A Change in Abraham’s Perspective

Download (right click and choose save as)

September 16, 2012. Pastor Keith preaches on the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis. When Abraham lamented that he had no child, God told him to change his perspective. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” God kept his promise to Abraham, and he keeps his promises to us.


*** Transcript ***


We continue to reflect upon these verses from the Old Testament today. We begin in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy spirit. Amen.


Abraham, whom we are hearing about today, had quite a life. He was first mentioned in scripture when he was 75 years old. That’s when the story picks him up. He was living in Ur at the time with his family. His father was still alive. His father was like 205, and his father decided they were going to move. Ur is probably in southern Iraq, and they moved to what would be Eastern Turkey today. Haran is the name of that area. And Abraham was there in Haran for a while with his wife, and then God spoke to him and said, “Abraham, I have something in mind for you. I’ll lead the way, but you’re going to leave from here and go to someplace that I will show you.” He just tells him to pick up and go. So Abraham, with his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot, take all their cattle, all their possessions and start traveling. He starts going to where he doesn’t know he’s going to go. And we don’t know how God led him; there’s no word there about a pillar of fire and anything like that. He just goes. He comes to Canaan, which was probably in what we would call Northern Israel today. And the Bible is clear that he comes to this land and it’s already inhabited by the well-known Canaanites. And so there’s a problem for him right away, and that problem persists down to our own day, of two peoples wanting to inhabit that same land with different religions. There were the Canaanites, and there was Abraham and the people that look to the one God from his family. So two peoples in the same territory. Abraham was pretty clever in dealing with his neighbors and did pretty well there, but it was always challenging keeping peace with the neighbors.


And then there was a time when there was a famine and there was nothing to eat there. But there was food down in Egypt. So he picked up all that he had and went to Egypt, took his family and everybody with him. But that was tricky too. He did get food, but he had to get food without being killed, because he knew the way of the Egyptians and that they would want to kill him so that they could claim his wife to be their wife as well. So he had to get out of that. When he got back to Canaan and reestablished himself after the famine, it became apparent that both he and his nephew Lot were doing quite well, and their herds were growing, but they were growing so much they were competing for the same land. And their shepherds were not getting along so well, so Lot came to Abraham and said what are we gonna do about this? And Abraham said I guess we’re gonna have to part, just going to have to go to separate areas. You go where you want to go, you pick. And so Lot chose the Jordan Valley, which has the town of Sodom at the end of it. Well that put him in Sodom and that became part of an alliance. There was an alliance of cities that were politically gathered, militarily gathered, and there was another group. And then those groups had a little war, and Lot’s side lost. And so Uncle Abraham, though, can’t just let his nephew lose. They were carting him off, him and his family, to Damascus, to Syria to where the victors were. And Abraham couldn’t let that happen to his nephew. So he fashions an army of his own and goes and attacks, so that he can get Lot freed again and bring Lot back to Canaan safely.


All this time, as Abraham is looking out for his nephew, he and Sarah have no children of their own. He does a lot for Lot, but they really would have preferred to have their own child. They struggle with the problem of infertility. They’re pushing being a hundred years old, and no child. There was no one to love, no one to liven up their home. And there was no one to carry on the name. Why would God lead them to this land with all these foreigners, make them deal with the problems of living with these easily-offended, often warlike neighbors? Why would they have to continue to look out for their wayward nephew and suffer famines and natural disasters? Why should God lead them to this place where they have all these problems and have no children? What was God up to? Why did God do this to them? Why couldn’t they have stayed back with the rest of the family, they must have thought, where life was more comfortable? Why all this moving? But most of all, why no children?


Sort of seemed, I think to them, like it was more like being led out to a slow death in the wilderness rather than being a place of promise as it was supposed to be. Abraham did have plenty of wealth, especially after defeating the king who had taken Lot off into captivity. But when Abraham overtook him, he got all that king’s wealth, he had plenty, and then the prophet Melchizedek blessed him. He had lots going for him. But even as he’s blessed Abraham is interested in more. He needs a meaning for life. The riches and the spoils of the war that he had captured really don’t mean much to him. He says I don’t care about them. Somebody else can take them if they want them. He’s troubled in his soul.


At this point is where our text is today: chapter 15 of Genesis. He receives a vision from God, and the voice of God says to him, “Don’t be afraid Abraham. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward.” But Abraham has the courage to argue with God. He says, “God, I don’t really need more reward. What are all the blessings good for if I have no one to pass them on to? I need someone to share them with, to pass them to. I need a child.” As it stood, everything he had would go to his servant Eliezer, because that’s the way the court worked in those days. And so he was okay with that. He would do that, but there’s not much meaning in that. He’d much rather have his things go to his own child, especially in a religious culture where one’s meaning after death came from your family and how your name continued on with your family. His life was without meaning. He was a man wandering around, following God, growing older all the time, but with no apparent purpose. What was God up to?


Well God isn’t finished with the conversation here yet. There is more to this vision God has with him. The Lord says a slave will not inherit your property. Your son will. So this means that God is promising him a son. There’s another step here. And he says step outside the tent, I have something to show you. And so he steps outside and God says look up. He wasn’t saying look up to watch the comet crash into Jupiter, don’t look up to see if the man in the moon is smiling at you, or something like that. He says look up and look at the stars. Count the stars. As impossible as it is to count the stars, that’s how many descendants will come from you. You don’t have a son now, but you will have a son. And the descendants will be more than the stars. That was the promise of God, and Abraham trusted the promise. Abraham trusted the promise, and God said, “Because you’ve trusted me in this way it will indeed happen.” God accepted Abraham, even knowing all of his faults, his sin, his lies, his doubt, his hopelessness. Because Abraham trusted and followed God, God accepted him. And what God promised came true.


When Abraham had trouble a little later seeing this as God’s plan, God took him to a new place. That is, God had taken him to a place to get a new perspective. When Abraham is in all that trouble God said, “Come out of the tent, look up, and when you look up you’ll see the important things.” And Abraham was able to hear and to believe the promise. Before this point of this vision, life had been pretty worldly for Abraham. He’d had faith to follow, but he was caught up with battles, trying to get Lot out of trouble. He was always doing things with Lot and his predicaments. He was trying to keep peace with the neighbors, trying to keep food on the table. He was caught up in this day-to-day situation and the promise of God was hard to see, and all these things just making daily life work.


But when God took him outside, instead of looking around him and kind of down like where everything is, he had him look up and changed his perspective completely. He was able to get out of himself and look to a new direction, to look up to the heavens. To know that the promise of the descendants as numerous as the stars gave him a new lease on life. He believed it and good things happened, though we know they didn’t happen very easily.


Well I remember times when our family would go camping, we’d go into the Rockies of Colorado — high up, seven or eight thousand feet, and camp. And we’d be looking at the sky at night, and the numbers of stars were just unbelievable. It was like there was a haze almost, the stars were so, so many. But you don’t really have to go that far to be impressed by the number of stars. Just leaving the bright lights of the city, you can go not that far from here and see many more stars than you do in town. I’m sure many of you have been on a vacation of some kind this summer, and you’ve gotten away. And maybe you’ve been able to see some natural things and wonder, maybe been able to see some nice stars on your trips. But more important than maybe the perspective you got from looking at all these stars was what happened when you looked back home from where you got to. When you were away you were able to get away from your daily things. You were able to look back and think about what life was like back when you were at home. Psychologists say that getting only an hour or two away from where you normally are changes your perspective. A person is able to be more objective about what’s going on with life at home, life it work, and other things, when you get some distance from it. Just being away from it you can look back and say, these are the things that are going on. Maybe some changes need to be made. Maybe everything is really good. But just getting away gives a new perspective on what you’re doing. God had given Abraham a new perspective. We get new perspectives in different ways.


And the same things that bothered Abraham often bother us. We have issues with people around us. Whether we’re at home or at work, we get in each other’s space. Or we wonder where God is leading us as the days of our lives tick by. We need to be concerned about the provisions we have for ourselves and for the people we might be responsible for. We need food, and yet we like he know that material things really have no value in the end. There’s more meaning to life than in the stuff that we have. And we have family issues. Whether immediate or extended family, there’s always some anxiety there that comes with the families we’re involved with. And any number of us have had to deal with the issue of infertility. It’s a very difficult issue, and leaves us with strong disappointment, sometimes disappointment with God, when the sign of new life that we so desperately want doesn’t come.


For all these things, changing the point of view can help. A new perspective can help us be more objective. Sometimes the objective distance can be achieved just by talking with someone about it. If you can’t get away from it and look at it, maybe that doesn’t necessarily fix it anyway. Talking with someone helps us say, this is the stuff I’m dealing with. What are some solutions? What are some ways I can move forward with it? Particularly if we do that with someone who’s trained to do it, as a counselor, or maybe a trusted friend or trusted relative. Sometimes just talking about what we’re doing, what’s bothering us perhaps, gives a new perspective and leads us to look at it in a new way.


And if we can’t see it ourselves, sometimes it takes another person, whoever it might be, to remind us that there are promises out there. There are stars out there and they represent the plan and promise of God. When we hear the promise of God that is indeed a plan out there, and God leads us in that way, it’s like looking at the stars and remembering that the promise of God is far more than we can count or know about. It’s greater than we can know.


But having the promise doesn’t make all the difficulty go away. We know the rest of the story with Abraham. Later on, he and Sarah doubted God’s promise. And they came up with a plan of their own to have a child, when it seemed like they were getting too old for God’s promise to come true for them. But their plan just complicated things further, and in the end they did have a child named Isaac, who was theirs. It was a hard way to go and they were severely tested by God’s promise, that even they were flawed and sinful people who doubted the promise of God. But God came through on the plan and kept the promise.


Well, thankfully we have something even more reliable than the stars for our promise. We have a very accessible way to take on life and a new perspective. That word comes to us often through different people. Sometimes through scripture. Someone says, “God loves you.” That’s a promise from God. That word comes to us. And if we’re feeling forgotten or feeling left out, or if we’re feeling abused, that word comes to us and says, “I have a new perspective. God loves me, even if I feel all alone right now.” Someone says to us the promise of God, “You are forgiven.” Our life has changed. It has a new perspective. We don’t take our guilt around with us anymore. We are free from it. Someone says to us, “God’s promise is true. God is leading you. Follow God no matter how unlikely the path seems.”


Bigger than the sky. Bigger than the stars. We have the king of heaven making promises to us and looking for us to trust those promises. The king of the heavens leads us as we are on earth and never lets us go. The word that Abraham uses to respond to God’s promise is the same as the root for the word when we end prayer and say “amen.” That, in effect, is what Abraham said to God when God gave him these promises: amen. That is, “Yes, I believe. I believe it.” As we trust God’s promises, God regards us well, as he did Abraham. And God keeps the promises to us. Amen.


Now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


*** Keywords ***


2012, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Genesis 11:27-30, Genesis 12, Genesis 13, Genesis 14, Genesis 15, Genesis 16, Genesis 17