by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, October 11, 1998
12:1-8 The call of Abram
Lord said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people, and
your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I
will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will
make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless
those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and
all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.
Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He
took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they
had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and
they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree
of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the
land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your
offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar
there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
there he went on towards the hills east of Bethel and pitched
his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he
built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
10:1-13 Jesus sends out the twelve
called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to
drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is
called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and
his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the
tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the
Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do
not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.
Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this
message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise
the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.
Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any
gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the
journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for workers are
worth their keep.
town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and
stay there until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your
greeting. If the home is worthy, let your peace rest on it; if
it is not, let your peace return to you."
Explained #864 Following the Lord
cannot follow the Lord from self--only from the Lord. The Lord
attracts us to follow him when we wish to follow in freedom. But
he cannot attract us if we do not want to follow him. The Lord
works with us in such a way that we may follow the Lord as if it
were by ourselves, and in this way the Lord flows into our
freedom. He does this so that goodness and truth may be received
and planted in us, leading to our reformation and spiritual
the Lord means accepting his Divine Humanity and doing his
commandments, because we can be united with the Lord only when
we do this. We are united with the Lord according to our
acceptance and affirmation of him both from our hearts and in
Lord said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people, and
your father's household and go to the land I will show
you." (Genesis 12:1)
the ages, humans have been driven to explore new lands and see
mythological times, Jason and the Argonauts went on a quest to
find the Golden Fleece. Odysseus was driven by various
misfortunes to explore many strange lands on his way back from
the Trojan War.
first explorer known to history was an Egyptian named Hennu, who
in 2,007 BC took a sea voyage along the Red Sea coast of Africa,
to a rich land that he called Punt. About 1,400 BC, the
Phoenicians set out across the Mediterranean Sea. Alexander the
Great, a Greek king, explored much of Egypt, Asia Minor, and
India late in the fourth century BC, conquering them as he went.
1,000 AD the Vikings, led by Leif Erickson, sailed across the
North Atlantic and became the first Europeans to discover the
North American continent. Nearly 500 years later, Christopher
Columbus made his more famous journeys, rediscovering the New
our century, now that the major areas of our earth have been
largely mapped and charted, the human urge to explore continues
with an ongoing series of probes and human expeditions into
space. Also in this century, the exploration of inner
space--the human mind and spirit--has gained momentum.
any of the explorers recorded in secular history, in the
twenty-first century BC, a man named Abram set out on a journey,
taking his family with him. Abram's father Terah had already
taken the family away from their ancestral home, a city named Ur
in the land of Chaldea, known in later Biblical times as
Babylon, and today as the nation of Iraq. At the time that Abram
began his journey with his own family, he was living with the
rest of his extended family in the city of Haran, named after
Abram's brother who had died while the family was still living
those days, long before airplanes could carry people directly
from one place to another, when people wanted to travel from
Babylon to Palestine they did not go straight across the desert.
That would have meant certain death. Instead, they followed the
Euphrates river northwest, going around the desert, until they
could make their way westward to the Orontes river in Syria,
travel south parallel to the Mediterranean coast until they
reached the Jordan, and then continue into the heart of
Palestine. Because of its semicircular shape, this swath of
well-watered land around the Arabian Desert became known as the
Fertile Crescent. This region forms the backdrop for most of the
events of the Bible.
city of Haran, where Terah's family had settled, was located on
the upper curve of the Fertile Crescent, somewhat north of the
most commonly traveled route. The little clan apparently did
well there, and seemed to be comfortably settled when Abram
the history of human exploration, there have been many motives
that have caused people to leave their homes in search of new
lands. Some have been driven out by hunger or oppression. Some
have gone in search of gold and treasure. Some have set out to
conquer and subdue. Others have gone simply for the sense of
adventure and discovery.
some of these motives may have formed a part of Abram's decision
to leave the comfort of his family's new home in Haran, our
reading from Genesis gives a different reason: Abram was
following a call from the Lord. "The Lord said to Abram,
'Leave your country, your people, and your father's household
and go to the land I will show you.'" If it had not been
for that call from the Lord, Abram may never have pulled up his
roots once again and set out for a land that he did not know.
spiritual motive for Abram's journey sets him apart from
so many of the travelers who have journeyed out into the
unknown, both over the ages of history and in the present. How
many of our great journeys and explorations have been undertaken
simply because someone received a call from God? Most of the
time, we human beings have been motivated to great and strenuous
deeds for far more material motives.
our own personal experience the same? How often in the history
of our lives do we do some major task or set off in some new
direction simply because the Lord tells us to?
we come into this world, our actions are naturally centered
around our own wants and needs. In these "prehistoric"
times of our infancy, we do not make conscious choices to act
one way or another. We simply respond to the demands of our own
bodies and minds, and react to the people and things around us.
We are then in a stage symbolized by Babylon--a stage of simple
absorption in our own selves.
as the early chapters of the Bible do not contain literal
history, but are a mythological account of the early stages of
human culture on this earth, in our infancy and our early
childhood years we simply move along from one stage to the next,
scarcely aware of the momentous changes that are happening in
our lives. When Terah took his family with him and traveled from
Ur of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran, halfway to Palestine,
there is no record of a call from the Lord to do so. Apparently,
Terah simply responded to his circumstances, perhaps moving to
Haran in search of a better livelihood.
personal journey from the self-absorption of infancy and early
childhood to the more socially aware times of our youth and
young adulthood is similar. We don't particularly choose
to leave behind pure self-centeredness for a more naturally good
and thoughtful way of acting toward those around us. We do so
because our parents continually drill into us--using both the
carrot of reward and the stick of punishment--that we must
think of others as well as of ourselves. In this way, most of us
become decent and thoughtful young adults, not so much through
conscious choice on our part, but because that is what our
family and our society expects of us. We also treat others
reasonably because we realize that if we want to get along in
this world ourselves, we need to go along with those around us.
Terah, we make the journey from self-absorption to an awareness
of others' needs mostly because of the circumstances of our
is a good thing. If it weren't for our parents, family members,
friends, and many others continually shaping us toward good and
decent behavior, most of us would have grown up to be
insufferable and even downright nasty adults, always thinking
that the world revolves around us just as it did--as far as we
were concerned--when we were two years old.
our story tells us that being good and decent people for these
outward, material motives is not enough. It was not enough for
Abram to move from the Babylon of self-centeredness and settle
in the Haran of basic decency from outward motives. No, Abram
was called to make a further journey. He was called to move
beyond where he had been carried by his life's circumstances, to
an entirely new land: the land of Canaan.
this time Abram had to make a conscious choice to go on the
journey. He heard the call from the Lord; it was now up to him
to respond. If he had said no, he could not have carried forward
the spiritual story. He would have died in obscurity in Syria
instead of becoming one of the best known of the Biblical
comes a time in our own lives--many times, really--that we also
must make a conscious choice to follow a spiritual path. Most of
the time we are carried along by our life's circumstances, and
we simply do what is in front of us. We work because we need to
support ourselves and feed our families. We correct bad physical
habits because the doctor orders us to, and we do not want to
die early. We deal with those around us in a socially acceptable
manner because that is what is expected of us, and we do want to
move along in this life.
is nothing wrong with these motives. They are simply not enough
if we wish to reach our full potential as human beings. Our full
potential does not lie in the material world at all--as
fascinating as it can be to explore its vast reaches. Our full
potential lies in an entirely different, relatively unexplored
area: it lies in the development of our spiritual life--a
life symbolized by the land of Canaan, to which Abram was
commanded to travel.
is in developing our spiritual life--our relationship with the
Lord and our devotion to learning and living from deeper truth
and goodness--that we break all material barriers. In seeking a
spiritually-based way of life, we go beyond the things that
separate human beings from each other outwardly. We go beyond
race and class, beyond material jealousies and
misunderstandings, beyond the continuing self-absorption that
keeps us stuck in thinking about how any particular situation or
relationship will benefit us.
called the twelve disciples and sent them out on a journey of
healing those who were broken and teaching those who longed for
enlightenment. Jesus calls us as well. Jesus calls us to spiritually
leave behind the land of our own self-absorption, and travel to
a whole new land. It is a land where we are always seeking truth
from the Lord, and where we act from warm and genuine love in
everything we do. It may be a long journey to get to that land.
But if we choose to listen to the Lord's call and to take that
journey, the Lord will be with us every step of the way--and we will
find our heavenly Canaan. Amen.