July 20, 2014 – Would you go where you don’t know?

Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Acts 3:19-26

“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Genesis 11:27-12:9

Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.

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. 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. 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.” 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. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

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Pentecost 6 July 20, 2014   Psalm 105:1-11, Luke 1:46-55, Acts 3:19-26, Genesis 11:27-12:9     Would you go where you don’t know?

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In a world where information travels almost at the speed of light –and news-sports-weather-info-bytes fly in our faces even before news has happened – and it’s hard to tell news from previews from point-of-views, even with a program…

In a world of instant gratification where almost anything we think of can be downloaded on-demand or purchased anytime, anywhere with a few clicks…

How do we relate – to an ancient story of a family traveling in the ultra-slow-lane, walking or maybe riding camels and donkeys… Going where even they don’t really even know?

Not many people in North America make their living as migratory shepherds like Abraham and Sarah of old… (And probably even those in the shepherding line of work now have ipads and smart phones… )

So how can we relate to Abram and Sarai – Abraham and Sarah, as God later renames them – long-ago, far-away, getting a word from-on-high to leave their country – leave their home – leave their family – leave all and go to a place to be named later?

Remembering that in most times and places in human history – certainly at the time of Abraham’s call – a person’s country, home, and family is a very big part of what defines the person.

But notice that the One who calls Abe and family is the same God who made heaven and earth in the beginning by his spoken word –

The God who made humans in the image of God, male and female, and said be fruitful and multiply

Now is the same God speaking to a seventy-five-year-old man and his sixty-five-year-old wife – the first people in the bible who we hear about who have not been fruitful and multiplied. Telling them they’ll be parents of a great nation.

Sarah, notice, is described as barren, without child, a double negative for emphasis-added. As if to underscore – these are the least-fruitful-and-multiplying people anywhere to be found….

Yet now this elderly childless couple become God’s first-round-draft-choice to pack up and go where they don’t know and start up the world all over again.        And – be blessed to be a blessing – for all the families of earth…

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After the first fall from garden grace, remember, God resolves to start all over again with the flood and the ark and Noah and family and all those pairs of all the birds and animals. And God blesses this new beginning and says “be fruitful and multiply” all over again. And God sends the rainbow sign to remind God – of the promise he’s made to never again wash away all life on earth. A New Beginning.

Yet after the flood God sees the inclination of the human heart is still (as it was prior to the flood) still always inclining to evil – inclining to selfish-narrow-self-interest – inclining to everything under the sun except obedience to God…

After the flood humans are soon again turning away from God…Building now the infamous first skyscraper-of-a-tower in downtown Babel – without asking permissions of God’s Planning Commission. God sees the project won’t do a thing to promote the worship of God or humble human community. So God pulls the plug on the project and scatters the speech of it’s builders… And once again we’re back to badly needing another New Beginning… And –

This time God goes for Abraham and Sarah – the least likely to be fruitful and multiply people, we may think, on the face of the earth… Totally underwhelming choice, God, we’re probably thinking… And as we read on, and see all the stumblings and fumblings of this called-and-chosen-couple – we may be wondering what on earth God was thinking…

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Yet every time they stumble… Abe and Sarah get back on their feet… and keep going… And as Abraham and Sarah trust and obey… God speaks again, saying ‘to your offspring I will give this land.’ Letting them know they’re already standing in the-place-to-be-named-later. Already living in the land of blessing. Already destined to have more offspring than they can ever count…

And Abraham builds an altar as an expression of thanks… And they move on in stages… towards the Negeb… traveling along in the stages of grace…

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And notice again… How the invitation to trust and obey starts with a call to leave all behind – and go to a place which, God says – I will show you

No easy thing to do… Unless you’re one of those rare people who just loves to travel under primitive conditions… Which usually gets old as you get older. When I was 18 and 19 years old, I hitch-hiked across country twice… But within a few years I found I much preferred taking a plane or train… Even if you’re a hardcore traveler – who just can’t wait to get on the road again… Even if you were born on the backseat of a bus singing – I was born to be a rambling man

Remember now, this was a long time before cars and trains and hotels, motels, and camp grounds with hot showers and electricity and – You really had to be a little crazy to enjoy traveling in those days of dangerous roads and highly uncertain accommodations…

Which may actually be coming around full circle… Since, along with all those amazing conveniences we now take more-or-less-for-granted… We also live again… in a world where airports are full of high security devices and life can be deadly dangerous… And once again the future is very uncertain…

And less dramatically – but – we also know we live again in a time when many of us have to pick up and move – more than a few times in our lives. People in the military, folks who work for companies that require relocating – and yes, Methodist pastors and our families…We all know what it’s like to hear a call, and have to start packing…

And speaking mostly for myself, but perhaps also somewhat for other pastors… We pick up and go and move when we’re called…partly because of the blessings that come with our callings…

And Abraham and Sarah do hear the rest of what God is saying… Especially, I bet, the part where God says – I will bless you… so that you will be a blessing

Indeed, a blessing in whom all the families of earth will be blessed… (A blessing I think most of us are ok with volunteering for… )

And Abraham’s faithful obedience in packing up and going when God calls him – has indeed made him father of a vast multitude…

A blessing that keeps on blessing all through the ages…

We hear Mary, mother of Jesus, speaking of God blessing her and all Israel (quote) – “in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made….to Abraham and his descendants forever.”

We hear St Peter in Acts claiming this same promise to Abraham as a continuing promise… A blessing that equips us to turn from wickedness and live as a blessing for others… through Jesus…

And St Paul tells us in Galatians (3:8-9) that God gave Abraham an advance copy of the gospel in this promise – thus all who believe also receive the same blessing. Thus the old, old story remains ever-always-up-to-date… A promise still for us in the present moment… Thanks be to God…

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And yes, God calls us also – to leave everything that claims our attention more than God – even our beloved country and home-place and family.

Not necessarily leaving them physically, or forever. Spiritual travel nearly always is mostly in the realm of the heart and mind and soul… more than in the realm of geography…

But yes, making even that which we love most – (next to God of course) – lower always in priority than God. This part is timeless… And –

No easy blessing – but – now God is calling us (even us) to be God’s own next New Beginning. And –

When Jesus calls disciples to ‘come, follow me’ – and ‘take up your cross and follow’ – and tells us ‘the one who loses their life for my sake will find it’ – Isn’t he taking us down the same road Abraham and Sarah traveled before us?

And once we take the first few steps out on that road with Abe and Sarah and Jesus and Peter and Paul and Mary and Martha and all who’ve walked this road before us… And as we talk together as we go, about this journey we’re on…

Doesn’t it usually happen that soon we start to remember…

Other times we’ve walked this road… ?

And wasn’t God always there, walking with us…?

And don’t we think God’s still traveling with us, here and now?

And won’t we be glad… down the road, to know… we made the right choice… to trust God and go where God says… even when we’re

Going where we don’t know…

We do know –

we’re always blessed to be with God…

who loves us beyond measure and all reason…

And knows the way to where we’re going…

So – maybe we can say again –

Thanks be to God. (And let’s sing – )

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