Sunday’s sermon: God Calls … and Keeps Calling

Text used – Genesis 12:1-9

  • When I was a kid, I spent some time at Clearwater Forest – the Presbyterian camp up in Deerwood, MN.
    • First went up with a group of kids from my church and our pastor, Rev. Jamie Swanson → tent camping in the woods while the regular summer camp was going on
    • Also went as a regular camper for a few years in upper elementary school – 4th and 5th, I think
    • And one of my favorite things that we did one of those times (I don’t remember exactly which one) was orienteering.
      • Explanation for those not familiar: Orienteering (“O” for short) is a timed event across a mostly natural landscape, where participants navigate through a series of checkpoints along the way. The route from one checkpoint to the next isn’t marked: Each participant decides the best route on the run (or walk). Meets have courses of varying lengths and difficulty, from beginner to expert. An orienteer might be described as part trail runner and part map-and-compass geek. Because it requires you to find pre-placed control markers, you experience multiple geocache-esque “I found it!” moments in a single event, though a GPS is not required and not allowed. Orienteers are also like obstacle-course runners, though the obstacles are au naturale and often avoidable through savvy route choices.[1] → At camp, they paired us up, gave us rudimentary maps of the area surrounding the athletic field and a little compass, and sent us off to find the various checkpoints that had previously been laid out.
      • Don’t remember who I was paired with (though I can guess it was my friend, Stacy, because we came to camp together, and I was way too shy as a kid to voluntarily pair up with someone I didn’t know!)
      • Don’t remember how many checkpoints there were
      • Don’t remember how much time we spent on that particular activity
      • What I do remember – vividly! – is how much I enjoyed purposefully venturing through the woods: following the compass, figuring out where we should go next, and the thrill and joy of those “geocache-esque ‘I found it!’ moments whenever we managed to find one of the checkpoints.
        • (I also remember that my partner and I were some of the first kids back … just sayin’.)
  • And as I was thinking about our Scripture reading this morning – God’s call to Abram and his family to leave … to journey … to follow – I couldn’t help thinking about it as basically the opposite of orienteering.
    • God calls Abram and his family – his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot – to a whole new land, a place they’ve never been before
      • No map
      • No compass (won’t be invented for a few thousand more years)
      • No pre-determined checkpoints
      • No assurance of where and when and how the end of this divinely-inspired journey would be
    • And yet how did our Scripture reading this morning begin? – text: The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you.”[2] → Now, at this point, you may be asking yourself, “Who is this Abram? Why is God keyed in on him? Where did he come from?”
      • Text prior to today’s reading (end of Gen 11) gives us a brief genealogy and background for Abram
        • Descendant of Noah’s son, Shem → brings a bit of interesting but also disquieting First Testament history to bear on this story
          • Odd little story from end of Gen 9: after all the animals and people have disembarked from the ark, Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk on his own wine → basically passes out naked in his tent → Noah’s son, Ham, and Ham’s son, Canaan, find Noah like this → instead of remedying the situation, Ham runs to report the situation to his brothers, Shem and Japheth → brothers are obviously appalled because they toss a robe over their own shoulders and walk backward into Noah’s tent to cover him without availing their eyes of his nakedness → Noah wakes up later, learns what happened, and not only blesses Shem and Japheth but curses Canaan (not Ham … not sure why) – Noah in text: “Cursed be Canaan: the lowest servant he will be for his brothers.” He also said, “Bless the Lord, the God of Shem; Canaan will be his servant. May God give space to Japheth; he will live in Shem’s tents, and Canaan will be his servant.”[3] → So here we are, a dozen or so generations later, and God is calling Abram, the descendant of Shem, to go and take possession of the land of Canaan. It adds a whole new layer to our story this morning, doesn’t it?
  • Covenant is pretty out-in-the-open in this morning’s reading – 2nd verse (God to Abram): I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.[4]
    • God’s promise: an abundance of greatness and blessing
      • Scholar breaks this down a bit further: God promises [Abram] three things: a place, a people, and a job. These are the basic necessities of every human. God seems here to be working with a stripped down version of the mid-twentieth century psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, covering safety, belonging, and esteem/self-actulization.[5]
    • God’s ask: Leave everything that is familiar to you – country, family, home – and follow me
      • Not an edict that Abram actually follows → God says, “Leave everything and everyone.” Abram takes his wife, Lot, his nephew and heir, (since he and Sarai have no children … yet), and “all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran.”[6] And really, this is pretty indicative of how things will go between God and God’s people throughout all of time, right? God says, “Come.” And the people say, “But wait, God. I need this. Wait, God. I need that. God, you just need to wait while I gather up all my stuff – my physical stuff, my emotional stuff, my spiritual stuff. Just let me pack my bags … pack my truck … pack my 26-ft., 10,000-lbs-of-cargo moving van. But I promise, God … I’m coming. Really.”
        • Harkens to Jesus’ charge to the disciples when he sends them out in Lk 9: [Jesus] sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. He told them, “Take nothing for the journey – no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt.”[7] → You see, it’s all about reliance on God. It’s all about whether we trust God enough to follow the call. It’s all about whether we trust God to be there for us even (and especially?) in the face of a long, arduous, and uncertain journey.
          • Call of God doesn’t come with a compass
          • Call of God doesn’t come with a map
          • Call of God doesn’t come with pre-determined checkpoints
          • Call of God doesn’t require all the stuff we think we need because the call of God comes with the guarantee that God journeys with us no matter what
      • Still, even as he wrapped his uncertainty in layers of familiarity – the familiar people and belongings that Abram chose to bring with him – Abram still set out with God. God says, “Leave everything and everyone,” and Abram pack everything and brings everyone. But still, God calls, and Abram follows.
        • Can’t help but think of the quote from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (Bilbo to Frodo): It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

        • Indeed, friends, that is part of our fear, isn’t it? When we hear God calling us to go and do, we worry that we will lose track of our feet and might end up swept off to some unknown place, some uncomfortable situation, some unanticipated situation. And yet, we have God’s promise: “I call. You follow. And I will go with you.”
  • Proof is in the text and beyond this morning → Today’s short story is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Abram’s story in Scripture. The ins and outs, twists and turns of Abram’s story continue for another 13 chapters throughout the book of Genesis. In fact, fully ⅓ of the whole Genesis narrative involves Abram and his continued relationship with God and with the people.
    • Far from a perfect story → Abram makes plenty of mistakes!
    • And yet, God calls, and Abram follows. Time and time again, God calls, and Abram follows.
      • Follows with his feet
      • Follows with his family
      • Follows with his heart
      • Follows with his faith
      • Today’s text: Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshipped in the Lord’s name. Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went. → Abram’s travels continue, but as they continue, he worships. As Abram continues to follow God’s call, he builds altars to God – dedicating a portion of his time, his physical effort, and the quiet devotedness of his heart to the One who called him and kept calling him. One step … one stone … one prayer at a time. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[2] Gen 12:1.

[3] Gen 9:25-27.

[4] Gen 12:2-3.

[5] Rebecca Abts Wright. “Commentary on Genesis 12:1-9” from Working Preacher,

[6] Gen 12:5.

[7] Lk 9:2-3.

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