Homily, Lent 2A, March 5, 2023
I’m an old woman, now. Well, not exactly ancient, but old. And that means I’m not quite as flexible in my thinking as I was when I was young. I like adventure, but I want to know where I’m going, how long it will take, and what to expect on the other end. I like tour guides and not having to make my own reservations as I go.
Now I imagine that elderly Abram was pretty much like me.
He was about as set in his ways as I am, although with fewer options, probably.
He knew how to live, how to speak to his neighbors, what to eat and how to dress, what was expected of him and what he could reasonably expect from others around him.
There’s security in that.
And often, real happiness and contentment, too.
And then God shows up. It’s one of the first stories in the book of Genesis, coming just after the creation and the disobedience of Adam,
the story of Noah and the flood as a result of the rebellion of the people,
and the story of people defying God again by building the tower of Babel.
It’s the earliest story of faith that we have in scripture.
Abram and his brother’s son, Lot, have settled in the land of Haran, and lived there apparently without incident.
But then God, who know Abram even if Abram doesn’t know God, shows up.
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
And here’s the astonishing part, although if you’ve heard it over and over you might not realize how remarkable it is: Abram got up and went.
He didn’t actually know this God.
He had no idea where he was going.
He had no tour guide and no guarantees.
He didn’t know what to expect along the way.
We don’t even know how he answered the Lord, or if he did.
But he trusted a voice he did not even really know, and he left.
What makes someone do something like that, anyway?
Have you ever met someone and instantly known that you could trust yourself to that one?
A lot of falling in love is like that, isn’t it?
The story isn’t that Abram was bullied into obeying.
Or that he was afraid of what would happen if he didn’t.
In some sense, he fell in love, or felt a bond, or heard a voice he had always longed to hear, or recognized how loved he was – and how known…and he went.
Both Paul and the author of Hebrews insist that this willingness to follow IS the very definition of faith.
Hebrews 11:8ff reads: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.”
What if the whole Gospel of John and all three of the synoptic gospels, and the rest of the New Testament, are stories like this?
What if they are all love stories and nothing to make us afraid?
What if we have misread them and learned to fear the voice of the One who created and cherishes us – and all of creation – and has run after us, called us, waited for us, longed for us and finally sent Jesus to reveal God‘s own self to us anxious, nervous, frightened people?
What if our own disobedience, and no voice of God, has made us expect to be punished, exiled, and excluded?
What if our fear makes us afraid to let go of our resistance to Love?
What if “believing in him” simply means setting down our anxiety, relinquishing our preconceived notions of what God will do if we listen – or if we don’t?
What if it really is that sort of thing the Bible calls faith that just takes a chance on Love?
What if Jesus is playing with Nicodemus – teasing him?
What if you can’t do anything at all to push God away?
What if God loves you no matter what?
And what if God has already set you free, declared you beloved, rescued you from darkness and set you in the Light – and that God will continue to rescue, redeem, save you forever, no matter what happens? What if nothing really can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?
What if nobody gets left behind?
What if Abram hadn’t gone?
Well, what if nothing bad would have happened to him?
What if he had simply lost the chance to have the great adventure?
Beryl Markham wrote this – She was speaking literally, rather than spiritually, but it works the same way, I think:
“If you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.
The cloud clears as you enter it.
I have learned this, but like everyone, I learned it late.”
What if we just dared to learn it early?
What if all we are invited to do is to trust that Love is really and truly Love – and on our side?
Would we get up and go then?
I suspect we’d find that the way always opens as we walk in it,
that the Light breaks on us as we enter the darkness,
that the sea parts for us once our foot steps into the water,
that Manna is ours when we stop demanding that stones become bread,
that Living water really does spring up in us to everlasting life when we are simple and open and willing?
By faith, Abraham obeyed when he set out, not knowing where he was going.
He just went when he heard the invitation.
It’s how we exercise faith, too.
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