Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Christian Church
When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, I loved when we went on vacation. We almost always drove to where we were going: Ohio to some of the amusement parks, Northern Michigan or Louisiana to visit my Dad’s relatives.
For me, the excitement would start several days before we left. Mom would drive downtown to the local AAA office to get maps and guidebooks for the trip. The most exciting thing was when the salesperson would put together the Triptik. If you or someone you know was a member of AAA, you know what a Triptik is. The name is a play on words, because the collection of maps looked like a triptych, a painting that was divided in three sections. One the salesperson had gathered the necessary maps they came back with a red marker and drew the suggested route to our destination, showing where there might be construction and the like.
It was probably those trips to AAA that started my love of maps. I could spend hours looking at all the road maps that we collected over the years. I remember during the 80s, buying a Rand McNally Atlas of the United States and Canada just for the heck of it. An exciting time for me was paging through the states and seeing all the highways as they crisscrossed each other. Yes, I was, I am a map geek.
I know these days that I can use the map app on my phone and I have to get to certain places, but it just isn’t the same as getting that oversized Rand McNally map and just study it.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I like maps. I’ve loved travelling on the highways and as a little kid, I would internalize where my parents drove and was able to repeat them back when they got lost. I like to know where I am going.
Most people like to use a map to get to their desired destination. It just makes sense to know who to get someplace. No one likes being lost.
As we continue the capital S story in the Narrative Lectionary, we leave Noah and his family behind and move to another person who was given a promise. Abram, later called Abraham, lived in a placed called Haran. The text says he was 75 years old as the story begins. Now, we don’t know if the ancients used a 12-month calendar or not, so we don’t know if 75 is really 75. What we do know is that Abraham is elderly. We also know that he has a wife Sarai, who was a few years younger and was never able to have children.
Abraham was probably living a good life. It wasn’t all that he wanted; I could imagine that he would have loved for Sarai to have given him a child, but besides that things were good.
Then he hears God speaking to him. “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing,” God says.
The scripture never says what Abram thought about what God has said. But I have to believe that he did. Most people would. Yeah, the whole blessing talk was nice, but leave his home? Leave all that was familiar to him? God was calling him to a place that God would show him. In essense, Abram was driving while God was in the passenger seat. God knows where they are going. It’s up to Abram to find out how to get to their destination with help from God.
Did Abram just up and left as some has suggested? Did he hesitate, wondering if any of this made sense? We don’t know. All we know is that he heard God’s voice and then packed up and made his way to some land he knew nothing about.
The there was this whole father of a nation business. I don’t think Abram needed directions in how that could happen, but he knew Sarai couldn’t have children.
If we know the story of Abram, we know that he settles in the land of Caanan. He and Sarai had to wait a long time before they finally did have a son- a nation was literally born.
We need to hear this story of Abram and Sarai because we live in world where everything is planned or at least makes a good effort to be planned. We tell our children to do good in school and then go to college so that they will get a good job. We all expect that once we hit 62 or 65 or 67 we will retire and enjoy ourselves. We want our lives to be logical, to be planned out.
But the thing is, if we are God’s children, if we follow Christ, then we have to live a life of faith. Abram had to have faith to leave everything he was familiar with and go to a place he knew nothing about. He had to have faith that God would make a nation from he and Sarai even though they weren’t able to have children. He had to travel without a map.
Most of us aren’t being called to move to some remote island in the Pacific or something else that grand. But we are at times called to do things that are out of our comfort zones. We are called more often than not in our daily lives, to walk by faith.
Yesterday, a number of us met to discern the future of this congregation. We have more than a few challenges as a congregation. We are very small in number. We have a pretty thin budget. We have a building we have to maintain. If we were following the map, we would probably close and walk away.
But we are being called to something. None of us, myself included, know what that future is. We don’t know if we will grow in membership. We live with a lot of unknowns.
The thing is that while we don’t have a map, we do have God. Abram trusted God. That trust would waver at times as it did with Abram. But we still must trust that God is leading us even though we don’t know where in the world we are going.
Back on Pentecost Sunday, I shared a prayer that I learned during my time as Associate Pastor at First Christian-Minneapolis. I think it’s important enough to share it again becuase it fits this text and tells us that God is with us on this uncertain journey. It’s called the Holden Prayer and it comes from the Lutheran tradition. Here it is the second time around:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannon 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.
This congregation is on a journey. God also calls each one of us to step out in faith not knowing what the road is like or even where we are going. But we trust that God is with us, guiding us.
I still love maps. I personally wish I had a map tell me where this church was going, where I was going. But the thing is, life is a whole lot more interesting without a map. Thanks be to God. Amen.