Our Ancestors Were All Wandering Arameans
By the Rev. Michael Mulberry
June 5, 2005
Text: Genesis 12:1-9 (Cycle A, Proper 5)
Inside the tent, Lot sat crying, rocking back and forth. Abram tried to comfort him but it was of no use. Who was to blame Lot? He had lost both his mother and father to the drought. Abram’s wife, Sarai, sat at the back of the tent reworking some of the clothes of Lot’s father. Lot could use them because he himself was quickly becoming a man. That and because the smell of his father would help Lot with his grief.
Abram held a small piece of cooked meat before Lot. “Come, you must eat,” Abram implored him. “What little is left was willed to you by your father. He would not want you to die from this same drought which killed him. You must eat.”
Lot turned his head away and wiped his sleeve past his nose. “Food only makes me sick. What good is it now? What do I have to look forward to now that mom and dad are both dead?”
Terah, Abram’s father, the old man, stumbled into the tent, teetering forward and back. Though the lack of water was affecting him more than anyone else, he stated the truth they all knew. “Things here will only get worse. The hillsides are stripped bare by all of these cattle. Before all of us die for lack of water, we must move on.” Terah collapsed in a heap in the entryway of the tent. Both Abram and Lot cried for him, “Father!” “Grandfather!”
While they watched him stunned, Sarai moved faster than anyone else and sat at Terah’s side, putting one of their remaining filled water jugs to his lips. She cradled his head in her hands and poured slowly. “Drink, Terah, drink,” she whispered to him.
He protested as he could between sips, “Not . . . enough . . . water for us all.”
“Tssscht . . . don’t talk back to me, old man. Drink the water,”Sarai scolded, looking back at Abram and shaking her head.
Abram gestured and spoke to Lot, still looking at Sarai cradling Terah. “Your grandfather is right, Lot. Go and tie your grandfather’s things together. We must move on to a place where there is water—for the animals and us.” Lot remained, also staring at his grandfather, hoping against hope that he would make it through this drought. Abram gave Lot a push. “Lot!”
Lot, startled, looked back at Abram. “Go tie your grandfather’s things together, Lot.” Lot shook his head and left the tent, trying to keep his eyes on his grandfather for as long as he could.
Terah weakly motioned for Abram to come closer, his thin fingers another reminder of the drought. “Abram, come.” And Abram sat himself on the opposite side of Sarai, knowing what Terah would tell him.
“Listen to the promise once more. Go from my tent to a land God will show you. God will make of you a great nation, so many children will you have.” Abram looked up from the tops of his eyes. He knew the promise cut Sarai deeply. Sarai now offered Terah’s cradled head to Abram. He received Terah from her, knowing the promise was the one thing which kept her from total adoration of Terah.
She left the side of Terah and returned to the back of the tent. His eyes followed her, wanting it to not hurt her or, at least, that she would find a way not to hear.
When Abram heard Terah wet his lips to speak again, his attention returned to his father. “God will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. God will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you—God will curse. By you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” Terah stopped, and with extra effort lifted his head to Abram’s ear, wetted his lips again, and said, “This is the promise.” Terah lowered his head back into Abram’s hands and Abram lowered Terah’s head back to the ground as his eyelids fluttered.
Abram said over his shoulder. “He was not trying to hurt you.”
Sarai did not look up but said softly and directly, “He knows I cannot have children, yet ever time it is a part of ‘the promise.’”
“He can only tell the truth as he knows it.”
Sarai’s voice grew stronger, “He talks of your God and blessing. Am I blessed, this old woman you see here? He talks of your God and blessing and curse, and the way, the way he says it, I always hear myself as part of the curse. I wonder how long you can continue looking at me without thinking ‘curse.’”
Abram turned and faced Sarai, scolding her, “Tssscht. Enough. You have spoken too much already. We must tie our things together for the journey we are about to take. Now.”
As Sarai quickly began gathering things in the tent, Abram returned to Terah and said, reassuring himself, “We will honor the promise.” He then pulled Terah’s hand to his lips and kissed it.
Abram gently placed Terah’s hand back on his chest. As Sarai continued to gather things, Lot entered with some of Terah’s things tied together. Lot walked quickly over to his grandfather and put his head to Terah’s chest. Lot began to heave with the tears of loss.
Abram rocked back on his knees, looked around the room, trying not to cry, running his hands through his hair, and then sighing deeply, “Now we are both orphans, Lot. We are wanderers in the desert without any marked path. In the end, we must leave our fathers’ tents, so that we can find the places where grass grows and water still flows. We are wanderers in the desert.”
The next day was once again hot without grace or breeze, the dry ground whipping insults at the grieving family. Lot held Terah’s belongings up so that Abram could see them. “I have tied the remainder of grandfather’s things. What should I do with these, Abram?”
Abram took the treasured items in his hands and turned them over and over. “His stones of decision and judgment . . . and his carvings. He will need them on his journey. In the end, we must all leave our fathers’ tents.” Abram put the belongings on Terah’s still chest, and after some time, spoke to Lot while still looking at his dead father. “Lot, have all the servants round up the cattle. We will leave south for Egypt. People traveling through Haran have said that strangers can find food in the Egyptian kingdom. Let everyone know. Make sure we have all the gold and silver tied.”
“Yes, Abram,” Lot responded, and left to inform the servants.
Sarai had been standing some distance from all of them. Abram turned to face her. “Now all we have left is the promise. That is all there is. Descendants, blessings, curses, nations.” Sarai wanted to speak, extending her arms and shaking her head as if to say, “But how?”
Abram understood. “I don’t know how,” he said, “but somehow we must trust that God is faithful. We must be faithful too.”
Sarai ran and knelt before Abram, her head bowed, waiting for permission to speak.
“Yes?” Abram encouraged her to do so.
“I will struggle to find myself in the promise of your God,” Sarai said quickly, “but know that your God is not the only God, the only person who must make promises.”
Abram turned his head away but reluctantly nodded. Sarai moved forward toward him again with her head bowed.
“Make me one promise.” Sarai asked.
“Promise me that you will be a man of integrity like Terah was. He welcomed me as a foreigner with a different God, into his own tent, fed me from his table. He promised me that I could live in the tent of his family forever. As Terah gave me hospitality and his word, so be a man of hospitality and your word no matter where this promise takes us.”
Abram nodded his head once again. “The promise must not only be for me,” he agreed, “it must be for you as well. Wherever we go, in whatever land we find the fruit of the promise, we must be people like my father was. The way he welcomed you, the way he welcomed all, was part of the promise with God. So must it always be under our tent.”
That day they all left the tent of Terah, wandering into the desert. Amen.