A Sermon for 12 March 2017
A reading from Genesis 12:1-4. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
When I was a little girl, I loved Sunday night services with the missionaries. That was back in the day – at least in the Midwest – when churches gathered for worship both on Sunday mornings and on Sunday nights. It wasn’t like the early and the late service with two different time options to experience the same service of worship. These were two entirely different services – with two entirely different sermons by the one same pastor. I’m pretty sure our pastor also loved the Sundays he’d only have to prepare one sermon because a missionary financially supported by the church was on furlough in the States and available to do their thing among us. The thing they would do on those Sunday nights varied. Most told stories about the people they were meeting in places deep in the heart of Africa or somewhere over in like Korea. We’d be shown pictures of people who looked very different than all the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Dutch descendants living in my little hometown. Never before had I seen such luscious black hair. And no matter how long my sister and I tried to tan on the beach, our skin could not get as dark as the beautiful faces we’d see from places like Nigeria. The dress, the language, the very different climates: I loved it all!
Some Sunday nights those missionaries would take the mic to tell their own personal stories. We’d hear of calls from God to folks who left successful businesses to venture to the other side of the world. A few would say they were born to parents committed too to such work; ministering somewhere exotic was all they ever knew. Every now and again a missionary would get teary-eyed as they told how different their life had become. Not anything like they’d ever imagined. They would explain that since they went, they had learned how to communicate with people whose first, second, or fifth language was NOT English. They now gathered for worship to the sound of a conch shell or the steady beat of a native drum. After they sold most all of their possessions to make the trip to the other side of the earth with one simple suitcase and few if any luxuries that were common-place back home, they found out they really could be content with less. They explained: gratefully, their lives were nothing like they had been back home in the States after they answered, what they believed to be from God, the call to go!
I wonder how many of us would say the same thing. That gratefully our lives have become like nothing we knew before – like nothing we ever could imagine – after we answered a call to go. . . . Don’t tell me you never have. It doesn’t have to be to some far away international mission field. We’ve got plenty of work to do for God right here in our own communities. . . At some point, all of us have answered the call to go. For starters, we woke up this morning, did our regular morning routines, and landed here in what may be a long-time favorite pew – or perhaps a spot in a sanctuary in which we’ve never set foot before. . . . At some point in our lives we agreed to go – go to worship. Go to a new member’s class. Go to a bible or other Christian study with a bunch of folks we barely knew. Go to serve at a mission project sponsored by this congregation or another local church. All throughout our lives we have answered the Christian call to go – to serve in the world in something more than just a job. To understand our daily work as the vocation in which our best gifts and abilities can be used for the glory of God – at the school where you teach, or the hospital in which you serve, or the business in which you practice. Each of us is called by God to go into relationships with people that end up dramatically changing our lives. Into families that turn out in ways we never would imagine. Into friendships that shape us for good. . . . At some point in our lives every last one of us recognizes some sort of nudge. The Spirit of God within beacons through a notion we just can’t get out of our head. A passion stirs that sets us on fire for the benefit of another. An emotion nags until we sit down to sort out just what it is all about. That’s the call of God – directed at every one of us. The summons to go from what we have known into land that’s absolutely unlike anywhere we’ve been before – even if we only ever travel to our local communities, places of employment, or very own families. We all are called to go.
It’s the story of our ancestor Abram. In Genesis 12 we start out in Haran with Abram, Sarai, and Lot. We forget that Abram’s family already had been on the move. In chapter 11 of Genesis, we learn that Abram’s father Terah first took his family from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran where they settled before reaching their ultimate destination Canaan. All we know is that Abram’s father died in Haran. For whatever reason, he didn’t forge forward on their trek to Canaan. And after his death, it was time. The LORD says to Abram: “go!” Perhaps Abram knew the location where God wanted them to be. But here in Genesis 12, God just says “go . . . to the land that I will show you” (vs. 1). So much like God – not to give us clear flying instructions before we’re to venture forth. . . . We feel that way a lot today, don’t we, as a church? Gone are the canned ministry programs of the late 20th Century that were designed to get a church from point A to point B to point C. The experts keep telling us there is no set way today to re-grow a church, other than get to know our neighbor’s needs, organize afresh for action with impact, and switch our mindsets from luring people in as fresh blood for our pews – switch our mindset from going to church to being Christ’s disciples in the world. To getting out there. Go-ing into the world to meet people where they are. So that we can serve the need they have – not in hopes they eventually will come ‘round to be members here – but just to be with them in their need. Because they have a need – we all do. And we, as Christ’s body, now act as he would on earth.
Going is scary. We’re not so sure what we’re going to find. Abram never had been to Canaan. He couldn’t anticipate the Canaanites he’d meet. Other than through possible rumors, he knew nothing of their customs – what they valued and made a part of their daily lives. He may or may not have been able to speak words that made sense to them. He didn’t know what would happen for his family’s needs to be met. He could not anticipate what would take place all along the way or once they finally arrived. He’d been told he’d be made a blessing – but how that would take place he could not yet know, before he first set out. . . . When I consider the steady decline of Mainline church in America, sometimes I wonder if it’s God’s summons to go. God’s invitation to follow to a whole other land. Like an adventure to leave behind the country in which we’ve grown comfortable to journey to the land God will show. It’s not that the land we’ve been dwelling in is bad or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes we need new vistas. To expand who we’ve always thought we were. We need new ways for God to be able to get in that our trust might be deepened and our faith grown wider. As we go, we’re changed. We learn what’s of value to those we don’t yet know, which just might sharpen what really matters to us too. As we go, we’re made into different ways of being in this world which honor our past and take seriously the present. We’re blessed to be a blessing in ways unimagined if we decide we’d rather not go.
In the end, it’s our choice. But talk to anyone who’s tried to dodge it – Moses, Jonah, a whole lot of second career preachers. No matter how foreign the territory to which God tells us to go, we’d do well to let God use us to be a blessing. Who knows: maybe we’ll end up grateful. Our lives changed in ways we never could imagine, before we answered God’s persistent call to go!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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