March 13, 2017

Leave, Go, Be a Blessing

I vividly remember the first time I ever flew on a plane. I was seventeen years old. It was a hazy, hot, and humid July morning when I said good-bye to my mom and dad, handed the US Airways gate agent my ticket, and boarded a small turbo-prop plane bound from Louisville, Kentucky to O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

I remember the sound of the engines coming to life and the propellers spinning into action. (I remember being freaked out a little bit by those propellers.)

I remember being pressed against my seat as the plane took off and rose up over the Ohio River and southern Indiana.

I remember straining my neck to glimpse Lake Michigan and the skyline through the window as we approached our destination.

And I remember taking my second and third flights the very next day which carried me from Chicago to Dusseldorf, Germany where I began my four-week stay as a youth ambassador for peace through a program sponsored of Rotary International. It was one of the most important journeys I ever took.

That trip remains one of the defining events of my adolescence. As with the best of life’s adventures, though, the clearer my perspective of the event becomes, the better I understand that the physical act of going to a new and foreign place is only a small part, perhaps the least consequential part, of the actual journey I took that year.

Yes, I saw beautiful places—the Alps; Salzburg, Austria; the stunning Cathedral in Cologne.

Yes, I went to parties, and rode in a really fast car on the Autobahn, and talked about music and movies and America with other kids my age.

And, yes, I visited places with my host family that brought to life World War II era pictures from my textbooks—the site of Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch; the concentration camp at Dachau.

But as incredible as those sites and experiences were, or was it because they were so incredible, so breathtaking, inspiring, disturbing, and heartbreaking, I have no doubt that going to Germany wasn’t the only journey I took that summer.

I was also making the journey of growing up—of becoming a little bit less like the kid I’d been and a little more like the adult I’d become.

I’m confident that had I not taken that trip, I would not have had the courage to leave my hometown for college in another state the following year.

I’m pretty sure that had I not taken that trip, I wouldn’t have been in a position to hear God calling to me ordained ministry when I did.

And I’m almost positive that I would’ve never been open to moving to New York City had I not taken the trip. On U2’s most recent album, Bono sings about how the music of the Ramones miraculously awakened him from his suburban teenage stupor in the 1970s. This trip did the same thing for me.

Are there journeys in your life about which you can say the same?

Have you had experiences in which the changes and growth taking place within your heart exceeded even the most beautiful or inspiring or challenging sites that your eyes beheld?

A memorable road trip, the first time you visited New York, the first time you left this country, the first time you came to this country—have you ever taken a journey that ultimately changed you, the way you looked at the world, and your understanding of how you fit into it?

This morning, a reading from Genesis introduces us to a man whose journey and subsequent transformation rests at the heart of the biblical narrative. Indeed, it’s fair to say that his was one of the most important and consequential journeys in all of human history. This is the story of Abram.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.

This is the beginning of Abram’s story as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 12. Actually, chapter 11 gives us just a little bit of background information that’s worth noting.

From Genesis 11, we learn that Abram’s family came from a placed called Ur—a prosperous city near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Abram grew up in that city with two brothers. A man named Terah was their father. Abram married a woman in Ur named Sarai and one of his brothers died there.

Chapter 11 also tells us that there came a time when Terah decided to leave the city with his family for a distant land called Canaan. Historian Thomas Cahill notes that the people of Ur would have considered this a strange decision, “a migration in the wrong direction,” and maybe Terah had second thoughts about the move, too. The scripture says the family stopped short of Canaan and settled in a place called Haran, where Terah died.

When his father died, Abram’s life was at a crossroad. In one direction lay the life that he’d left behind, his hometown, and his extended family. In the other direction lay the conclusion of the family’s unfinished journey.

And the Lord said, “Go on to the land that you don’t know with faith that I do know it.”

And the Lord said, “Go on to the place where you are a nobody with faith that you are somebody to me.”

And the Lord said, “Go on to be a blessing to others because you have been blessed by me.”

So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and [his nephew] Lot went with him.
Abram would go on to see and experience amazing things. On his journey he would see lives lifted up, lives torn down, and lives spared by God’s merciful intervention.

He and his wife would gain new names—Abraham and Sarah—and they would become parents.

Abraham would do great things.

Abraham would do terrible things.

And Abraham would do holy things that bore witness to his covenant relationship with God.

Abraham went on a journey with God and that journey changed him.

Saint Paul teaches us that that same journey can change us, too.

No, not a journey to a physical place, but a journey of inner transformation, the journey charted by faith in the Living God who calls us by name.

Disciples of Jesus Christ understand that God invites us to go forward in faith on the trail of transformation that Abraham blazed.

“Abraham is the father of all who believe,” writes Paul.

Abraham moved on from the crossroad of his life, not a perfect man, but as a person of faith.

“This happened,” notes Paul, “because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who brings into existence what didn’t exist before.”

Disciples of Jesus Christ understand when we go forward with God we will be forever changed.

You and I are no strangers to crossroads. We face them in our careers, in our families, in moments that test us and challenge us and reveal our most closely held convictions. With my upcoming move to another church and Pastor Stefanie’s appointment here, this spring we even stand at a crossroads together as a congregation.

And being in this situation always increases our anxiety.

Standing at a crossroads always brings to mind the memories of the paths that brought us here and stirs in us questions about how things will be different when we move on in a new direction.

We know what it’s like to stand at the crossroads between what we’ve known and what remains a mystery.

That’s why we receive the Word of God as Good News today.

Wherever you stand this morning, hear this.

“Go on,” says the Lord, “to the future that you don’t know with faith that I do know it.”

“Go on,” says the Lord, “even to the place where you are a nobody with faith that you are somebody to me.”

“Go on,” says the Lord, “to be a blessing to others because you have been blessed by me.”

Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

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