Sermon: “Called to be a Blessing” Rev Stephen Dewdney Sunday 11 June 2023

Over the last thirty or so years researching family history has become one of New Zealand’s fastest growing hobbies.   It comes complete with the excitement of discovering you are related to an amazing celebrity or that you have some juicy scandal in your past.    My father got into genealogy when he heard the suggestion that his great, great, great grandfather was the illegitimate son of Napoleon Bonaparte.   Much to his disappointment he quickly discovered that was untrue, and further research showed that he, and hence I, am disappointingly not related to any famous people and have a boring set of ancestors that appears totally lacking any skeletons in the closet.    

Having said that, I want to suggest this morning that if we are Christians, we have a surprise scandal in our family tree.   For right near its beginning is a moon worshipper who twice passed his wife off as his sister to save his own skin, had extra marital relations with his slave which resulted in a child, and later attempted child sacrifice.    I’m sure you’ve guessed that this outrageous ancestor is Abraham.   And if you’re thinking that Abraham is far too distant a figure to be of any significance to us as Christians, who are after all Jesus people not Abraham people, take a deep breath, for this once moon worshipper provides the essential starting point for every Christian’s family tree, he is the essential foundation for every Christian storyline.   So let me try and put the story of Abraham into its context, and hopefully we’ll see why Abraham matters and what he says to us today.   

Let’s start with some very familiar words of Jesus from John 3 : 16, “God so loved the world”.   But you only have to go a few pages into the first book of the Bible, and you could easily forgive God for not loving the world.   The Bible begins, as I’m sure you all know, with a description of God’s wonderful creation with human beings as the pinnacle of it all, and the placing of a man and a woman in the amazing garden of Eden.   But that man and that woman were not satisfied, they wanted more than God had given them, they wanted to take over and play God themselves.   Not surprisingly this rebellion provoked both God’s displeasure and judgement, bringing the curse that affects all of life even today, from work to family relationships, from the environment to spiritual warfare.   And it leaves Adam and Eve banished and barred from the garden, desperately clinging to a promise that one day, one day, a descendant of theirs would crush the evil one and undo the curse.   “God so loved the world?”  Well, maybe.   

Meanwhile, sin infected the world and it spread at a speed that makes a global pandemic, even COVID 19 seem sluggish in comparison.   And soon all God could think of was to wipe everything out and start all over again.  God sent a flood that makes the recent Cyclone Gabrielle look like a tiddly little puddle.   But even as God’s flood swept everything away, the love God still had for the world was shown in the provision of an ark for Noah, his family, and the animals, so that even in this terrible destruction there could still be a future.   But even that doesn’t look very bright when Noah celebrates his rescue in a drunken naked stupor.   “God so loved the world?” 

The world remained an ugly place, and in Genesis 11, ambition and pride rear their ugly heads.   The people of the world are determined to make a name for themselves, and they plan to build a city with a tower that reached to the heavens so that they would be on an equal footing with God.   Well, not surprisingly, this triggers God’s judgement and displeasure all over again, and he scatters the people all across the world in a confusion of speaking many different languages and unable to understand each other.   “God so loved the world?” 

And as Genesis 11 works itself out, there’s no sign yet of any love, any grace, or any hope after the latest coup attempt.   It was as if God’s patience, God’s love, has finally run out, and if the story had stopped there, you could forgive current day atheists saying that everything is the result of chaos, that life is meaningless, that it’s all down to the survival of the fittest.   

But then at the end of Genesis 11 we get a tiny inkling that God hasn’t finished with the world yet, a faint hint that God’s heart of love is still beating.   And chapter 12 begins, “The Lord had said to Abram”.   Amazingly another storyline is starting.   God is still bothering with us.   His love isn’t exhausted.   God so loved the world, and I’m sure we all know how that sentence goes on, “That he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  And that is true, but the story starts way, way back in Genesis 12.   God so loved the world that he called Abram.   And this is the story that undoes the curse, unravels the chaos, outlasts the despair.   God called Abram.   

But back up for a moment to the end of chapter 11.   Look more closely.   See, in this world, contaminated by the sin virus, reeling from the effects of God’s judgement, the curse, the chaos, the confusion.   But as you look you will see families are on the move, including a man called Terah and his family.   They leave the ancient city of Ur and they head for Canaan which will become the promised land.   But they don’t get there, they make a start, but then they stop.   Terah and his family settle in Haran which is way short of Canaan.   And we are told that Terah had a son called Abram, but Abram is not some sort of spiritual goody two shoes.   You know, a shining, glossy Yahweh believer.   We’re told that he and his family worshipped other gods.   And both the cities of Ur and Haran were major centres of moon god worship.   It looks as if they set out on their journey, found Haran and settled there, at home with the familiar moon worship.   But God’s love reaches down to the unlikeliest of people, to call them to himself.   And that’s what happened to Abram.   Genesis 12 begins, “The Lord had said to Abram”.   When?  When they were still in Ur, possibly.   After they settled in Haran? more likely.   But at some point, the Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”

And it’s into this setting that the love of God speaks extraordinary words of grace.   Out of the blue, so to speak, God said to Abram.   “I will bless you”.   And then, maybe even more remarkably, “you will be a blessing”.   Promise after promise declares that God hasn’t given up on the world.   His plans are plans for welfare, not for evil.   Even in this darkest of starting places there is a future, and all this love and purpose and grace is poured out onto Abram.   But it’s not restricted to him alone.   Look at these promises a little more carefully.   There’s the promise of a people.   Verse two, “I will make you into a great nation”.   Surely an easy promise to come up with, but hang on, Abram is 75 years old when this is said to him.   And if you think that isn’t a particularly insurmountable problem, his wife Sarai was childless because she wasn’t able to conceive and at 66, she’s not much younger that Abraham and way past childbearing age.    “I will make you into a great nation” – Yeah right. 

God promises a people, but there is more for he promises a people with a place.   If you belong, you need somewhere to call home and when you don’t have that, it’s amazing how rootless people can feel.   Well, look at verse one, “go to the land I will show you”.   There is a promised land for the promised people.   I mean, rootless and banished from their original home that God made for them in the Garden of Eden, now they discover there’s a promise of a new place and a new home ahead.   And there is still more promised.   There’s protection on the journey.   “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”  Blessing God’s people will bring unexpected rewards.   Opposing them will bring unexpected costs, promises God.   And there’s nothing small scale about the vision, about what God is going to do.   “All peoples on earth – will be blessed through you”.   Did you spot the irony.   In the chapter before these promises, proud rebels set about building a city with the Tower of Babel reaching to the heavens.   For in their words, they wanted to “make a name for ourselves”.   It must have been a remarkable bit of architecture.   But we’re not told, and no one knows the name of a single person who designed the Tower of Babel or worked on it.   Now Abram is told to go, to go away from home and family and anything that will give him identity and God promise, “I will make your name great”.   Today Abram whom God later renamed Abraham is known right across the world.   And this story, isn’t the story for Jewish people alone.   “God so loved the world” that he called Abraham to bless us.   You see, Jesus is there in Abraham’s family tree.   He’s one of the descendants.   He’s the one who makes these promises come true.   

And we find our place in the family tree in the remarkable storyline because of Jesus Christ.   Our reading from Romans 4 tells us this.   It says that if you belong to Christ then through faith you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.   If you’re Christ’s man, if you’re Christ’s woman, these promises are for you.   The New Testament tells me I don’t work out the Abraham family tree by following from father to son to grandson.   No, no.   I do it by following the faith line.   Abraham had faith in God’s promises, relied on them, lived his life trusting them.    Those who have faith in Jesus Christ, who rely on him, who live our lives trusting him, we make them true for we find ourselves on Abraham’s family tree of blessing.   

But there’s more from the New Testament understand that those who have faith are children of Abraham.   For those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith, and we’re included in the blessing.   “God so loved the world” he called Abraham to bless us.   His story is our story.   These are our blessings.   This is the story that undoes the curse, and as Christians we’re part of it.   And when it eventually reaches its climax, there will be a home.   Not a fluffy cloud and a harp to strum for eternity, but something far more earthy than that.   A new heaven and a new earth and nothing of the curse will stain it.   Gone will be all evil and sin, gone will be tears and pain, gone will be all sickness and death, they’ll all be gone.   And the people gathered to enjoy it will be from every nation, every tribe, every people, every language.   They will all be there as God promised.   All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.   “God so loved the world” he called Abraham.   To bless you.   So, this is the story to keep your eyes on.   This is the one to never lose track of, to make sure it’s on your playlist when you’re asking the question of how you make sense of life.   

And it’s a storyline that makes us look outwards.   We who are Christians often speak of the Great Commission, and we think of Jesus’s words at the end of Matthews Gospel.   You remember them, “Go and make disciples of all nations”.   But the idea doesn’t begin there.   It begins here.   In Genesis 12, all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.   If you’ve got a place on this faith family tree, then you can bring blessing to the world.   Blessing is God’s happiness.   Blessing is living in relationship with God.   Blessing is living under his favour.   And blessing is something we share with others, for like Abraham we are blessed that we may be a blessing.

Here’s something practical you can do in response.   Tomorrow morning when you wake up, wake up with a simple prayer, “God make me a blessing to someone today.”  It’s a great daily prayer to have.   It’s a great way to start the day and every day.   It’s a great way to live.   It’s being one of the family.   “God make me a blessing to someone today”.   You see, God so loved the world that he called Abraham to bless us, so that we bless others.   

God said “Go” and Abram went.   We read in verse 4 “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him.”  Verse 5 They set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.” And he went, did you notice, he built altars to the living God in the heart of Canaanite territory, in the land of Canaanite gods, as if he’s marking out the territory for the future.   Faith obeys.   Even when it doesn’t know just how things will turnout.  Next week we will pick up the story again almost 25 long years later.   Lots of altars have been built, lots of land has been explored, but there’s a massive problem for Abraham and Sarah are childless.   Is God going to keep his promise even when it’s way beyond possibility?  Find out next week.