Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Children, Go Where I Send You"

Oak Ridge, Thief River Falls, MN; and Zion, Viking, MN
March 20, 2011
Lent 2/Genesis 12:1-4a

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Whenever I go somewhere I want to make sure I know where am I going.

So if I’m traveling outside the United States I call up a reliable travel agent who can help me with the details of the journey….

And if I’m going somewhere inside our country, I contact AAA (of which I have been a member since 1964)….and I request a AAA “triptik,” and maps, and tourbooks for the area I’ll be visiting….

And even if I’m just trekking from Moorhead up to Thief River Falls and Viking, as we did this morning, I like to know where I’m going. So I fuss around with Mapquest on the Internet, I call up folks to make sure I’ve got the right directions, and I calculate the mileage and time it will take to travel. I even build in a “fudge factor” for getting lost or running into bad weather.

Get the point? When I travel, I do not travel “blindly.” I want to know where I’m going….

….and just as importantly, I want to make sure I know how to get back home. So, I leave some of my travel information with my wife Joy. I give her an estimated time of arrival back home, so that she doesn’t need to start worrying about me until after that time has passed….though if that happens, I’ll probably give her a call on my cell phone or using the Onstar communications system I have in my Chevrolet.

Don’t I sound like a fun guy to travel with? Talk about a worry wart! That’s me….because I don’t like to travel “blind.” And maybe you’re the same way, too.

Which makes this wild story from our First Lesson in Genesis 12 so hard to swallow.

It’s about 2000 B.C. There are no GPS locators, no Onstar systems, no cell phones. Goodness—there aren’t even any maps because paper hasn’t been invented yet.

It’s 2000 B.C. and a man named Abram, living in place located in present-day Iraq…..Abram hears a voice—out of the clear blue!--telling him that he needs to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

It’s the LORD speaking to Abram, inviting him to take a flying leap of faith….to cut off all ties to the land he had known, the clan he had grown up with, and the immediate family whom he loved….to kiss all that goodbye in order to go to some mystery destination that the LORD should show him.

Talk about traveling blindly!

But here’s the kicker, in the final verse of our text: “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…”

Abram went—along with his wife Sarai—they went “as the LORD had told him.”

And that turned out to be a very good thing because the whole world was counting on Abram to do what the LORD had asked of him…because “all the families of the world” would be blessed through Abram and Sarai and the amazing journey they were willing to take.

Because Abram and Sarai left their own land, clan and family…because they journeyed by faith in God’s promises to them…they opened themselves up to an adventure that took over 2000 years to unfold. You can read all about it in your Old Testament!—the story of Israel and Israel’s God and the wild promises they lived by and God’s mighty acts that kept them going, spurred their traveling, pointing them forward to a manger in Bethlehem, a cross outside Jerusalem, and an Empty Tomb on Easter morning….from which blessings burst forth that are still “falling” on us 4000 years after Abram set out on his perilous journey.

Wow! Who’d have thunk it, that it all could start, perhaps on a morning like this, when a man and his wife ventured forth to an unknown destination, simply because a Voice asked them to!

It takes our breath away….and I’m guessing that it also makes us a little nervous, because we live our lives much more sparingly, more safely, more cautiously. If we go somewhere we want to know where we’re going and how we’ll get back home—and even more so, we’re not about to abandon the familiar things of life: home and hearth, family and friends. The mere thought of such radical change causes us to shiver.

You’ve no doubt heard the old joke: “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” (Pause) “Change?”

But change is what God is after with us and with the whole human family. God has no patience with “stuckness”—especially when its sin we’re stuck in, faithlessness that’s holding us back, and fear of the future.

So God is always prying us loose from all the awful things that tie us down, and hold us back. God is always out ahead of us, restoring, reclaiming, and making all things new.

But it always begins with a first step….the first step that Abram and Sarai took from their home in “Ur of the Chaldeans” (Genesis 11:31)…the first steps that a toddler named Jesus took, in the village of Nazareth…steps that would bring Jesus to the Cross and the Grave, for us and for our salvation.

God is in the business of calling his people out of “stuckness” into such radical newness. God singles out Abram and Sarai and says: “Children, go where I send you.” God sends forth his one and only Son, wrapped in our flesh, tempted in every way as we are, feet on the ground, walking this earth, uttering God’s promises, and bearing the waywardness and rebellion of those he came to save.

Such journeys are terrifying, frankly, and God’s chosen travelers are tempted to turn back more than once (read the whole story of Abram and Sarai some time!) And even Jesus had some last minute doubts in the Garden of Gethsemane.

But there’s one thing that kept them all going, Abram and Sarai, all their many descendants, our Lord Jesus, and you and me. The one thing that keeps us going is our unshakeable conviction that although we may not know exactly where we are going, we believe God is at the end of the journey. And that is enough.

And what about you, my dear sisters and brothers here at Oak Ridge/Zion? What kind of journey are you on? I know that your path has been rocky of late. You’ve been wondering—with good reason!—whether you still have an earthly future, as a two-point parish. The disaffiliation vote at Zion that failed on March 6 has changed the landscape for you….has caused you to wonder: “Now what?”

And yet, as I have already heard from my colleague Pr. Steve Peterson who was with some of you last Monday evening…there are glimmers of light, fresh possibilities and new hope here at Oak Ridge and Zion. You have not “hit the wall.” Your trip is not over. God is not done with you. In fact, out of the pain and heartache of the last year or so…God seems poised to do a new thing in your midst. I’m told that it even feels fun again to come to worship, to be together with one another, to be here in God’s house.

Why should that surprise any of us? We belong, after all, to the God who loves to have the last laugh—the God who forgives sins, frees those who are “stuck,” and opens up a new future in Jesus Christ. This same God who has always been your God is not about to stop walking with you now…

….and neither will we, who are bound together in Christ Jesus, as fellow-travelers in our Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. God binds us together, not because we see eye to eye on everything, but because together we follow our Lord Jesus, into God’s mission field, into the adventure of blessing the whole world for Jesus’ sake, into all the tomorrows that are still before us…until we arrive in God’s New Creation.

So, my dear friends, Pastor Laurie and I got up at an ungodly hour this morning, simply to be with you on this Lord’s Day…and to point you once again to the promises of God that are truly enough for us, now and forever.

You are not alone. God is still leading you, and we will continue walking with you.

Please pray with me: Lord, God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 304)

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