We’ve just started a sermon series in the spirit of Easter called Rewrite in which we talk about people from the Bible and from our church whose lives have been rewritten by God. Our first Biblical character was Abraham who really was just a regular guy that God decided to build a nation from. Abraham did some dumb things, like prostituting his wife to the Egyptian pharaoh and then impregnating his wife Sarah’s slave girl Hagar upon her request only to let Sarah abuse Hagar and run her out of their home. But God wasn’t going to let Abraham’s mistakes get in the way of his plan. In addition to Abraham’s story, we heard the testimony of Elsa Kuflom, a member of Burke UMC who came here as a refugee from the war in Eritrea.
This summer, Pastor Larry and I are doing a sermon series about the deep roots that we have a Christian people. Our roots go back further than Jesus Himself. That’s why our Bible has an Old Testament. Jesus was Himself born into the people of Israel, so looking at the story of Israel’s founding fathers – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph – is critical to understanding who we are as Christians. Being a Christian means more than just having a personal relationship with Jesus; it means becoming part of the story of God’s people. And we can’t get our story right as God’s people without going back to our roots, which start in the call of Abram.
In a similar way, we often get the story of Abram wrong by overlooking his own roots. This is largely because of the way that the chapters in Genesis are numbered. If you start talking about Abraham at the beginning of Genesis 12, you miss out on what he and his family were doing when God called him to head over to the promised land of Canaan and start a new nation. You have to go back to the final verses of Genesis 11 to realize that Abram and his family had already been on a journey to Canaan when God called. It was Abram’s father Terach (whose name means “the wanderer”) who originally set out from the ancient city Ur of Abram’s birth to journey to the promised land of Canaan. But Terach’s family for whatever reason couldn’t make it all the way to the promised land. They couldn’t make it further than Haran, which was the halfway point between Ur and Canaan.
The word “Haran” in Hebrew means “unquenchable thirst.” The town was located on the banks of the Tigris, the same river that ran down past Ur into what is now called the Persian Gulf. Perhaps Abram’s father Terach was fearful to leave a familiar river behind to cross through a desert wilderness to the promised land. We don’t know. But regardless, when God called Abram to hit the road, he was not calling Abram to a completely new journey out of the blue; he was calling Abram back to a journey that his father had started.
Our life journeys are often built from the journeys of our parents. That is to say that most of us, particularly when we’re young, live under the shadow of our parents’ dreams and expectations, whether this refers to our careers, the people we befriend, or what generally counts as happiness. We either accept these expectations or rebel against them, but either way they tend to define us. Either we accept the Canaan for which our parents set out and continue in their journey or we rebel and replace their Canaan with our own.
Over the past few years, I have discovered how much my identity is derived in the dreams of my father. He will always be the smartest man I have ever known and my greatest intellectual influence. He’s taught a Baptist Sunday school class continually for the past thirty years. My father’s passion is to find a way to explain the gospel to people in the scientific world where he spends most of his time as a medical researcher. For as long as I can remember, he’s been trying to reconcile God and science in the form of several brilliant manuscripts that he wrote in his spare time which have never been published.
This year, I’ve had some ideas I thought God wanted me to share with the world so I’ve been sending them around to Christian magazines. Nobody has even emailed me back except for the senior editor of Christianity Today, who actually responded very positively at first but has been backpedaling in every follow-up email since then. It’s been a tough experience, and I’ve filled up pages and pages of my journal asking God what He wants me to do. I want to get to Canaan so badly, but I’m stuck in Haran with this unquenchable thirst. Perhaps I’m chasing after the wrong Canaan of worldly success and respectability and relevance. I don’t feel like my calling to write is reducible to that, but maybe those motives need to be purged some more and that’s why God hasn’t let me leave Haran yet. In any case, the dream that I inherited from my father is interrupted for now.
Do you feel stuck in a place that’s far short of the promised land you were hoping to get to? Maybe your job feels like a dead-end. Maybe your life is whizzing by too fast for you to enjoy it. Maybe you’re just tired and thirsty all the time and you’ve mostly forgotten the dreams that you had when you started out except sometimes when you’re stuck in traffic or trying to get to sleep at night. Well, I think that God’s got some use for the dreams we decided to lay aside. He wants us to dust them off and pick them up again so that He can transform them into better, deeper dreams.
We don’t know what Abram thought he was doing when he first set out with his father Terach en route to the promised land of Canaan. What we do know is that when God tells Abram to pick his father’s dream back up, He turns it into a much deeper dream. God doesn’t just promise to take Abram to a certain physical location. His command to Abram is completely open-ended: “Go to the land I will show you.” Abram has to trust that God will explain as he goes along. And the land of Canaan that had been calling Abram’s father isn’t even what’s important. God tells Abram that He will make him into a great nation through whom all the people on Earth will be blessed. God takes the dream that Abram’s father had passed down to Abram and transforms it into the foundation for the Israelites that He will create to draw the world into His family through the Messiah Jesus Christ who will be born into this people to show all the nations the love of His Heavenly Father.
Maybe we’ve been dreaming too small. That’s okay because God can use the smallest of dreams for His purpose when we trust Him enough to hear His call and obey, just like Abram did, not knowing where we’re going but believing that God will show us where to go while we’re on the way there. Have you been chasing after the wrong promise land? Have you been stuck in a place of unquenchable thirst unsure of what your next move will be? Well God is calling you right now just like He called Abram to give yourself completely to the nation that God started through Abram, to become a branch on the vine of Israel’s Messiah and our Savior Jesus Christ who makes us into the people who exist to bless others. If we will trust and go like Abram trusted and went, we will find the promise land that God has prepared for us, and it might not look any different than the world that we’re walking through now except that our eyes will be opened by faith to see God’s kingdom all around us. God will show us the real dream that we’ve really had all along underneath the cheap and tacky dreams that the world has talked us into. So dream deep, put your trust in the Lord, and He will show you the Canaan that you never knew you were seeking.