“Go!” Lent 2, March 8, 2020
“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go…’” So begins a major section of our sacred history. Following creation and the first people being expelled from the garden; After a flood that aimed to reset the growth and expansion of humanity; Once civilization had begun and the people scattered, salvation history takes a different turn, a new tack.
“Go…” Yahweh commands Abram. “Go… from your country and your kindred and your father’s house…” Like any change, the departure begins with loss. It begins with going “from.” Going requires letting go of what Abram and his family knew of life. Going means leaving the comfort of familiarity. It implies leaving the comfort of knowing where the best grocery store is and your favourite coffeeshop. It is the loss of certainty, or at least the illusion of certainty. There is nothing in the story that implies there was something wrong with Abram’s home or life. There is nothing that says Abram or his ancestors had done anything wrong.
Abram was just going about his regular life when God called…. when God commanded: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Going might begin with loss but it doesn’t stay there. Letting go of familiarity is just a first step, a painful necessity, on the road of following God’s call. Going “from” is followed, so immediately it can be easy to miss, “from” is followed by “to.” The going is not random. The change is not for its own sake. The calling has a destination, a goal, a purpose. “Go… to the land that I will show you.”
The question is: How? How will God show us where to go? How will we know the land? How will we know if we’re getting it right or if we read the map wrong or where to get a map in the first place? What will the land be like? Will we like it? Will it better than the place we already know? The unfortunate reality is that “going” means trusting. It means discernment. And prayer. And paying attention… paying attention to things and people and signs that we may not even know we’re looking for. How will we, with Abram, know what land God will show us? We start with what we can know. We start with knowing ourselves: our dreams and goals, our likes and our fears. This knowing gives us power to choose to let go or to hold on, for the good of the whole. Knowing ourselves as individuals is a necessary step in connecting together as a community, where no one individual fully defines or identifies with the whole, and every individual connects with the whole in one way or another. Our identity as a community transcends that of each one of us individually. Clarifying our communal identity is part of how God will show us the land to which we are called to go. Together.
This past week, a congregational development team met for the first time. Congregational development is the development of congregations of all sizes, locations and conditions into more faithful, healthy and effective communities of faith. It includes: focusing on our unique reason for being and primary task; connecting with and expressing our unique character; developing our capacity to be self-renewing and responsive to challenges and opportunities; growing our sustainability… and ultimately, giving us a greater sense of choice. The team worked hard to dig deep into issues and goals and to think through, together, what it means to be really committed to St. Andrew’s. We knew that everyone there, and everyone here, is committed to the parish and to the desire to journey together. But we do have some different ideas of what it means to be committed; what it is that we are actually committed to when we are committed to St. Andrew’s. We are not all the same, so it takes some conversation to discover, to uncover, where our commonalities lie. The great news is that the group didn’t want to stop talking. And so we know the work is not over. We’re not there yet. We don’t yet know where “there” might be. But we do know that we are on our way to the land God will show us, together.
There is a “to” to go to. There is a goal, a purpose, a direction, if we choose to go and seek it out. God’s words may be a command, but we still have a choice to follow or not. We have the choice to go or not. Choice, in fact, abounds through the process. Going to one place means *not* going somewhere else. If we try to go everywhere, to be everything, we are likely to end up wandering in circles, never going anywhere. And so we work to develop our capacity to trust that God will show us the land to which we are to go, by trusting the voice of God in one another and trusting the movement of God’s Spirit in our hearts and souls.
There is an ancient pilgrim saying: “Traveller, there is no path. The paths are made by walking.” I heard a similar, expanded reflection in a poem yesterday at a workshop about “wayfinding” lead by Dan Hines through the Wisdom Centre. It was like a mini-retreat where he guided us through a variety of exercises to connect with our souls and their deep knowledge. A poem he shared, titled “The Path,” evoked for me something of what it might be to follow God’s call to “go.”
Poem: “The Path” By: Lynn Ungar
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God says to Abram. The call is clear, even if the path is not. And with the call comes both promise and blessing: “I will make of you a great nation,” God continues, “and I will bless you, and make your name great…” What an appeal to Abram’s ego! Greatness and blessing is hard to pass up, even if means loss and uncertainty and risk. But God’s blessing is never just about us. God is never just about “me.” “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.*” It’s not just about you! God’s promise and God’s blessing, God’s call to go, has purpose beyond the personal. It is about more than any individual person or parish, family or denomination. “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.” God calls us to “go”, so that God’s salvation, God’s blessing, can be known the world over.
We don’t need to see the whole path ahead of us, we just need to take a step… and then another. And make the path by walking.