The Most Unqualified

The Most Unqualified

Pentecost 15 (NL1) John B. Valentine
Genesis 11:27 – 12:9 September 18, 2022


What a difference a week makes!

LAST week ... we took a look at the story of Noah and the ark and the rainbow.

LAST week ... we stood back and looked at the BIG picture.

LAST week ... we saw how God tried to work out a GLOBAL solution to the problem of sin and evil.

LAST week ... we look at the final portion of what biblical scholars tend to call “the prehistory” of the People of God.

But THIS week is different. A LOT different!

You see ... rather than talking about people in general ...

THIS week’s reading is looking at people in particular.

THIS week ... rather than hearing phrases like “the whole earth” and “humankind” and “all flesh” ...

We get names ... particular names ... funny names.

Terah ... Nahor ... Abram and Haran ... Sarai and Milcah.

Names we probably haven’t much ever heard about before.

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You see ... the second half of Genesis 11 denotes a shift ... a huge shift.

From God being the providential God who cares about all people ...
To God being the personal God who cares about particular people.

From God being the One “who’s got the whole world in his hands” ...

To God being the One who “loves me, this I know.”

From God being One who seeks “global solutions to a global crisis” ...
To God being the One who “Thinks globally, but acts locally.”

Now ...

• If we were economists ... we’d say we were shifting from “macro” to “micro”.

• If we were observational scientists ... we’d say we need to shift from telescopes to microscopes.

But since most of us are neither economists or scientists ...

How ‘bout we just say that we’re going to shift our “from the forest to the trees”???

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Now maybe ... before we get into the actual text here ... let’s pause and acknowledge just how big a deal that shift is ...

How different it is for God to be the God of broad brush strokes and God to be the God of intimate details.

I mean ... if you think about this society in which we live ...

Everybody ... or most everybody ... is okay with the idea of God in general ... a kind of de facto Deism ...

But people get pretty hung up on the idea of the divine particulars.

So when I get asked to pray before ... say ... a City Council meeting ...

I’m reminded to “be nice and non-sectarian” ... to invoke the name of the beneficent One whom our dollar bills declare that we trust ... and “keep the particularities out of it” ... because we don’t wish to offend anyone.

We’re okay with “God in general” for the most part ... but “God in particular” gets us into lots and lots of trouble.

People everywhere are pretty much okay with what H. Richard Niebuhr once sarcastically called “a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

But do you realize just how little comfort there really is in thinking about God as the One who is the beginning of all things ... and maybe the end of all things ... but not the One who is in the middle of all things???

• Deism might pray well at a Town Council meeting ... but it doesn’t mean much in a hospital room.

• Deism might preach in a world of bread and roses and abundant possibilities ... but it has nothing at all to say to the victims of that horrible war in Ukraine ... or of a traffic accident in Orinda ... or of domestic violence or abusive behaviors a whole lot closer to home.

• Deism might make an interesting philosophical construct ... but it isn’t the God of the Bible.

You see ... it’s one thing to say “God is great” and “God is good” and “God is love” ... it’s another thing entirely to say “Body of Christ, given for you.”

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Anyhow ... let’s look at this morning’s text.

After all ... it WAS an action-packed thriller ... don’t you know.

But what if I were to tell you that perhaps the singularly most-telling verse ... maybe even the singularly most-significant verse ... in the WHOLE of Holy Scripture was contained in that reading?

Anybody want to venture a guess?

It’s this one ... Genesis ... chapter eleven ... verse thirty.

Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

Yup ... you heard me right! Perhaps the singularly most significant verse in the whole of the Book of Genesis is that declaration that “Sarai was barren” and that “she had no child.”

Now before you write me down the river and call the synod office and get me shipped off to the theological funny farm ... consider this:

• Those of you who know something of the biblical story may know that ... in the second half of this morning’s lesson ... at the beginning of Genesis 12 ... Sarai and her husband Abram are chosen ... chosen by God ... to be the recipients of a particular promise.

• Sarai and Abram get new names ... Sarah and Abraham ... and they become the original “patriarchs” of the people of Israel ... the covenanted and chosen people of God.

• In fact ... God promises Sarai and Abram that they will get a place and a name and a blessing ... and that they will have offspring in abundance.

So what’s going on here in Genesis 11 is that God is about the work of choosing the particular people ... out of all the people in the world ... through whom God might “get personal” and start acting locally rather than globally.

God is choosing the particular couple through whom God is going to make himself a people.

And the one ... really the only ... qualification which God has is that the people whom God chooses are those whom are particularly unqualified for the job!!!

I mean ...

If YOU were the producer of some brand new reality TV show about populating some amazingly lush but totally unpopulated desert island ...

You probably think it was a pretty good idea to at least give your selected couples a fertility test ... right?

And you specifically wouldn’t say “Only couples which fail the fertility test may apply”!!!

But when God goes to start a new community ... God specifically chooses the one couple who seems particularly UNSUITED for the job!

You see ... God COULD have chosen Nahor and his wife Milcah.

• They were from the same family ... if it was just a genetic thing.
• They didn’t have that “unable to conceive” label attached to them.
• They probably could have done just fine with that “go forth and multiply” dictate.

But God doesn’t choose Nahor and Milcah.

God DOES CHOOSE Abram and Sarai!

And so the story goes ... and gets repeated again and again and again in the testimony of Holy Scripture and in the lives of God’s people still today ...

• Our God is a God who specializes in calling the unlikely and the under-qualified.

• Our God is a God who specializes in making something out of nothing.

• Our God is a God who specializes in offering possibility in the face of futility ... giving hope to the hopeless ... life to the dead.

“Barrenness” ... as it were ... is the particular arena of the life-giving ... life-creating ... life-renewing work of God!

And that one little verse ... about the barrenness of Sarai ... probably reveals MORE about the particular passions and persona of the Lord than a whole lot of the other stuff we’ve looked at put together!

For it says ... in no uncertain terms ... that God isn’t One who goes around identifying the “best qualified” and then asking them to get to work ...

But rather that God is One who chooses “under-qualified” folks and then specifically equips them and gifts them for their tasks.

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You know ... I thought long and hard about how to end this sermon.

I searched my brain and my bookcase for hours trying to scrounge out a story about how God uses inadequate people.

And ... quite honestly ... I failed.

I failed because all the stories about I’ve ever run across about inadequacy basically end up like that old classic story of “The Little Engine That Could” ...

Where the Little Blue Engine she steps up to the plate and says “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” ... and saves the day for all the kids on the other side of the mountain.

They look like stories about inadequacy on the front end ... but they all wind up as attestations to unexpected and unanticipated ability in the end.

Like I could tell you about my own fears of inadequacy as a preacher ... and how ... in the first couple years of ministry ... I couldn’t sleep at all the night before.

But standing on the backside of such an event ... you’d all just say “We knew you could, we knew you could, we knew you could.”

And they all end up looking like stories of human achievement and human possibility and human accomplishment in the end.

But this story ... this one verse from Genesis ... about God choosing barren Sarah ... is different.

• It’s NOT about what WE can do if we just “think we can, we think we can, we think we can.”

• It IS about what God can do precisely when we KNOW ... full well ... we CAN’T!!

It’s about a God who doesn’t just “see” heretofore hidden possibilities ...

But a God who creates possibility and hope and life and opportunity out of nothingness and emptiness and death.

It’s about a God who doesn’t just do the “improbable” ... but literally “does the impossible” ... in Sarai’s life ... and in your life ... and in mine.

And that ... my friends ... is the one and only God ... who is ... in the big picture ... worthy to be called “The Lord our God.”

“The Most Unqualified” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of September 18, 2022.  The text upon which the sermon was/is based is Genesis 11:27 – 12:9 — the story of the call  of Abram and Sarai.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20220918