Lectionary: 2nd Sunday in Lent
Sermon text: Genesis 12:1-4
Have you ever been afraid? And I don’t mean the ‘Ah! I thought someone was going to hit my car’ afraid. I don’t mean, ‘oh I didn’t get the raise’ afraid. I mean, ‘I might be about to die’ afraid. The ‘I’m going to go where and do what?’ afraid. The ‘I’ve lost everything’ afraid. The afraid that tells you you are way, way out of your depth. The ‘you have nothing to hold onto, you have nothing to grab onto, and you will surely die’ afraid. I doubt many of us have been in that place, although some of us might have been. Can you imagine choosing that? Choosing to put yourself in that position? That everything has gone to hell, and I’m here because this is where I chose to be. Can you imagine that?
Fear is an interesting thing. On the one hand, it’s good, right? Can you imagine the stupid things you would’ve done in your life without fear? Fear of being hurt, fear of losing something important, fear of parents, of authorities, of consequences. Can you imagine not having that? And even the Bible tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That without an understanding that God is over all, we cannot possibly hope to conform ourselves to His wishes and desires and live a moral life. So on the one hand, fear is a good thing.
On the other hand, fear’s a killer. Fear keeps us from being what we should be. Fear keeps us from going where we should go. Fear holds us back. Fear torments us and tortures us. And fear is that thing that enforces the status quo. Fear keeps you where you are, and keeps you from being anything else. So in that respect, fear’s a hateful thing. Fear is a dangerous thing.
Why all this about fear? We talked in the scripture readings about two men today, Abraham and Nicodemus. And you say, ‘well, I can see fear in Nicodemus, maybe.’ Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Why would he come to Jesus by night? For fear of his reputation, for fear about what people would think if he was seen talking to Jesus. But how does Abraham have fear?
Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes. What’s happened? Abraham is seventy-five years old, which to us is old, but according to the Bible puts him at about middle age. He is in a place called Haran, roughly equidistant between Egypt and the major cities of the Mesopotamian River valley like Ur and Babylon. His father had brought them there. He is the oldest, and now his father has died. Probably been learning the family business, probably was expecting to take over the family business, probably part of the decision to move to Ur. They are in modern day terms truckers, the guys that owned the trucks. Moved goods and oversaw caravans. You have a good life, in fact you are probably very rich. You are from the Mesopotamian culture. You worship several gods, you have the ritual of the seasons to give order and meaning to your life.
And a voice comes. Don’t know where it comes from. We’re not told, as in the case of Moses when he sees the burning bush or Isaiah who sees the Lord in the temple or Ezekiel who sees God coming across the desert. We’re not told where this voice comes from. It’s just a voice. And the voice says, ‘Leave. Go. Git. Move. Move, do what I tell you to do, and I’ll give you more than you can possibly imagine.’ And that’s it. ‘Go to the place that I’ll show you, and I’m not telling you where that is yet.’ If you got a letter in the mail, or better yet, an e-mail, that said ‘If you will pack up all your belongings and empty your bank account and leave where you are, an undisclosed future sum will be given to you that is more than you can imagine,’ that would go in the spam folder, wouldn’t it? Rip, in the garbage. You’d laugh in their face. Maybe if the voice came out of nowhere it’d be different, but still, offered Abraham’s choice, I think fear is probably an acceptable emotion. You don’t know what you’re going to do. But Abraham picks up and goes. In the course of his life, he abandons everything that he’s known. He abandons his culture. He abandons the worship of many gods. He abandons the safety of his father’s world. He abandons his family, other than his wife and nephew. He moves out into dangerous places and puts himself in increasingly dangerous situations, and he acts in the unknown. That’s got to be fear. Why would God credit anything to Abraham as righteous? Where is faith?
I’ll tell you where faith is.
Faith is the chosen response to fear.