First Baptist Church Laurens
September 24, 2017
One of the legendary stories connected to the sinking of the Titanic has to do with a crew member by the name of David Blaire. Just before the Titanic set sail, Blaire was reassigned to another vessel and thus was not on board for the maiden voyage of the great ship. When he left for his new assignment, he forgot to leave a particular key behind. He did not mean to take the key with him. It was simply a mistake.
The key that Blaire departed with fit a locker on board the Titanic that held the ship’s binoculars. Therefore, the crew members did not have access to the locker or the binoculars which certainly may have aided them in seeing the iceberg well in advance that would ultimately sink the Titanic and lead to the death of over 1,500 passengers. Perhaps, with the binoculars they could have changed course and avoided the collision.
In the days after the Titanic’s sinking, when surviving crew members were interviewed and questioned about what went wrong, one of them in particular brought up David Blaire, the missing key and what resulted from that one little mistake. (“Key That Could Have Saved the Titanic”, Graham Tibbetts, August 29, 2007, telegraph.co.uk)
All of us have some experience with the snowball effect in our lives. We know what it is like for one seemingly good, small decision to lead to another good to decision which leads to another good decision that leads to amazing results. And, we know what it is like for the opposite to happen as one seemingly small bad decision leads to another bad decision which leads to another until our lives are spiraling unchecked in the wrong direction.
You have heard me say before that my first semester in college was really the turning moment in my academic career. After a less than stellar high school performance, I somehow got it together in those early months of college. Truthfully it was the result of several small, good things that continued to build on each other. I was fortunate to have a good roommate who studied. Then I was fortunate to make two or three good friends early on who also wanted to do well in school and who pushed me to do the same. Then I was blessed to have good professors my first semester who had expectations but not expectations that were too high. All of these things built on one another until it all produced a major effect that changed my trajectory.
This is what happened with Blaire on the Titanic in a negative way. A forgotten key, that led to a locker that could not be opened, that rendered binoculars that were not available, that ended in an iceberg that could not be seen and, well, you know the rest.
Abraham’s story in chapter 12, shows this same process unfolding in both directions – one positive and hopeful and the other negative and damaging.
We studied and focused on the positive and hopeful movement last week. It is what we see happening in Genesis 12 verses 1-9. There, Abraham makes one good decision of faith after another. First, he follows God when God says to leave home. Abraham goes from Haran to a new life in Canaan. Second, Abraham trusts when God says he will give Abraham Canaan although it is occupied land. Third, Abraham, continues to have faith when God says that he and Sarah his wife will be the parents of a new people even though they have entered the later years of life and have never been able to have children of their own. In nine verses, one good decision leads to another that leads to another.
But, in verses 10 through 20, the exact opposite begins to take place. According to the text, a famine hits Canaan and even though Abraham has been told that God is going to bring about a good life for them there, he becomes impatient and takes Sarah with him to Egypt until the famine is over. Once in Egypt, Abraham begins to worry about himself more than Sarah. He worries that God will not protect them unless they practice deceit. He tells Sarah to pretend to be his sister rather than his wife. That way if some of the Egyptian leaders want to add Sarah to their harem, he can hand her over to them. His fear is that if they know she is his wife, they will kill him and take her anyway. Lying about who Sarah is, is a way of protecting him and giving the Egyptians what they want anyway without a fight.
According to the text, this is exactly what Abraham, the great man of faith of verses 1-9 does. Sarah for a season becomes his sister not his wife. Sarah is given to the Pharaoh for his harem and betrays her commitment to Abraham. To make matters worse, as the chapter ends, it is Pharaoh who points out the error of Abraham’s ways rather than Abraham himself recognizing his poor decisions.
Again, it is so easy to see how things happened and how quickly they spiraled into a major lapse in judgement. The sin of impatience with God, led to the sin of lying about Sarah’s identity which ended in the sin of Abraham and Sarah betraying their marriage covenant. One little bad decision, one little sin left unchecked led to another and to another. Abraham’s good beginning quickly became a clear, obvious moment of Abraham’s imperfection.
In the 14th century, when ships reached Venice, they were often required to sit in the harbor for 40 days before their passengers were allowed to disembark. The reason was that plagues were prevalent at the time and the authorities in Venice wanted to ensure that if a ship arrived from a city where a known illness was prevalent that a period of waiting was in place before newcomers into Venice were allowed among the general populace just in case they were carriers of a disease or illness. The practice was called quaranta giorni which in Italian means 40 Days. It is from this that we get the modern word quarantine. (“History of Quarantine”, cdc.gov)
Our response to sin and failure in our lives should be handled with the same level of caution. It is easy to say to ourselves that a little misstep, one violation of God’s law or a minor error in judgement is no big deal. Yet, we should be careful to see all sin, no matter how great or how small as serious and as possibly even more serious if left unchecked. It is so easy for a small moral failure to begin to give way to another error in judgement that gives was to another even more detrimental decision.
Just as one sick person can quickly effect a city, one bad decision ignored, laughed away or dismissed as harmless can become the impetus for major sickness and failure in our lives. After all, Abraham’s betrayal of Sarah began with nothing more than this sin of impatience. Abraham was impatient with God in Canaan when he didn’t quickly alleviate a famine. So, he made the decision to relocate to Egypt for the moment.
Our job, is to be contentious, every day, of our moral lapses. Our job is to treat all of our sin seriously and to quickly try to both seek God’s forgiveness and the reorienting of our lives in a more appropriate direction while remembering in humility that our lives can just as quickly fall apart as they can be sent on the right trajectory or in the right direction. After all, remember again our text where in Genesis chapter 12, Abraham is on the way up, up, up in verses 1-9 and equally on the way down, down, down in verses 10-20.
Quarantining sin before it spreads by dealing with each sin seriously and quickly is an important discipline of this life of faith that we have all be called to live.
Having said that, let me say this in conclusion. Despite Abraham’s imperfection, God continued to believe in and want to use him.
We don’t have to be perfect to be used by God either. In fact, it is in our human weakness that God is often proven strong. Our limitations show both God’s power and God’s ability to use not necessarily the best and brightest but also the broken and fragile as long as we are willing to be used. Abraham’s entire life is a story of major ups and major downs. But, it is also the story of God’s commitment to use him every step of the way both when he seemed to be nearing perfection and when he was anything but perfect.
The famous writer Joni Erickson Tada, who overcame so much in her own life, once said, “deny your weakness, and you will never realize God’s strength in you”.
It is not the world who has a problem with sin. It is you and I who have problems with sin. It is not other people who are like Abraham. It is those of us in this room who are Abraham’s kin. We are far from perfect. We are flawed and sinful. Yes, we need to take this seriously and try to stop the sin at its earliest inception lest a small mistake become compounded into something great.
Yet, it is in our imperfection that God’s strength is made perfect. When we want to give up on ourselves, God remains committed to us. This is something we must sear on our hearts, burn into our brains and never, ever forget. Amen.