The question in the psychological evaluation went something like this: “When you arrive at a new place, do you barge right in and take over or do you lurk at the back until you’ve assessed everyone?”
Somehow, neither answer sounds great, does it? “Barge” versus “lurk”? Take over or assess? Both of them obviously show off something about you based on the way that you answer! Often, as we get older, it’s been so long since we entered something new, or since we felt like an actual outsider, that we’ve forgotten what we would do in that setting! But most of us fall somewhere on the continuum.
Abram AKA Abraham is clearly a lurker- he’s seventy-five-years-old and he’s still living in his father’s basement! Well, okay, they didn’t have basements back then, but we get the impression that he’s the kind of guy who would still be living at home, playing World of Warcraft online with his friends, ordering pizza as the only basic food group, and working at a comic book store. [Hold on, that doesn’t sound all bad…]
It says in Genesis 12 that the Lord showed up to Abram and told him to go – that God would make Abram into a great nation and that he would be a blessing to all the world. It’s here that I think we can see what must’ve been working on Abram’s heart for … seventy-five years.
It’s the kind of thing that makes Luke stare off into the dual sunset of Tattoine; it’s the kind of thing that made Peter Parker wonder what awesomeness awaited after the spiderbite; it’s why all of those women in Jane Austen novels ventured off to the big city.
It’s the belief that there’s something more, something better, something not yet. That this isn’t home, that there’s more that could be, that this isn’t the best there is. It’s the kind of thing that only God would know about a person because it’s not the kind of thing Abram’s behavior is showing off– and it’s not like they had support groups set up for people to talk about their feelings.
But God showed up and tells Abram to go…
And Abram and his wife, Sarai, take off, and they end up first in Egypt.
You can read about this fun little side story in Genesis, but here’s the important point: Abram gets scared that someone will think Sarai is pretty, and that they’ll want to bump Abram off to get to Sarai, so that they could marry Sarai… so he claims to be her brother.
Amazing. Definitely not a take-charge-and-dominate sort of personality. Not someone we’d peg to be a leader, or to even exhibit qualities of a God-following leader. But God chose Abram, not us.
Abram and Sarai leave Egypt, and after some family drama, the two of them are still wrestling with what it is that they are going to, because they know what they left. The safety and security of hundreds of years of living with family, the extensive understanding of what it meant to be shepherds and farmers there.
And into this mess of what is surely some confusion, and some doubt, and some isolation, and some frustration, it says in Genesis 15, that the LORD appears to Abram again in today’s scripture.
Consider the main points of this vision.
- The LORD tells Abram not to be afraid.
- The LORD tells Abram that God alone is all Abram needs.
- The LORD tells Abram that even though he and his wife are really old, that they’re going to have a baby.
- The LORD tells Abram that his offspring will be many and they will inherit the land.
- The LORD is going to bless the world because of Abram.
Flip with me to Hebrews 11, and check out what the writers in the New Testament had to say about Abraham (the new name God gave him). It’s the way we can figure out how Abram responded to God’s four promises above.
Abraham by faith went somewhere he didn’t know obediently, even though he didn’t know where he was going.
Abraham by faith was a stranger in a strange land without a home, enduring life in tents while waiting for a place with a foundation.
Sarah, even though she was old—Abraham gets it worse because he “was as good as dead”—knew God was faithful because she became a mother.
And they, Abraham and Sarah, join a list of saints who lived by faith who didn’t see how everything would play out but believed anyway. They knew how the story was supposed to end but didn’t get to actually read the final chapter. They were foreigners and strangers.
Have you ever been a foreigner or a stranger? Do you remember what that feels like?
I have to admit that I haven’t been homeless often. I’ve lived in twelve different places in 37 years, but they’ve mostly been legitimate. There was this one time I broke my leg and a house full of female seminary students let me sleep on the couch, but I digress…
But some of us here, some of us outside of the circle of accepted ‘normal,’ they probably understand how things can be when you don’t fit in or have a real home.
I recently had a conversation with the woman who regularly cuts my sons’ hair. I don’t always end up in a hair salon but one day that was on my soccer dad to-do list, and I ended up surrounded by giggling kids, lollipops, and televisions turned to Barney, and Scooby-Doo, and Mario Kart.
And I had a deeper-than-average conversation with a woman I’ll call Mara. While I don’t remember how we got there, I know that Mara told me that she had fled the country of Lebanon at 1987 as a civil war that had wracked the country was winding up. She told me that she’d often raced home from school because of the bombing but she didn’t remember being scared.
Mara told me that she and her parents had emigrated to West Virginia, and that she’d ended up in Virginia, now raising a senior high student by herself. She nearly broke down in tears as she told me how her son loved the United States so much, and how, her voice dropping to a whisper, he wanted to be a Marine and help protect the freedoms he’d come to know here.
That’s when Mara told me that she’d also been threatened, told she was taking a job from an American. How because of her darker skin and thick accent, that she didn’t ‘belong here.’
Mara understands what it’s like to be a foreigner and a stranger in a strange land.
And I would argue that if we are to be faithful followers of the LORD of Abraham, of Jesus himself, then we must admit that we should feel some of that, too.
In I Peter 2, the author urges his listeners, “as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us….Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
I wonder sometimes if we’ve grown too comfortable in the midst of the world that surrounds us, too knee-deep in culture. It’s a fine line, as someone who appreciates what we can learn from others, even people who disagree with us. But if we’re going to be like Jesus, then we should look different. We should consider what it means to be like Jesus—especially in a world that doesn’t understand how Jesus could win by losing, why God would send his son to die on the cross…
We need to recognize that we weren’t always “in” but sometime ago, we were out, too.
Seriously, how many of you have Native American Indian blood? Okay, you all are the originals, the people ‘from here’ (if you’re reading this inside the U.S.)
Everyone else? At some point, you were an illegal immigrant’s son or grandson or great grandson! You came here… illegally. Probably avoiding religious persecution, and you ended up here in the melting pot called America.
But the thing is, we’re so far removed from that – I don’t even know who my first ancestor in America was—that we’ve lost sight of what it was like to be on the outside looking in.
Check out Ephesians 2: “Therefore,” writes Paul, “remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
We were once outside of the love of Christ—because we were in our sin. We were once outside of the covenant of Abraham because it was made with his line, to the Jews, and frankly, we’re all technically Gentiles. But Paul continues, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
You were a stranger, but Jesus introduced you around.
You were an illegal alien, but Jesus gave you an eternal green card.
You were an alien, and Jesus kept Will Smith from phasing you with that thing that wipes out your memory.
You were a sinner, stuck in your selfish, arrogant, misguided, self-destructive behavior, and Jesus showed up and died on the cross for your sins.
The cross, the great equalizer. It’s like Jesus nailed to the cross hung there on Calvary and said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or maybe it was, “all of you who are weary, come home.”
That’s the thing, isn’t it? We all want to find a home. Whether it’s the place to live that we call our own, or the place that’s safe to raise our kids, or the spot in someone’s heart where we finally know that we’re loved unconditionally, we yearn to be home. To be someone and mean something.
And Jesus shows up, just like God showed up in the life of Abram, and says, “you matter, you are loved, you are MINE.”
Some folks reading this don’t know that. They might’ve heard it before, but all of the stuff they’ve done or had done to them makes them think that they don’t really matter. Unfortunately, in a world where domestic violence and child abuse are daily entrees into the news, there are people here who can’t imagine that they would matter.
To those people I say, “believe it. You are loved by the great and powerful God of the universe.” And I will keep saying it until the day I die.
Other folks reading this don’t remember a time when they weren’t aware that they were loved. They have heard it so often or internalized it to the point where they have an understanding and they no longer worry about it anymore.
To those people I say, “remember when you were alone, held down by your sin or your isolation. If you’ve never felt that, imagine what it would be like to be there, unable to imagine that you could be free. Now channel that to be compassionate toward those who don’t know Jesus yet…”
I saw it summed up really well in one of those Facebook posts this week. Some of you saw it because I shared it.
Jesus says, “Love one another.”
A series of questions are asked: “What if they’re immigrants? What if they’re gay? What if they’re poor?”
It goes back to Jesus, and he asks, “Did I stutter?”
We make this way too complicated. I believe that the church will really be the church when no one worries about whether they matter or whether or not they’re included anymore. I believe the church will be the church when we’ve put down our preconceived ideas about who matters to God, who is saved, and what God is looking for, and recognizes that God loves everyone.
In a week, our District Superintendent is going to stand up here at Charge Conference and ask us as a church the three questions that Adam Hamilton said are most important to the church being the church (from his book Leading Beyond the Walls).
Why do people need Christ?
Why do people need the church?
Why do people need this church?
People have questions; Abram had questions. It’s in seeking the answers to the questions faithfully that Abram grew to be the man after God’s own heart, the one who would faithfully pick up and move, the one who would lead his people out of the known and into the unknown, into something better.
I hope today that you will faithfully wrestle with these questions– and that you will help the church be the answers. Remember when you were an alien and stranger; remember when you lived condemned by your sins.
If we can’t answer why a person would need Jesus or why a person would need church, or why a person would need this church then maybe we’re not doing church right, and we need to change.
Or maybe it’s just been so long since we considered those basic questions that we need to fall in love with Jesus, and with church, all over again. Maybe we need to get out from behind our computer, or (figuratively) out of our parents’ basement, or up from behind our pew, and be the church the way that Jesus did.
Take heart in the fact that he that lives in you has conquered sin and death and reigns eternal. We live in the now and in the not yet, like Abraham, having not quite made it to the eternal- having not yet been perfected– but recognizing that the God who spoke in visions also spoke through Jesus and speaks to us today, with a simple message:
“This is home.”