Presented July 29, 2018 by Rev. Judy Davis
Based on Ephesians 3: 14-21 and Genesis 11: 26-12: 9
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.
Rev. 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 Sacramento 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 iBethany is 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 reached its 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 and 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 in a 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 UC Davis Medical Center. 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 fown amily 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.