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"God's 'Go-To' Guy" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer, September 18, 2022

Genesis 12:1-9

I don’t know why God chose me. Why God made me the “go-to” guy. Had I even interacted with the Eternal before I was given the instructions to go from my home? All these years later my memory fails me, but what I retain is the feeling being found by God at that moment in my life.

What I can tell you for certain is that before our time together the Eternal had taken a broader approach to relationships. What I mean is that before me God had tried working with humanity as whole. Surely you remember how the stories of the great flood and the tower that was built to make people famous and bring them close to heaven ended. When God sought me out it was after a period of learning the ins-and-outs of humanity and I’m still surprised God wanted to try again.

But with me the Eternal’s approach was narrow. One-on-one. Focused. For better or worse I was squarely in God’s eye-line which is likely what I needed to get my life unstuck. Let me explain. I am from Ur of the Chaldeans, what you call Babylon. My father, Terah, was the original family man. He loved me and my brothers Nahor and Haran with his whole heart, he was thick as thieves with my wife Sarai, and his grandchildren were his delight.

I think that’s why it felt as though there were with-Haran and without-Haran portions of our lives. My brother’s death was an epoch unto itself, changing us in ways I’m still figuring out. The most immediate change is that Haran’s passing pushed my father to leave Ur for Canaan. Nahor and his family stayed, settled as they were in our homeland. But Haran’s son, my nephew Lot, was unmoored by his father’s passing so leaving was a relief for him. Sarai and I had no children, and as much as we loved our home it would always remind us of this lack. We decided a change might be what our marriage needed, and we were worried about Lot and my father.

So, off the four of us went, united in our need for a new start and sure only that Canaan was our destination. Things went well for a time. I saw a lightness in my father, a straightening of his stooping shoulders I had associated with age rather than grief. My nephew Lot began to laugh again, not quite the practical joker he’d been before but certainly better able to talk about his dad. Sarai and I were relating better than we had in years. Although our commitment to each other hadn’t wavered, neither of us realized how much pressure came from not being able to have children. I was my father’s oldest son, his heir, and it took moving away from our homeland and becoming nomads for Sarai and me to take the first deep breaths to fill our lungs in years.

Our forward momentum stopped the moment we arrived at the city of Haran. Or to be more accurate, our momentum stopped when we heard that the unremarkable town, we happened to stop in shared my brother’s name. It was nothing more than a coincidence. My brother wasn’t named for this city. To my knowledge my father didn’t even know of this city’s existence before we arrived. But when we learned it was called Haran, that this city shared my beloved brother’s name, I saw the light go out of my father’s eyes for the final time.

In Haran, my father pulled his grief around him like a warm blanket on a chilly evening. While he was still loving and recognizably my father, his grief became the core of his person. It was as if happening upon this city that shared my brother’s name engulfed him and gave his sorrow free reign. From then on despite my cajoling, Lot’s quiet reasoning that this isn’t what his father would’ve wanted, and Sarai’s straightforward tough-love my father wouldn’t be moved. And the three of us weren’t willing to leave him, so we stayed. The four of us lived in Haran for several years, existing but not particularly living. Stuck in grief and memories. After several years my father died and we buried him there in Haran, and I still can’t decide if that’s ironic or comforting.

But even with my father’s passing, Lot, Sarai, and I didn’t immediately leave Haran. As I said we were stuck. We didn’t want to be in there, but we didn’t have any other plans. It was as though our grief smoothed away our long-term planning and replaced it with apathy. With disinterest. With quiet acceptance.

And it was in that state and place God found me. It was there God spoke to me, even though I was stuck so deeply in my grief that I’d begun to think of Haran as my father’s home. In that city that sucked us in like quicksand the Eternal shared a remarkable promise with me for the first time.

As I said, I don’t remember if I’d interacted with God before this moment. If I did it was nothing co pared to God coming to me unbidden and taking a chance on me. Me, some regular guy from Babylon who was getting up there in years with a complicated family, no children, stuck in grief. God took a chance on me with this promise, but it must be said I also took a chance on God, this deity I had no real awareness of before this point. We both took a risk that day.

As I said, I still don’t know why God made me the “go-to” guy, but I have a couple of theories. First, I wonder if God came to me because it was so clear I needed a reason to move on. If it was clear, I needed divine hands under my arms to raise me up and then push me solidly forward out of my grief.

It doesn’t translate well in your language, but God didn’t just tell me to “leave” or “go.” In actuality God’s command was more emphatic, “get yourself up and go.” Pull yourself up, pull yourself out of the quicksand, unstick yourself from what should have been a stop-over point and start moving toward what’s next. Go to yourself. That self you’ve lost. Leave what’s familiar and not serving you anymore. Move on from death and barrenness.

I have a new life for you. New opportunities. New challenges. Yes, unsticking yourself comes with risk, but it’s also full to bursting with new possibilities. And, best of all I will be with you and will guide you. You’re not going to be alone anymore. In fact, I’m going to bless you in such a way that you’ll not only be an example to others of what having a relationship with me can be, I’m going to bless you so that through your descendants everyone on earth will find blessing in you.

Of course, this last bit sounded ridiculous. It was well established that Sarai and I weren’t able to have children, but I wasn’t going to argue with the Eternal. And as we both know the rest of my story this portion of God’s promise did come to fruition. I must tell you, however, that carrying the label of a “great hero” of the faith still makes me uncomfortable. As you can see from my origin story, I was much less a hero and much more a wounded nobody God pulled from grief and entropy.

My second theory as to why God chose me has more to do with the Eternal than me. The macro, big picture, group approach to relating to humanity hadn’t worked. So, I wonder if God hope that by pouring enough energy into one person things might go better. If making me a catalyst for the divine blessing of all people might have been more manageable. If dealing with one human’s free will might have been a bit less exasperating than the cat-herding that comes with working with a group of people. Perhaps God thought she was less likely to get her heartbroken again with me as I knew what it was to be heartbroken.

No matter God’s reasoning, my being selected says much more about the Eternal than it doesn’t about me. Our relationship was a freely given gift of God that certainly helped me and my family, but it wasn’t just about me or us. Our relationship was about God finding a way to finally get the relationship she’d been seeking with her creation right. To offer the incredible gifts of love that are so much a part of who God is and have someone take her up on that offer. Despite the risks. Despite the unknowns. Despite the necessity of leaving what’s comfortable and familiar for a future with much less certainty.

Could God have gone to someone else with this incredible offer? Of course. Would they have perhaps said yes quicker and done a better job of being in relationship with the Eternal than me? Probably. Do I understand why God chose me, stuck in my grief and bogged down by my life, to be a blessing to everyone around me? Not even a little bit. But despite my flaws and my broken heart God chose me to be the “go-to” guy and for that I am thankful.

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