During Lent at Andrews UMC, we’re taking a look at five of the most important Old Testament stories and how they might help us better understand why Easter Sunday is so worth celebrating.
Abram’s call is somewhat uneventful, compared to other Old Testament stories. No burning bush, no parting of the waters, no pillars of fire. With neither pomp nor circumstance, God shows up and just starts talking to Abram. “Hey, you there; I’m going to bless you.”
Don’t let the lack of miraculous circumstance fool you; this is an important story. The first 11 chapters of Genesis have built to this moment, and then it all spins like a fulcrum on Abram’s call.* From here on out, God will be working for and through the people Israel.
So what started this? Was Abram an exceptionally good person? Did he perfectly follow the 10 commandments?
No; it all started with God.
This is noteworthy because it’s exactly how we Methodists and many other Christians believe God’s grace to work. There’s this “prevenient” side to grace, meaning, God loves us and works for us before we do anything to deserve it. Paul puts it this way to the Romans: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
God initiates; then, Abram responds.
Of course he does. How could he collect on this promise of a land inhabited with his descendants without getting up and going to said land? But God’s promise was pretty far-fetched. 75-year-old Abram had every right to be skeptical, and to opt for cruising out in retirement rather than relocating. Instead, he responds to God’s promise and begins his journey.
Our response is equally important.
For example, I’m very fortunate to be loved by a handsome man named Alan. What if, when Alan told me he loved me, I said nothing in response? Safe to say, we wouldn’t be sharing the same last name and two descendants of our own. I think God, also, wants to hear us say that “I love you” back, in some way, shape, or form.
Likewise if I verbalized my affection for Alan but didn’t act any differently, there wouldn’t be much of a marriage to speak of. I do things like pick up Diet Dr. Pepper without him asking (because he likes it) or bathe our kids (because he dislikes it) because of my love for him. And I think God wants that kind of response from us, too. We love God so we do things like obey God’s commandments, love our neighbors, and go to worship.
God initiates. Abram responds. And then… everyone is blessed.
This is the coolest part, y’all. EVERYONE is blessed.
Initially it might look like “everyone” means Abram’s descendants, the Israelites, who become numerous and get this “Promised Land.” But then, a Messiah shows up on the scene who talks to Samaritans and Roman soldiers. He dies and lives again. And before he leaves for the very last time, he tells his disciples,
“Go, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
This story repeats itself, over and over today.
We share the blessing with others.
Thank you to the New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary for the background on this passage.