Uncharted | Week One
On Sunday I shared that I have a third theory as to why Terah did not step into the uncharted land of Canaan. As you can see (if you choose to read ahead), we just did not have time to do this justice on Sunday. But, I do hope you find this helpful (or maybe even inspiring).
I apologize in advance for the grammar and the excessive use of (…).
This literally is just cut right from my sermon (and not reformatted).
THEORY #3: FEAR
So … two theories. And I think both of these theories are valid.
But … there’s something else that I’ve been discovering as I’ve studied this passage.
So let me propose a third theory. One that has to do with Fear.
Now, in order to show you this … I need to walk you through some history. And let me warn you up front …. this one may rock you a little. It may change how some of us have understood this story. I know it did me.
(#3a) UR AND NANNA
The city Terah leaves was known as Ur of the Chaldeans.
Now, when we hear the name Ur of the Chaldeans, to us, it doesn’t ring many bells. But, in the time of Abraham, this city was one of the largest cities in the world. In fact, Ur was the main city in one of the largest empires of the world. An empire known as…. Mesopotamia …
Before there was Rome, or Greece, or Babylon or Egypt, there was Mesopotamia. So when you think Ur, think New York City.
And, the reason Ur became so powerful …. they believed … was because of one thing and one thing alone: The Moon.
… they noticed that in order for the crops to come in …
in order for the seasons to change …. the moon had to go through about a 30-day cycle.
And, in addition to this … they observed that a woman’s menstrual cycle seemed to be connected to this same 30-day cycle of the moon. So … they began to worship the moon … as a god.
They called this god … Nanna.
What? Do you think I’m making this stuff up?
So … the harvest comes in and there is food on the table … who do you thank? Nanna.
So … your belly begins to grow and you realize there is new life in there … who do you thank? Nanna.
The harvest doesn’t come in … the life inside you doesn’t grow … who must be angry with you? Nanna.
And so one of the main jobs of the people of Mesopotamia was to keep Nanna happy.
Because if Nanna is happy, life goes well. But if Nanna is not, life does not go well. And, one of the primary ways they tried to keep Nanna happy … was by building a Temple for Nanna …. in the city of Ur.
Even today, 5000 years later … the ruins of this thing are still really impressive. The temple was built in the style of what was known as a Ziggurat. The idea was to build a platform of three stairways that would lift the temple closer to heaven. They called this temple E-gish-shir-gal (“house of the great light”). Or as they say in the south: “Big Nanna’s House.”
Now, notice how one later author of the Bible describes Terah: Joshua told all the people, “Here is what the LORD God of Israel says: ‘In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods … (Joshua 24:2)
Now, if Terah worshipped other gods … and he is from Ur, who did he almost certainly worship? Nanna!!
Okay, let’s take this a layer deeper.
The ancients believed that gods were territorial.
Gods had power over specific plots of land, but only specific plots of land. So … for instance, the god of Byron Center couldn’t come into Wyoming … and the god of Wyoming couldn’t go into Byron Center. They had to stay on their turf. This is how they understood their gods … they were essentially mascots for their territory.
So … Nanna, they believed, was the god of Mesopotamia. But, if you leave Mesopotamia … they believed you also walked away from the protection of who? Nanna.
So do you see why it’s such a big deal for Terah to set out for Canaan?
Again, look at the map. Ur is at the southern border of Mesopotamia … and Harran is at the Northern border. It seems that Terah goes all the way to the edge, but he doesn’t dare leave.
He sets out for Canaan … we can only assume because the one true God … called him to a radical new way of life … but he stops … right at the border.
And this is where things get really interesting.
Because Harran is not a random city.
Rather, the Mesopotamian people were deliberate. They wanted the first thing you saw if you entered Mesopotamia from the south to be this huge temple to Nanna.
But … what if you came into Mesopotamia from the North? How will an outsider know that this land belongs to Nanna?
You build a second temple. There are two temples to Nanna.
One is in Ur of the Chaldeans, the place Terah leaves.
Any guesses where the other one is?
Harran. The place he settles.
Let me show you some images.
Seriously. There were two cities that had temples to Nanna … Terah leaves one … only to end up in the other.
Perhaps you could say it like this: “Terah travels, but he never travels beyond what’s comfortable. He comes right to the edge of what’s familiar … but he refuses to take one step into the unfamiliar.
“It’s too risky.”
“What if this God who spoke to me … who we know as Yahweh, the one true God … what if this God doesn’t have power outside Mesopotamia.” Because that’s how the gods functioned, in their understanding. Each god has a territory … but has no power outside of that territory.
You can almost hear Terah’s thoughts, can’t you?
“For the first time, I heard the voice of a God who is actually alive. He called me to go to this land called Canaan. So I went. But … how sure am I that this living God actually has power in Canaan. It’s too risky. I’ll just camp out here … where it’s known and comfortable.”
FEAR – PRACTICAL
So let’s spend a few moments and think about this stuff practically.
Have you ever found yourself WANTING TO STEP INTO AN UNKNOWN LAND … but Fear held you back?
Is there a relationship you’ve allowed to die out of fear of having a difficult conversation?
Is there someone in your life you’ve been avoiding because that road just feels too long and the outcome too unknown?
Single people … have you had your eye on someone … but fear has kept you from even approaching them?
Have you ever found yourself WANTING TO STEP INTO AN UNKNOWN LAND … but Fear held you back?
I PROPOSE TO YOU …
I propose to you … that one of the reasons I believe God uses Abraham to do what Terah didn’t do … is not because Abraham is perfect. In fact, he’s far from it … just keep reading. And it’s not because he’s especially talented … in fact, he’s really old when God calls him …
But, I propose that the reason God calls Abraham is because Abraham, like every person who has ever made a dent in history … possesses one thing: Courage.
He’s willing to risk it …. because he has faith that the God he trusts … is worth the risk!
COURAGE | RABBIS
The Ancient Rabbis tell a story about the day Abraham left his father’s household to set out on this journey.
They say that before he left, Abraham took all of the statues to all of the pagan gods in his father’s house, and smashes them. All Except one. A statue to Nanna. And in the hands of this statue, he placed the club he used to destroy the others.
And as the story goes, early in the morning, his father wakes up and sees what Abraham had done. And he says, “son, what have you done?” To which Abraham responds, “why would you accuse me?” “The club is in his hands?” he says, pointing to Nanna. His dad responds, “He couldn’t have done it. They are all but sticks and stones. They are not real.”
Abraham then turned to his dad and says, “Well then, why do you worship them?”
To be a Christian is to be a person of great courage. It takes a lot of moxie to stand up for what’s right.
COURAGE | PARENTING
What are we teaching our children about what it means to be a Christian?
Are Christians just good moral people who don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do? Are Christians just people who tip really really well at restaurants? Is that all it means to be a Christian?
Are Christians just really nice people?
And is that why Jesus Christ was crucified? Because he was nice?
Now I’ve only been a dad for a couple of years … but I’ve been watching parents for a while … and do you know the phrase I hear the most out of the mouths of parents? “Be … careful.”
“Be careful … don’t climb that.” Be careful don’t touch that. Be careful be careful be careful.” And of course … we should teach our kids to use discernment … and wisdom … absolutely.
But … here’s the thing … I’m concerned that someday my son may climb a tree and fall out and break his leg. I’m slightly scared for that. But I am terrified that he will be the kind of kid who doesn’t dare climb the tree.
Are we teaching our kids how to avoid danger, or are we teaching them what it means to really live!
Too many people in our world …. stop … way too soon.
To be a Christian is to live with a sense of fearlessness that’s rooted in faith in a BIG GOD.
COUARGE | ISHTAR
Which brings me to one final thought …
So … according to the myth, this pagan god Nanna has two children … a boy and a girl.
The boy’s name means sun. His girl’s name means stars.
According to the myth, Nanna gave birth to the sun and the stars.
Nanna’s boy’s name is Shamash which means sun. His daughter’s name is Ishtar … which, in English, you pronounce … Easter.
The ancient Mesopotamian people believed that Ishtar, was the goddess, not just of the stars, but of new life … fertility. And so every year, to mark the beginning of Spring, the people of Mesopotamia worshipped Ishtar.
And guess what symbol became attached with this worship? Well, what animal is known for their ability to reproduce? The bunny. And also, attached with the worship of this pagan fake god Ishtar … was another symbol. The egg … because out of the egg comes new life?
So … 5000 years ago, there were Ishtar services …with Ishtar eggs … and Ishtar bunnies.
JESUS COMES …
Jesus … comes.
HE teaches a radical message that gets him crucified.
He is placed in a tomb.
And he is resurrected.
And a movement is born.
AND THE FIRST CHRISTIANS … ARE FEARLESS.
They stop at nothing to spread this new message. So much so … that they don’t ignore this pagan worship of Ishtar.
They don’t say, “well whatever works for you …”
The first Christians marched into these ancient temples to these foreign idols .. and in an act of fearlessness proclaim a new message. And they… take these celebrations to Ishtar, and they turn them on their heads … and they reclaim them … for Jesus. And it works. Today, we celebrate Easter …. and NO ONE … NO ONE EVEN REMEMBERS Nanna’s daughter.
Nanna is a fraud.
And His daughter… she’s a fraud.
“They are just sticks and stones, they are not real.”
Is … this … what it means to be a Christian?
To be someone who is filled with courage.
Someone who dares go the whole way … who will stop at nothing … to do what is right?
Is that what Jesus is inviting us into?
If you are a Christian, you come from a long line of revolutionaries … who were willing to leave it all behind. Because Jesus … is … worth it.
So … for you today, Maybe it’s personal. Maybe you’ve stopped somewhere…and you know you need to see it through.
Have you settled in Harran while God is inviting you to go the whole way?
Or maybe … maybe you just need to be re-inspired by our God. Maybe you’ve bought into a vision of God … or of Christianity that is less than inspiring. And you just need to be reminded that to be a Christian means you follow Jesus. And Jesus was fearless.
That, the earliest believers said, is good news worth giving your life for!
They … walked into the worship celebrations to Ishtar … and they proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus … there.
Do we dare do the same? Because this is the invitation that I believe stands before us as a community.
Our world is shifting.
Many are saying that Jesus will be left behind in this shift. I simply refuse to believe it. I refuse to believe it. Because I’ve seen my Jesus just do far too many amazing things.
I’ve seen him do it here. I’ve seen him do it in you. I’ve seen him do it through you.
And, I refuse to even think about a world where people would have to live without this beauty of my Jesus.
This is why we gather.
This is the mission.
This has always been the mission.
And on my watch … this will always be the mission.
And I have this hunch, I’m not alone.
I have this hunch that this is the reason you are here … not just out of a religious obligation, or because “church is just what we’re supposed to do.” No! You’re here because Jesus has captivated your life … and you want everyone to know this. You want everyone to experience this.
So … we stand at the corner of the familiar and the unfamiliar.
Of the charted and the uncharted.
I say we step in. Who’s with me?