So That You Will Be a Blessing
The following is a sermon preached in ACU Graduate Chapel on March 8, 2017.
Sermon Text: Genesis 12:1-4
I don’t know about you, but when I travel by plane, I am not one of those people who wants to spend the entire flight chatting it up with her seatmate and deplane three hours later with a new best friend. That is just about the worst possible flying scenario I can imagine. I mean, small-talk is just downright painful!
So my strategy when I fly is to share a smile and brief eye contact with my seatmate … to say a quick hello and maybe exchange a comment or two about our seatbelts or the temperature of the plane or something inane like that. But then I immediately pull out a magazine or a book or a game of iPad solitaire or something to communicate very clearly that our polite exchange a few moments ago was not an invitation to a three-hour small-talk marathon.
Nevertheless, on a flight a few years ago, I found myself in a conversation with the young man sitting beside me. He was a soldier heading home for a short leave, and I was returning home from a business trip.
“What kind of work do you do?” he asked.
“Oh, I work at a university,” I answered vaguely.
“Really? Which one?”
“Abilene Christian University.”
“Oh.” He seemed a little less comfortable. Which often happens when you bring up religion with a complete stranger, but when the word Christian is part of the name of the organization you work for, it’s kind of hard to avoid in airplane small-talk conversations.
This young man then asked if ACU is connected with a particular denomination. I answered that we’re Church of Christ, but he wasn’t familiar with our stream. And it had been too long since I’d taken Dr. Foster’s Restoration History class, so I fumbled through a description that ended with, “Well, we’re kinda-sorta similar to the Baptists in some ways.”
He got a bit more uncomfortable. I think he asked another follow-up question or two, which led up to this question: “Are you at all connected with the Westboro Baptist group?”
My heart sank.
In case you’re not familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church, they’re an extremist Christian group known for what they call their “picketing ministry” in which they show up to funerals and other such gatherings, holding up signs with proclamations such as “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS” and “GOD HATES [offensive word for gay people, which I will not repeat].” According to their website, they’ve picketed over 59,000 times, in nearly 1,000 cities.
In that moment on that airplane, I wonder if this soldier pictured me, with ugly, hateful words etched in big, bold, block letters on brightly colored poster board, shouting condemnation at the funeral of one of his brothers- or sisters-in-arms … all in the name of Christ.
Because for many people—including my seatmate on the plane that day—that kind of behavior is what being the people of God is all about. But sisters and brothers, we are called to something so much greater!
In our text this morning, God paints a different kind of picture about what it means to be God's people.
Can you picture the scene in Genesis 12? Perhaps Abram and Sarai have just finished dinner, and Abram steps out of the tent to enjoy the cool of the evening. Then here comes this voice, this command to pack up and leave for … somewhere.
“Uh, what was that?” Abram asks the voice.
God goes on to say, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great” —why?— “so that you will be a blessing.”
Now, in the narratives leading up to Genesis 12, the human race has not been doing well. Adam and Eve get kicked out of paradise, Cain decides it’d be a great idea to murder his brother, the sons of God have children with the daughters of humans (whatever that means!), things get so bad that God eradicates most of humanity with a flood, and then the earth’s new population decides to make a name for themselves by building a tower to the heavens. Things are not going well. Rick Marrs posits that, through Abram and Sarai, God is trying something new: blessing creation through human agents.
Well, fast-forward many thousands of years, and humanity still doesn’t have a stellar track record. We’re still really good at killing each other, oppressing each other, and attempting to make a name for ourselves. And yet it seems that God is still somehow holding out hope that blessing the world through human agents might actually work some day.
Brothers and sisters, in this season of Lent—in this time of repentance and turning back to God—let us remember God’s charge to Abram, which I absolutely believe extends to us today. As the people of God, let us not be the ones who shout with the loudest voices, or condemn with the greatest amount of self-righteousness.
Because in John 3:17 we’re reminded that even Jesus showed up not to condemn the world, but to save it. Now, if anyone has the right to rain down judgment on those who are doing it wrong, it’s Jesus—God Incarnate. Sure, he did his share of calling people out (mostly calling out people like you and me). But he came to save the world because of God’s great love for the world. Christ gave us a 33-year live demo that it really is possible to wear human skin and to live in such a way that blesses the people who walk this earth with us.
Christians, let us not be known for picketing funerals, for bombing mosques, for villainizing those with a different sexual orientation or skin color or belief system. Let us not even be known for leaving stingy tips or treating a waitress or cashier as if they are second-class people.
Sisters and brothers, we’re called to something much greater!
When a stranger meets us on an airplane or in a grocery store, may they see in us love, joy, and peace. May they hear in our voices patience, kindness, and goodness. May they see in our actions faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
In you, and in me, and in all of God’s people if we embrace this call, all of the families of the earth shall be blessed.
God of amazing compassion,
lover of our wayward race,
you give birth to a pilgrim people,
and call us to be a blessing for ourselves and all the world.
We pray for grace to take your generous gift
and step with courage on this holy path,
confident in the radiant life that is your plan for us,
made known and given in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 Retrieved and adapted from http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=25