“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. 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.”
So Abram went…” Genesis 12:1-4a
It is quite something to feel one`s smallness. Last year I accepted the challenge of beginning a campus chaplaincy at the University of Ottawa. I remember walking the densely populated hallways and walkways during frosh week 2012 and wondering what I had gotten myself into. I was raised in a devout Christian family where the Bible was read at every meal. I had been Christian schooled and trained under those steeped in Abraham Kuyper`s “every square inch” theology. On then to a Christian University, then on to work in that same Christian University, then on to seminary before taking a call to pastor a church for six years before moving to Ottawa. Walking then in the University sea of diversity – a diversity of ethnicity, convictions, and intellectual pursuits – I found myself meaningfully experiencing what it is to be the stranger in the land.
I felt small. I felt scared. I felt out of control. Thank God.
As easy as it is for us to cloister ourselves among people who think, act, and believe the same as we do, the Biblical message is one of going. The book of Genesis isn’t centred on the creation narrative; it’s centred on the call of Abram. In Genesis 11 the post-flood people said “Come, let US build OURSELVES a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let US make a name for OURSELVES.” It represented a self-centered desire to be autonomous, uniform and self-inflated. God hated it. God interrupted it. God scattered them. And their desires and words are contrasted with God’s words in chapter 12 to Abram when God says, “I will show you, I will bless you, I will curse those needing cursing. You won’t make a name for yourselves; I will be the one to make your name great. And ALL peoples will be blessed through you.”
And Abram went…to be a stranger…to go to the place God would show him.
The subsequent “going” as it is played out among Abram’s descendants, the nation of Israel, is filled with twists, turns, challenges and repeated returns to “Babel” status. But God never gives up and He continuously pushes his people to “go” and take on a “stranger” status. And it’s in the Gospel that God himself re-enacts the ultimate call to “go” and to be a “stranger” in the land. The journey to a manger in Bethlehem is God’s way of leading his people in a way of “going” and of being “small” and being out of “control”…Thank God.