When God demands that Abraham leave his father’s household—he’s not just telling him to relocate geographically. No, this is more of a spiritual demand. Back in those days, every family would have a collection of household idols—little carved images that they would use to obtain favor from the many gods and goddesses they worshiped. When your flocks of sheep or your herds of cattle needed good sources of water—you would pray to your household gods for direction. When there was conflict or trouble with the family tribe next door—you would pray to your household gods for victory and protection. These little household idols were sacred. They were often handed down from generation to generation. To forsake them was considered foolish—and, in some cases, even a betrayal of your family.
And yet, that’s what God calls Abraham to leave behind. And that’s also what God is calling us to leave behind as well. As we know, family idols don’t often take the form of little carved images these days. But that doesn’t make them less tempting to look to for all good things. So perhaps you’ve grown up watching your father soothe his anger and frustration with the world by turning to the bottle he keeps in his cabinet. Or perhaps he’s taught you how you should revere and trust in certain political forces in order to make sure your share of the American dream remains safe. Or maybe in your father’s household, you’ve learned that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with enough hard work and money.
Whatever the case, family idols aren’t easy to forsake. They hold a tight grip on our identity. They sink their roots deep down into our hearts.
Nevertheless, as he did with Abraham, God calls us to do just that. As Luther says in the Large Catechism, “search and examine your own heart thoroughly, and you will discover whether or not it clings to God alone. If you have the sort of heart that expects from him nothing but good, especially in distress and need, and renounces and forsakes all that is not God, then you have the one, true God.” (1.28)
Repent. Remember that in your baptism, you have been given something far greater than family idols. You have been given God’s name. As Abraham did, receive the promise of blessing that God speaks. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you…” (Ps. 50:15) Cling to that promise. Forsake the gods of your father’s household…because all the blessings of your heavenly Father are already yours.