Starting the New Year in a BIND *

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This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

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Genesis 12:1-9

Happy New Year! One thing I love about a new year is the sense that we get too start over or begin again. As one of our assurances of pardons tell us, “the old is past and gone, everything is fresh and new.” That’s a good way to begin.

We make New Year resolutions… For some it means starting over with diets… or exercise (wonder where that comes from after a gluttonous holiday?) Others might make… stop smoking… stop drinking sodas… become a vegetarian…

In the church we have a sense of starting over… new budgets… new elders to serve on the Session… a new Director of Music Ministry…new possibilities and dreams for mission and ministry.

As we start this New Year, we are starting in a BIND. No, I’m not talking about a budget… or trying to make ends meet-though this is a challenge in these times. Today, I’m talking about the fact that many of us are in a BIND because we’ve committed ourselves (at least 175 of us at the Kirk have committed ourselves) to reading the BIBLE IN NINETY DAYS. BIND.

That is a BIND … that will put some pressure on time to read every day… but may I suggest it is a good BIND to be in. For it is the kind of BIND that will give you daily and intense exposure to the Word from the living God…. It will be the kind of BIND that, if you listen to what you reading, the kind of BIND where God may have something to say to you. So, it is a good BIND to be in.

Our sermons leading to Easter will focus on a text from what you are going to be reading in the week to come.

Today, I begin with a key text from Genesis 12. The call of Abram… that leads to a great story of a key person who you will find mentioned again and again (along with Sarah) throughout Holy Scripture. Abram is a key figure in 3 of the world’s major religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We all have Abraham as our father. So important is Abram, that Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is a descendant of Abram. Abram is that important.

So the story of Abram is a good place to start reading the Bible. You could make an argument that the whole story of our faith starts with Abram. You will notice that there are three starts in the book of Genesis. There is the first story of Creation-of why and how the world came to be. There is the first story of humanity-the story of Adam and Eve and the why and how humanity came to be. Then there is the story of faith: how our faith began. Abraham is the one who begins that story of faith.

So what do you say about Abraham? Why did God choose Abraham of all people on the earth?

In some ways, it is hard to defend God’s choice… when you read the story of Abram, you may find yourself asking, why did God begin there… with him of all people. He and Sarah look hardly qualified to be the ones to give birth to a great nation for God. They are old, I mean, old, over the hill… she is barren. When your wife can’t have babies, how do you build a nation on that? Then there is the story you’ll read where when the going gets tough… Abram sort of sells out his wife… tries to pass off Sarah as his sister. He lies. Is that the kind of person you want to be the father of faith? Is this our role model of faith?

When Sarah and Abraham finally do have their child… the child of promise… it wasn’t long before God told Abraham to go up into the hills and sacrifice his son, his first born son… (Talk about being in a BIND) When you read that story, you’ll ask yourself, ‘What’s up with that?” (By the way, get ready to ask that question a lot in the next 90 days)

Why Abram? That’s sort of the scandal of the Bible. Again and again as you meet the characters of scripture you are going to discover a theme or two. One of them is that God often chooses what is weak and fragile and sometimes even scandalous to reveal the power of God… a power you will see that is able to transform a life… to redeem a life. That may come as a comfort to those being ordained and installed today.

Another theme you’ll see is this. Faith begins with a call… When you read the first words of God to Abram, did you notice that the story of God and Abraham does not begin with “How are you doing? Or “Let me introduce myself”…?

No, the story begins with a call, a command and an invitation. His first words to Abram are these:

“Go from your country, your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so you will be a blessing… And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The story begins with a call, a command, an invitation and also a promise. Follow me and I will bless you in order that you might be a blessing. God wants to bless the earth… so God chooses Abram and Sarah to leave behind everything that is comfortable… everything they know to go where? We don’t know where. We only know that it is a land that God will show them. No maps on this journey… just God. No GPS… just faith… just a voice.

And then the story begins with a very simple sentence:  “So Abram went, as the Lord told him”…

Abraham says the first yes of many yeses you will read in the next 90 days. (Remember Mary’s ‘yes’? that led to the conception and birth of Jesus?) It is the yes of someone who has listened to the voice of God… and who has made a decision to follow on a journey to literally, God knows where… but you will see that they go anyway.

This is a story that is the first of many stories of people who listen to God… who step out on faith on a journey of faith… the journey we are on is both about physical journeying… emotional journeying and spiritual journeying. A journey with questions to be sure (lots of them) … and sometimes you’ll get answers… sometimes not. A journey that will take you through a wilderness… through the valley of the shadow sometimes… but always with God. Most of all it is a journey that involves listening and responding and going.

Abram will become the model for those who choose that journey with God. Within scripture you’ll hear his name mentioned again and again. Pay attention when you hear it. You’ll learn a lot about faith.

I like what Frederich Buechner learned about faith when he read the story of Abram. Buechner says he learned,

“Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than a possession. It is on-again-off again rather than once-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you are going, but going anyway. A journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith…” 1.

“Faith is the direction your feet take you when you find out you are loved.”

So, the story – our story begins-with listening… to a call from God… to a call from a loving God… listening to an invitation, a command… then our response as an act of faith.

That’s a pretty good way to start off the Bible in Ninety Days. Because that’s what it is going to be … 90 days of listening to God’s voice.

Today as we ordain and install our elders… let us pray that they will be people who listen… amid all the voices they will hear… voices from culture… voices from the congregation and even their own voices… let us pray that they will be people who seek to listen to the voice of God. That’s their job, you know… to listen to the voice of God… and then, as God calls to follow… to follow in faith.

As we go into this New Year, we do well to remember the story of Abram and Sarai. The story of two who listened and followed God’s promptings in their life. That’s why we remember them as the Father and Mother of faith. They listened and they followed in faith.

Today I’d like to close with a poem I remember almost every new year. I first heard it from my preacher, Lee Stoffel when I was a youth. The poem was first published 100 years ago. Then it was quoted by King George VI in his Christmas Day broadcast in 1939. I think it is a poem that Abram would have loved.

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”

May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all as it upheld Abraham and Sarah on their journey of faith. Amen.

1. Wishful Thinking, p 26