Genesis 12

We’re in the season of Lent; the season in the liturgical year when we looking toward Jesus’ final days and the death he knew was coming. The suffering he both willingly endured and dreaded with all of his being. It’s when we consider why it happened and how he expected his friends to understand it. And the passage we’re diving into today sheds light on Christ’s plan—on God’s plan—all along. And it reminds us why Jesus was loved and why he was hated.  

{Genesis 12:1-3}

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.

2 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.

3 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.”

Here we are meeting Abram for the first time, before God changes his name to Abraham. And what we see in this story is God showing up and promising good things to Abram. We see God’s offering gifts that God gives generously and freely for Abram’s good and Abram’s joy. But the blessings are not meant to stop with him. They aren’t to be hoarded. They are to be shared among all peoples for the good of all creation. The people of Jesus’ day liked the first part of that—the blessing part. But they didn’t like the sharing with people not like us part. It went against everything they’d come to understand about who they were in God’s economy and how God worked in the world.  

{My (complicated) story of calling}

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 I like to think of myself as so different from all that but I am much more about doing what’s comfortable for me and what I want and protecting myself than I want to see sometimes. Our text is about Abram’s call—it’s got me thinking about my calling and purpose. I’m almost done with seminary. I’ve spent all this time; I’ve worked so hard; I’ve invested all this money. Kyle has had to pick up the slack while I’ve studied and traveled. And I feel like I should be so sure of everything at this point but the truth is that I still struggle with what my purpose is…what exactly I’m supposed be doing.

 I remember wrestling with these same questions way back in the late 90s. I was still in my 20s. I’d been studying shalom and was grasping for the first time how big and beautiful and holistic God’s idea of peace is. I was seeing that it was about undoing harm and rebuilding and about individual people living wholeheartedly. And that was a big deal for me. Because I’d grown up with abuse and abandonment. The idea that God wanted people, including me in particular, to be deeply and fully at peace was revolutionary to me. And it was a big deal because I had this idea that pleasing God was mostly about following rules and not making mistakes.


“To think that a big part of pleasing God was working to become more fully myself was incredible. It felt like freedom.”

I remember this moment one afternoon when I just laid down in the middle of my living room, staring at the ceiling trying to take it all in. I remember crying and feeling such joy. I remember feeling like these knots were being untangled in me.

I understood part of this call to be wholehearted as going back to graduate school because I’d be adding tools that would make me better, learning things I cared about. And I got my master’s in sociology and did good research and writing that I loved and am proud of. But. It never occurred to me or anyone else at that time that I should go to seminary—that I should be preparing to walk with people spiritually. And looking back, the main reason for that honestly is that I am a woman. In the context we lived in, no one thought to wonder if I might be called to pastoral ministry. But when we moved to Austin, it started getting clearer that was the case. And so instead of getting a job at UT and going on to get my PhD, I starting serving in the church. And I loved it. For the first time in my life, I felt I was doing what I was meant to do.

 I started realizing how few spiritual mothers there were around me. I saw firsthand what was lost and missing when there were only male voices in pastoral leadership.

 And even as I struggled to find my place, I started to see that God had given me these gifts and abilities for me to enjoy and be fulfilled by but it wasn’t just for me. I started realizing that if I let myself be held back from what I could be, it wasn’t just me who missed out. It wasn’t just about me! Who I am, what I do, and what I have to offer was never only for me.

 God said, I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

 {What does all that mean for God’s plan in the world? What does it mean for us, now?}

We live in a world that is wrestling with who deserves to belong.  Who deserves to flourish?  

There’s this epidemic of “othering,” of defining who we are against everyone else. We wall ourselves off from people who are different from us. And I think it’s because people are scared. We’re afraid there’s not enough good to around. We’re afraid that sharing means we’ll get left out. And we’re pinning real struggle and pain on ‘those people’ over there. The economist Robert William Fogel writes “the incredible rate at which the economy and society are changing causes people to lose their bearings. They fear not only for their safety but also for their livelihoods.” (quoted in Bass, 222). This is even more relevant today than when he wrote this almost 20 years ago.

 And so, in Seattle, a Sikh man was shot by a white male who was shouting ‘get out of our country and go back to where you came from.’ He was in his own driveway. A white couple in Georgia were sentenced to prison for shouting racial slurs and yelling death threats at the birthday party of an 8 year old African American kid. A white man in Kansas City shot and killed an Indian man in a sports bar. Witnesses say he yelled ‘get out of my country.’ All of this since February.

That’s not us. It’s hard to believe stuff like that is really happening. And we are very intentional and work really hard to be nothing like that and to actively fight hate. We try to listen to others. We voted. We marched. But we live a world that is geared toward keeping us distracted and hyper focused on what’s in front of us. On our choices and our careers and our fulfillment. We care. We do. But we also get tired.

And a lot of times rest ends up looking like: What show should I watch next? Where should I go for dinner? Or should I order in? And we worry, am I eating right? Working out enough? What about retirement? Am I saving enough? Can I pay off my debt? Where is my soul mate? And, if I’ve found him or her—why am I still not experiencing 24/7 bliss?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with asking these kinds of questions. But so much of our world conspires to keep us focused, overwhelmed, by our choices and our fulfillment and our protection. It’s easy to forget in the daily-ness of life that it’s not just about us.  

God said, I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

{God’s plan was, and is, to bless the whole world.}

God in community created humanity in God’s image. We were created to reflect God’s way of being in the way we relate to each other. We were created to join God in delighting in, guarding, and stewarding the world.

But the first humans believed a twisted version of the truth and lost paradise. And before long, the whole world was filled with violence and corruption. And God sent these waves of judgment and cursing in response—a flood, confusion of languages. But even in judging a world filled with hate, God made ways for fresh starts. But humanity kept going back to old and broken patterns. What was God supposed to do with people who seemed hell bent on doing everything but what was good for them and others?

And Abram? He’d lost his brother. And his wife couldn’t have kids. If he didn’t have a child to pass his good name and his wealth to, there would be no one to remember him. No one to tell his stories. No son with his nose or daughter with Sarai’s eyes. And then his father died. And he was getting older. Things looked hopeless.

And what does God do?

“Even the best of humanity kept replaying the same old patterns and the worst of them were hurting each other and trying to play God. But instead of resorting to more punishment and cursing and correction, God takes a chance on doing the opposite.” 

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God asks Abram to leave the familiar behind. And God is going to show him where to go. And in that new home, God is going to give Abram his dream of becoming a father. The shame of not leaving a heritage behind is going to be wiped away. God is going to give him an honorable name. Instead of destruction, God promises blessing.  Here’s the thing about blessing. It’s become the high fructose corn syrup of religious language—overused, sickeningly sweet, and almost no resemblance to its original form and meaning. Blessing is an incredible thing. The Hebrew word for blessing is בָּרַךְ  (barak).  And it’s an idea that means flourishing in every possible way—physical health and strength; fertility; safety; success; abundance. That’s barak. And that’s what God promised to Abram and his family.

And Abram chooses to trust. He takes a leap of faith. As old as he was, he packs up his family and goes exactly where God told him to go. And God shows up there, too, letting him know he’s heading in the right direction.  

And Genesis 12 is the turning point. This is where God starts laying out God’s plan to turn the tide, which is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Whenever God shows up after this, he refers back to the promises he made here and acts to bring them increasingly to life.

{And this is the thing for us.} This is what we misunderstand with our Western individualism. We tend to think this is a story about God and one man—God’s chosen hero.

But this was never about Abram only. God’s grace and kindness and abundant provision for flourishing—barak—were never never never merely for Abram. They weren’t even just for Abram’s unborn children and grandchildren. God promised this:

 2 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. 3 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 what does this mean for us? It means any good thing we have is meant for us to enjoy and for us to share. You matter—you are part of this story that begins here with Abram. It means that we aren’t intended to live as isolated individuals, trying to figure out peace and fulfillment on our own.  

I’ve seen a few stories about how universities are figuring out how to handle the aggressive recruiting by white supremacists that’s nothing like they’ve ever seen. The Anti-Defamation League says there’s “an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses.”  

But here’s what hit me—there’s actually something racists get right. They are right to be searching for a people, a nation to align with, to protect, to be loyal to. They get that we’re not meant to be atomized individuals hanging onto whatever good we can grab.  

Their problem is that they are wildly mistaken in believing that ‘their people’ are defined by nationality or skin color or where they were born. Abraham was blessed SO THAT he would be a blessing. We flourish SO THAT we can help others flourish. Ephesians 2 says “13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

God invites us to live in light of understanding that God’s gifts of flourishing and abundance are for us AND for our community AND for the world. There are times to live at all three levels—they all matter. But our world trains us to stay at level 1 or 2 at best. Marketing machines thrive by fostering us staying isolated and self-focused and not even realizing it. But God invites us into God’s ways of fostering unity and connection—that share God’s gifts of grace and flourishing—barak—with others. God’s flourishing is meant to be like ripples in a pond. 

{What can it look like to respond to this?} 

Here’s something I encourage you to try for the next 5 days: Every day, at least once a day, try to see someone at your ‘level 3’—someone other than you who is outside your community of trusted friends and family—as worthy of God’s flourishing. Try and see that person as someone God had in mind as part of the ‘all families of the earth being blessed’ when he called Abram. As part of the reason you have the good gifts and abilities that you have.  

And then I encourage you to act in light of that. You could give a donation to an aid organization.  You could have a conversation with someone you’d usually avoid. You could say a silent prayer for someone. You could take a deep breath and say something genuinely kind to a person who stands for something you can’t imagine supporting.  

You can take one of these globes…put it on your desk or in your bag or in your pocket to remind you that part of the reason you are blessed is so that you can be part of others flourishing. As a reminder that God’s gifts of blessing are to be enjoyed and shared on behalf of all peoples for the good of all creation. 

Let’s pray.

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