March 12, 2017; Second Sunday of Lent
This Lent, we are focusing on the wilderness and considering biblical stories that take us to the wilderness—to places that are unknown and disorienting.
It’s not too hard to find those stories in scripture. Last week you heard about Adam and Eve being kicked out of the garden and into the wilderness. You heard about Jesus going into the wilderness for forty days where Satan tempted him.
And this morning we are considering the call of Abram—God comes to him and says, “Go from your country . . . to the land I will show you.” It’s a call into the wilderness.
I imagine Abram was terrified—not to mention terribly inconvenienced by God’s call. Still, I have to admit that I’m a bit jealous. It’s not that I want to leave my country and my family and my house. I don’t. (Usually.) But I would love to hear the voice of God so clearly: “Now the LORD said to Joanna, ‘Go here and do this and I will bless you and others.’”
This may be a weird pastor thing. I don’t know if you can relate, but it’s kind of a fantasy of mine, to be called by God in such an obvious, concrete way. To have no doubt whatsoever about what I should do and where I should go. To know for sure that I am following the will of God.
But I’m beginning to wonder if it was really like that for Abram. If he was so confident of God’s message. So sure of the direction he should go.
To begin with, while God does tell Abram to go from his country and family, the Divine voice is much less specific about where Abram should go to. “. . . to the land that I will show you.” God’s not exactly drawing him a map here.
Also, we should realize that this is a retrospective account of what happened. Biblical scholar Amy Allen urges us “to remember that Genesis is a book written by the Israelites after they had received the blessing of the land of Canaan.” More specifically, this is a book that emerged from the oral history of the Israelite people; stories told from generation to generation. This is not a real-time, play-by-play account. Rather, this is a small piece of the broad story the Israelites are telling themselves about who they are and what their relationship with God is about.
We are no longer a primarily oral culture, but we still know about story telling. Rachel Senner loves to tell the story of how her father welcomed her foster brother, Henry, into their home—a young man who had been brought from Russia to Nebraska to work for another farmer—a farmer who refused to take in the boy and pay his passage when he saw the boy was not strong enough to be much good on the farm.
We’ve all heard stories about our ancestors—our blood relatives, our predecessors in the faith. We have so many stories of Mennonites struggling to survive and to stay true to their pacifist values. Stories of women working for equal rights. Stories of native Americans caring for, fighting for, preserving their culture and this earth. Stories of our heroes who spoke and wrote and sang and marched and boycotted during the Civil Rights movement.
These stories have been told over and over and over again. They have been written down. And they seem so clear to us today. Of course God was calling Conrad Grebel to baptize Georg Blaurock in 1525. Of course God was calling Rachel’s family to take in Henry. Of course God was calling Rosa Parks to keep her seat on that bus.
These stories are inspiring. And comforting. These stories make it seem like our heroes had no doubts. Like they were convinced of the clarity of their callings.
But I wonder if that was how people experienced it. Did Conrad and Georg take a moment to consider whether being re-baptized was worth the hassle? Did Rachel’s dad worry about what it would cost to have another mouth to feed? Did Rosa Parks wonder if keeping her seat was the most effective way for her to protest Jim Crow laws?
Did Abram wonder whether this calling into the wilderness was really the voice of God or merely some bad lamb stew?
“The voice of God said, ‘Go,’ and Abram went.” Is it possible that the certainty of this text comes, not from Abram’s experience with God, but from the way that Abram’s descendants needed to understand their place in the world and their relationship with God?
Because even the promised land can be a wilderness. Even the chosen people can feel lost. We need stories that ground us and guide us. As we watch God at work in history, we can—maybe–catch a glimpse of God at work right now. As we hear the voice of God speaking to Abram, to our ancestors, to our heroes, we can—maybe–discern the Divine whisper in our own ear.
Whether God’s voice is clear or not, God’s presence is sure. And God’s promises remain. God calls us, always, into blessing—into receiving blessing and into offering blessing.
Thanks be to God.