June 11, 2023

Faithful Followers of God

Passage: Genesis 12:1-9

Prayer for Illumination

Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for the truth of Your word. We pray, O Lord, that You would open our hearts so that we yield our hearts to You and walk with the faith of Abraham in this world, trusting in the promises of the covenant of grace. Help us to see this truth with the eyes of Hope and Possibility. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

How many times have you moved as an adult? How did you feel when you first moved to a new place? Thrilled or stressed? I counted how many times I moved after I got married. We moved around 12 times excluding the temporary living at friends’ places between moves. However, the biggest move as a person was the move from Korea to Canada.

In 1989, when I was 18 years old, my parents decided to leave Korea, our home country, and move to Canada, a country of great opportunities. Being the first son, it was not easy for my father to leave his three younger siblings, and also his stable job as the head of the family. We also had to leave my eldest sister behind because she was already married. Yet, my parents thought that for the better future of their children, it was best to move to Canada.

As for me, I was greatly excited because I didn’t have to take the Korean university entrance exam which was extremely difficult, but at the same time, I was deeply saddened that I had to say “Goodbye” to my eldest sister, my church, and my dear friends.

Even though leaving your family, friends, and hometown is always challenging for everyone, the journey from Korea to Canada was not like a move from the States to Canada or certainly not like a move from Ontario to BC. The culture, people, food, and mostly, the language were different. Especially for my parents, it was like starting their life all over again from scratch. But they courageously took the journey in the hope of a better life. And today in our text, we see a family who left their homeland and their people for a new land, following God’s call.

Today’s text is a very famous story. The story of Abraham, the Father of Faith. Let us go a few verses back - Genesis ch 11. We heard about Abram for the first time here, and his name had not been changed to Abraham yet. (This will happen later when God made a covenant with Abraham again at the age of 99 - Gen 17)

V 26, “After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.” Even though Abram’s name was written first in the order, actually he was the youngest. V 31, “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.”

We don’t know exactly how Terah decided to leave his homeland, Ur, which was known for its highly developed civilization with wealth, skilled craftsmanship, and advanced technology and science, for the land of Canaan. We can only assume that it was by the will and plan of God. However, Terah didn’t continue his journey to Canaan but stopped halfway and settled in Harran.

In Harran, Abram was living a good life with his beloved and beautiful wife, Sarai, even though they didn’t have any children. He was well established, lacked nothing, and lived a comfortable and protected life, having a large household and livestock. And one day, Abram was called by God. “Abram, go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

Imagine how Abram might have felt. It would be difficult enough to leave one’s homeland as a peasant, or someone with few possessions or responsibilities, but as a wealthy leader, picking up everything - his whole household and his livestock - and heading out to the unknown would really be a great task and a challenge.

What would you say if God tells you to leave your house, job, church, and comfort behind, and set out for a foreign land? ‘Oh no?” But Abram obeyed. V 4 says, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”

Abram and his wife, Sarai took all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran and set out for the land God had pointed to when he was 75 years old and Sarai was 65 years old.

Thankfully, Abram was not told to just leave but was given a promise of blessings. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Three major promises are contained in verses 2 and 3: a land; a seed; and a blessing.

At the time of the call, Abram did not know where this land was. We now know that the Promised Land was Canaan but Abram did not know. God told Abram to leave without knowing where the path of obedience would lead, but believing that God was leading as he went.

After he arrived in Canaan, he traveled throughout the land, unknowingly outlined the territory which would belong to Israel later, built altars to the Lord, and called on the name of the Lord. He was claiming the land for God. And at Shechem, God promised Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.” And as God said, this land never belonged to Abram in his lifetime, but Abram believed.

The second promise - a seed - demanded faith on the part of Abram, for it was obvious that he was already aged, and that Sarai was incapable of having children (11:30). Actually, after waiting for about 10 years, Abram and Sarai couldn’t wait for God’s perfect time any longer and tried to make it happen by their own plan and effort. Yet, the merciful and patient God intervened and showed how He was the Promise Keeper. But Abram and Sarai had to wait in faith for another 14 years until they had Isaac.

The final promise was that of blessing—blessing for him, and blessing through him. Much of Abram’s blessing was to come in the form of his offspring - his long-awaited son, Isaac, and then Jacob and the twelve sons of Jacob, and so on. But there was also the blessing that would come in the form of the Messiah, who would bring salvation to God’s people. Ultimately, the whole world was blessed by the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who came to save humanity from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.

Have you heard God’s call in your lives? Maybe in your 30s and 40s when you were much younger and healthier? And you feel like you’ve done enough for God now? How does the fact that Abram and Sarai were 75 and 65 years old when they left for Canaan make you feel?

Last week, Bev and I were at the 148th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Because there had been tremendous debates, discussions, heartbreaks, hurts, and divisions at the last few General Assemblies, I was a bit worried about what would happen this time. Even though many still feel unheard, unwelcome, dishonored, or even discriminated against due to different theological views and biblical interpretations, as a whole body of Christ, we are trying to find ways to respect, care for and accommodate one another.

During group conversation times, we talked about Hope and Possibilities as each congregation and as one denomination. Using prophetic imagination, we shared different ideas about the possible changes in the organizational structure and the physical structure of the church - our church buildings. Many wonderful ideas were shared.

What we all agreed upon was that we should not remain in the glorious days of the past or stay as we are. Except for a few churches, most of our Presbyterian churches are struggling with aging congregations and buildings. Unless we take a step out to the unfamiliar, uncharted, and foreign path, in the near future, you won’t see many mainline churches around.

A colleague of mine shared his struggle with me that there were 5 churches in his town when he first started his ministry 16 years ago, but over the years, 4 other churches died off and only his church is left. And even his church members are growing very old.

The interesting thing is that even though we all know and agree that we need a change, we’re afraid to change. When we imagine various possibilities we get excited, but when we are asked to take action, we step back or turn around, saying, “Wait a minute. That’s too radical. That’s too much.”

One of our presbytery colleagues wrote, “On a barely conscious level, we are still caught in a church culture of fear driven by messages of "You can't do that!" because of all sorts of untested assumptions about what is and is not possible.”

The last few years have been a huge challenge for many churches including our church for various reasons such as having no younger people in the church, the remits on same-sex marriage and ordination, and the pandemic. As we’re slowly recovering from the negative impact of the pandemic, it seems like we’re standing at a crossroads. We either go back to where we always had been OR step out of our comfort zone and take a journey to uncharted territory.

What will happen to us if we stay where we are? What will happen if we take the path of the unexplored? When God called Abram to leave his homeland, God didn’t give Abram exactly where to go. However, God promised that once he trusted and obeyed God, he would taste the blessings God had in store for him and see how he would be a blessing to many.

Hebrews ch 11 is called “The Hall of Faith.” It is a collection of famous men and women from the Old Testament, who were outstanding and should be remembered, not because of their athletic achievements but because of their faith in God.

The author tells us examples of what it means to live by faith. V 8 says, “By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

Faith does not guarantee that things will go smoothly for us. Sometimes we will face challenges like the uncertainty of the future, unfamiliar people, uncomfortable sermons, unorganized church building, unforeseen financial use… you may not feel safe and secure at church anymore.

However, FAITH does guarantee that we will be living in such a way that God is pleased with us and that we will experience His blessing, even in the midst of challenges and chaos. We can join the Hall of Faith if we trust the promises of God through Christ.

What hopes and dreams do you think God has given us for our church? To what places, people, and priority might God be calling you and our church? It is time for us to use our prophetic imagination to dream how we can best be a blessing to others as a church.

Abram was a man like you and me. He must have had a fear of changes and uncharted territories. Yet he faced his fears with faith. God will help us face our fears with faith. What God seeks is faithful men and women who are willing to follow His call. He understands how scared we are. He knows our weakness but let us remember that when we are weak, He is strong.

Brothers and sisters, God is calling us to take a step out into the path of a new land. Let us trust and obey. Let us be faithful followers of God’s call. Then, He will make each of us and our church - Langley Presbyterian Church a blessing to many.

Let us pray.

God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You call us to listen and to follow You wherever You lead us. It may seem risky or out of our comfort zone but You promise us that You will provide. Help us to have faith that You have a good and perfect plan for us and for our church. We do not clearly know where You’re leading us, but we will follow You. Thank You for granting us faith. WE pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.