“The Family of Faith”


August 30, 2017:  Rev. Dr. Buz Wilcoxon

This summer we have been on a grand adventure. We have travelled through some of the most amazing stories of the Bible all in the book of Genesis. We have encountered the majesty of God displayed from the very beginning, when God spoke all of creation into being. We have seen how God formed humanity, male and female in God’s own image—How the human story of sin and pride leads us away from our creator, but how God refuses to abandon us. We have experienced death and tragedy at the personal level with Cain and Abel and at the global level with Noah and the great Flood. If we were in a theatre watching these stories unfold, we would call this a grand epic, with a stage full of characters from all parts of creation. The full orchestra plays mighty majestic music throughout these scenes.

But today, the story takes a new turn. Instead of the massive stage full of all humanity, the lights dim down, all grows dark and silent. Then, to our complete surprise a spotlight turns on. A single bright beam of radiance shines on just two lone figures standing on the stage. They are the only ones we can see. The orchestra is quiet but then a single violin begins to play. It’s a theme that sounds like the one we have heard before, and yet it is stark in its loneliness and longing.

That’s what the book of Genesis does right here. It turns its attention away from the great grand cosmic stories to one lone couple, Abram and Sarai—we will come to know them as Abraham and Sarah. Now, we are no longer telling the story of humanity. Now, we are telling a family story—a particular family story about a particular man and woman and those who follow after them.

We have our own family stories. Some based on our own memories, others that have been handed down to us through the generations. Stories of joy and pain, of humor and tragedy. Stories of survival and defeat.

When my children spend time with my parents (their grandparents), one of their favorite things to do is to hear stories—stories about family members from a long time ago. They love to hear about when their parents were kids and did dumb things like taking a stick that was a pretend sword and slaying a dragon that was really the family car. They love to hear about when their grandparents were young—which seems like ancient history to them. They’ve heard about their great great-grandmother who was mean as a snake, and their great great-grandfather who used to take his teeth out of his mouth to gum down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

As they’ve grown older they’ve started learning how to ask questions about these stories. Some of those questions are the kind that lead to the telling of stories…this is often used as a stalling tactic before going to be. But they also have started asking questions about details from the tales to fill the gaps in their minds. To connect the dots in the family memory. Slowly, over time, they are picking up the themes and motifs of their family history, learning how their story goes as they prepare to write its next chapter themselves. One day they may pass along these stories to generations yet to come.

Abraham and Sarah’s story, this family story, begins in complete and utter mystery. Abraham was born in the city of Ur, one of the oldest cities in the world. In time, his father decided to move their large tribal family to a more prosperous land called Haran. There, they supposed they would live for generations, building upon the wealth of their ancestors. This was the plan. This was the place. This was where they were going to put down their roots, to settle down for the long haul, to work for the Akkadian Dream.

But then one night something completely unexpected occurred. Something mysterious! Something that wasn’t part of the plan. That night, Abraham couldn’t fall asleep. He tossed and turned in his bed, but something was keeping him up. He kissed his wife Sarah, who was fast asleep, and walked outside to get some fresh air, to clear his mind under the starlight. And then he heard it. A voice. A real voice. More real than anything he had ever heard before in his life. He didn’t know where the voice was coming from, he was all alone…he thought. The voice sad. “Go!” Go! Go away from this place where your father has settled, where you plan to live out your days in wealth and happiness. Go to a new land that I will show you. Because from you I am going to make something new. Something wonderful to behold. Out of you and Sarah I am going to mold a family that will grow into a nation one day, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” The voice stopped. There was dead silence. But like an echo that would not quit reverberating and repeating Abraham heard in his mind, that one word over and over, “Go. Go. GO!”

As marvelous and mysterious as that night’s encounter was, the next morning brought a new marvel of it’s own. In the light of day, Abram summoned his courage and the shared this story with his wife. He told her all about the voice and the instruction to go and the promise about a land and a family and blessing the whole earth. He knew it all sounded so ridiculous and foolish, but he had to share it with her. When he finished he asked her, “So, what do you think?” Sarah paused for a moment to let the full meaning of this story sink in and then after taking a deep breath she said, “I think we need to go. We need to trust.” Abraham nodded. That’s what he thought as well. And so their remarkable adventure into the unknown began.

They packed up everything they had and heading out with nothing but a promise from a voice. Their journey of faith. Their journey of trust. Their absurd journey that didn’t make any sense to the rest of the world. The voice of God that night had promised land and family and blessing, but all the evidence around them, all the ways that the real world works told a different story. A story of scarcity and failure. You cannot have this land, someone else already lives there. You can’t have a family, you’re far too old for children. You can’t be a blessing to others because you can’t even survive on your own, wandering around helpless, homeless, aimless, useless. And yet somehow, mysteriously, these two lone figures embraced the promises that God gave them, they followed the course of wonder that God had laid out. They trusted. They trusted God…well, most of the time.

For as their family story unfolds we come to learn that they had their moments of weakness and distrust just like any of us would. They had their moments when they did not face their situation with faith, but with fear. Moments when they sought to take matters into their own hands, to make their own future, to mold their own destiny and failed miserably. They lie. They cheat. They miss the point, time and time again. And this family story gets worse and worse in the generations that follow. Brokenness and bruises, lies and betrayals, dysfunction and anger, fear and death.

Their story is so much like our own. We may love to tell children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews those fun tales about their ancestors, but there are certainly other family stories that we don’t tell them—that are too painful or embarrassing to share. We don’t tell them the one about the family member who lost his job because of his problems with alcohol. We don’t tell them about the time that the family had to skip town to run away from debt. We don’t tell them about the run ins with the law. We don’t tell them those stories of betrayal, brokenness, abuse, abandonment, of hypocrisy and hate, of failures and tragedy. Not yet. Not till they’re older. Honestly, we don’t know many of those stories ourselves. We are shocked to find them out later some new truth, some hard truth, about someone we love. Those broken stories aren’t just about people who have gone before us, they are our stories as well. Our lives are filled with so much disappointment, failure, fear, and scarcity. So much that is cracked, or even shattered by our sin and our shortcomings.

The truth is, that was the story of Abraham and Sarah, of Hagar and Ishmael, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Esau, of Joseph and his brothers. This family is possibly the most dysfunctional family in all of human history! And yet, of all people, God makes a covenant with them. God chooses them. God promises through them to bless all the families of the earth.

Their family story is a story of God keeping promises, no matter what!

And we are a part of this same story as well. All of us, with all our brokenness and hardship, full of so much pain and sin. And yet God calls us. God choses us. Sometimes in the darkness of night, sometimes in the light of day. The scandal of faith is that God calls us, even us, in spite of all the reasons that we know we don’t deserve it. All the reasons that we aren’t up to the task. God calls us anyway and says, “Go. Go. GO!” And in response to this wonder, this mystery that we can neither explain nor comprehend, in response to the ridiculous grace of God, we go. We go. On journeys of faith that we cannot predict. We go to new promised lands of freedom and sacrifice, new vistas of love and radical hospitality, new horizons of trust and hope. We go where we know we are going to fail, where we know there isn’t enough, where we know we aren’t enough. We go to the places and moments in our lives that fill us with fear, that challenge all our assumptions about the world, that force us let go of what we once thought was so important. We go, because our story, our family story in this family, is the story of God’s covenant.

Our family story is the story of God keeping promises, no matter what!


Genesis 12:1-8

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. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I 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.’

4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot [his nephew] went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5Abram 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, 6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then 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. 8From 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.

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