March 16, 2014 Genesis 12:1-4, John 3:1-17
The scriptures that we’re looking at this morning tell stories of movement and blessing.
In Genesis 12, Abram is called by God to an outward move. He is to leave his homeland, his father’s house, and travel a road he would create by going, and physically relocate to a land he would find by finding.
There’s a lot in his story that we could pay attention to. The section we heard this morning is just 4 verses long, but within those 4 verses there are at least 3 themes that we could look at.
Calling and how we hear the voice of God.
Moving, or how we respond when we encounter a word from God.
Blessing is a third theme we could look at; for we’re told that Abram was blessed to be a blessing, not just blessed because of some abstract notion of God’s Love.
These are all important themes, worth paying attention to in the story of Abram.
And they’re worth paying attention to in our own lives, too. The calling of God requires movement on our part, which leads to blessing; both our own blessing and our blessing other people.
But what strikes me about Abram’s story is that he hears God speaking so clearly.
And there’s a physical aspect to what he’s asked to do that I think can be instructive.
It’s clear, when someone tells you to do something physical…it’s immediately clear whether or not you’ve done it, isn’t it?
There’s not a lot of headroom, or give and take in our understanding.
(who can I boss around)…If I say to Eric, as the worship leader, If I say to you, Eric, go from that seat, where you’re sitting, go from your row, from your friends and your family, and move to a chair I will show you; it’s clear to everyone here whether or not you’ve heard me, and whether or not you’re going to do what I say.
Now, Eric might possibly have a little higher level of trust in me than some other people here, because Eric has just started working with Christine and me and the rest of the elders in his role on the ministry team.
Eric might have a good reason to listen to me because hopefully we’ve developed a relationship of trust. He might not understand why I want him to move, but if he’s in the habit of trusting me, then he doesn’t need to understand, right?
He might have the attitude that it will become clear in time, or even better yet, he might know me and trust me enough to know that he might never know why I want him to move, and my hope for him would be that he’d be ok with that, and simply do what I want him to do without overthinking it, and without needing to see everything from my perspective.
Now, I’m using Eric and myself as metaphors here. That should be obvious.
When God speaks to us, we have two basic responsibilities.
The first is actually the most important, and that is in making sure it’s really God speaking. As I alluded to last week, it’s really easy for all of us, I think, to start listening to other voices, or even our own voices, and mistaking them for the voice of God.
When that happens, we start getting pulled in all kinds of different directions and it’s really easy to get lost.
I mean that…it’s easy to get spiritually lost, or spiritually adrift, like James puts it, because we don’t have an anchor.
Abram knew it was the voice of God speaking, so that made it easy.
How might we know when it’s God doing the speaking?
Well, it’s more like training for a marathon than turning on a lightswitch. Maybe that’s why Paul used running imagery when he did.
You have to create time, and space, in your life, when you turn down all the chatter, turn down all the noise, and pay attention within your soul to what is of God, and what isn’t.
You can’t just do this once and expect any kind of difference. You have to make that space, and go there regularly, I don’t care if it’s uncomfortable. I don’t care if it’s awkward. I don’t care if what you find when you get there makes you sad, or angry, or even bored.
If you don’t know what the voice of God sounds like within you, you’ll just contribute to the rest of the white noise around us because you’ll only have your own voice to offer when discernment is needed.
The other thing is testing God’s voice with a group of trusted, Christian brothers and sisters. I’m very suspicious when people strike off on a holy errand without consulting their community of faith, because “God told me such and such” can be used as such a trump card to simply do what you want to do without exercising patience, discernment, and guidance within a committed community of faith.
We need endurance, we need a strong spiritual base just like a runner needs a base of endurance, and we need to learn to depend on each other to truly discern the voice of God through the white noise that surrounds us…we need both of those things before we can even get to the point of choosing whether or not to listen as Abram did.
His obedience to the voice of God took him into new territory.
It’s not that his life before Genesis 12 was all that bad. But what God had in store was just so different, that you can’t even compare the before and the after!
In fact, he needed a new name to contain the blessings, to symbolize the difference between the person that he was, and the blessing he was becoming!
I want to be that blessing, how about you?
The thing is, I have a lot of work to do before I even have that choice.
See, what I’m trying to say is, there’s an inward move that needs to happen before the outward move is even an option.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus in John, and he has a much harder task.
God tells Abram to move physically, and Abram went.
Nicodemus, on the other hand, encountered Jesus, and I think he understood that the inward move he was being asked to make was much, much more difficult than a physical move ever could be.
I’m reminded of something Ervin Stutzman shared during the Sunday school hour last month when we met with Berlin Mennonite. He made a passing comment to the effect that it doesn’t matter how big of a facility you have, or how nice and inviting it is…your church will not grow until its members have room in their lives to welcome new people into their hearts.
We’ve recently been doing a lot of updating here, and our church is really looking good, and I hear there are some plans to continue with some renovations.
I’m guilty of not really noticing my physical surroundings…but I will say, this is nice, to have a nice kitchen, a remodeled primary department, fresh paint on the walls, some new lights…every week that passes, our church building is getting nicer and more inviting.
But how much room do you have in your life for new people? Nicodemus learned that he needed to re-arrange some inner space. He had some remodeling to do in order to make space for Jesus. That’s an ongoing thing, as competing voices begin to crowd him out.
We need practice, we need each other, but more than anything we need God to do this work in us.
God bless you