Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Journey of Faith

Genesis 12:1-9

The story of a family heading off to a strange land seems rather appropriate at this time in my life. Cheryl, Brett, and I are about to take such a journey. But, it’s not the first time I’ve done this. I remember setting off, years ago, from Klamath Falls, in my less-than-reliable Ford Maverick. With $500 in my pocket, I loaded up the car with my belongings, and headed south toward Pasadena, where I hoped to attend seminary. I didn’t have a place to live, a job, or even a letter of acceptance from Fuller Seminary. But, things seemed to work out. I found a room at the Pasadena YMCA, and a few weeks later, I got a job at a Christian bookstore. By then my little stash of cash had run low. But, I managed to make ends meet, even if I had to eat just one meal a day – and that was Poor Boy sandwiches and cheap kool-aid. The good thing, was that I lost a lot of weight!

1. Abram’s Journey and ours
Abram and Sarai heard a call from God and headed out on an adventure that changed history. We are blessed people because they decided to take this journey, because God chose them to be God’s agents for healing the world.

That part of the story is important, but I want to focus on how their journey is a metaphor for our journey of faith. I like the phrase "journey of faith," because it’s so descriptive of what it means to walk with God. Like their journey, our journey with God is full of unknowns. In the course of our journeys we face many important decisions, often without having all the answers ahead of time. In their story, they hear God say that their descendants would be a blessing to the nations, the means by which God would heal the nations. The only problem, according to the story, is that they were on the older side and they didn’t have any children of their own.
As we read their story, we discover that they, like us, made their share of mistakes and wrong turns. Indeed, on one occasion, Abram passed Sarai off as his sister, because Pharaoh had taken a liking to her. Despite those mistakes, the book of Hebrews points to Abraham and calls him an exemplar of faithfulness. As Terence Fretheim puts it:

The pilgrimage of Abram and Sarai becomes a metaphor for the Christian life, a journey that reaches out toward a promised future, but comes up short of final fulfillment within one's own lifetime.1

This is an important point to make – we may not see the full benefits of our adventure with God, but in taking the journey we leave an important legacy for others.

Although taking a journey like the one Abraham and Sarah took involved great risk, they discovered that if you don’t take the risk, you won’t enjoy the benefits of the journey. When I look back at my journey to Pasadena of more than a quarter century ago, I see the hazards, but I’ve received more than my share of benefits. Indeed, the person I am today is rooted in that decision to get in the car and head south. If I hadn’t made that journey I would never have met Cheryl, had Brett as a son, or perhaps even become a Disciples pastor. Of course, this journey is still ongoing; the conclusion has yet to be written. But I can say this, that decision changed my life – and the lives of others as well. Just ask Cheryl; she never planned on marrying a pastor!

2. Setting out on Our Journey of Faith
What then, can we learn from the journey of Abraham and Sarah?
  • Abraham was ready for an adventure

He must have been the adventuresome type, but then again, he came from a family of nomads. Still, this journey meant leaving his family behind. In a sense, he and Sarah threw caution to the wind – and we must do the same. It is, as William Barclay puts it:

"Most of us live a cautious life on the principle of safety first; but to live the Christian life there is necessary a certain reckless willingness to adventure. If faith can see every step of the way, it is not really faith."2

  • Abraham lived with patience

Patience is an important virtue if we’re going to take the journey of faith, and both Abraham and Sarah had to learn patience. Sometimes, their impatience caused problems, like when Sarah, recognizing that she wasn’t getting any younger suggested that Abram take Hagar as a second wife. But problems set in when Hagar seemed to become more than a surrogate mother. Then, when Abraham got to Canaan, he couldn’t find a place to settle down, and so he still had to live as a nomad. But over time, things changed. First, Sarah bore a son named Isaac, and from Isaac came Jacob, and then Joseph, Moses, and finally Jesus. Through them, the world would be blessed. But it took time and patience. As Christians we believe that Jesus is the promised blessing. It is through him that God fulfills the promise to bless the nations. But in the mean time – as we take the journey, we must watch and wait patiently. Quite often we begin the journey with great anticipation, but get discouraged, when things don’t go as quickly or as smoothly as he had hoped.

  • Abraham took a long-term view.

A faith journey requires a long-term view. Abraham kept going because he had a vision of what God would do for and through him. Without that vision he would have given up when he encountered trials, barriers, and other difficulties. As the King James Version of Proverbs 29:18, puts it: "Where there is no vision, the people perish, . . . " That vision is the key to taking the long-term view.

I may be leaving soon, but I believe that God has a vision for this congregation. There is an adventure waiting for you – even as there is an adventure waiting for me. There will be difficult times ahead and difficult decisions to make. Like the settlers that joined the wagon trains that set out on the Oregon Trail, you may have to leave behind some treasured possessions. And of course, you’ll need some patience. Before you know it, you’ll have a new pastor, and she or he, will help you cast a new vision and discover the resources needed to continue the journey. As that person comes to you, you will discern how to best minister in this community. I expect that might involve new worship services, new outreach ministries, and simply new ways of doing things. You’re going to need patience, because success won’t happen over night. But, if you remain faithful to God’s vision, and stay on the journey, in time you will experience the blessings. Some of you might not make it to the end, but you get the blessings of taking the journey together.

As you consider the journey ahead, consider this biblical commendation of the people of faith:
They desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed he has prepared a city for them. (Heb. 11:16).

1. Terence Fretheim, "Genesis", in The New Interpreter's Bible, (Nashville, Abingdon, 1995), 1:426.

2. William Barclay, The Letter of the Hebrews, Daily Study Bible, rev. ed., (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 144.

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church
Lompoc, CA
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 8, 2008

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