Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Walk

The Walk
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
February 23, 2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Genesis 12: 1-9
Romans 4: 1-12

Let us pray, for a welcome mind and a loving heart
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb. [1]

In many ways you could say that the Bible up until this point is all prologue. It is all about the back story, the set up, the framework, the exposition. The characters are introduced, the situation is set up, and the problem that will be resolved is brought to life, and then this morning's reading, the call of Abram is the beginning of the story. I think about plays like Les Miserables, in the prologue, the main character is let out of prison and finds closed doors everywhere, and then one open door, and then finds his conversion moment. . . and after all of that happening, the true story, the story of his redeemed life, and his walk with God towards the light can finally begin. All of the set up takes place in the prologue. It is an ancient mode of story telling. The Greek playwright, Sophocles, the father of the tragic form, utilizes a similar style in his plays. In Oedipus, the masses come before their king Oedipus begging for him to act, to do something, anything to rid their city of the plague. He promises to do so, and then the play begins, unfolding before him, the resolution from that initial mistake of promising to do more than he possibly could, promising to deliver more than is humanly possible.
In the Biblical narrative we have the break of relationship in the Garden of Eden. The fall from Grace, the hiding from God, the expulsion from the Garden, the devolution into violence and murder, all the way to the culmination of the great Flood and the Tower of Babel, the high water marks of the broken misunderstood relationship between God and Humanity, and now, finally, the very first steps of Salvation, beginning finally begins, with a simple request, and a simple walk, a walk with God, begun in the way that they do again and again throughout the Bible and throughout human history with God, the call is extended from God to humans, and then the first step, the step of faith, the step into the unknown is taken. . . the promise of the call is that each step will be led, but often only the first one is known, only the first one is made visible, the rest relies on faith. God calls Abram, telling him to leave what he knows, leave his comfort, leave his kin, saying "Go from your country, your kindred, and your Father's house, and go to the land that I will show you". . . do you see it's all in the future, the land that God will show him. . . will. . . he isn't shown the goal, just the first step, not the end point just the leaving. Everything on God's end is a promise. There is the land that God will show him, the nation God will make from him, the Blessing is even in the future, the making of the name great is in the future. . . the promise is in the future, but it is a powerful promise: Blessing those who bless you, cursing those who curse you, and then if that was not enough, the blessing isn't just for him, but will extend to all of the families of the Earth through him, but yes of course, at some future point, not now with just this first step. The trade is made, but all of the players are to be named later, such is the way of faith, such we are finding is the way of God. . . Act 1 is now ready to begin, of the play where we learn finally bit by bit, faithful step by faithful step, as well as every misstep by misstep, we are learning in this narrative, just who God is, and how God works, and a little bit about who He made us to be.
It all begins here with Abram and his first step, and it is a faithful step and a misstep all at the same time. We used to joke around at seminary, saying, "when you are called by God, figure out who your "Lot" is, and don't take him with you." He is nothing but trouble. But one thing you learn about God is that when you are walking with Him, both the faithful steps and the missteps are with Him, and therefore they all are important steps, meaningful steps, steps that completely shape your life. . . It is what Adam and Eve didn't know, and what many of us desperately are seeking to learn. God made us, God loves us, God calls us, and then God walks with us, just the way we are. . . the way He made us.
So it all begins with Abraham. Everything. . . the covenants, the laws, Moses, the promised land, the Kingdom, David, Solomon, the exile, the return, and of course Jesus, redemption, all the way to you and I. It is all part of the story that begins with Abram, here in this story. "I will bless all the families of the earth" God says. We all get to be a part of the blessing that begins in this story. Every one, every family. Do you ever think about what that means for you? What that means for all of us? To be blessed. . . and that every family is blessed, every single family, and that it all starts with one man being called to leave behind everything he knows? Could you take a step like that? Has God called you in your life to do such a thing? Or has it happened more than just one time, but constantly? That is what it's like for Abram, too. Since God doesn't tell him everything he needs to know, every turn in the plan, every bend in the road, God calls him again and again, to go here, to leave there, even to sacrifice his own son, only to be saved from such a tragedy at the exact right moment. As we will see in the next few weeks Abrams life takes many turns. . . and if  you look at the call, the blessings and the journey of the children he is promised, the history of all of us takes many turns. God is there with us through all of those turns. Nothing can separate us from the presence of God.
Paul so inspired by Abraham's faith, referring to the beginning, going back to the beginning in  his letter to the Romans, to put Jesus into perspective, He recalls the faith of Abraham in the text Paula read for us this morning, but he goes further, much later in the letter proclaiming this truth about how nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. He writes this: Romans 8: 31-29
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[2]

Profound huh. That is how God works. Powerful, unchanging, walking directly beside us, no matter what.
The story of salvation begins with Abraham, the beginning of the story of God's love, the repair of the brokenness begins with Abraham. . . remember when God came to the garden of Eden looking to walk in the cool of the day, it is all about this walk. God even shows us how far his love for us goes, by doing for us, what he doesn't take from Abraham, God does give up his own son as a sacrifice, for he so loved the world. He so loved us. A faithful walk that all begins with a call and a first step.
Since this is how I see Abram's call, as not only a beginning, but the beginning, it is extra cool and appropriate that we celebrate a new beginning this morning, just a few minutes ago, as we welcomed further into the life of Christ, into the life of this church, into a special walk, our boys, John and Andrew. Baptism is the first steps of a walk of faith, very similar to Abram's. God has called John and Andrew to a new life in Christ, just as God has called Margaret into a new life as their mother, just as God has called each of us into new responsibilities as a Congregation committed to their raising. Let us remember that the vows we made today are simply to walk, to take each new step, trying, to be faithful, not knowing what is ahead, but knowing that those future steps will all be led as these first ones have been. It is all about going on a walk. We made vows today, together, to walk with John and Andrew, to care for them, to instruct them, to raise them up in the faith, to love them. We will walk with them, and walk together, called by God. We'll all make missteps, Margaret will make missteps, John and Andrew will make missteps, but walking together, faithfully walking, supporting each other, just like Abram, even our missteps will be made with God, and so never completely wrong, and of course never completely alone. We took the first new step together, let us take each new step that same way. And so we will walk. . . Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ge 12:1-9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ro 8:31-39). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.