Sunday, September 14, 2014
Sermon: Genesis 13: 1-18 Walk by faith, not by sight
Finding your way can sometimes be a tricky business. Trying to follow someone else’s directions is an adventure - especially when they don’t seem to make any sense. Watching out for the second lane or the third bungalow, or the horse that’s standing out in the field. And it’s even worse at night. Sometimes, you just have to go with what you’ve been told - trust me, you’ll get there. No matter how strange this sounds, you’re on the right track.
It’s bad enough when you’re trying to go somewhere in the car. But following directions for life can be even harder. Taking God at his word can sometimes bring us to the strangest of situations as he hold on to God’s promise. We want to walk by faith, fully trusting God, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense. Instead we try to go our own way. We walk by sight, how things look to us; rather than walking by faith.
In 2 Corinthians 5:7, Paul says that the Christian life can be summarised like this: ‘We walk by faith, not by sight.’ As I was studying our passage, I realised that’s a good summary of Abram in Genesis 13, so let’s turn there now. Last week, we saw how God had called Abram to go to a place he would show him, and Abram went. He heard the promise of God and held it. But then things went a bit pear shaped. There was famine in the place of blessing. He went to Egypt and tried to rely on his own wits. He sold off his wife as his sister to Pharaoh, bringing trouble all round.
As chapter 13 opens, he comes out of Egypt, and where does he go? He goes back to square one, back to the place it all began. Bethel, the place where his tent had been at the beginning; the place he had made an altar at the first. There he calls on the name of the LORD.
Abram is repenting. Turning back to the LORD, the promise making God. Coming again, wanting to start over afresh. Perhaps there are situations in your life over the past week where you’ve tried to sort it out yourself. You’ve gone your own way. It’s why our service normally begins with some form of confession. Saying sorry to God, coming back to him, calling on him for forgiveness and restoration. In Jesus, we have this forgiveness. The cross is the altar, the place of sacrifice we turn to and return to. Maybe even now, there are things troubling you. Why not resolve to come back to God. To confess your sin and your need. Turn to him.
As Abram returns to Bethel, and Lot his nephew with him, there are already signs of the LORD’s blessing on his life. Verse 2 had told us Abram was very rich. Lot also had flocks and herds and tents. The two couldn’t continue together. There wasn’t enough pasture for all of their livestock.
It reminds me of something we did at a BB Display years ago. I was the very smallest of all the Anchor Boys. We all came out in our pyjamas and lay down on the gym mat. And the song went: There were ten in the bed and the little one said: ‘Roll over! Roll over!’ Abram and Lot need to move over, to create a bit of space between them. The strife had started between their herders. The pressure is on, because the land is full - there are the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
Abram is the older of the two. He has the right to decide what to do, to tell Lot where to go. But look at verse 8. He takes the initiative. He offers the choice to Lot. ‘Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. I you take the left hand, then I will go to the right.’ Verse 10 shows us what Lot did with those words. It’s as if his eyes are out on stalks, like a cartoon character. ‘Lot looked about him, and that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere...’ Lot looks, he goes on what he sees. He takes the prime land for himself, the bit that you would have thought Abram would want for himself.
This is the best land. Well watered, like Eden was back in the beginning; like Egypt (where they had just been) was. So he chooses that. He goes east. He follows his eyes to take the best land. He’s walking by sight.
But even now, there are warning signs in the text. He’s headed for Sodom, taking his tent that direction. This was before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Like a flashing light or a neon sign, verse 13 tells us that ‘the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.’
Lot walked by sight. He went for the easy life. The best he could manage, despite the company he would be keeping. Sometimes we settle for walking by sight as well. Going the way that seems best to us. Going for high fun content. But there may be trouble ahead.
Lot walked by sight. His uncle Abram, though, he walked by faith. He had received the LORD’s promise of the land twice in chapter 12. So he reckons that it’s his, no matter where Lot chooses to go; no matter who else might be living in the land. He takes God at his word, and moves into the land of Canaan. Lot was down by the riverside; Abram is in the hill country.
But it’s there that the LORD speaks again to Abram. ‘Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are.’ Lot looked, and chose his future by what he saw. Abram is to look, but this is with the eyes of faith - northwards, southwards, eastwards and westwards. ‘For all the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring for ever.’
Abram looks all around, even on the bit that Lot has chosen. It’s all his, by God’s promise. His offspring will receive it. It will all be theirs. He can see the land, but he can’t see the fulfilment with his own eyes. He needs the eyes of faith, to trust in what God says.
The promise is expanded, so that his offspring will be like the dust of the earth. The next time you’re hoovering, take a look inside the bag (or the cylinder if you’ve got a Dyson). Where does all the dust come from? How does it gather so quickly? But look closer. Could you number it? Could you count the little specks of dust? Impossible, unless you’ve got a super powered microscope at home. Childless Abram is promised that his offspring will be so many that they’re like the dust of the earth.
You could laugh it off. It seems ridiculous, that 75 year old Abram could produce so big a family. But Abram takes God at his word. He walks, not by sight, but by faith in the God who speaks creation into being by his word; who by his mighty power gives us a Saviour who dies in weakness; who includes us in Abram’s children as we trust his word.
Abram really does walk by faith, in obedience to God’s call in verse 17 to walk through the whole land, as a symbolic sign of possession. He moves his tent to Mamre, Hebron, where he builds another altar to the LORD.
Could it be that the LORD is calling us to walk by faith, not by sight? Is he wanting us to step out and do something that seems crazy to our eyes? To hold to God’s promise and give more to a mission agency rather than spending it on ourself? To invest more in God’s kingdom? To give ourselves to pray or study or serve when all we want to do is keep ourselves safe and secure? Let’s not trust just what we can see or reason for ourselves; Let’s step out and walk by faith, not by sight.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 14th Sseptember 2014.