God's Covenant with Abraham (8:30am)
Topic: Called Scripture: Genesis 12:1–12:9
God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah involved a name change. The first began as Abram, meaning Exalted Father; his new, longer name meant Father of a Multitude. She started as Sarai—“My Princess;” as Sarah, she was Mother of Nations. The changes signal lives forever marked by the divine call. Over the course of time, these predictive designations came to pass. Abraham’s spiritual progeny included Christians, Muslims, and Jews. There are so many of us who can trace our spiritual heritage to this duo. If we could just get along, it would be a big step toward world peace. Sometimes family squabbles are the worst.The fulfillment of the promise did not hinge on anything the elderly couple did or didn’t do. It was simply an announcement of God’s intent. What role, then, do our human choices play in the grand scheme of things?
Sometimes we agonize over our decisions, not wanting to mess up or miss God’s will for us. Should I move to that new apartment or that new city? Should I marry this or that person? Should I divorce? Should I have a second piece of pie? All these can be important matters. Yet, in the life of faith, our personal decisions are a distant second to God’s. The things we hope we get “right,” don’t necessarily make much difference to the One who loves us with an everlasting love. The main thing is, God has decided in the affirmative for us, and will not be changing his mind anytime soon. Sarah and Abraham had their share of mistakes and foul-ups, but the promise was never rescinded.
The Heidelberg catechism forms part of our church’s constitution and also is central to the Reformed churches of Germany and the Netherlands. In the first question, it asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer: “That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” In our Reformed theology, the focus is on what God has done, and said, and promised, not on what we choose.
And yet: we can’t help but be struck by the ready response of those who heard and received the promise. They didn’t sit down to list the pros and cons, or calculate the cost of living in the new place versus where they were already, and how the schools rated in the new neighborhood. They simply started packing. Like the Clampetts, “they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly…Hills”—except they had no idea where they were going. It was an act of pure obedience. The disciples also dropped everything to follow the Lord. They were caught in the current of the river of God’s will.
In this context, our decisions become crucial to our witness. Our Spirit-prompted responsiveness is part of the covenantal dynamic.
How faith-based is our decision-making? When have we sensed ourselves answering the mysterious divine call? It might be a re-commitment of ourselves to Jesus Christ. It might be a specific intuition that we are to minister to a person whose name keeps coming to mind. It could be a passionate feeling about some social injustice. How well is our moral compass working? However the call arrives, we believe it is wrapped up I God’s claim on us. It could cost a lot to answer that call. There’s something irresistible there, almost as though we can’t help but respond. Metaphorically, we start packing. We answer the call.
JJ Watt plays defensive end for the Houston Texans. He grew up in Waukesha, WI and attended UW-Madison. When Hurricane Harvey struck, JJ Watt started a crowdfunding effort to help victims. Quickly his fund passed the $37 million mark. It helps to have wealth and celebrity, but he stepped up. On his YouCaring Compassionate Crowdsourcing website, he wrote, “There are not enough words to thank you for your generosity. Please keep the spirit of helping one another alive. The world is a better place when we take care of each other.”
Maybe the call of God is more real and dynamic than we ever imagined. Maybe when we think we hear a holy prompting, we should follow the old Nike slogan: Just do it.
John Buchanan, the former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, tells this story:
“A priceless moment occurred several weeks ago when parents presented their two-year-old son for baptism. He was fine with the whole thing, didn’t fuss or cry or refuse. In fact, he seemed perfectly comfortable when I took him in my arms, seemed almost to be concentrating on what was happening, didn’t flinch when I touched his head with water. And when I said, “Christopher, you are a child of God, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever,” he looked me in the eye and said, clearly and articulately, ‘Uh-oh.’
Well, yes. ‘Uh-oh.’ That’s not a bad response to ‘You belong to Jesus Christ forever.’ If that’s in any way true, who knows what might happen? Fact is, we don’t know where the call will lead. What we do know is the One who calls promises to travel with us and to never let us go.