“Do You ‘REALLY’ Want To Take the Journey?”
Genesis 12: 1-9; Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook;
Northwood United Church; March 12, 2017
Oh…I don’t want to go. I won’t go…I won’t…I won’t…I won’t ! Have you ever heard those words of protest from a travelling companion? Perhaps you are a parent or a grandparent and you know them all too well. Or, perhaps you have heard them from your spouse or travelling companion speaking to the uncertainties in taking the trip. Or, perhaps you offered them yourself as you were concerned about the long journey ahead. Truth be told, we don’t like long journeys because they lift up for us our deep-seated fear of the unknown. Will we make the journey? Will my old car make the trek? Will there be cell reception so I can check facebook? Will there be a Starbucks at the rest points? Will there be a bathroom when I need it? Truth be told, we don’t much like taking a long journey, do we?
As we move into Genesis 12 and hear the call to Abram and Sarai, we indeed find ourselves in very familiar territory. We are deeply familiar with this passage in our faith heritage ~ we know this passage so well. And we are oh so familiar with the uncertainties that lie within our souls about taking an unfamiliar journey. As I found myself studying the texts this time around, I got to wondering. I got to pondering whether there might be some lost scrolls that recorded Abram’s doubts. Surely Abram had doubts, right? I wondered what it would have been like for Abram to have been called upon to take this journey into the unknown. I wondered what would it have been like for him to have been called upon to leave it all behind? What it would have been like to pack it all up and head towards this mysterious land of promise that God called him to sojourn towards? History never kept these scrolls; however, I am sure that they were there … speaking to Abram’s fear and uncertainty. Don’t you think, at least for a moment, that Abraham considered not taking the journey? That he pondered looking the other way? Don’t you think that his inner voice tempted him to become deaf to God’s call: ‘that voice of God speaking…it must have been meant for someone else…I’ll just ignore it’. I know this doesn’t present well in scripture. Abram becomes a biblical hero to the faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This doesn’t shine a favourable light on Abram; but, don’t you think he wanted to jump up and down saying “I don’t want to go God. I won’t! I won’t! I won’t”. I think he did.
In terms of the theological narrative, this passage comes at a very pivotal place in the Genesis story. Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lapsley, professor of Old Testament at Princeton Seminary argues that this passage has come to define what it means to be God’s chosen people. Take a quick biblical journey with me, won’t you? The preceding eleven chapters presented a very interesting dynamic occurring between God and God’s creation. Following the two creation stories, there exists an intimate connection where human beings literally are at ‘play’ with God and then everything shifts. Humanity toys with God’s words; we steal forbidden fruit, and human mischief and brokenness spreads to universal proportions. We gain a window into the depth of God’s grief and repentance over creation. The response is a curse in which everything is intended to be wiped away. Yet…we learn that God cannot give up on creation altogether. There is a hope. One family is saved…and creation will rebuild again. In short, curse and punishment had solved nothing, and as the rainbow is painted across the sky, there is deep promise offered, that never again will God use these measures ~ a shift away from curse. As we live into this new beginning, we see the Babel generation presume to ‘play God’. And we wonder what God might do... And as we wonder…as we ponder…Genesis 12 becomes that place where the answer is found ~ the answer of what it means to be God’s chosen people. Instead of offering curse, God will proceed by offering blessing as a way forward. God’s choice, amidst the continued sin and brokenness, is to remain intimately connected to all creation and work for its redemption. It is interesting, we were blessed at our beginning and we are forever blessed in our life’s journeys. And so, getting back to our question of what it means to be God’s people: God’s choice to focus on blessing, over curse, is the nature of what it means to be God’s chosen people. We are a people who are deeply blessed through our lineage all the way back to Abram.
And it is on that basis of being a blessed people that we learn the entire purpose of our ‘blessedness’. The purpose of our blessedness is for us to be a blessing to others. In the passage, God says: “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing”. And the only way that Abram can become a blessing to others, we find out, is…to move outside his comfort zone… and undertake one of the greatest journeys every taken. God said to Abraham: ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I 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.’* Do you think Abram was afraid ~ you bet he was! Do you think he was scared ~ absolutely terrified! But did he go ~ he most certainly did! Yet, as we consider all that might have stopped Abram from making the journey, imagine what would have happened if Abram had not journeyed? Hallelujah that he made the trip!
If we were a Hebrew speaking congregation, we would not have been surprised. We would have seen it coming even long before God spoke. The city of Haran, where Abram is called to leave, it means “crossroads”. It was a place of inevitable change where Abram was sitting. He just needed God’s nudging, God’s prodding, God’s poking to get him on with his journey. In fact, all the texts this week have some dynamic element of journey and change contained in them. The gospel lection is the interaction of Jesus with Nicodemus in John 3, where the dialogue about being born anew is discussed. And Lent is certainly that season of journey, of embracing newness, of embracing change. So many of you have adopted different spiritual practices during this season: giving things up as a discipline to make ‘more room’ for God, and so many others are taking new things on. Why do we do this? We take the journey because we want to grow in our depth and relationship with God.
In my next point, I feel like I am (to use that old term) ‘preaching to the choir’ a little here! This call to journey; this call to go out on the reaches of the unknown; to be blessed and be a blessing to others; this call is not a new one to us here a Northwood. I would suggest that you have walked more challenging journeys of faith than most congregations have ever walked. Our very identity as a church is one of following a calling to journey into foreign territory. Think back about 25 or 30 years. What would have happened if you had not begun talks in the 90’s and amalgamated Fleetwood and North Surrey United Churches, and opened this new church in 1998? What would have happened is slowly but surely, those two individual churches would have died a natural death and there would be no Northwood. I see it happening to so many of our United Churches who go it on their own, ‘darwinism of the churches, who do not work with the other churches in their area, they slowly whither up and die. If we had not taken the journey, I would guess that we would be standing inside a Superstore or a Costco right now, and there would be no United Church presence in this neighbourhood.
As you know, last Sunday was our AGM, and I would like to suggest as we move into this time with new leadership, that this is truly a ‘Calling of Abram’ moment for us. Our new board has been established. And we are so blessed by those leaders who have stepped forward and answered the call. To be sure, there is still room for more leadership. It is very concerning to me that we do not have a Board Chair or a Treasurer. Nevertheless, we have a solid board with excellent representation from the congregation, and they will lead faithfully and diligently. As I look ahead, now is the time for us to continue on the journey as a congregation. Last year, you reconfigured the staffing team from two full time ministers to a Full time Coordinating Minister (myself) and a half-time Minister of Christian Development (Kerry). Now is the time to dream big! Now is the time to dig deep! Now is the time to get involved and move Northwood into the future! The roof conversation must begin again and we must find our way forward. It was wise to have the temporary tarp placed over the building amidst such a time of transition. But that time is over. Now is the time to journey forward. Now is the time to take seriously God’s words to Abram: ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’.
And if you find yourself saying: I’m scared; I don’t want to go; I don’t want to go! Well…that’s OK. That’s probably exactly what Abram felt in his gut when he heard these words. But remember the last part of God’s promise to Abram: “2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I 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.’* Let us take the journey that lies ahead ~ fearfully but faithfully, uncertain yet forever guided by God’s hand.
I would like to close with a poem by Mary Oliver.
Wild Geese ~ from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting over and over announcing your place in the family of things.