Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
31 Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
That’s a harsh word….. Barren.
Cold, devoid of life, a wasteland…
We all have seen pictures and movies of vast expanses of desert…
…No vegetation. Sand dunes upon Sand dunes. No water.
And then to apply it to a human being. To call a person
I think you get the picture.
In biblical times to be barren was to be cursed.
Children were your future.
Children were workers for your herds or your farm.
Children were the ones who looked after you in your old age.
There was no Canada pension. No old age security.
Your security was your children.
And even today children are often a security to people as they age, helping them with a multitude of needs, not the least of which is love.
In the days of Abraham to be childless was to have no immortality.
It was not a commonly held belief in the days of Abraham that there was life after death. Your immortality was in your children. Your name and your life continued in your children. To die without children was to be gone. Vanished
I am glad we have come a long way today.
I am glad that we understand to not have children may be a
legitimate choice and call of God for some people.
I am glad that we have progressed in our theology that people who are unable to have children are not cursed by God. God did not do this to them or cause them not to have
I know however that for many husbands and wives who are unable to have children, there is great sorrow, great anguish. There are people who go to many lengths to have
children, resulting in much intrusion into their physical beings and souls, and much emotional stress.
The word “barren” is not a nice word to use for a
And Sarah was barren.
But beyond a personal statement about the agony and stress that Abraham and Sarah faced as want‑to‑be parents, there is a deeper theological meaning to this statement.
This statement is a transition from the first 11 chapters of Genesis to the call of Abraham.
Barren is what the world is. Barren is the conclusion to the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He created the sun, moon and stars. He created the sea and the dry land, the mountains and the valleys. He created the plants and animals
And then he created you and me.
And it called it Good.
The world is basically good. You and me, we are basically good. Made in the image of God. Made to love and be loved.
But something goes wrong. When Adam and Eve get going instead of being content with who they are, and being content with knowing God…
they are selfish and want to be Gods,
and they alienate themselves from God.
And the next story is about Cain killing his brother Abel.. Selfishness leads to alienation. Alienation first from God and then from others.
The propensity towards destruction rapidly grows.
By the time we get to Noah several generations later God is sick and tired of the whole human race.
The story of the flood is one of the most powerful stories in all of scripture. It is a story so dark and despairing that we hardly listen to it at all and instead turn it into a children’s story that sounds like Barnum and Bailey’s circus troupe of animals.
noah built an arky arky
and the animals go in by twosies, twosies.
It is now a cute little story instead of the despairing story of human evil which threatens all life.
That story itself is a symbol of just how depraved humanity can become. And it is reminder to us that floods of evil and darkness can still come and threaten us all.
Genocides, mass murders, wars, oppression, starvation, poverty, ignorance and abuse still appear.
The flood didn’t end evil, what it did is reaffirm that God would not actually give up on us.
And then there is the story of the Tower of Babel where human pride ends up in many different nations and cultures and languages; and people are more alienated from each other.
And the message of the Genesis writer is this:
Humanity is barren…..History is barren…. There is no future and no life.
People have turned away from God and without God there is alienation and selfishness and it leads to death.
I think there is no end of the exploration of this theme in society. Watch television and watch the movies and read the magazines. There is all kinds of stuff that deals with
the depravity and barrenness of humanity.
I think that to watch and try and understand evil in others is very fascinating.
What I think we have more trouble with is ourselves…. dealing with our own alienation from God…. Confessing our own evil tendencies…. Where have we hurt others? Where are we greedy and selfish? Where have we turned away from God?
Where do I have barrenness in my own life? Where do we have barrenness?
But let me say barrenness is not just about our sin, or selfishness.
It is also about our pain, and our deep hurt. It is about disappointments and missed opportunities. It is about the things we cannot change in life which weigh us down. It is about oppression, victimization, or abuse, from family, culture, society or religious groups. It is about depression, loneliness, alienation and conflict
Where do we have barrenness in our lives?
And you and I have it. Oh yes… barrenness….
And there is also spiritual barrenness, where one feels disconnected and apart from God.
And most of us have those dry desert barren times too, where we wander in the spiritual wilderness, hungry and thirsty for love, acceptance, meaning, fulfilment and a connection with the ultimate… and we can’t seem to find what we are looking for…
Where do you have barrenness?
But it is the midst of barrenness that often God breaks through. It is in the midst of barrenness that Abraham hears God’s voice.
It is in the midst of barrenness that that Abraham receives a call from God.
And a call from God always means some kind of journey. It may be physical, or it may be emotional and it certainly is spiritual.
And in a call from God, God usually asks us to move away from something that is safe and familiar like home and to move out into the unknown and trust him.
I sometimes wonder how it happened for Abraham when he decided to tell his wife that God had called him to leave town and follow him.
“Guess what honey. Good news. We’re moving.”
“You got that promotion?”
“You got a new job with a new company?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, what then?”
“God talked to me today and told me to quit work, pack our bags and follow him to a new home.”
“And where precisely is this new home and what kind of house will we be living in and what job will you have and are there good schools for the kids and a good hospital.”
“Well God didn’t really say where we would be going. He just said that we were to trust him and he would look after everything.”
“I thought you said there was good news.”
“Well, God did promise that we would have a family.”
“A family…. A family…God said we were going to have a child? When are we going?”
What is at work here? Hope.
And I want to connect that hope to our history.
And specifically, I want you to think of all the people. All the Abrahams and all the Sarahs who left the Maritimes and Upper and Lower Canada and came out west.
Think of all the Abrahams and Sarahs who came from the United Kingdom, and from the United States. From Western and Eastern Europe. From Asia and south America and Africa…
And came to Edmonton
Hope for a new life, a better life.
It seems to me that is very much what keeps the church going and what keeps churches going. Hope for the future.
How many people here in this congregation felt that God called them away from something and towards something new?
17 years ago I heard God’s voice calling me to come to First Presbyterian Church, to leave family and friends and come and do something new. We made that long trek from PEI to Edmonton.
How many of you, came to this congregation and felt God had called you to this place, this community?
How many of you grew up in a different country, a different province, a different town, or a different church?
…and God has led you, sometimes through many dangers, toils and snares… to this time and place to worship, to love and to share the good news of Jesus?
And it was God’s grace that led you this far and will continue to lead us.
We don’t have time, although we should make time… to listen to one another stories.
To listen to all the stories we have of barrenness and to listen to the stories of God calling us.
God called your name. Maybe you heard it audibly. Maybe it was a voice in your head. Maybe it was a feeling. And maybe you weren’t sure, but you stepped out and did what you thought was best and found that God blessed that step, that it was a step of faith.
And what about today?
How is God calling you? Calling us? Where is God wanting you and me to go, or to do, or to be?
Nicodemus was a leader of his faith and a teacher, and yet he comes to Jesus, knowing that he is lacking and needs more.
One of the ironic things about the story of Jesus and Nicodemus is that Nicodemus is the man of certainty and law as a Pharisee and what Jesus give him is more uncertainty, than certainty.
It isn’t about knowing absolutes, it is about being open to the Spirit and the Spirit blows where the Spirit wants to blow.
It isn’t about doctrine and right teaching, it is about being born again, or born from above. There is a double meaning in that Greek word “anothen”
And what is being born again. It is not a physical thing, it is about being transformed, about being converted. It is about dying to an old way and rising to a new way.
And what is that way? The way of Jesus. The way of love, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding.
God didn’t send Jesus to condemn us, losers that we are, but to save us.
And that salvation is about our hearts turning towards the things of God.
Our hearts converting from that which causes barrenness, like hatred and pride and envy, and violence, and self-righteousness and judging, and fighting
…and our hearts transforming into that which causes life….
…hearts of love, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, inclusion and reconciliation.
Today I believe Jesus is calling us with us.
He says to us: “Let the Spirit of love move in your life for the Spirit is asking you to move. So, trust me and follow me.”
Now I wonder what kind of movement God is asking of us today?
Where are we called to step away from the safe and familiar… and trust God?
A number of years ago there was a very powerful film called Romero, based on the life of Oscar Romero, archbishop of El Salvador.
Romero was an unlikely candidate for making changes in the world. Maybe he was chosen as archbishop because he was thought of as sickly, weak willed, an academic, and one very much in favour of the status quo. Maybe he was chosen becauee he was safe and wouldn’t upset the apple cart.
When Romero becomes the Archbishop however, this life of faith calls to him and he begins to change and move out from what was safe to start doing what he believes God wants him to do, even though it becomes for him dangerous and life-threatening.
At one point in the movie he falls to his knees and unconditionally promises to follow God saying:
I can’t. You must. I’m yours. Show me the way.
Although his decision leads to his assassination, his faith and trust in God, empower others to trust in God in their everyday journeys.
Ours may not be a journey of martyrdom as it was for Romero.
It may be a journey to step out and work on some family relationships, or some congregational relationships and trust God.
It may be a journey to an old enemy to offer peace and reconciliation.
It may be a journey of forging a new way in the church that finds unity amongst all the diversity in the church.
It may be a journey into the church to take up more responsibility in the family of God.
It may be a journey to serve the wider church beyond one’s own congregation, or serve the wider world with humanitarian aid.
It may be a journey in your own spiritual life of prayer, scripture, meditation and devotion. Or a collective journey where we as First Church seek a deeper spirituality and communion with God, or a new vision.
It may be a journey to replace some of your ideas of God and religion with new perspectives on faith. Or a journey to understand and respect and affirm those who believe differently
It may be a journey whereby you share with others your faith and invite them to journey in faith too.
I invite you to journey with Jesus. He is the one who turned death into life, turned despair into hope, and he has promised to never leave us or to forsake us.
And in the midst of the barrenness and brokenness of this life,
both personally and corporately
I believe he is the one to offer us hope.
You know, the day came when Sarah and Abraham had that child.
The barrenness was transformed into life.
I believe that Jesus is calling each one of us today to follow him
and he says where there is barrenness…. there will be life.
Born again isn’t the end, it is the beginning of our journey, and the matrix by which our faith is constantly renewed. We keep dying and rising with Jesus every day.
Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah as he tells a broken and barren community in exile the good news
Sing, O barren one who did not bear; (from Isaiah 54)
burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.
God offers us hope and new life.
Not because we deserve it but because he loves us.
And he invites us to love him in return and step out in faith and follow him, not to condemn each other and the world, but in love to save each other and the world…
to help us all….the world even… die to sin and selfishness and be born again to love.