Altars on the Journey

Genesis 12:1-9

The Bible is about people like us. The Biblical story neither covers up nor white washes human imperfection.  The giants of faith struggled with doubts and fears, anxieties and anger, uncertainty and agency, the were burdened by the past and hopeful and anxious about the future, and yet through it all trusted God.

            I can relate to the story of Abraham and Sarah.  Three months ago, the idea that we might move and that I might leave this paradise of sea, sky, pond, and sand was barely on my radar.  The thought that I might be retiring from fulltime ministry, leaving a beloved community, and returning to Washington DC by midsummer was not on my agenda.  But, like Abraham and Sarah, the voice of God, the voice of conscience, the voice of family, changed my plans.

I suspect that Abraham and Sarah didn’t just get up and go.  I suspect that they looked at their assets,  spent nights exploring pro’s and con’s, and consulted their stock broker – after all, they owned a large herd of sheep and cattle! And then put their home up for sale.  And, after that, embarked on a journey to the promised land.

Even when God calls you forward, you still need to do your homework and make your preparations.  

Abraham and Sarah set out toward the far horizon. God had called them, but would God be with them? You see, in the ancient times, gods were usually attached to a particular people or locale and did not travel beyond the precincts of their realm.  Would God go on the journey with them?  Or would they travel alone without guidance or protection?

Years ago, when I was Protestant Chaplain at Georgetown University, our student council was looking for a motto for our ministry, and one of our students, hailing from near Mobile, Alabama, made the following comment, “This may be cheesy, but how about – God goes to Georgetown, too!”  What this student, now an adult with four children, meant was that God will be with you wherever you go.  Things will be different but the one thing you can count on is that God will be with you.

Change is in the air.  Movement is afoot.  But God is faithful.  Along the way, Abraham and Sarah do something remarkable.  Wherever they stop, they erect an altar.  Initially, I suspect the altars were both to give thanks to God and to attract God’s attention and draw God to them.  Later, the altars proclaimed that God is already here, and is blessing them.

In the days ahead, it is important that individually and as a congregation that we build altars of gratitude and guidance.  Altars reminding us of God’s presence in our midst, God’s inspiration, and God’s faithfulness – our help in ages past and hope in years to come.  Altars also of prayerful petition, praying for direction in the path forward.  

The more life changes, the more prayerful we need to be. We need to remember that God is faithful and that God’s faithfulness is new every morning – bringing change and being present.   “Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see.  All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness God unto me.”

The call of these parents of faith concludes with simple words – “they went forth by stages.”   Movement often has a pattern – announcement and preparation and then the journey.  In our own Abrahamic journey, we have seen the realtor, gotten Title 5 inspection, prepared the open house which is happening as we speak, and hopefully we will get an acceptable offer…and then organizing for the journey ahead.  

You are on a journey to, and it is by stages – there is grief and sorrow, wondering about the future – I feel these too – but there is also anticipation and adventure. The Great What Next!  Your leadership is at work and will go through stages – meeting and strategizing for an interim time and pastoral leader, looking toward a self-study, and deciding prayerfully what course to take in relationship to God’s vision, working with the Conference leadership, including Patty Kogut, and continuing the high quality of worship and preaching that will be present after Pam and I go forth to other adventures.

God calls and we respond, and on the journey, we will have adventures, and wonder if we will find the promised land.  But, as JRR Tolkien says in the Hobbit, “not all who wander are lost.”  We are just finding a new way.  And step by step, there is One who journeys with us – walking with us, talking with us, telling us we are God’s own, and though we won’t tarry long, we will find all that we need in the walking.