Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blessing for the World (Genesis 12.1-3)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
September 18, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "The God of Abraham Praise" (Page)

Hymn of Praise: "The God of Abraham Praise" (LEONI)
Song of Praise: "Every Promise" (Getty/Townend)
The Word in Music: "Go Into the World" (Sleeth)
Song of God's Grace: "You Have Been Raised" (Altrogge/Kauflin/Boer)
Offering of Music (Valerie Putsey, piano): "Take My Life and Let it Be" (Malan)
Song of Sending: "As You Go" (Altrogge)
Postlude: "Toccata" (Boellmann)

Blessing for the World
Text: Genesis 12:1-3; Psalm 22:23-28

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Testimony - by Yrjo Roovers



I grew up in Greenville, S.C., an unbeliever. Not an unbeliever in God, but an unbeliever in football. For whatever reason, we didn’t watch it, didn’t go see it, and didn’t have a team. But you can’t grow up in Greenville and be completely out of it. And here’s why…

Come game days, Greenville turns orange. People wear orange; cars have orange flags; streams of orange-covered people either flow through or out of town, depending on where the next game is. I’m talking about Clemson. Now there are a few Carolina Gamecocks in Greenville, but they are vastly outnumbered, at least anywhere I ever went.

And it didn’t really have to be a game day to see orange. It seemed like every third car had an IPTAY sticker on the back. People were marked and showed their colors. And even without football in my home, if you asked me by the time I was 10 years old who my team was, I would have said, “Clemson.”

Why do I mention this? Well, it’s because being a Clemson fan in Greenville, S.C., was something like what I believe the Lord intended for the children of Abraham. They weren’t supposed to hide away, but to bear a distinctive mark, show their colors, and even rub off on the people around them.

Today we are going to talk about the covenant… that is God’s purposeful relationship with a certain people for the sake of the whole world. 

Covenant Conversation

Genesis 12 records the first covenant conversations between God and Abram. Later in Genesis the covenant will be refined and formalized, and the rest of the Old Testament (which is another name for the “Old Covenant”) is commentary upon and the record of a people living out history in relation to that covenant.

Said another way, once you are married, that marriage covenant defines your life for the rest of your life. Marriage, children, life, death – even divorce – all relate in some way to that marriage covenant. Genesis 12 is like the marriage proposal from God to Abram. The covenantal relationship is formalized and sealed later in Genesis 15, but all that will follow will be shaped by and lived out in relationship to this covenant.

Even the New Testament is the record of the new covenant – really, the old one redefined – in the person of Jesus Christ. What happens here between God and Abram is so significant for understanding what will follow.

In this sermon series, which will take us through the end of October, we are studying “Christ for the World.” And that starts here with God’s initial covenant conversation with Abram, where we will see so clearly God’s heart for the world and how He pursues “all the families of the earth” through this covenant with one person, Abram, Father of the nation of Israel. 

Covenant with Abram

The study of covenants can get really involved quickly. I know both John Kreutzer and Kathy Larson have done some teaching here at Good Shepherd on covenants, and would enjoy talking to you more about them. I studied them extensively in seminary and would be glad to point you to some more material if you are interested. But today, I want to focus in on one feature of the covenant with Abram, and that is what I just mentioned, that in this covenant we see God’s heart for the world.

The Lord calls Abram from his home to go “to the land which I will show you.” Already this is God’s mission and God’s location. We talk a lot about what God is doing and how we can be a part, and this is precisely what God invited Abram into. And to this land, God will add children (a great nation) and blessing (a great name). I’ve mentioned those things – land, children, and blessing – before.

But look at what comes next: “…and so you shall be a blessing.” Then after a kind of protective statement about blessing and cursing those who bless and curse Abram, “…and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The covenant with Abram will bring land, children, and blessing to Abram and his descendants, but it is this last part that really shows us the heart of God: BECAUSE of the covenant (and so…), Abram and his descendants will be a blessing to others. And the PURPOSE (and result) of the covenant is that in Abram and his descendants all the families of the earth will be blessed.

That purpose describes the heart of God. I pray and give thanks for it every time we have communion… that though we turned from God, He did not abandon us, but has pursued us in love. The covenant is one foundational expression of that loving pursuit: God blessing and working through one for the sake of blessing and redeeming many. 

Covenant People

As heirs and spiritual descendants of Abraham we are inheritors of that same covenant. We, too, are called out and blessed so that we might be a blessing to the whole earth. Let’s think about what that might look like more specifically.

There is some kind of impulse to huddle together and keep this Christian faith and community to ourselves, and I think that happens for a number of reasons. But we are blessed to be a blessing – to go where God leads us and to rub off on others… like Clemson fans.

Sure, we don’t want to cross over into obnoxious territory, but I haven’t me a lot of Presbyterian Christians flirting with that particular problem. Rather, how about a willingness to give credit to God, to ask someone if we can pray for them, an openness to share our faith story, or, like a Clemson fan, an infectious enthusiasm about this thing we are a part of called the Church.

The next eight weeks or so are going to be perfect for inviting friends to church. We’ll have lots of good music, some straightforward messages, and testimonies from different church members… ordinary folks people can relate to. A bunch of church folks usually go out to lunch after church… invite someone and bring them out to lunch to get to know some of the church family.

From the beginning God demonstrated His heart for the whole world. He reached out to a particular people – the children of Abraham and now the Church – and blessed us with the Good News of Jesus. That blessing is not meant to be hidden or hoarded, but shared extravagantly with all who would hear. It’s like this whole story [the Bible] is marked, “For Sharing.”

If we can really grab hold of the joy of that, who knows, maybe we’ll rub off on someone! Amen.

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