Last week, we had several long passages of scripture, this week, we have 9 short verses, except they caused me more internal wrestling than all the verses did the week before.
Last week we heard the story of Noah, his family, and the animals sailing in the ark, and then God making a promise to all the people and creatures of the earth. Noah’s family included three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The oldest son, Shem, is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (that’s seven greats!) of Abram, who we are going to hear about today. Abram had two brothers, one of whom died, leaving a son. The whole family, including Abram’s wife Sarai, his father, Abram’s brother and his wife, and their nephew decided to move away from their home in Ur and go to the land of Canaan. Along the way, they stopped in a town called Haran — which was also the name of Abram’s brother that had died. The family stopped there and couldn’t bring themselves to go any further, and Abram’s father died there. We pick up the story today when the family is there in Haran, in the book of Genesis, chapter 12, beginning at verse 1, (Rev. Teri Peterson)
Just like last week, I want you to really try and listen with fresh ears, as if you are hearing this story for the first time and you don’t know anything else about this story, just what is being read today.
Now 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, Abram 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 toward the Negeb.
LOTS going on in this passage! Does it resonate with anything we are focusing on this month? How about that opening sentence? “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. Sounds like the justification for taking land that already has people living, loving, working there… sound familiar?
One of the things that I discovered as I researched this passage was that Abram did not go into the land in a warlike fashion and seemingly neither was he received that way.
Theologian Walter Bruggeman says, “On the one hand, there is no evidence in the Abraham tradition of conflict with the Canaanites… On the other hand, there is also no evidence that Abraham seeks to convert them. Abraham’s work is not to convert… Rather, he is to live among them, to practice and believe the promise. His task is not to impress or even to bear witness to God, but simply to permit the reality of blessing to be at work.”[i]
Again, this resonates with what I understand is the experience of the first encounters between explorers and Indigenous people of Canada. There was initial cooperation, it seems that once the land that we know as Canada became known for its riches and resources and vast so called ‘empty’ land, other countries, primarily England and France, started sending religious leaders and settlers, who were promised land and opportunities for religious conversion.
Imagine if you will, that you are an Indigenous person in the 1600s, you have a particular way of living, a style of governance, your own religious rituals, your trading and commerce and farming methods. And then some pale-skinned foreigners show up… at first, they are not a threat… there is plenty of land, you can share it… and then things begin to change… more and more of them keep arriving… and instead of sharing the land and what it offers, they want to occupy it, to fence it in, to determine who can live where. And they bring weaponry… and we wind up with Indigenous people forced onto reservations… land that is marginal for living, unjust treaties, and residential schools… and we are beginning to know some of the results of those decisions made long ago.
But there is still a great deal of denial and outright ignorance about our history. We have to unlearn some of the Canadian history that was written by white people, and primarily white men. We have to learn some Indigenous history, history of that same time period, written by Indigenous people. No, we can’t go back and change what was, but too often we don’t even KNOW what was! And once we know what was, we can’t unknow it.
And while the wrongs of the past are not our fault, we still benefit in so many ways.
I love Canada, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. I am a settler… ancestors who fled religious persecution, promised land on the prairies… I now know that was land that was stolen. I find that deeply unsettling… and I can only imagine how my son feels, who carries both Indigenous and settler ancestors in his body.
Like each one of you, I have had trouble in my life. Like Abram, I am blessed to be a blessing. WE are blessed to be a blessing. All my wrestling, research and pondering has led me to this:
God said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
I understand that to mean that God calls us into an unknown place, a place we’ve never been before, and God will be there. For us, this is not a physical journey as much as a metaphorical one. We are being called into a post-Covid land, a post-Covid church. And we are not to be alone on the journey, we are to be in the company of others, relatives and members of households.
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.” In other words, I have plans to make a great people from your descendants! You will be blessed! And you will be a blessing! Remember too that Jesus said that we all brothers and sisters, all siblings. We are not to hoard the blessings, we are to share it, to multiply it, to magnify it. One of the ways in which we can share the blessings is to support Indigenous work. There is music, art, clothing, jewelry, crafts of all sorts, imagine doing even some of your Christmas shopping at Indigenous owned businesses… what a blessing. When we went looking for Orange T-Shirts, we were very careful to find an Indigenous owned one.
God said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” That was the most outrageous thing God could have said, because Sarai, Abram’s wife was barren. Sometimes we feel barren don’t we? Sometimes we wonder if our church will survive another generation.
Remember, the full churches that you remember from the 50s, 60s and 70s were a demographic blip and won’t return. But, people gathered for worship in some form, to worship and ritualize our relationship with God, that will always continue. And perhaps the most important thing… when God speaks, Abram responds. God speaks blessing, promise and fruitfulness… how can we not respond? We are blessed to be a blessing…
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen
Genesis 12: 1-9
September 18, 2022 – SMUC
[i] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), 123–124.