Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Journey of Faith - The Blessing of the Call

Preached on Sunday, September 11, 2016

Scripture reading: Genesis 11:27-12:1-9

Ancient Abraham and ancient Sarah! Ancient in so many ways! For one thing: they are so old! And yet I’m almost as old as they were!
For another thing, they live so very long ago (almost 4,000 years ago).
Along Crab Creek, North of DesertAire/Mattawa WA
September 2016
As ancient as they are, the very heart and core of what we are, in Christ begins, with Abraham and Sarah; because Christ began with them. Abraham and Sarah are the barren couple who became the parents of the family that became the tribe that became the nation that produced another tribe that produced the king (David) who became the ancestor of a different kind of king: King Jesus.
In the New Testament, Paul says (in Romans 4:11) that Abraham is “the father of all who believe.” Abraham being our father doesn’t just mean that he is our ancestor (in this case our spiritual ancestor). Abraham is more than a name on our genealogy. Abraham is even more than a name on our spiritual genealogy.
Abraham being our father means that he has essentially shared what he is with us. In Isaiah, the Lord speaks to the people of Israel and says, “Look to the rock from which you were cut and the quarry from which you were hewn, look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave you birth.” Spiritually, we are chips off the old block of Abraham and Sarah.
In God’s scheme of things Abraham and Sarah are an important way to understand ourselves. They show us what it means to live with God in this world.
They show us some things we better not imitate. God’s people, and God’s heroes, are never perfect; and Abraham and Sarah could be terrible. But the pattern they show us is the pattern of faith. Abraham and Sarah are there to answer the question: What does it mean to live in this world by faith in God?
In the experience of living by faith, all though the Old and New Testaments, and all though history, there is this pattern where the Lord does what he did with Abraham. The Lord steps into your life. The Lord interrupts your life, and says, “Come with me. Go with me. Follow me.” And, as you go and follow, your life is changed forever, and for good.
The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your people, and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you.” And, “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon, and his brother Andrew, throwing a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. In the New Testament gospels Jesus says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-17) It’s the same God making nearly the same kind of call to the same kind of journey.
We are a family with a four-thousand-year history of having the Lord of Heaven and Earth step into our lives and call us to come with him and go where he goes him.
Abraham was a wanderer, and an explorer, and a seeker, but (more than that) Abraham was a partner. Abraham and Sarah wandered in partnership with a God who had already befriended them. They were on a journey of faith with a God that they knew just a little bit about. They didn’t know much, yet they decided to trust what they knew, and they were willing to learn more as they went.
The same Lord who called Abraham later joined the human race, and was born into a family where the father was a carpenter, and so the Lord Jesus became a carpenter too. He looked like nothing more than a village carpenter.
But when he stepped in, and interrupted the lives of the men who would become his disciples, they could tell that they were doing the right thing to follow and trust him. They knew something about Jesus without being told, and they decided to trust what they knew.
The same Lord speaks to us now from a bloody cross, and from an empty tomb. The Lord is the same. And there is something about his calling to each one of us, in our own place, that is the same, and must be followed, as they followed long ago.
I need to tell you that I am not talking about “special callings” (like to be a missionary, or a minister). It’s not even such a special calling like that of being a farmer, or working with computers, or driving a truck, or being an accountant or an engineer, or teaching, or becoming a salesperson; because all work is holy, all work is a calling, even when you don’t get paid to do that job (because your unpaid jobs are crucial parts of you calling).
The most important calling of all is the call to belong to God and live with God by faith. If you belong to the Lord and live with the Lord then this will be true: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) This is what you do when you belong to God and follow: “Whatever you do you do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks.” This calling to do whatever and everything leads us to strange places on the journey of faith.
Nowadays the word “whatever” is a word of indifference and apathy, but in the Bible “whatever” is an invitation that opens every door if you will walk through it as a person of faith.
Still, if you are going to live with God in faith, it feels like leaving all the familiar places and going to a land that has yet to be shown to you. God calls you to start something. God calls you to stop something. God calls you to learn and take something to heart. God calls you to let something go. God calls you to turn around. God calls you to accept the fact of his blessings and gifts to you. Faith means trusting even though the calling could lead to anything and to whatever.
Because Abraham and Sarah didn’t know where God was taking them, they were no longer in control of their lives. That is part of what it is like to live with God in this world. In any relationship in this world, when you are living by faith, you always have responsibilities and duties, and you may often have blessings and rewards, but you never have control. This is always true, even when you are not a person of faith; but faith changes you and enables you to live in the name of Jesus and give thanks in everything even when you are farthest from being in control.
Abraham and Sarah were big city people who became semi-nomads on the edge of the desert. They moved with their livestock according to the seasons and the quality of the grazing. They moved their herds and flocks over the land that was not good enough for anyone else to claim it.
As long as they on the marginal land the other people mostly left them alone. Abraham went around digging wells because he was living off the parts of the land where no one else would be dumb enough to bother going through all the work of digging wells. And so their life was a continuous journey on the edge of the wilderness.
The disciples took to the road with Jesus, and their lives became journeys too. It was a road that most normal people wouldn’t dream of taking; and so it was a journey through a kind of wilderness. Going on a journey with the Lord is the model of life that we believe in.
Going on a journey with the Lord is a crazy thing to do. The friends and family of Abraham and Sarah, and the friends and families of the disciples must have thought they were crazy; especially the families!
They were called to do what no one else would understand, or even respect. Abraham’s and Sarah’s going off into the wilderness at their age is supposed to startle us and amaze us. If you didn’t love them, you would have to laugh at them. What is God thinking?
Later on, ancient Sarah would finally give birth to a child and name him Isaac, which means “laughter.” That is what God’s calling often looks like.
On one hand the direction in which Abraham and Sarah and the disciples were called sounded crazy. But the people called by the Lord seem to be crazy choices, in themselves.
Abraham and Sarah sometimes do absolutely terrible things: unforgivable things. How could the Lord have thought to call them? Abraham and Sarah were barren and childless. How could the Lord have thought to start a family with them?
Then look at Jesus’ choice of followers. If Jesus claimed to be the Messiah the people of his time would have expected him to choose fighters to drive out the Roman occupation. Or they would have expected Jesus to choose an army of rabbis as a holy inspiration to give the people something to fight and pray for.
A friend of mine says that Jesus’ first miracle was not changing water into wine, but changing commercial fishermen into disciples. And there was the turncoat taxman Matthew.
The rest could have been farmers. But the really remarkable thing about them all, as the gospels tell us, is that they continually amazed Jesus with how very little faith they had. What could he have had in mind by choosing them?
This craziness about the people who get called by God is all for our sake, because who would ever think that the great plans of God could rest in the hands of people like us.
Faith means seeing the humor in your calling. Your journey with God is just one more chapter in the story of the unlikely people of God’s crazy choices.
The Lord’s call to Abraham was one of the threads of a plan that brought the Lord to earth in Jesus Christ. It was the first spinning of a thread that would lead God to become human in order to die for the sins of the world, and for our sins.
We have to say, here, that this road, this journey of faith, becomes, more and more the road of a new life; a changed life. But how is that good news? How can you be glad if I tell you, for Jesus: “Listen up, people! Change and become new!”
Here is the good news. If you can really see that Jesus died for you and for a world lost in sin, and death, and terror, and that he carried all of that darkness upon his shoulders on the cross, for you and for the whole world, then something breaks in you. Something melts. Something dies. And you hear Jesus say, from the cross: “Come die with me, and live again. Come die with me, and rise from the ruins of your death with me on the cross. Come die with me, and be born again. I will make you new. I will live in you.”
That is the road. The road of faith means for you to live in Jesus, and for you to let Jesus live in you.
Everything God calls you to do, and everything God calls you to be in this life, is another one of those threads in a plan where the center is Jesus Christ, and leads to Jesus, and where it all depends on him: on the one who died for you. And yet the thread of the plan that leads you to Jesus is also the thread by which others, finding you, can find Jesus.
Everything that the Lord intends for you is tied to his sacrifice for you, and for the whole world. Everything that you are called to do and to be is covered by him, and connected to him. The whole story of the Bible tells us this. The lives of Abraham, and Sarah, and Jesus’ disciples tell us this.

This is the road of the God who called them. This is the journey God calls you to. God came in Jesus and died for you in order to call you to this journey. Say yes to God, and take your journey with him.

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