and Sarah there were a different set of risks - after all, their bodies were as well suited to life in Canaan as to life in Haran. There were all the uncertainties of a new land - and no maps or tourist brochures! They had to trust God as they moved out of their comfort zone in Haran.
And God calls us to trust him. In what ways are we strongly tempted to stay comfortable where we are in what is less than his land of promise for us? Are we willing to receive God's free gift of forgiveness knowing that it can profoundly change us? Are we open to being changed? In what ways is God calling us to let go and move out of our comfort zone?
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