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 . . .
According to the ancient stories of Genesis, God is up to something surprising and amazing in our world. While we’re busy plotting evil, God is plotting goodness. Yes, sometimes we humans try to rope God into our dark plots and use God to help us scramble to the top of the pyramid, where we can dominate over others. Yes, we sometimes try to enlist God to condemn those we want to condemn, deprive those we want to deprive, even kill those we want to kill. But God isn’t willing to be domesticated into our little tribal deity on a leash who will attack our enemies on our command. While we plot ways to use God to get blessings for ourselves, God stays focused on the big picture of blessing the world – which includes blessing us in the process.
You see this pattern unfold when God chooses a man named Abram and a woman named Sarai. They are from a prominent family in a great ancient city-state known as Ur, one of the first ancient Middle Eastern civilisations. Like all civilisations, Ur has a dirty little secret: its affluence is built on violence, oppression and exploitation. Behind its beautiful facade, its upper classes live each day in luxury, while its masses slave away in squalor.
God tells this couple to leave their life of privilege in this great civilisation. He sends them out into the unknown as wanderers and adventurers. No longer will Abram and Sarai have the armies and wealth and comforts of Ur at their disposal. All they will have is a promise – that God will be with them and show them a better way.
'From now on, they will make a new road by walking.'
From now on, they will make a new road by walking.
God’s promise comes in two parts. In the first part, Abram and Sarai will be blessed. They will become a great nation, and God will bless those who bless them and curse those who curse them. That’s the kind of promise we might expect. It’s the second part that’s surprising.
Not only will they be blessed, but they will be a blessing. Not only will their family become a great nation, but all the families on Earth will be blessed through them.
This is a unique identity indeed. It means the children of Abram and Sarai will be a unique us in relation to all the other thems of the world. No, their identity will not be us at the top of the pyramid and them at the bottom, or vice versa. Nor will their identity be us assimilated into them, or us assimilating them into us. Nor will it be us against them, us apart from them, or us in spite of them. No, Abram and Sarai’s unique identity will be us for them, us with them, us for the benefit and blessing of all.
That ‘otherly’ identity – us for the common good – wasn’t intended only for Abram’s and Sarai’s clan. It is the kind of identity that is best for every individual, every culture, every nation, every religion. It says, ‘We’re special!’ But it also says, ‘They’re special, too.’ It says, ‘God has a place for us and a plan for us.’ But it also says, ‘God has a place and plan for others, too.’ When we drift from that high calling and start thinking only of me, only of our clan or our nation or our religion, our sense of identity begins to go stale and sour, even toxic.
So the story of Abram’s and Sarai’s unique identity tells us something powerful about God’s identity, too: God is not the tribal deity of one group of ‘chosen’ people. God is not for us and against all others. God is for us and for them, too. God loves everyone everywhere, no exceptions.
And this story also tells us something about true faith. Faith is stepping off the map of what’s known and making a new road by walking into the unknown. It’s responding to God’s call to adventure, stepping out on a quest for goodness, trusting that the status quo isn’t as good as it gets, believing a promise that a better life is possible.
True faith isn’t a deal where we use God to get the inside track or a special advantage or a secret magic formula for success. It isn’t a mark of superiority or exclusion. True faith is about joining God in God’s love for everyone. It’s about seeking goodness with others, not at the expense of others. True faith is seeing a bigger circle in which we are all connected, all included, all loved, all blessed. True faith reverses the choice that is pictured in the story of Adam and Eve. In that story, Adam and Eve want to set themselves above everyone and everything else. True faith brings us back down to Earth, into solidarity with others and with all creation.
'True faith is seeing a bigger circle in which we are all connected, all included, all loved, all blessed.
Sadly, for many people, faith has been reduced to a list. For some, it’s a list of beliefs: ideas or statements that we have to memorise and assent to if we want to be blessed. For others, it’s a list of dos and don’ts: rituals or rules that we have to perform to earn the status of being blessed. But Abram didn’t have much in the way of beliefs, rules or rituals. He had no Bibles, doctrines, temples, commandments or ceremonies. For him, true faith was simply trusting a promise of being blessed to be a blessing. It wasn’t a way of being religious: it was a way of being alive.
And so this story not only tells us something about God’s true identity and about the true nature of faith, it also tells us about true aliveness. If you scramble over others to achieve your goal, that’s not true aliveness. If you harm others to acquire your desire, that’s not true aliveness. If you hoard your blessings while others suffer in need, that’s not true aliveness. True aliveness comes when we receive blessings and become a blessing to others. It’s not a blessing racket – figuring out how to plot prosperity for me and my tribe. It’s a blessing economy where God plots goodness for all.
Like all of us, Abram and Sarai will lose sight of this vision of aliveness sometimes. But even when they lose faith, God will remain faithful. Through their mistakes and failures, they will keep learning and growing, discovering more and more of God’s desire to overflow with abundant blessing for all.
Are you ready to step out on the same journey of faith with Sarai and Abram? Will you join them in the adventure of being blessed to be a blessing? Are you ready to make the road by walking?
Meditate and Contemplate
1. What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped or surprised you?
2. Share a story about a time when you observed or participated in a group that saw itself as blessed to the exclusion of others rather than for the blessing of others.
3. Where in today’s world do you see people practising the kind of ‘otherly’ identity to which God called Abram – ‘us for the sake of others’?
4. For children: Tell us about a grown-up or another child who often asks you to help him or her. How does helping someone make you feel?
5. Activate: Look for opportunities to ‘be a blessing’ to others this week. Come back with some stories to share.
6. Meditate: In silence, hold this truth in God’s presence: I am blessed to be a blessing.