Hear these words from our reading this morning:
“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your own country, your kin, and your father’s house, and go to a country that I will show you. I shall make you into a great nation: I shall bless you and make your name so great that it will be used in blessings.’…Abram, who was seventy-five years old when he left Harran, set out as the Lord had bidden him….” (Genesis 12:1-2, 4)
What’s so remarkable to me about Abraham is the depth of his faith.
I mean yes, of course, it’s the voice of God he hears telling him what to do, and so, as the story tells it, there is no hemming and hawing with Abraham about what he just heard and how he is called to respond, or when.
You and I are used to living in a world where we often aren’t so sure that a voice that leads us can be counted on to be a voice from God.
But in the Bible, at least this morning, that’s not up for discussion.
God calls Abraham to go to a land he will be shown in due course, and he does, and from what we can tell, he does it pretty much right away, packing up his family and heading due south, out into the wilderness.
If the story is new to you, then it might be helpful to know that when you put it in context, Abraham hears God’s voice, and the sense of his breaking with everything he had known or understood before is actually even bigger.
A few weeks ago, we considered the story of Ruth in some detail. And while Ruth’s faith was remarkable, part of the point, surely, was that she was looking to find her place in a community that was not hers by blood.
And the abiding challenge of her story is a challenge to communities of faith—a challenge about whether we are prepared to welcome the stranger any better than the people of Bethlehem initially welcomed Ruth and Naomi.
By constrast, this morning, Abraham, who comes perhaps 1000 years before Ruth, has no community to join.
If you want to get technical about it, Abraham lived actually before Judaism. Hebrew religion, even in its earliest form, did not exist. There is no chosen people yet. That story comes later.
What’s more, as far as we know, Abraham wasn’t directly related to Adam or Noah or anybody else who might have told him about God.
Abraham was born in what is now Iraq….and he’s being sent out into a literal and figurative place of Only God Knows Where.
So his trust in this…voice…is truly remarkable.
This week, I read an article from the Harvard Business Review about how companies define their core values.
And I learned that one of the really provocative questions that you can ask of an institution is this:
“If circumstances changed and actively penalized us for holding [a particular] core value, would we still keep it?”
The article goes on to say that “A company should not change its core values in response to market changes; rather, it should change markets, if necessary, to remain true to its core values.”
In the end, our values are who we are.
Now it’s entirely too slick to say that what Abraham does in this morning’s Scripture is simply to change markets in order to stay true to his core values.
But the deeper point is that Abraham hears God’s voice and he is transformed, even fearless in his willingness to shed every security in order to stay true to that voice.
He finds a deeper vision for his own life, and for the good of all people, and that vision makes him ready to face anything and to risk everything.
And if you look at Scripture as a whole, he’s not alone…even if he was alone in his generation.
John the Baptist was someone like that. So was Jesus. And so was Paul.
And there are so many who have come since then, people of all faiths, and truly in all walks of life.
And so, I think the point for us is that, while the work of finding a deeper vision for our lives is challenging work, it can be done.
We can do it.
We can learn to see our lives in terms of their deeper contributions and their moral insights…and the things we do to live up to those insights, however small or large those things may be.
About fifteen years ago, there was a brief boom among many different faith traditions about hosting programs on writing what was called a “moral will.”
It was about writing down for posterity what were the ideas and the responsibilities you considered most important in your life, and why you thought they mattered, not just for you, but for people in general.
I was never part of an actual group that developed their moral wills, although I hope I will be sometime, and if you’d ever like to find out more about it, please let me know.
But in learning about it, what was interesting to me was how hard it was for a lot of people to think that way, at least at first.
Maybe unless you hear that booming voice from the heavens, like Abraham did, it is harder to recognize when you’re acting out of your own core values…your own deepest principles.
Maybe the call to drop everything and head to the land that God will show us doesn’t unfold quite in the way the story says, at least for most people, most of the time.
How many times does life actually challenge us to cross some sort of line in the sand?
And yet, isn’t it common to look up suddenly one day and find ourselves somehow situated in a world we never fully realized we were traveling to?
Friends, there is good news.
Abraham was seventy five years old, and already a transplant to a new community far from the city of his birth when, one day, he heard the voice of God.
With every reason to stand pat and stay planted, he moved forward into the great unknown, and he did not hesitate.
And the point is, with God’s help, and the love of Christ, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can let go of whatever insecurity, whatever worry, whatever reluctance might prevent us, and learn to go without hesitation out into the land that God will show us.
And a great nation may spring forth from our courage. Amen.