EPHESIANS 3: 14-21
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
When Terah had lived for seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.
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. 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. I 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.’
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram 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. Then 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. From 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. And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.
Usually, the story of the Hebrew people and the beginning of the Jewish faith begins with the scripture from Genesis 12: 1. “ 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. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great.”
It begins with God speaking to Abram. However, I’ve been thinking the story really begins long before that day.
I’ve been thinking about this scripture for a long time, and due to all that has been happening here at Bethany, I thought I would look and see what God might be saying to Bethany in this story. The story is about hearing God’s call and about the journey that followed.
Will Norman has been here, and now has heard God’s call to go to Georgia to the ministry there. He’s going home for good reasons. Rob Watkins, whom many of us know for he has been the Presbyter of the Presbytery, is also going home to North Carolina, to be close to his aging parents. Journeys.
Bethany is in transition of leadership, so in the Mission Study that has been ongoing this past year, there has been a lot of talk about where is Bethany going? What is God calling us to do? A journey of sorts. The metaphorical journey into, maybe, the unknown.
So I want to look at the story in the scripture today, and start with the story that unfolded before God’s saying to Abram, “Go from your country…”
I’ll begin with Terah, a man who lived in the city of Ur in the south in the land of the Chaldeans. What today is southern Iraq. He and his wife had three boys: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Abram was married to Sarai. The third son, Haran, had died young, leaving a son named Lot.
One day, for reasons the scripture does not tell us, Terah took his oldest son Abram and Abram’s wife Sarai, and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran who had died, and left the city of Ur to go to the land of Canaan. They had to travel north, and then turn west into Canaan. But when they came to Haran (the same name as his son), a city in the northern part of the country, they settled there. Terah lived a long time and died in Haran. He never left the land of the Chaldeans. Never fulfilled his intention of going to Canaan. He simply had moved from Southern California to Northern California, so to speak, and never made it to Vancouver,Canada like he had intended.
Perhaps you have a family story about a trip that never reaches it’s destination. There’s a story in my own family. My father-in-law was a young single man in California, who decided he would move to China. He was offered a job in Honolulu, took the job, for it was a start towards China. However, my mother-in-law had gone to Honolulu from Oregon as a young nurse, for a job and the adventure. They met, married, and never left Hawaii. There are details left out of the “family story.” Such as why did he choose China as a destination. I can guess why he stayed in Hawaii. Besides falling in love with someone, why try to go to China when you find yourself in “paradise.”
Perhaps Terah settled in Haran because he found a good job there. Maybe he was ill. Maybe tired of traveling. Who knows? But I can imagine that the interruption of the move to Canaan and the trip never being completed was a topic of conversation for years to come around that family dinner table.
This is the part of the story that fascinates me. My belief that God’s call to Abram, after his father’s death, to move and go to Canaan, wasn’t a thought from God that came out of the blue. It was probably a thought that had been in Abram’s head for a long, long time - the thought of Canaan as a destination. And one day the “voice of God” spoke to him, and after his father’s death, called him to go and complete the journey to that promised land. Called him to fulfill the dream that had been born in the heart of his own father.
I believe God speaks to us in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it comes through a dream while asleep. Sometimes it comes to us when we experience some event, or some conversation with someone. And sometimes, it comes to us from thoughts that have been forming in our minds for many, many years. Sometimes, it comes because someone else was praying.
In 1995 I was in a chaplain class at UCDavis. One of my classmates was an elementary teacher in Seventh Day Adventist schools. She also had training in a special kind of reading disability. She had taught for many years in California schools, and one day was invited by a friend to go for a two year assignment to the Philippines. She was single with no family responsibilities, and she decided to go for the experience and adventure of living in another country. She was assigned a teaching job on a small island with a small school. In her classroom was a young boy who couldn’t read, and she soon discovered he had the kind of disability she was trained to work with and before her assignment ended, the boy was able to read.
One day his father came to tell her that for two years before she came to that school, he had been praying that God would send someone to help his son. And God had answered the prayer.
She told us, that she thought she had gone to the Philippines for the adventure. She had had no idea that God was sending her as the answer to someone else’s prayer.
Sometimes God speaks to us with a vision for the journey, because someone we never knew was praying for God to send someone like us. We must not ever forget, that God uses each of us in ways we may never know.
Perhaps Terah had a dream to go to another land with no idea God was in the dream. But it planted a seed, and decades later, his son Abram heard that dream as God’s voice.
Moses never got to enter the promised land either, but he had the call and brought the people to place where they would one day cross over into Canaan.
I think of my family and I think of my Bethany family. We have been asked what our dreams are for Bethany. What are the short term dreams - ones we could fulfill with who we are today. And we are asked what do we dream for the future. For the future we might one day see fulfilled. The question we have been asked to pray about is: What is God’s desire for this church? Perhaps it is a future we have had stirring in our minds for decades. Perhaps it is something we have not yet imagined. Perhaps it is something that would be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Someone we have yet to meet.
I have great confidence that the answer to our future will unfold. Perhaps in my lifetime. Perhaps not. Many dreams here have come to be in my years worshiping at Bethany. Many are yet to come.
May God fill our hearts with prayers for our future and the years ahead. May our eyes and hearts be open to our world, to the needs of this community, and the future God has in store for us here.