Plan B – Sermon for Second Week of Lent, March 5, 2023
(Sermon in response to Genesis 12:1-4 – 1The 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 went with him.)
Last Summer we took an amazing three week trip out west as a family. We are one of those families that likes to plan out details of what we are going to do in advance, and at the same time, we are flexible enough to just go with the flow and change course if we have to. Our original plan was to drive to Yellowstone, then the Grand Tetons, and then up to Banff and Jasper Parks in Canada. We spent months planning this trip.
Abby, my wife, likes to say that half the fun is in the planning and anticipation. We made a binder laying out options, day plans, print outs, maps, descriptions, you name it. The entire trip was laid out in a binder – it was our vacation Bible. And we started on our journey. And somewhere out in Missouri we started getting messages from friends and family telling us that Yellowstone was having historic flooding and was closed. Ut oh. What would we do? We didn’t know. That wasn’t part of the plan. Yellowstone doesn’t close. Except when it has historic once in a century rain storms that wash away portions of the road in the park and cause flooding.
We were still a couple of days away, and so we decided ok, we’ll need to come up with Plan B. And what was Plan B? We didn’t know yet. But we would figure it out.
Well, Plan B turned out great. We shifted our original plans, stayed a bit longer at our first destination, found a few new places to go to, and then proceeded with the rest of the trip. It turned out to be wonderful and it was an amazing adventure. And we had no idea going in that we would be doing any of that.
When I hear our first reading in Genesis all I can hear is God saying “Abram – Go.” And Abram responding “Ok. Where?” And God says. “You’ll find out…” And Abram whispers to his wife, “God just sent us on Plan B. I haven’t got the slightest idea what’s going to happen next.” And his wife just says, “oh boy.”
Some context is always helpful. Go back a chapter. Genesis 11 starts with the Tower of Babel story and the mess that it creates, and then things settle down. Genesis 11 is the end of the pre-written history time of Scripture. After the story of the Tower of Babel we get a genealogy that starts with Shem. Who is Shem? Well, he’s one of the sons of Noah.
And the genealogy lists the subsequent generations and who they birth and how old they lived. It’s very orderly. The genealogy gives the reader a sense that everything is going along just fine. That everything is going as planned. Fathers having children and those children growing up and those children raising families of their own and those families settling down and so forth and so on. Generation after generation after generation. Just as it is supposed to happen.
All the way to the eighth generation at the end of Genesis 11 with Terah, who is the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran, who is the father of Lot. And at the very end of Genesis 11, the end of the pre-history starts to reveal some things to us before we get into Genesis 12 – The dynamics change. What was going on for generations doesn’t happen anymore. It sets the stage for Genesis 12 and God’s action. What was the predictable pattern doesn’t happen. We’re told that Haran died before his father Terah did – the son dies before the father. We’re told that Abram’s wife Sarai was barren; she had no child. Things had been settled and “natural” for generations – going on as they were supposed to, but now something wasn’t working out like it used to.
When have we experienced this in our lives or in our families? Maybe it’s something that has been passed on from generation to generation without fail until it reaches us, and it stops with us? Maybe it’s a family expectation that we just can’t follow. When we look at congregations, we can’t figure out why things aren’t working like they used to in the past even when we try something that we know worked before. Or we have congregations that struggle to find the right mix of holding onto the traditions of the past that ground them and center them on the faith connecting them to generations who have gone before them faithfully while also figuring out new expressions of faith for the current body of Christ gathered together here and now. It’s not easy. It’s messy. And like Abram’s story, it’s often wrought with imperfections and unknowns.
But back to our story. And so Terah did with his family what so many families before and after have done – he packed up his things and his family and said, “we need a fresh start. They left their home in Ur in the east, in modern day southern Iraq, to make their way to the land of Canaan. But they stopped at Haran, which is in modern day southern Turkey – a trip of about 650 miles. And there they settled supposedly for a new life. And that’s where Terah lived out the rest of his days.
And with the death of Terah comes the end of the pre-written history. It’s the end of his story, but the beginning of a new chapter. The calling of Abram begins a new chapter, both figuratively and literally. It’s the time of the patriarchs. And Abram’s story starts us off in Genesis 12. And God throws Abram a curveball – a plan B. And why not? Abram’s life has been anything but settled, predictable, normal. It doesn’t seem to fit the established plan. At least not the one of his ancestors. It’s not the way they did it.
I wonder what Abram must have felt and thought? Was he upset at the changes that had happened in his life? Was he angry that things turned out the way they did – that they weren’t like it was in the past? Was he frustrated? Did he mourn what was and what could have been? Did he yearn for some kind of nostalgia of how his ancestors remembered the past but couldn’t have it, or an ideal nostalgia of a past that never actually existed? Or did he approach life with open arms? Ready to take what would come? Excited for new possibilities because the current situation was anything but ideal?
God approached Abram and tells him “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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. 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.”
Take that in for a moment. There is excitement and fear. Known and unknown qualities. Something new and something to mourn. Isn’t this exactly what we go through every time God approaches us and calls on us to go, to change, to follow? Abram follows an unknown and uncharted path. He didn’t even know where he was going. God just said – I’ll let you know when you get there.
Isn’t that what life is though? Isn’t that the Journey of the church? It’s exciting and scary at the same time. This is why faith is so very important. Faith isn’t about knowing for certain. It’s certainly not about being in control. It’s not about having a script. It’s about going where God sends us. Because God is a God of movement. A God who sends. A God who is not stationary. A God who is on the move.
God didn’t pick Abram because he was special, because Abram had it all together, because he was better than everyone else. He picked Abram, in his brokenness, in his not working like it did for past generations, in his I’m not sure what’s going on and he made him special. It’s in Genesis 12 that we hear God comes to Abram and say to him “Go from your country to a place I will show you. 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. 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. Do you hear all that future tense? Of what God will do.
This is what God does with each of us and with the church. In all of our imperfections, with our fears of change and being out of control and not knowing what’s going to happen next. And God comes to us and to the church and says – Go! I’ll let you know when you get there. You’ll be a blessing because I’ll make you a blessing. It’s in the very act of moving, in the response to God, that you become blessed and a blessing. Not because of what you are doing, but because of what God is doing. God is a God who moves. And it is in the movement that God blesses us, and God blesses the church. And makes us a blessing to others.
In the book, the Holy No, by Adam Hearlson, he writes, “The church is on the move because it has pledged its loyalty to a moving God. This loyalty is always and forever in jeopardy as the other entrenched systems of death and violence tempt the church to stop moving and maintain the status quo. Systems, institutions, and states are vying to assume lordship over the life of the church in order that they might halt the moving church and redirect it toward a mission less dynamic than God’s own. It is the task of the church to make sure that the interest of Christ remains paramount and that the stirrings and leadings of the Spirit are more important than any way-station on the journey.” (Pg. 26-27)
Do you hear that? Abram answered God’s invitation to go, to be on the move with God. God invites us and the church, this congregation to go as well – to be on the move with God.
Where is God inviting us to go with Him? Where is Jesus inviting us to go where he is already at work and present? Where is the Holy Spirit inviting us to go where the Spirit is blowing and breathing new life? Where is God telling us go and saying I’ll let you know when you get there? Where is Jesus telling us to go to be a blessing? Where is the Holy Spirit driving us to go to encounter the image and likeness of God in others? What neighborhoods is the Trinity calling us to go into and into what communities?
Again, In the Holy No, Hearlson tells the story of “the Reverend Debbie Little [who] felt called to serve the needs of the unhoused in Boston. Fresh from seminary after a previous career in management and communications, she started serving as a street priest for downtown Boston. One Easter, Little decided to hold an outdoor service at the train station. She packed her satchel full of food and socks and some communion elements and held the first common cathedral service. On a public street, she broke the bread and blessed the cup and invited all who were gathered to Christ’s table. After the service someone said, “see you next week.” See you next week? The service was supposed to be a one-time thing. An Easter celebration. Yet, Little heard in this passing comment a call from God. In time, common cathedral moved to the corner of Boston Common and it has been welcoming people to the table ever since.” (pg. 100)
God said to Abram – Go. I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing. God called Abram. And God has been giving that very same invitation to so many throughout Scripture and history – more than we can count. And God invites us today as well. Not because we’ve got it all together. Not because we’ve got all planned out. But because God is on the move. Spreading grace and mercy and blessings to the world and this community.
Abram answered and went, but not alone. God invites us to go on the journey as well. It’s not what we planned. It’s plan B. The B stands for blessings. Because that’s what it is. God blesses us on the journey and makes us a blessing to others on the journey. Go. God says I will bless you and make you a blessing to others. Thanks be to God! Amen.