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So Abram Went | Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

Matthew Neugebauer

Friday, March 3, 2023

Photo by Evelien Doosje on iStock.
Genesis 12:1-4
Change is hard. Change in relationships, work or living arrangements, getting married, welcoming a new child, starting school, or all the myriad ways that our lives inevitably undergo transition, all the times that God invites us to take a new step into a new set of circumstances.
Whether you thrive on, detest, or are simply used to undergoing change, (or some combination of the three feelings), you likely know the personal, practical, and spiritual work involved. Even the regular changing of the seasons, the cycle of the year, requires us to take on different tasks and actions: shovelling the driveway, putting on a thicker coat, or finding ways to stave off seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
The primordial narrative of Genesis 1-11 gives way to the extended personal stories of the patriarchs in chapter 12. God appears to Abram, seemingly unannounced, and gives him a task: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house." (12:1) Leave what you know, what you've known all your life, pick up your family, pack up everything you own, move your 75-year-old body, and go.
Go. Not to a place you know about yet. Not to a place you can fully plan for or anticipate. Go. "To the land that I will show you."
God calls Abram to make a change so fundamental to who he is and what his life is about, that God even ends up changing his name. (Genesis 17:4-5) That moment, that change from Abram to Abraham, is meant to call later Israelite readers to expand their vision of God's saving purpose, not simply for one nation but for many. I think it's also God's way of honouring and acknowledging that Abraham willingly undertook such a great change, in faithful obedience to God’s will.
This brings me to Abram’s initial response to God’s initial call, to make that initial change. On the surface, we’re only told what Abram chooses to do, and in very stark, direct terms:
"So Abram went, as the Lord had told him." (12:4)
Just like that. His response seems so easy, so straightforward, just like the first disciples who left their lives to follow Jesus. (Mark 1:15-20) The lack of narrative detail in this early episode provides a stark contrast with the rest of Abram’s story, which has a lot of twists and turns until his death 13 chapters later. We’re meant to feel Abram’s response to God’s initial call as a quick and immediate obedience.
The speed of Abram’s response gives us a clue to his focus, his motivations, and his hopes. The author to the Hebrews helps interpret these for us:
"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out….By faith he stayed….By faith he received…” (Hebrews 11:8-9, 11, emphasis added)  By faith in what? Or in whom? In some abstract notion that things will “just work out,” or the stars will align, or in “good vibes”? No – Abram puts his faith in someone, who guides us and comforts us even as he calls us to step into new things. Let's look at the text one more time:
"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you….I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:2-3)
Notice how quickly God's speech - and I think Abram’s focus - switches from Abram’s task to God’s promise, to the mighty act that God himself wills to undertake through Abram. God will bless Abram by making his name great, so that Abram can be a means of sharing God's blessing, God's saving goodness, with the nation that Abram will one day bring forth, and ultimately to “all the families of the earth.” (12:3)
Abram focuses on God, who makes him an offer too good to refuse. Abram focuses on God, whose promise is greater than the hardship that change entails, who makes that hardship worth it. Above all, the speed of Abram’s response shows that he trusts God to be faithful, trusts him to make good on his promises.
Where did that trust come from? It’s probably a combination of a few possibilities. Maybe the goodness of God’s offer was just that overwhelming. Maybe the very fact that God’s Word spoken to him was enough to draw him out of his father’s house, just like God’s Word-made-flesh was enough to draw the disciples out from their fishing boats. Maybe the descendants of Noah and Shem (11:10-26) retold the story of the Ark and the Great Flood through their generations (chapters 6-9). And maybe that retelling kept alive the flame of faith that God can deliver his chosen ones from evil, and preserve them through great trials.
Along with the power of God's Word in the present, and the story of his faithfulness in the past, I think there's another ingredient to Abram's willingness to up and leave at God's call: the opportunity for change to create a new future.
Part of that is simply logical. The physical change that God called Abram and his family to make was a necessary part of God's large-scale promise to make a new nation through him, one that would bless "all the families of the earth." He couldn't become the father of a new nation if he merely continued to be Terah's son. He couldn't become a new nation, a new people, if he merely continued to be an inhabitant of Haran or a Chaldean from Ur.
"So Abram went, as the Lord had told him."
Change has a way of opening up the possibilities for new life and new perspectives. A change of circumstances, even physical circumstances, gets our minds going in different directions, and gives us the space to step back and ask deeper questions. It makes us stop what we're doing and lets us re-examine why we're doing it, or if we could be doing something different.
On a small scale, this is why creative types often have to get up and go for a walk or go outside in order to find new ideas. The new physical movement has a way of affecting the connections in our brain, which helps us to reconsider older thought patterns that seem obvious, in favour of fresh, less obvious ones. On the scale of parishes, communities, and institutions, a change in leadership, a marked decline in attendance, or the intentional process of rebranding can often provide the opportunity for the organization or community to evaluate and reassess its identity, purpose, and mission.
I can see how Abram might have had the wisdom to know that change can have this capacity to reframe and renew our understanding. His response expressed the desire, the hope, and the faith that God’s “power at work within” him would “accomplish abundantly far more than all [he could] ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20) His obedience to God’s call opened him up to the new gift of God’s promises.
"So Abram went, as the Lord had told him."

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