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For Such A Time As This – Faith In Spite of Fear

Date: 23/10/2022/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

For Such A Time As This: Faith In Spite of Fear
Genesis 12:1-9
23 Oct 2022

How are you feeling about the world today? Everyday as I read the news, I think to myself, “What is our world coming to? Are things going from bad to worse?” Wars and threats of more wars…floods in various parts of the world… a pandemic that is ongoing due to new variants emerging from time to time…rising food prices and inflation…uprisings like the one led by women in Iran that is being brutally suppressed…and the list goes on.

But when I step back and think about it, this situation is actually nothing new.

Throughout human history, we see the same cycle — order then chaos and then the establishment of a new order that hopefully brings us a step closer to embodying values such as compassion, justice, love, faith, and belonging.

In fact, we see this cycle happening right from the beginning of the Bible. Today our text is from Genesis 12:1-9 but before I read it, I want to give you a broad overview of what was going on in Genesis 1-11, leading up to Genesis 12.

There was order and then chaos — Gen 1-11
To understand the significance of this Genesis 12, we have to see it against the backdrop of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Chapter 11 is the climax and conclusion of the creation narratives that began in Genesis 1. Creation had begun with such promise as God breathed the breath of life into all living things, and pronounced all of creation good.
Then we see the unfolding drama of sin in the world beginning with the first humans in Eden in chapter 3, the first murder in chapter 4, and the flood narrative in chapters 6 to 9. God’s creation began to deteriorate as humanity attempted to play God.
By chapter 11, we see the Tower of Babel and the climax of humanity’s attempts at playing God. The human family was scattered and there was no unity among people. They could not even understand each other. In some ways, it was the ending of hope for humanity. If you think of it as a drama series, chapter 11 is like the last episode of season 1.
We see Abram being introduced very near the end of episode 11, but we are told that his wife Sarai is barren and they have no children. In the cultural context of the ancient world, that was an ending, a symbol for hopelessness. We are not sure what the future holds for them, as well as for the rest of humanity.
What is going to happen? Is this the end of all hope for all of humanity?
Then in Gen 12, we see a glimpse of hope and promise.

And it is significant because it sets the stage for everything that happens throughout the rest of the Old Testament. It all begins here.

In Genesis chapter 12, Abram and Sarai are living as part of Abram’s family tribe in the land of Haran. Abram is 75 and Sarai is 65, and one day they hear the voice of God saying to them:

Genesis 12:1-9 (NRSVUE)
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. 2 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. 3 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.”

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

Then 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. 8 From 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. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

So with the cliff hanger of episode 11 of Season 1 where we asked, “What is going to happen? Is this the end of all hope for all of humanity?” we see Season 2 open with Genesis 12.

God is speaking to Abram, and there is a glimmer of hope and a promise.

God says, “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. 3 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.”

The word “bless, blessed, blessing” is used numerous times in this verse. What is blessing?

“Blessing is God’s free and gracious giving of the means to fullness of life. To be blessed is to experience this fullness, which includes family, well-being, honor, wisdom, and faith. In accepting this new relationship with God, Abraham will become a source of blessing for other people. To bless another person is to pass on the blessings that one has received from God.” -Linda B. Hinton

What a hopeful start God is offering to Abram and Sarai, and this blessing will spill over to all of humanity! But for all this to happen, Abram, Sarai and their family will have to first overcome their fears and step out of their comfort zones — the safety of their homes, the support of their extended family, the land that was familiar to them.

Abram and Sarai are commanded to leave three things: country, kindred, and their father’s home. This means they have to leave behind the past, everything and everyone familiar to them, all the support and influence they have known, and to depend on God alone.

Notice that these three things they have to leave are increasingly intense. While it is hard to leave one’s country, it is clearly harder to leave one’s whole support network behind. And then finally, Abraham and Sarai are commanded to leave behind those closest to them. For us modern readers, we may be accustomed to the idea of leaving country, kindred and family due to the ease of travel and communication today.

But we must understand that during Abram and Sarai’s time, them leaving meant they will never see nor speak to their loved ones again. And Abram was 75! Imagine if you were 75 and God was telling you to uproot your life completely and go somewhere that is completely unfamiliar. And that leaving means you will never see nor speak to your loved ones, friends and family members again. That’s very hard, right?

So why did Abram, Sarai and their family go as God instructed them? How did they overcome their fears and find the faith to venture out to the unknown, leaving behind all that was safe and familiar to them? You might think Abram was bold and fearless.

But if you read just a few verses down in the same chapter, we see that Abram was just like any other human being. He wasn’t especially courageous. In fact, when he got scared, he put his wife’s safety and well-being in danger to preserve his own life. We see in Genesis 12:11 that while in Egypt, he pleads with his wife to say she is his sister so that his life would be spared. He knew his wife was very beautiful, and he would rather risk his wife being taken by the Pharaoh than risk his own life.

We are not exactly sure what happened to Sarai when she was in the Pharaoh’s harem but God struck Pharaoh and his household with great plagues because of Sarai. Perhaps that was God’s way of protecting her. What we do know is that God extended grace in their situation and saved them. Pharaoh could have killed them both but he didn’t. He sent them away with all their belongings intact.

Abram’s behavior shows us that his faith wavers when he is in personal danger. Abram was human, like you and me. And I’m sure Sarai was scared too. But even so, they were known as people of faith throughout the Bible. In the books of Romans and Hebrews, Abraham was held up as the person of faith who believed God against all hope. Although there were times his faith wavered in the midst of fear, both Abram and Sarai chose to respond to God’s call to leave the familiar for the promise of something better.

That is why I chose to title this sermon, Faith In Spite of Fear, and not Faith Instead of Fear. We will be fearful sometimes but we can still exercise faith in God in the midst of our fears.

So why did Abram and Sarai leave all that was safe and familiar as God instructed? What helped them overcome their fears and find the faith to venture out to the unknown? It was because they knew deep in their hearts that God is calling them to the promise of something better, something bigger.

“The purpose of the call is to fashion an alternative community in creation gone awry, to embody in human history the power of the blessing. It is the hope of God that in this new family all human history can be brought to the unity and harmony intended by the one who calls.” – Walter Brueggemann

Brueggemann says, “The call to Sarah and Abraham has to do not simply with the forming of Israel but with the re-forming of creation, the transforming of the nations. The stories of this family are not ends in themselves but point to God’s larger purposes.”

God is wanting to create an alternative community to embody the power of the blessing in human history.

For this to happen, we need faith in spite of fear.

Question 1 (Open)
Name one instance when you did something important and good even though you were afraid. What gave you the strength to take the step even though you were afraid?

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

What is that important thing that God is calling you to do in spite of your fears? As beloved children of God, we know we don’t have to do this alone. God promises to be with us. Over and over in the Bible, we see God telling various ones: Do not be afraid for I am with you. Even Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he left them were:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

God is with us, and we can go where God calls us and do that important thing, in spite of our fears. On top of that, as spiritual descendants of Sarah and Abraham, we know we are also blessed so that we can be a blessing.

Perhaps today God is calling you to leave something familiar and take steps into the new and unfamiliar, into the unknown and uncertainty. Will you say yes even though you’re afraid? Will you exercise faith in spite of fear?

Question 2 (Word Cloud)
What are some of your current fears?

Name your fears. Sometimes when we are able to name our fears, they lose some of their power over us. Also, when we do this as a community, I hope you see you’re not alone in your fears. For me, I lost my voice over the past weekend due to a cold and bad sore throat last week, and through that experience, I realized how much I take for granted my voice. We assume we will be able to express ourselves and our thoughts, feelings and opinions easily whenever we want. Just verbalize whatever is on our minds. But when I lost my voice, I couldn’t easily say what I wanted to say. I had to either type it out on text or try to sign it.

And as someone who often has to talk quite a lot for a living (well, I try to listen too), I honestly felt quite handicapped and helpless when I wanted to say something or reply someone, but no sound would come out of my mouth. I had to pause longer than usual before replying, and that helped me listen and observe more. I had to learn to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of helplessness and the loss of control. And I realized that’s one of my fears.

Sometimes we are fearful because there are many factors we can’t control in life. Perhaps it’s things like our own health, or the health of our loved ones. Being human, I know most of us don’t like feeling helpless or not being in control.

And that is okay because what God requires of us is not faith instead of fear, but faith in spite of fear.

Abram and Sarai had to deal with the fear of losing control when they decided to leave their family and home, and go where God was going to show them. Not only that. They had to deal with the fear of powerlessness in the face of impossibilities. God was promising them a child and generations to come after them. But they were both really getting on in age, and technically conceiving a child at their age would have been very difficult, in fact, impossible.

Have you ever gone somewhere completely new and felt like you have to start from scratch? Learn everything from the ground up? It can be scary because we don’t feel like we can control much. We feel powerless.

Sometimes we need to learn to relinquish our need for control so we can learn to trust God more. Will you say yes to relinquishing control even though you’re afraid? Will you exercise faith in spite of fear?

Like with Abram and Sarai, God is saying I am with you. I will bless you so you will be a blessing to the nations, to the world. You are blessed to be a blessing. Will you take this step towards the unknown, even if you have to give up control and a sense of power? Will you step up and step out as God calls you? You are blessed to be a blessing. We are blessed, so we can be a people of faith who blesses others, in spite of our fears.

Today I want to end with a blessing.
Berakhah or Barocha means blessing in Hebrew, and is sometimes also translated as a ‘drawing down’ of spiritual energy.

This version that we will be singing is known as the Aaronic blessing or priestly blessing, and it is often spoken or sung by parents to their children just after lighting the Shabbat candles.

As we close, I want to bless you so you will be a blessing. And as I sing this, please join me in singing together so that you can bless one another, and the people around you. Remember you are blessed to be a blessing.

The Blessing (Berakhah)

May God Bless You and Keep You
May Light From God’s Face Shine Upon You
And Give You Peace,
And Give You Peace,
And Give You Peace, Forever.