‘Blessing of the Nations’
Second Sunday of Lent, March 12th 2017.
Main passage: Genesis 12:1-4, also John 3:1-17.
How do we end up with a Good Friday, which we prepare for through these 40 days of Lent. Part of the answer, we go back 4000 years or so. David Bosch says “There is, for the Christian church and Christian theology, no New Testament divorced from the Old.” (Bosch, Transforming Mission, page 17).
The Lord God, the One who called the world and universe into existence, now calls again. This call is specific , this call is identifiable in history, the object knows it is called. This divine call is addressed to an aged Abram – 75 years old – and a sadly barren Sarai. (Paragraph based on words from Walter Bruggemann, Genesis, p.105)
So unlikely. I am reminded of the Lord of the Rings. The Council at Rivendell – the debate between elves, humans, dwarfs and an elderly wizard, of what to do with the ring … and the unlikely event as Frodo a hobbit willing to take the ring to Mordor…
Why the call? Creation has gone astray. As we read the chapters before – Genesis 1-11 – we see the effect of sin. The peace and beauty and harmony in Genesis 1-2, is greatly damaged with the fall (Genesis 3) and then we see over the coming chapters – as well as the rest of Genesis – we see sin’s power and pollution. Just as we read or watch the Lord of the Rings we see innocent pure hobbits or bold and brave warriors like Boromir, become influenced by the ring, (and of course in many cases these individuals are redeemed and redeemed), we see sin’s effects.
As we read the stories after the taking of the fruit, as sharing in last week’s sermon and reading, we see how fear enters humanity. There is guilt, blaming each other and failing to accept fault between those of one flesh. There is a loss of intimacy between spouses. Then comes wrongful anger, jealously, hatred, murder, arrogance, further violence. Humanity’s relationship with the environment and creation is now marked by frustration and pain – no longer will they be able to exercise dominion over nature in a proper way and later even they loses normal dominion over the animal kingdom. Genesis shares how sin spreads from a family to affect the whole of humankind: As God declares before the flood, only Noah finds favour.
And sin’s pollution is so deep that after the Great Flood, when the Lord God declares his intention to maintain his covenant with humanity and the world: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” The Lord shares that the heart of the human problem – is the human heart, deep within a desire to be selfish, self centred, God pushed away, to the margins or further…
And that heart problem re-establishes itself in the descendants of Noah. When we get to the Tower of Babel, we have a broken society – it would not have called itself that but it is – a society which has lost any sense of God centered ness – the tower is built to make a name for themselves – not a name for God or even to somehow draw close to God – no a name for themselves to become like God as the devil had tempted Adam and Eve in the moments before the Fall.
God’s Judgement falls on Babel because humanity has become totally self centred, with no need for God. A sense of despair can be felt as we come to the middle of Genesis 11 – perhaps like we may have felt as we see in the first Lord of the Rings film, how the fellowship of the ring, so strong, so noble, and yet at the end of the first film, the fellowship broken…
But there is hope. After the Fall, in Genesis 3, it is promised, the seed of the woman will defeat the tempting serpent – a serpent crusher is to come. The protoevangelium – the first glimmer of the gospel… and hope – God renews his covenant with humanity and the world after the Flood, he is committed to his world. And then next stage happens… beginning with an aged couple.
Yes we have a humanity under God’s judgement due to its sin, but we also have love and grace being shown again. As Adam and Eve before they have to leave the garden are given clothes made by God’s own hand, God reaches out again.
His mission? Through the descendants of Abram, to create and form an alternative community in creation, to embody in human history, the power and presence of divine blessing. In his summons of Abram, God is about to do a new creative work.
Genesis is clear – the God who formed the world is the same God who creates Israel. “It is the same God who calls creation and who calls the community of faith.” (Bruggemann, Genesis, p. 105). So this calling is not simply to do with the forming of the great nation of Israel but with the ‘re-forming’ of creation, of the transforming of the nations.
In this call we see God’s outward focus to the nations to the world that he loves – as Jesus declares “God so loved the world”. (John 3:16). Yes God will teach Israel, about their worship traditions and content, he will teach them about Up, but he will also teach them about what it means to be a community of rich and poor, of alien and Hebrew, and how to daily live as a follower of the Lord God – of In. But here, to the Patriarch Abram, God declares his vision to remember his vision of OUT – a vision he will restate after Isaac is offered for sacrifice (Genesis 22).
In these founding promises for Israel, God looks at the nations described in Genesis 10 and scattered after the tower of Babel, and declares he longs to bring them blessing.
We will hear such a vision for example repeated in Isaiah 42 and 49, reminding that Israel’s election was never for its own sake but that in it, all nations would receive a blessing.
And over time, this would be directly connected to the coming of the Messiah – as old Simeon would sing :
“for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:v31-32).
The Messiah, the long promised king, the anointed one, to not only bring blessing to Israel but to the nations, to the Gentiles.
Reading a little more closely our Genesis 12 passage.
In contrast to the creation, which is resistant to the voice and life of God, except for Noah, Abram and Sarai are responsive and receptive. “So Abram went.”
It should be said – that we can sometimes think that Abram had God talking to him all the time, guiding every step but our stories seem instead to suggest God only speaking to Abram once or twice every 25 years or so…but his move to Canaan is one of those times and he responds in faith and obedience.
Regardless of how the Lord God spoke to Abram, they – both – fully embrace the call to leave all. This family responds in a wonderful beautiful faithful way. He is asked to leave his native land, his past, family, everything regarded in the ancient world as providing personal security.
In our culture today it is more normal – we leave our country, home, family at least for awhile – it is one of the reasons there are Anglican churches in Europe, because originally people who left their home, country, family and
went to Europe’s many great cities and capitals and wanted to worship in an Anglican tradition and so in most of these great cities we now have Anglican churches and it grew from there.
And of course, the suggestion is that while he will know where he came from, he will always know the country he grew up in, he will know where his family is, to send back for a wife of Isaac but he himself, and Sarai, will never go back. He goes knowing he will not return.
No wonder Hebrews 11 when pointing to examples of men and women of faith to shape our lives and inspire us, he merits three mentions in the long list of merit.
The Lord appoints for Abram a promised land and assures him that his descendants will be a great and significant nation. The name – which the builders of Babel had wanted – is to be given to Abram. The people of Babel wanted to establish a world centre in Babel around which humanity gathers. Abram is promised that around him and his children and grandchildren will be gathered a great nation, the new people of God. And today the name of Abraham and the name of the Jewish nation is world famous…
God will not only bless Abraham but he will make Abraham into a blessing. That final mention of bless. Abram to be the means of blessing for all humankind. What is in mind? The Hebrew can ‘all people through you will be blessed’ but can also be translated ‘by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves’ – the tension resolved by the peoples of the world finding blessing by coming to Abraham’s descendants.’
But in just in three verses bless and blessing has occurred 5 times. And again reflecting across the previous 11 chapters, we have heard if we read Genesis 1-11, 5 times the word curse (Gen 3:14, 17, 4:11, 5:29, 9:25. The summons of Abram, we have the divine response to the human disaster of Genesis 3. Through the choosing of a people, God will bring a response to the problem, pollution, power and penalty of sin.
And 2000 years later we read: in the first words of the New Testament,
“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David , the Son of Abraham.”
God’s plan was been progressively revealed through the centuries. Jesus declares: He declares his mission – “so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
The ring of Sauron, has to be destroyed. The failure of that Adam in that garden of luxury and peace, has to be replaced by the triumph of the second Adam, of Jesus on a hill surrouned by mockers and induring rejection. By his death, forgiveness offered instead of facing judgement (the penalty of sin), and the power and pollution of sin is broken, giving possibility to live lives approaching the ones God would ask of us.
In New Testament, the vision for how God’s people bring the blessing to the nations, changes.
Jesus Christ – the Messianic King, God’s promised King, the Word made Flesh, sends his people out – the believing Jewish men and women who had come to trust in him. No longer to wait til the nations come to them..
These first Jewish believers in Christ are, in a way, like Abram : invited, go leave, meet the peoples, settle in the place I have for you. The blessing of the nations – focused on Christ – is to be brought to them. Jesus will be lifted up, that all who believe in him will have eternal life, will enter the kingdom of God, will be born again. This flows out of the Father’s heart we saw in Genesis 12, a heart for blessing – in order that the world may be saved through him.
After resurrection, the task is done, and already on such a day – as the disciples worship at the knowledge of their risen Lord, as they are joyful as a community and learning that they can trust the words of Christ as disciples, they hear him say : “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” (John 20).
A Son sent into this beloved world, now sends his followers out. And at the end of each gospel we hear a similar – Go… and Acts, in some places the reluctant Christians, in some places enthusiastic, they go declaring, as Peter does in Acts 3 –
“You are descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave your ancestors saying to Abraham “And in your descendants shall all the families of the nations be blessed.” When God raised up his servant he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
That commission goes on – bring blessing to the nations, bring them knowledge of Jesus so they believe and trust.
All Saints – like all the other parts of the Body of Christ here in Amersfoort and in the Netherlands – we are to play our role in this task, in God’s mission.
Shall we pray…
Revd Grant Crowe