Journeying by Stages

A sermon preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho on Aug 17, 2014

Genesis 12:1-9

2 Corinthians 5: 1-7, 16-21

I prayed long and hard about which text to read this morning. And I kept returning to the story of Abram. This text is from the early narrative of our ancestors. He’ll go on to get a name change—from Abram to Abraham—and he will go on to become the patriarch of a people and our ancestor in faith, but at this point, he’s just a guy. There’s nothing particularly special about him.

Yet God chooses to connect Abram’s story to the divine story.

Go from your country and your family, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God tells him.

Sometimes we get clear instructions like that.

Okay, rarely.
But it does happen.

More often, we find we are on the journey and we have no idea how we got there, and we’re packing up our tents and moving by stages from one place to the next.

Abram was told at the beginning that God would make of him a great nation and would make him a blessing for the world.

I suspect at this particular moment in your history, you’re not feeling much like you’re being blessed right now. As you prepare to bring the ministry of Trinity Presbyterian Church to a close, you may not feel like God has made your name great. You may not be able to quickly identify the future of the blessing you were promised.

And that’s okay. I’m not going to pretend all is well. I don’t think you need to either.

One of the gifts of being Presbyterian, despite our many different ways of worship, of interpreting scripture, of navigating the relationship of church and culture—one of the gifts is that we are in this together.

And when one member of the body of Christ is hurting, we all feel it. And there are times when we cannot see our blessing, or find our path on the journey, or even find where we are on a map. And at those moments, we lift each other up, we sit together in mournful silence, and we help each other look for God’s presence in the difficult moments of our lives.

Hopefully we can help each other find our way forward as we journey in stages, heading toward the promised land. So let me suggest to you a few places in these texts where God may have signs of the blessing for you.

I’m a relative new comer to Boise having lived here for 6 years. This church has been witnessing to God’s love since the 1890’s. And you journeyed on by stages, like Abram, going where God called you. Abram built altars. You built beautiful church buildings. And, like Abram, you kept going where God was calling you, leaving those properties behind and trusting in the promise of God as you built anew.

I want to thank you for your faithfulness in that. Your witness and outreach in your neighborhoods has touched the lives of people who may have never entered your building. I’ve heard of the sacrifices you made to build, to create a space where God could be glorified and where little children could come to pre-school, learning that God’s house is a place to learn, to have fun, and to be safe in this world.

What a blessing.

Is it ending as you hoped it would? No.

But that’s the thing about our lives and about the stories of God’s people—we’re called to be faithful on the journey even when we can’t write the ending of our choice.

Abram journeyed in stages from modern day Turkey, near the border of Syria, down toward the Negev, near the Southern end of modern day Israel. Pretty big journey for a guy with an un- air conditioned camel. If we read on the text, we discover it didn’t work for Abram as he planned either.

“Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.”

Abram becomes a refugee, fleeing a famine, in order to live into the promise of blessing.
God promises Abram he’ll be a blessing. God doesn’t promise Abram it will be easy. Or successful in worldly terms. Only that he’ll be a blessing.

In the Hebrew, it’s an imperative. Abram has no choice. Imagine the tone I use when I tell my children they WILL clean their rooms.

You WILL BE a blessing.

And as you read through the narrative of our patriarchs, you see, again and again, that the promise holds true no matter how dire the situation appears to be.

Despite the brokenness of our lives, despite the way our dreams don’t turn out as we intend them to, we WILL BE a blessing. Even when the dream seems dead—we WILL BE a blessing.

And here’s the good news of the gospel—we are a resurrection people. We believe in, we serve, a God who brings life out of death, even death on a cross and 3 days in a tomb.

We are children of the God who makes promises of blessing to us and then conquers even death to keep the promise.

So, go ahead and acknowledge this death.

Mourn it.
Remember it.
Feel it.

Just promise me you won’t forget the promise of resurrection because death is not the end of your story.

I wanted to read you an even bigger chunk of 2nd Corinthians, but I’m guessing you have lunch plans. Paul is not very concise. You can’t reduce him to sound bytes. He is a great rhetorician, building up these huge, complex, convoluted ideas in his letters. It is difficult to get a sense of it in a few verses.

He wants to make sure the divided and fractious church in Corinth gets that they need to set aside the things that divide.

He wants to make sure they set aside worldly definitions of success, of growth, of life.

He wants to teach them to embrace God’s weird and subversive promise that strength is found in weakness, and wisdom is found in foolishness, and life is found in death.

Earlier in the letter, in chapter 4, he tells them, “we are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

It is not just an intellectual pursuit. We carry death in our very bodies so we may also carry life.

He tells them not to lose heart.

And he reminds us the things we build here on earth are the ephemeral things. The things that are weighty, and permanent, and eternal cannot be seen.

For Paul, being resurrection people means we don’t regard our lives from a human point of view. Those of us who live in Christ are living into New Creation, even out of death.

I pray that as you journey on in stages, you will journey with hope into your resurrection, trusting that God’s promise of blessing is as true for you today as it was the day your ancestors chartered this congregation.

The stories you can tell of your history are good and true and important. Some of them are also probably less good, and maybe even conflicted, and also important.

Remember those stories.

Tell those stories.

And then trust there are still stories of faith that will be told of each of your lives as you live into resurrection.

What are those stories going to be? I pray you will see God’s blessing so the crucible of this loss will deepen and strengthen your faith. I look forward to hearing your stories as we journey on in stages.

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