(watch here: https://youtu.be/uQiMV36d6nQ)
1Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.
Perhaps some of you farmers have heard the one about the fearful farmer: One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking his corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked, “How’s your cotton coming?” “Ain’t got none,” was the answer. “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid of the boll weevil.” “Well, how’s your corn?” “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid o’ drouth.” “How about your potatoes?” “Ain’t got none. Scairt o’ tater bugs.” The stranger finally asked, “Well, what did you plant?” “Nothin’,” answered the farmer. “I just played it safe.”
Not a very good farmer if he won’t plant anything! Yet we can all sympathize with the paralyzing effects of fear. I imagine several of us have experienced times in our lives when fear grips ahold of us and keeps us from doing anything. We’re afraid that what we do might make a bad situation worse. We’re afraid that what we do will have no impact on a situation. We’re afraid that what we do won’t be enough. Sometimes our fears are justified but most of the time they aren’t. And beneath all our fears is the same common fear—the fear of the unknown. We simply don’t know how situations will turn out and that’s what frightens us the most. If only we knew what the future holds in store for us, then maybe we would live without fear. Or would we?
That’s a question I want to have in the back of our minds as we look at today’s reading. Last week we reflected on God’s promise to Noah to never send such a cataclysmic flood again. It was the first time God had made a promise to anyone, at least according to scripture. This week, we again hear God making another promise, this time to Abram. God said, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” But unlike the promise God gave to Noah, this promise comes with a condition: that Abram leaves his country and kindred and father’s house to go to a land that God would show him. Noah didn’t have to do anything to receive God’s promise yet God turns right around and offers a promise to Abram with an expectation attached to it. And not just any old expectation but an expectation to face the greatest fear we all face—to go out into the unknown. God knows this is our greatest fear…this was Abram’s greatest fear. So why would He attach embracing such a fear as a condition to his promise? Why would He ask Abram to go out into the unknown before He would bless him with children and a great name? For the same reason He asks any of us to do anything—as a way of strengthening our faith in him. God rewards faith and faith alone. God doesn’t reward righteous living. God wants us to live by faith. That’s why He built in so many mysteries and unknowns within his creation. Life is meant to have so many mysteries and unknowns! They help strengthen our faith in God and keep us humble before his mighty creation. Does this mean I think we shouldn’t unravel his mysteries? Of course not! It just means we should appreciate the mysteries and unknowns for what they truly are—opportunities to strengthen our faith in our almighty God.
God calls Abram into the great unknown with a promise. But He also calls you and I into the great unknowns of our own lives with similar promise. Recall the assurance of David in his beloved 23rd psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (vs. 4) We are all walking through the valley of the shadow of death in this life. From the moment we were born we are marching towards our deaths and surrounding by death all around us. David assures himself, and us, that we are not alone in our march. Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (4:16-18) Paul assures us that living by faith prepares us for the “eternal weight of glory.” The unknowns of life demand that we live by faith and Paul reminds us that this way of living is a good thing. David sang in his 13th psalm, “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” (vs. 5) Living by faith, we trust in God’s steadfast love. We trust that God will provide for us in our time of need. We trust that God will protect us and guide us. And we couldn’t trust these things without faith…without unknowns. Jesus himself assures us, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47) Contrary to popular opinion, belief requires faith.
So yes, Abram’s promise was different from Noah’s promise in that it expected Abram to embrace the unknowns of his life and live by faith and trust in God. God offers us the very same promise. If we embrace the unknowns of our own lives and live by faith and trust in God, God will reward each of us with unimaginable riches, the greatest of which being eternal life. Let us be not afraid when confronted with the unknowns of life. Our faiths are only strengthened by them. Let us welcome the unknowns, much the same way Abram welcomed his calling into the unknown. I’ll leave you with two powerful quotes about the unknowns of life:
“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.” Krishnamurti
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie Ten Boom
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.