Genesis 12: 1-9
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Aion the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
I do not know how many of you all have seen the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption.’ If you have not, please do. The narrative revolves around the prison set up at Shawshank and the two central characters are ‘Andy Dufresne’ a banker who was wrongly implicated in his wife’s murder and Ellis ‘Red’ Redding who was caught for murder as a teen and is a veteran at the state prison. There is a certain difference of attitude in the way the two approach life. Red is more practical and accepts life as it is, saying ‘Hope is a very dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.’ Prison is all he sees and there is no place for hope. Andy a co- prisoner begs to differ in his attitude, saying ‘Hope is a good thing, may be the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.’ He saw something beyond the confines of the prison, vision beyond the securities of the wall.
It is here in this context we read about Abram where God calls him to a promise for which he has to leave all visible securities of ‘country, people and household to the ‘unseen’ land and promise of being a great nation. But this looks absurd as when we read this promise comes in a context of impossibility. ‘Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.’ (Genesis 11: 30) It is into this barrenness and hopeless situation that God’s call breaks through to Abram. In situations in life where the world along with ‘Red’ says lets be practical. Things are going to be the same way. Are we going to be an ‘Andy’ and hear Jesus say “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20: 29b). Hope is dangerous. It just makes us restless where we are compelled to keep journeying towards our goal.
Now Abram was from Ur which is Babylon. Genesis Chapter 11 talks of the judgment of God on Tower of Babel which also is in Babylon. So the promise of God to Abram is a reverse to the human intention of people who tried to build ‘Babel’. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11: 4. While the people wanted to be secure in one place God challenges Abram to ‘Go’ out. People of Babel wanted ‘Make a name for ourselves’ while God promised ‘I will make your name great’. And how he was going to do that? He was not just going to Bless Abram but he was going to make him a blessing. The people of Babel believed that life is all about self preservation while God challenges Abram that life is a journey where God will lead. To illustrate this let me use something that has been doing the rounds on Facebook. It talks about the difference between ‘Dogs’ and ‘Cats’. Dog says ‘“You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, You must be God.” A cat says, “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, I must be God.’ Did you know based on this premise there is a book called ‘Cat and Dog Theology’ by Bob Sjorgen. He says that there is a ‘Cat’ in all of us that wants to be served by God and people, who enjoys security and has a sense of entitlement. A Dog is driven by gratitude and therefore gives himself fully to his master. God calls us not to be a reservoir of blessing to be kept within us, but calls us to be a channel of blessings.
Verse 4 says ‘So Abram went…’ Before we dwell on this, let me put you a riddle.
Question: There were once three frogs on a log. One of them made a decision to jump out. How many were left?
Most likely the answer that you have come up with is two. That is maths. But Anthony DeMello gives a different answer.
“There are still three frogs on a log, he only made a decision, he took no action!” When God told Abram to Go, he just did not decide to follow suit. He actually went. He was ready to journey the unfamiliar terrain. Many camps have dedication sessions where the participants decide to follow Jesus. But the question is, is there action to the intentions. When Jesus called his disciples, the woman at the well put down her bucket. Peter dropped his net. Matthew got up from his tax collector’s chair. Abraham loaded up the camel. He went…..
Now when Abram came to Canaan where God led him was there a hammock waiting for him to lie down where servants played soothing music and fed Abram and his mates with endless grapes and wine? Well, no. It was not as he had expected it to be. VS 6 says ‘…At that time the Canaanites were in the land.’ So he had left his land to amidst hostile people? What kind of a deal is that? And there God gives a twist “To your offspring I will give this land.” He is part of a call where the end result or fruit he will not see. Why would anybody like to be part of a future where we cannot see immediate results? But it is here that Abram builds an altar to the Lord. While the people of Babel tried to build a tower for themselves, Abram builds an altar to the Lord.
The new place is nothing what Abram expected it to be. So what does building the altar signify? Abraham’s building of the altar represents his saying: “I’m accepting a promise, understanding that this is different than what I thought it was going to be, but it’s also something that I believe God can bring to pass. I trust You, Lord, that You will make it work.”
Altar signifies that ‘It is not about me’. Altar declares that ‘It is all about You, Lord.’ We may not build physical Altars. But this maybe the time to pause and realize the presence of God by building an Altar that ‘alters’ the course of our lives where we journey from being just consumers of blessings to being a Blessing. And God said ‘And you will be a blessing.’
Let me end my meditation with one of my favourite songs by Matt Redman ‘The Heart of Worship.’ Sing along.
When the music fades and all has slipped away and I simply come.
Longing just to be something that’s of worth that will bless Your heart.
I’ll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within, through the way things appear, Your looking into my heart.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship and its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it when its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal