“Make Your Name Great” – Genesis 12:1-9
Let me tell you the story about the call that changed my destiny. I was out with my family at corner pocket on evening in the year of our Lord 2009. At the time I was a sophomore in college and things were not going as planned. I had wanted to be a journalist since I could remember. I had worked on the school newspaper in high school and in college. It was what I knew best and I was good at it. But something was missing. I was unsatisfied with it, even though I loved it. It was a complicated time. I just couldn’t quite figure out why I was so unhappy with the path I was on. So, the Tuckers were having a night on the town. My sister was also trying to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. She was trying to decide if she wanted to go to pharmacy school or medical school. As she and my mom were talking through the pros and cons of those options I turned to my dad. I confided in him a little about my doubts and asked him what he thought I should do with my life. I really wasn’t expecting much of a response since my dad has never been much of a talker. But he looked me dead in the eye and told me what he thought – I should go to seminary.
We’ve all been there. We think our life is headed in one direction, we have everything planned out and ready to go. But sometimes things don’t work out quite the way we thought they would. Sometimes things go the complete opposite direction then we thought they would. And I have news for you – that’s biblical. When we first meet this man named Abram we really don’t know much about him. He is the son of Terah, who is a descendant of Shem, the son of Noah. But other than that, we really don’t get much of a back-story. Until one day, the Lord God calls him to go from his father Terah’s house to this new land. It would be like having your life together, having a great job and family life and then one day, seemingly out of the blue you get the feelings your just supposed to pack up and move to Austin, TX. That’s what happened to Abram. He packed up and left because God told him to. And this text, these 9 short verses set the scene not just for Abraham and Sarah’s story but for the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures and ultimately the whole of our Bible.
This call from God seems to come out of nowhere, Abram and Sarai didn’t yearn the call, they didn’t even necessarily want the call – they were simply chosen by God to go, and so they went. And for Abram this call would have been difficult to follow. In Abram’s time the worst thing that could happen to you was to become a sojourner. Because the family connections were so deep – people literally lived in the same house of three generations – being considered a stranger was the ultimate upheaval. For Abram, this would not have been an honor, this would be him ‘taking up his cross’ so to speak. Being called is not easy and is often not desirable, but with that calling comes relationship. Abram received a promise from God that God would be with him and his offspring in this new land. John Lewis was born in 1940 in a small town in Alabama. His parents were sharecroppers. He was one of nine children. He was born to work the land. But he knew, even form an early age that he was meant for something else besides being a sharecropper.
At the age of six John was given the task of taking care of the family chickens – and from that task he earned the nickname the preacher. This was because when he took care of the chickens he would preach to them. Not only would he preach to the chickens, he would preach to anyone who would listen. As he grew up he knew, and everyone knew, he should go to school to be a preacher. As it turned out doors opened and he was able to go to the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville on a student workers scholarship – this meant he did not have to pay tuition, which was good news to the son of sharecroppers. While in seminary things started to change for John. This was the late 1950s and for several years now John had been consumed by the preaching, and teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr. There was a movement going on and John knew he needed to be a part of it. He looked around him and saw the need for change. He and several associates planned and executed the Nashville sit-ins, which lead to the integration of lunch counters.
After that he joined the Freedom Riders to bring attention to the segregation and violence on buses in the deep south. A few years later he became a leader in the march on Washington and a few years after that he marched to Selma. John never did become a preacher. Instead he became one of the key figures in the civil rights movement. In 1977 John become a Representative for the state of Georgia and to this day continues to be a freedom rider. John left his family, left everything he knew in order to follow where he was being called. He was beaten, abused, his skull was fractured, he lost friends and loved one. But he never gave up. He knew where his calling was and he trusted in the promise that God would be present with him during this journey. It would not be easy, it would often not be desirable, but he was called by God, so he went. Because for John, and for Abram, it was not about him and his life. These promises that God was offering were not immediate promises. This was not a magic lamp moment where their every wish would be fulfilled if they followed God’s call.
Most of the promises made to Abram were not fulfilled until well after he died. But it was not about Abram, it was about something greater than Abram. Our callings are more often then not about something greater than ourselves. Jarena Lee was born on February 11, 1783 in Cape May, New Jersey. While she born into freedom, she grew up separated from her parents because of her work as a maid in a white household 60 miles from her hometown. She was 20 years old that she first heard the gospel and gave her life to faith in Christ. One fateful day she attended the afternoon service at Mount Bethel AME Church with the head cook of the house she lived in. That is where she first encountered the preaching of Richard Allen, a former slave turned itinerant Methodist preacher. Allen, who was based in Philadelphia, and also served as the primary leader of a group of African American members of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. That day, following Allen’s sermon, Lee made the decision to commit to the AME congregation.
After some soul searching and crisis moments, she returned to church and professed faith in Christ. A few Sundays later, before Allen had the opportunity to preach, Jarena leapt to her feet, and declared that God, for Christ’s sake, had pardoned the sins of her soul. Despite her convictions, Allen initially denied Jarena’s request to preach, citing the denomination’s policy on female preachers. Shortly after her request, Jarena married Joseph Lee, an African American Methodist pastor, and the Lees re-located to Snow Hill, New Jersey, where they served in an African Methodist congregation. After Joseph’s death in 1818, Lee once again sought Allen’s permission to preach publicly. By this time, Allen had become the bishop of the AME church and was free to decide the matter himself. He said that Jarena could hold a prayer meeting in her home and to preach when the occasion presented itself. After her first time at the pulpit, Allen publicly affirmed her calling to preach the gospel.
Jarena began preaching at house meetings and on occasion, was given permission by Allen and other elders of AME churches to preach on Sunday mornings. Jarena preached for more than 20 years until she became sick. She died in 1849. But before that, she wrote an autobiography to defend her calling to preach and help to further the cause of African Methodism as she wrote about her many travels and the acceptance she received as an official AME itinerant. She was instrumental in the expansion of women’s roles within the AME church as well as the denomination’s growth in its infancy. Jarena’s life and work offer us a glimpse into the world of an extraordinary Christian woman, illuminating what life was like for an itinerant Methodist preacher and the difficulties of being the first woman preacher in the AME church. Despite little education, she preached to audiences from Maryland all the way up to Canada. She is not only a leading figure for African Americans during the Second Great Awakening, she is also a trailblazer for women in ministry.
We are all called – not necessarily to pulpit ministry, but we are all called by God to go out into the world and be God’s hands and feet. We are called to bring change, to help others in crisis, to be a shelter in times of hurricanes, to be a present in the time of storms, to stand strong knowing that no matter where we are called to go or what we are called to do, God will be present still. Our call might not bring immediate fulfillment. Our call might be difficult and undesirable. But if we trust in the promise of God we know that our call is worth all of that.
1Complied from “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement”
2Complied from https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/jarena-lee.html