Summary: Our journey of faith begins with God, not our efforts.
Can you finish this well-known saying? “A journey of a thousand miles begins with…a single step.” That’s what the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu observed 2600 years ago and the point of the saying is to encourage action when facing a daunting task which threatens to paralyze us. For example if your mother has asked you to clean your room but that room looks like it’s been hit by a tornado and then by an earthquake, you could easily just sit there staring at the mess not knowing where to start. In a situation like that it’s good to remember that a journey of a thousand miles (or a thousand toys and dirty socks) begins with a single step. Just choose one item to pick up and that will get you going in your quest to clean up your room. Before you’ll know it, the task will be done.
But you know, not every journey begins with our effort of placing one foot in front of the other, or of picking up one toy after the next. Take the journey of faith for example. Our quest for heaven begins with God’s actions not ours. Over the next eleven Sundays we’re going to take a closer look at this journey of faith through the experiences of a man named Abraham. We’ll see today how Abraham’s journey of faith, like our journey, begins with God. It’s important to know this or we could get frustrated when the journey gets long and difficult, and we could be tempted to take off in different direction. But such a maneuver would bring our journey to a ruinous end.
Abraham, or Abram as he was first called, lived about 4100 years ago in 2100 B.C. Just to put his life into historical context, the worldwide flood of Noah’s day had already come and gone. So had the Tower of Babel, which Noah’s descendants had built in an effort to make a name for themselves and to keep from being scattered around the world. But scatter the people God did when he mixed up their languages. So by the time Abram came along, the Chinese were setting up ruling dynasties, the peoples of the First Nations were planting corn and maize here in North America, and somebody set up eighty big stones in England which we now know as Stonehenge. Abram himself was born and grew up in a city named Ur, which is in present-day Iraq. Ur was a sophisticated city, but it was also a stronghold for idol worship. Although everyone in the world had at one time known that there is only one God who created everything, over time people had begun to come up with their own gods, often making them look like mere mortals. The Bible tells us that Abram’s father Terah was a worshipper of such idols (Joshua 24:2).
We don’t know if Abram himself worshipped these idols, but the danger was there to be influenced by them. And if they had, Abram’s journey of faith would have ended tragically. Listen to the way the Bible describes idols. “… idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. 5 They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. 6 They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. 7 They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. 8 Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:4-8).
Putting your trust in idols might seem like a silly superstition from the ancient world, but that superstition is still with us. There are still people today who bow down to metal and stone statues, but just as foolish are those who bow before the latest fashions and fads, or who stake their trust on getting a good education and job—as if those things will guarantee them a comfortable life and the smarts to save the world. What these people quickly find, however, is that they can’t even save themselves from life’s problems. PhDs and billionaires still get cancer and die in road accidents like the rest of us. Thankfully there is a higher power who is watching over us. It was this God who appeared to Abram. Had God not done so, Abram would have ended up like millions of others—lost and blinded by his own sin and destined for eternal punishment in hell.
This same God has also appeared to you. No, he hasn’t done so in such a way that you could draw a picture of him, but he is appearing to you right now through this sermon. And what we’re learning about him is that this God is not just some primal force “up there” who doesn’t really care about what goes on down here. He does care because he wants each one of us to embark on a journey of faith that will end in heaven where we will get to see this God with our own eyes.