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THE CALL OF ABRAM     
LENT 2       
GENESIS 12 V1-4                                

8 March 2020

The call of Abram from our Old Testament reading in Genesis, reminded me of a picture in my, now very old, Children’s Bible. The pictures are now utterly politically incorrect for all sorts of reasons. The one of the call of Abram can probably survive intact; a man certainly looking 75, stands pensively with his relatives, tents, camels and long-eared sheep. The only really odd thing is that he seems to be wearing a cloak of Norwich City colours –yellow and green stripes. He was obviously a devoted supporter because in many of the subsequent pictures he’s still wearing it – like many supporters and their fastidious habits today, it never went in the wash. So, it would appear that Delia Smith isn’t the only celebrity Norwich City supporter.

In my young days, it wasn’t the picture that drew my attention of the page on the call of Abram, nor the text, but the map. I have a general rule, for which I’m regularly ridiculed, that a book without any map at all is probably not worth reading. Maybe that’s because a book with a map in it is going to be about a journey in some way.

The map, of course, shows the supposed journey of Abram across what we now incorrectly call the Middle East, when it should be the Near East, Never mind. The journey wasn’t started by Abram, but by his dad, Terah. It was he who left Ur in present day Iraq, and moved to Haran –in southern Turkey today. Abram is then called by God to continue the journey to Canaan, further south. It’s not insignificant that all of these places today are still in huge civil tension and continue to suffer the movements of people escaping violence to begin a new life elsewhere.

But, in the call to Abram to move from Haran to Canaan there is a completely different, new and hugely significant aspect. Abram, this one man, is to the one who is blessed and will be blessed and many others through him. So after all the trials and tribulations of God’s relationship with humanity, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the devastation of the Flood, the fall from grace of Noah and the project failure of the Tower of Babel, God starts again – and with just one single, fragile, unknown person, Abram.

His roots are to be pulled up, we’re told.  He is to leave, and in this order, his land, his community and his family –from the widest to the narrowest focus. This is crucial in the family of peoples that honour Abram –Jews, Christians and Islamists.

We, and they all in some way, consider ourselves to be people not ultimately rooted in place and family, but in God, who is the one with whom we journey. Even for the Jewish people for whom land is important, there is strong element of a people who are strangers and pilgrims on earth.

So, where was Abram going? ‘To a land that I will show you’, God says. We can take that to be the Promised Land, but, it’s not mentioned here. The path, the journey is what is important, not the arrival. God is going with Abram, and the plan, if there is one, is in God’s hands.

This is risky and it’s unsettling in the extreme.

Maybe Abram was becoming too settled?

And what is coronavirus doing for us all today? Certainly, we feel a new sense of risk and unsettlement –personally, for the way we act and live together as a nation and as a family of nations. And, this week, we’ve heard lots of different things about avoiding risk and statements of reassurance. But we question in our minds each day!

Abram, by contrast, appears not to question anything. Abram went as the Lord had told him. And doesn’t it make his call all the more effective? He goes, aged 75, and Lot went with him. That’s it. Less is more – Abram makes the call effective through his unquestioning response. How unlike poor Nicodemus who asks question after question of Jesus trying to get his head around what his own call might look like. If he’d gone along with Jesus in the end, we might not be entirely convinced of how effective the call had been.

Abram’s call is to be a new start for God and this needs to be dramatic and awe inspiring.

Abram isn’t without a promise, though, and that’s just as important. God says, I will bless you and you will be a blessing and I will bless those who bless you. And the one who curses you –please note just the one, not those – I will curse.

Blessing is a word we often use –certainly in worship. At heart, it’s not really about some kind of magic, invisible potion being poured out. This bit of Genesis takes to the heart of its meaning. The blessing is only valid if it’s passed on. Before this, the people had tried to bless themselves by building the Tower of Babel to show how their power and influence could reach to the heavens –even to God. It failed abysmally.

Now it’s God who bestows the blessing –is its source. It’s the blessing of salvation – about making creation whole, about being worthy of God - and, through Abram, it’s going to run through history. And the attitude of people towards this blessing will matter, because if they and we, cannot pass on this divine blessing through our words and actions, then things will go wrong –as the Old Testament prophets were quite clear.

The promise to Abram has been called ‘a command to history’. God blesses, we are to bless others, they will bless too, including us. God is not in total control of this blessing of hope and salvation, it’s in all of our hands and to some extent God has to live with what we do with it. God takes a massive risk here just as Abram does.

Can we see the blessings in coronavirus? Can we see how we are blessed and how we can bless? Acts of kindness and care are already shining through; many people are being sensible; we are supplied with ways to reduce risk that are scientifically proven; in caring for others in this we care for ourselves; in these ways we are blessed. If we care just for ourselves we are more likely to pass on a curse rather than a blessing.

As in all things.

This Lenten journey is proving to be a more difficult one. We know we’re heading for the land of Easter, but, we’re not sure what the route there is looking like. There are new risks around, and disruption appears to be coming our way. It’s unsettling.

Abram responds to God’s call to go and be a blessing –to be fruitful as a blessing, to enable others to bless and to find himself blessed as a result.

God give us grace to grow in holiness to God’s call, to deny our rootedness and to take up our cross of uncertainties and follow, and the blessing of God be amongst us…the blessing of God be amongst us.  Amen.

Canon Richard Mitchell


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