“Go…. So that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-3).
“Go.” Leave what is known… for some place that is not yet known.
The call of Abraham is an ancient story. Some 4000 years ancient. What it preserves for us is a glimpse of one man’s encounter with God; an encounter that dramatically changed human history.
The call of Abraham is one of those classic texts that brings everything into sharp focus.
God calls persons. It’s that simple. God called Abraham, and God called many others whose stories are told in Scripture and throughout church history.
God calls each of us—in some fashion. Perhaps in ways we’ve only partially named and are still discovering.
A call is a mysterious thing, laden with wonderment, doubt, many testings over time.
There are calls that set a trajectory—and deeply form a way of life. There are calls that come in the moment—to which we can respond because of a baptismal calling that has shaped us over time.
Three recent stories come quickly to mind:
Journalist James Foley's brutal execution by the Islamic State stunned the world. At a mass in his home Catholic parish, Rev. Paul Gausse offered a prayer for the perpetrators of James’ killing. “We are not just praying for us and the Foley family, but praying for those who have perpetrated this kind of evil,” he said. “James felt compelled to be a witness to people in conflict. This was his mission.” And James’ mother Diane Foley added. “[James] died for that compassion and that love, and I pray that he can be remembered that way and that he [will] not have died in vain.” And to Rev. Gausse she added: “Father, pray for me that I don’t become bitter. I don’t want to hate.”
Protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer. Rev. Willis Johnson, a local Ferguson pastor, felt called into the fray. A photo in the Washington Post showed the pastor in a powerful embrace with protester 18 year-old Joshua Wilson. In an NPR interview later about what was happening in that photo, Pastor Johnson said that as police were ordering protesters to move aside, he was trying to keep Wilson out of harm's way. "If anything” he said, “[my embrace of Wilson] was to affirm him — and to affirm both of us — because in that moment, we were being disaffirmed. We were being told ... that what we were doing was wrong, and it was not wrong."
The New York Times carried the story last week of Josephine Finda Sellu, a deputy nurse matron in Sierra Leone. After 15 of her nurses died from Ebola, she thought about quitting herself. “It has been a nightmare,” she said. “Since the whole thing started, I have cried a lot…. I am a senior nurse. All the junior nurses look up to me. If I left,” she said, “the whole thing would collapse…. There are times when I say, Oh my God, I should have chosen secretarial.” But her job as a healer, she said “is the calling of God.”
However a call of God comes, those testified to by God’s people, by followers of Jesus throughout the generations, often include some resemblance to Abram’s call:
There is an initiative by God; an invitation—or even a command.
- Go to a land I will show you.
- Leave your nets.
- Witness to people in conflict.
- Take a stand for justice.
- Be a healer.
- Come, follow me.
The call is personal. Abram. Moses. Esther. James. Willis. Josephine. But in a profound and ultimate way, it isn’t about any one of us.
- “So that you will be a blessing”….
- “So that all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
This is where a call keeps shifting in and out of focus. It’s about me—each of us. But it isn’t about any one of us. It’s about aligning our lives with the magnificent reconciling mission of God in the world.