The Lord said to Abram, leave your country, your family and your father's house, for the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name so famous that it will be used as a blessing. 'I will bless those who bless you: I will curse those who slight you. All the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you.' So Abram went as the Lord told him.
It's no wonder we call Abraham the father of our faith. He heard the word of the Lord, he believed, he obeyed, and, although he was already old, he set off on a journey into the unknown. He surrendered his life in faith to the plan and promise of God. Very courageous!
First Abraham had to listen to God, to hear. It’s easy to overlook this fact. The ability to listen and hear is not to be assumed. Some of us can’t listen. I was trying to get someone to listen to a short piece of music some time ago and there were so many interjections from this person I finally gave up; they were just not able to listen. Hearing is, of course, a deeper matter still. We might listen to the notes but not hear the music. Abraham listened to the voice of God and then he heard the call addressed to him. In other words, he obeyed.
Abraham obeyed because he trusted and believed. No one listens to a voice he doesn’t trust. When people ask me why I believe the testimony of the Apostles I now realise that it’s because I trust them. They are good men. Their witness holds together in a unified whole. Their message has integrity, in other words, there are no contradictions, just an integrated truthfulness.
Liars are usually easy to spot. First this strange uncertainty, later a suspicion, then a definite conviction – this person is lying! When the proof arrives it is often too late; we already knew, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to believe this person.
So Abraham listened, heard, believed. Then he had to leave. That must have been painful. And it was a comprehensive leaving - country, family and father's house. It's painful leaving even when we know where we are going but Abraham wasn't told that part. He was simply told to leave for the land I will show you.
Now comes the promise: I will make you a great nation ... I will bless you ... make you famous ... I will make you a blessing ... . Five times the personal pronoun I is used. None of this is coming from Abraham; this is something God is planning; this is God's work.
And it is work. Notice how God says: I will make you ... ? The short passage uses the phrase twice. I will make you ... . God means to be very powerfully active here, to shape Abraham, to make him become something he is not yet and which he could not ever become without surrender to God. This is made clear by the fact that Moses has no heir and yet God promises him: I will make you a great nation.
So Abram went as the Lord told him. What I personally admire so much about Abraham is that, at such an advanced age, he managed to change the direction of his life in such a radical way. Not many among us are capable of such heroism as this.
Abram heard God's call; he trusted; he had courage; he obeyed. God changed his name. That's what happens when we follow God – he makes us different, new.
Saul, too, got a new name because he radically changed direction at God's call. Something happened that changed the whole course of his life. On the road to Damascus – he heard, trusted, and obeyed a voice that was believable, a voice that was true. Obedience to this voice set Paul travelling down an unknown path to a destination he could not foresee. The hardships of the journey serving only to show forth God's plan more clearly.
And finally we come to the Gospel reading. The story of another man, a thirty-year-old carpenter. He heard the same voice and he obeyed. Like Abram and Saul he knew there would be hardships, even death. Nevertheless, he heard, trusted, and courageously obeyed. And because he obeyed God changed his name and gave him a name above all other names – Lord.
One of the ways we Christians know that we are listening to the same truthful voice of God is because all the footprints of the people obeying the call of this voice are pointing in the same direction. These are our compass, the steps of the holy men and women who travelled before us, witnessing to the oneness of truth, to the joy of the Christian life and to its ultimate goal.