Our Old Testament lesson today is the story of God making a covenant with Abram, the very first formal covenant that God made with mankind. In fact, our Old Testament lesson today pretty much defines WHAT a covenant with God is. OUR task is to do what God tells us to do, to leave Haran and go where God tells us. God’s part of the arrangement is to bless those who bless us, and to curse those who curse us.
Of course you know that Abram’s descendants are called “God’s chosen people,” because God chose Abram, selected Abram, to leave Haran and make a special journey.
Being human, we examine this story to discover WHY God choose Abram. We look to see if Abram did something special, or acted in some special way, or maybe worshiped God more or better than all the other folks around, or was especially kind or generous with his time and treasure. However, the story is strangely silent on these points.
All we know of Abram is who his people were, and that he was in Haran. The chapter in Genesis just before the one we are given today tells us that Abram was the eighth great-grandson of Noah through Noah’s eldest son Shem. Abram and his nephew Lot and their wives were journeying with Abram’s father, Terah, from their home in Ur, on their way to the Land of Canaan. (I can really relate to these people: Aren’t we all on a journey from our home to the Promised Land?) However, when Abram and his people came to a place called Haran, they settled there instead, and Abram’s father died there in Haran when Abram was 75 years old.
Now you may know that when these ancient stories identify something by name, the name means something, means something very important to the story. So I looked up the meaning of Haran, the place where Abram found himself. Haran means “crossroads,” or “highway.” So by this name we are given to understand that Abram found himself, at age 75, at a major crossroad in his life, on HIS journey of life. And God asked Abram to leave Haran.
I wonder if Abram knew that he was at a major crossroad, one that would require a big decision on his part. Would he continue to live in Haran? Would he continue his father’s journey? Or would Abram strike out in a new direction on his own?
Of course the people of Abram’s day did not know God, the one true God, the only God there is: yesterday, today, and forever. Abram and everyone he knew, everyone who existed, was a pagan, a person who does not know or worship the one-true-God. We know from sources outside the Bible that the people of that time worshiped a host of gods: a god for traveling, a sun god, a weather god, a fertility god, and a host of other gods. Little gods, not-the-true-God, false gods. God had not yet revealed himself to the people then in the way that we enjoy today. But today’s Old Testament lesson tells us about the moment when Mr. God himself began to interact with us in a new way. Our lesson today tells us that God revealed himself to Abram by talking to him, by proposing the covenant, and by inviting Abram into a relationship with God.
In our epistle lesson today, St. Paul goes to great lengths to explain that ALL Abram did was to believe God, and (as Paul said) “God reckoned Abram’s belief as righteousness.” In other words, the very moment Abram heard God and believed in God, Abram was no longer a pagan. Paul insists on this, discounting the fact that Abram immediately set off on the very journey that God had told him to make. Abram didn’t even know the destination that God had in mind; he went, left Haran and set out on a new highway, under God’s guidance, on the journey that so defines OUR belief today.
I am sure you know that we Christians have spent five hundred or so years arguing among ourselves about whether our faith saves us, or our works. We’ve gnawed this bone dry, chewed ourselves up over this bit of nonsense. Neither OUR faith nor OUR works save us; God saves us when we accept God’s offer of a covenant with us, of a relationship with us. And when we are saved, we leave Haran.
So what I would like to ask you today is this: Isn’t all of life a journey? And are you still on the road that your covenant with God had directed? Or are you at a Haran, a crossroads in your life with Christ? Is God proposing that you continue your life’s journey, or that you set out on a new highway?
These are ironic questions to ask of people who live in a place called “The Hermitage,” aren’t they? I looked up the meaning of “hermitage” to confirm that this word means, “A place where a person of God lives in seclusion from the world.” Sometimes God calls us into the hermitage, to rest from our 75 years of labors, our 75 years of journeying. But then God reminds us that all of life is a journey.
To be alive means that God is always calling us to new endeavors, new pathways of life, and new ventures in faith. The things that God calls us to do don’t necessarily involve journeys with our feet; sometimes, our hearts and minds are moved in new directions. I will end with this belief, that whatever annoys you the most this week is, underneath the annoyance, God calling you to a new venture in faith. God will reckon your steps in his new pathways as righteousness. How will you leave Haran?