All is Calm, All is Bright ~ December 02, 2018 ~ Genesis 12:1-4
Just a little while ago – I don’t know, about a month ago, perhaps – I got an email from ancestry.com. Anybody do one of those DNA kits yet? They’re fun. Now, the thing that struck me at first was “an update?? I am what I am, how can you update, am I suddenly something else?” But as I understand it, they determine your ancestry based upon the amount of information they have in their system, so the more people do the kits, the more information they have, the more accurate they can be about where your ancestors come from. Up to now I thought that I was mostly Polish, but with the new DNA they have in the system I discovered I’m more Baltic states – that’s Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Russia, and little bit of German.
It’s amazing that we don’t have to go too far into our past to discover some pretty incredible stories about our ancestors! I know I’ve shared once before that my great uncles Peter and John were both drafted –
that’s actually my great uncle Peter, my great uncle John, Mary is my grandmother – and Peter and John were drafted in the Russian Army of Czar Nicholas the II.
Czar Nicholas the II was the last Czar to rule in Russia before the revolution in 1917 when the communists took over and it became the Soviet Union. Well, my grandmother Mary used to tell the story that whenever they had a disagreement, Peter and John, and whenever John wanted to win the argument, or wanted the upper hand, he would say, “Remember Peter, when you were a foot soldier (an infantryman), I was on the horse (Cavalry).” And Peter would give in out of respect.
Now, I’m American, through and through, but I love to hear these stories, because apparently, I have more Lithuanian roots than anything else! “Į sveikatą.” That’s Lithuanian for God Bless You. Norwegian and Swedish comes in a quick second. But I would encourage you, if you haven’t done one of those DNA kits, it’s fun. It makes a great Christmas gift, too. (enough for the commercial).
I thought about that because I found this morning’s reading to be fascinating when it comes to genealogy. We’re talking about Terah’s son. Terah was a man who was seventy years old when he had his three children. Let that sink in first: he was seventy years old when he had his three children. His great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was Noah. That’s right, you have Noah, you have Shem, you have five generations, you have Terah. Terah has three sons by the name of Haran, Nahor, and Abram, who goes on to become Abraham. Then in Genesis 11:31 we read:
One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai [who became Sarah] (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans. He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran. (Genesis 11:31-32)
Then… please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray. Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Then, chapter 12:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. (Genesis 12:1-4)
Seventy-five years old and Abraham had to pack up everything that he owned and go on a journey. That includes his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, all of his nephew’s children, his extended family if you will, all of his servants who worked for him. Abraham was a relatively successful farmer. He had a large retinue of people. All his animals, his sheep, his goats, his camels; all of his furniture, his tents, his tables, his chairs. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to move, but if you’ve lived in a place for any length of time and then all of a sudden had to pack it all up and go, that’s not easy to do! Think of everything that’s in your house right now, all the rooms; the cellar, the shed out back, everything. And you need to pack all of that up into a wagon. Now multiply that by one hundred. This is what Abraham was looking at – at seventy-five years old. And he had to go on a 550-mile journey. That’s a long way! That’s like you packing everything you own into a wagon and starting out today for Cleveland, Ohio.
Now, I don’t care if you’re walking (which most of them were), or if you’re riding. Even if you’re riding… I rode a camel when I was in Turkey in 2001 on a trip with my seminary class following the footsteps of Paul.
It may not look like it but sitting on a camel is like sitting on a rock! It is not comfortable! That’s why they pile it up with all those blankets! It was still like sitting on a rock! I can’t imagine sitting on that thing for 550-miles. I can’t imagine doing it when I was seventy-five years old. But by faith, Abraham responds.
I don’t want to pass over that too quickly: by faith Abraham responds. You see, Abraham, we go on to learn, is the father of the Jews. And the Jews believe that salvation is based upon adherence to the law, following the rules. You were saved by the law. And yet, the founder of the Jewish faith, so to speak, the father of the Jewish faith, didn’t have the law. The law wasn’t given until Moses on Mt. Sinai 700 years later. So, God says, “Get up and go,” Abraham responds in faith – he gets up and goes.
That’s critical, because the Reformers, during the Protestant Reformation, pointed to that when they were teaching about salvation, that salvation was not by the law, salvation was by faith. It’s what you believe that saves you, not necessarily what you do. You cannot earn your way – you cannot be a good enough person and do enough good deeds to earn your way into heaven, that’s not how it works. You are saved by faith, just as Abraham responded in faith. Paul, Peter, the early apostles would use this argument to make that point amongst the Jews. “No, you don’t understand – even the father of your faith responded in faith, not through the law.”
Anyway, none of this made sense to Abraham. He had a successful business in Haran. He had a growing extended family – not his own children but – why would God ask him to leave? I find that funny, because, you know, we often say (I’m guessing you probably have said it), “You know, God works in mysterious ways.” Right? Haven’t you told somebody that at some point in your life? Or somebody’s told you that. And usually it happens at a time of crisis, at a time of challenge, you can’t figure out why things are the way they are at the moment. Someone says, “Well, you know, God works in mysterious ways.” But when it comes to us, we don’t want to hear that! We want all our Is dotted, all our Ts crossed, we want to know when we’re leaving, how long it’s going to take to get there, what we’re going to do when we get there, why are we going, how are we going to get there … we want all the details filled in. We don’t want God saying, “I work in mysterious ways!”
We’re supposed to respond in faith, so even in the midst of what might not make any sense to us, we’re supposed to go, “All is calm, all is bright.” Relax. God’s got it under control. We’re supposed to walk by faith, not by sight.
Now, look folks, I’ve mentioned before – I’ve made a lot of really bad decisions in my life. And I’ve made some good ones. One that I do recognize was a good decision, was after 15 years of working for the Postal service – working for the Post Office was a good job! Decent wage (never going to make you rich, but you could raise a family on it), you had full, beautiful health insurance (we had high option Blue Cross Blue Shield) – after 15 years I had just earned my sixth week of vacation. Retirement was awesome. I told you a couple weeks ago that I was going to retire October 2, 2018, two months ago. It was a great job, and yet, the Lord one day said, “Get up and go!” But I don’t want to go! “I work in mysterious ways!” So that’s what we did. We packed everything we owned into the largest U-Haul that they rented, and I remember holding it in with my hand and holding the strap on the door, and letting go and jumping down real fast, because it was so packed to the top with all of our stuff. And off we went to Bangor, Maine. I had never been to Bangor, Maine in my life. But God was calling me to do something. It didn’t make sense to me – it certainly didn’t make sense to my father-in-law, let me tell you, that didn’t go over well at all! But I decided to respond as Abraham did, in faith.
We may not see why something is happening in our life or understand a particular situation or circumstance that we find ourselves in, but how we handle it when that happens is entirely up to us. We can reply in faith or not, that’s our call. This move may not have made any sense to Abraham whatsoever, but this is the moment of choice, this is the moment of decision. Either I believe that God is omniscient (all-knowing) and trust him, even with my life if necessary, or I do not. Christians are supposed to walk by faith, not by sight.
Now, we lit this morning, the first candle of Advent, the candle of Hope. The Bible says in Hebrews 11:1 that faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. It gives us assurance about things we cannot see. So, faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. It gives us assurance about things we cannot see. I have faith that one day, God is going to fill this meeting house again before I die. Faith is the assurance that what we hope for is actually going to happen. It’s critical to the process. Jesus said in Matthew 13 –
Well, Matthew tells us the story in chapter 13:54 about when Jesus…
… returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get his wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers – James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” (Matthew 13:54-56)
They’re basically saying he’s nobody special. Why do I have to listen to him? Verse 58:
And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief.
So, did Jesus not do miracles in Nazareth because he all of a sudden lost his power? He was incapable of doing miracles? No. He didn’t do any miracles there because of their unbelief. Because they didn’t have faith. Their faith that what they hope for will actually happen wasn’t there. So, he didn’t answer it.
Well, what could Abraham not see? Abraham could not see why this move was necessary, but he trusted God and he went. But Abraham had hope for something else as well. You see, at this point, he and Sarah had not yet had any children, but surely, he hoped that when God said, “I will make you into a great nation,” that came along with the promise of children. How are you going to make me into a great nation without kids? I don’t know though, he’s seventy-five years old. I supposed it’s possible. Did you know that Steve Martin, the comedian, became a father for the first time at sixty-seven years old?
And Tony Randall, TV’s original Felix Unger from the Odd Couple became a father for the first time at seventy-seven. Yeah, those ladies definitely married for love, no question about it.
So, I suppose it’s possible, but it isn’t very likely. I mean, think about it, put it in your own context. What would you say to your father, or your grandfather, if they told you at seventy-five, “Hey! I’m going to be a dad!” Well, if my dad brought home my stepmom who looked like that, I guess all I could do is shake his hand.
Seventy-five. It doesn’t matter, that’s what Abraham was hoping for – children. Now, we know how the story went. Another ten years go by, no kids. Instead of saying, “All is calm, all is bright, God will come through, God is right,” – instead of continuing to have faith, Sarah convinces Abraham to have a child through her servant, Hagar. Now, this surrogacy – we didn’t have invitro fertilization back then, so the husband literally had to lie with the servant, and then when she became pregnant, she was the surrogate mom. Surrogacy was not uncommon at that time. In fact, when the time came for the baby to be born, the wife would sit in a chair, and the surrogate mom would sit on her knees, and she would deliver the child symbolically as if the barren woman was delivering the child. It really wasn’t all that different from The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a little scary. Surrogacy was not unheard of, but what does this decision of Abraham and Sarah’s reveal about them? They lost faith. They lost trust in God’s promise. And then they tried to justify it. They began to think, “Hey, I’m seventy-five years old, Sarah’s not that much younger, and I haven’t had kids yet, so I have a plan… let’s try to help God out. Let’s go this other direction.” We can chuckle, because it is funny, but that is what we do, when we don’t get an answer that we want as fast as we want. We fill in this line: “Maybe God wants me to ________________” and then we fill in what it is we want to do. Believe me, as a pastor, I have heard it all the time. It usually accompanies bad news like, “I know pastor, that I volunteered to help with the Christmas Fair, but God wants me to do something else.” So I’m left hanging. When people actually have the courage to tell me that they’re leaving the church, oftentimes they’ll use that line as well: “God wants me to…” Somebody, actually, years ago told me, “I’m leaving the church, pastor.” I said, “Oh, really, how come?” He says, “I feel spiritually blocked.” I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS! So, we rationalize. It’s an excuse. Maybe God wants me to…
So, we do it too, is my point. Let’s not point fingers too accusatively at Abraham and Sarah, because when we don’t get what we want as fast as we want, we start filling in the blanks too! “Maybe God wants me to…”
We get impatient. But impatience is just another term for losing faith, doubting that God will come through, losing hope in His promises. And such doubt can have disastrous consequences. We know the story. Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael was born, and in Genesis 16, the Bible tells us:
“This son of yours [Ishmael] will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” (Genesis 16:12)
Ishmael’s going to be trouble. He’s going to raise his fist against everyone, he’s going to live in open hostility with all his relatives. I’m just wondering who exactly are Ishmael’s relatives?
All of Abraham’s other future children; his step-brothers and step-sisters; all of Lot’s children; all of those people that he was divided from, sent away from. Now, we know that God did fulfill His promise (He always does), and Abraham and Sarah did have a son, named Isaac. Forget being seventy-five, Abraham was ninety-nine when Isaac was born!
Now, as I said earlier, Abraham is acknowledged to be the father of the Jews. Anybody learn that song in Sunday School? “Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you. So, let’s all praise the Lord! Right hand! Father Abraham…” So, Father Abraham is recognized as father of the Jews. Abraham is a Jew. Isaac is a Jew. All of Abraham’s other children are Jews. Ishmael’s step-brothers, step-sisters, his relatives – they’re all Jews! Why is that relevant? Genesis 16, right? He’s going to raise his fist in hostility against all his relatives, and all his relatives are Jews. You see, Ishmael goes on to become the father of all the nations within the Arabic peninsula. All the Arabic nations come from Ishmael’s descendants, out of which comes Muhammed and Islam. I’m not making this stuff up. That story begins in Genesis 25. So, are Ishmael’s descendants, Muslims, living in open hostility against all their relatives, the Jews?
Well, obviously not all, and this is not about Jew verses Muslim. This is about making a decision of our own and not following God’s promise – losing faith and trying to fix it. There are some of Ishmael’s descendants who are still in open hostility with their relatives: Iran, Hamas. Hamas is the territorial government in Gaza which still calls in its charter for the destruction of the state of Israel. It says that it will replace Israel with a Palestinian Arabic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It says in their charter, “Israel will raise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it has eliminated its predecessors.” That’s still in the Hamas charter today, so yes, there are some, not all, who still raise their fist in hostility against their relatives, all because Abraham and Sarah got impatient, lost faith, lost hope, did not believe God was going to follow through, and they tried to help him by implementing their own plan.
When we do that it can have disastrous consequences. God does not need our help. He’s God. If He needed our help, how much of a God could He really be? So, relax. Be patient. Chill.
Maybe hum a little “All is calm, all is bright.” God is in control. It may take a little while – Abraham had to wait until he was ninety-nine before he got his son. Have faith. God is in control. Do not lose hope. No matter how chaotic or odd your life may get, walk by faith, not by sight. God had a plan for thousands of years to bring a Savior into the world, and that’s exactly what He did. There are people who waited and waited and waited and waited and then finally He came. The creator of the universe has a plan for you, and for me. For everyone. And when it’s God’s plan, no matter how long it seems to be taking or how impossible it seems to appear (like having a son at ninety-nine years old), have confidence that what you hope for will actually happen. Trust Him, and you will find yourself singing, “All is calm, all is bright.” Our hope for the world is that people would trust in Jesus, and God’s plan for salvation which is found only in Jesus. Our hope for the rest of Ishmael’s relatives, descendants who still raise their fists in hostility, that they would see the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love that is found only in Christ Jesus. Would you pray with me?