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Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
March 8, 2019 – Second Sunday in Lent
Isn’t it one of those great spiritual coincidences that we should read about the call of Abraham on a Sunday early in Lent when a global epidemic is spreading? The Word calls to us…here and now…from a faraway place, long, long ago.
Abraham hears God’s voice speaking to him. “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”
Abraham hears. Abraham obeys, leaving what is familiar…his family…his plans for the future …his country… to go somewhere …for something… for that voice inside us all that calls us to be more than mortal…to be human…to be a child of God.
I went to Denver last week for a meeting of the Mountain Sky Conference United Methodist Foundation. I had to fly on a jet plane to get there. I had to sit in a crowded airline terminal for my flight…but thank goodness…it was all the way at the end of the United concourse…away from people who were getting on larger planes and flying to larger population centers.
Air travel has changed since my first ride as a passenger in 1967. You can’t go out on the tarmac to greet your guests anymore. In 1970 I welcomed, among others, Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone.
He shook my hand, but he was looking over my right shoulder, then my left, then my right again. He kept saying what many guests of the Cultural Affairs program said, “Why hasn’t anyone told me about this place? Why hasn’t anyone told me about this place?
You can barely get into the airport passenger terminal today…unless you have a federal government I.D. and a boarding pass.
Travel has never been so available …or easy…or so complicated. Body scans and trained dogs await us at our departure. Urban congestion surrounds us where we land.
The best part of any trip for me is arriving back here…in a place we call God’s country…where there is space to become the child of God you were sent into the world to be.
For we have traveled from home with Abraham…from England…or Ireland…or Russia…or Norway …or from a country that no longer exists…like Prussia …or East Germany…or Burma.
We are the passengers who have gotten off the boat or the train or the plane. Our forebears were the travel agents and pilots…the pioneers and wagon masters and cooks…that made the journey possible. We are passengers on the planet Earth.
Our forebears, too, went from their country and their families…to a land someone had told them about. I told you many years ago…as the mass migrations from Africa and Syria and Columbia were just getting started…that this was a phenomenon that was just getting started.
Global climate change…rising sea levels…famine…people who steal children to harvest their organs and send them to us…and now… epidemics that spread throughout the jet-propelled human population of the world …fuel mass migration from one corner of the globe to all the others.
Abraham has gone from his home to a place that God showed him… and may we not find ourselves on a luxury cruise when that day comes for us.
I told you many years ago that mass migrations were just starting. This morning, I take that back. It started long ago…when Abraham heard God call him to leave his home… and go to a place…God would show him.
Today, people are flying all over the world. I left Bigfork last Thursday at 8:00 a.m. and was driving through Denver traffic by that afternoon. In a way, we have become super-human, with a mobility that people in Jesus’ day would have not been able to imagine.
As a result, we are more powerful… and more vulnerable…than any generation in human history. We take our culture with us when we go…and we bring back what we find…or what finds us…there.
I felt anxiety in traveling that the plane I was on…the vehicle that accomplishes the miracle of traveling hundreds of miles in a little over an hour…may have been contaminated somewhere… somehow…by someone…or something.
So we see the magnificence of our calling into the world…and the risk that comes with it.
Jesus calls us into all the world, too. The Great Commission he gave to us was to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
As God called Abraham from his home, Christ calls us into the world to tell the story of God’s love for all people and our salvation from a meaningless death…for life eternal.
We see, at once, these days how interdependent we have become because of our relationships with each other…and how free we have become because of the knowledge that has been handed down to us by those who have gone before us.
My favorite panel on the façade of Union Station in Washington, D.C. put it this way: “The one who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with them. So it is in traveling: The one who would bring home knowledge must carry knowledge with them.”
We will overcome our challenges today. It won’t be because we can go farther and faster. It will be because we have been given understanding…by those who humbled themselves…and have shown us how to humble ourselves …to the Lord God Almighty.
The greatest journey is not to a place but to a new understanding. Humanity has traveled through time as well as distance. People and places have been changed by this journey.
A few years ago I was honored to celebrate the 100th birthday of the woman who made the best whole wheat bread I have ever had. She was born in 1914 and I shared a few lines of rhyme for a remarkable day.
Today we embrace one of life’s great gifts/Given year after year, if you get my drift./We come from all over, from so many homes,/To savor the Century that is Alma Hauf Jones.
She remembers a time there weren’t any cars,/A world filled with kings and Russia had czars./Rich people were poorer than poor folks today;/
Iran was Persia and Mumbai was Bombay.
It is not by force or violence that humanity has arrived at its present state. It is by humbling ourselves to understand what is around us and to pass that understanding along. That is how we become a blessing to all those we know…and all those we never knew…and will never know.
Paul understands this journey through space and time in his letter to the Romans…and to us…this day. It is not through obedience to rules and punishment for any deviation that we have received promises from God.
It is in our faith that we become more than mortal and children of God. When we can carry our faith with us through every good day and bad, every happy moment and sad, we become the blessing God called Abram to be.
He is transformed by his faith . Even his name changes as a result of his trust in God…from Abram, meaning “Father is exalted”… to Abraham, meaning “Father of multitudes.” I hear the voice of recognition of globalization…in the changing of that name.
He is no longer the head of a single family. He is the great patriarch of three great faith traditions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. He is not only a blessing to his parents and the land he was born. He becomes a blessing to all his descendants as his faith flows into three great oceans.
We live in a place like that…maybe the only place in the world like that …at the headwaters of the Atlantic and Pacific and Arctic Oceans…and what a beautiful place where it all starts… so near here.
This is mysterious stuff. I know I am just talking around it as I try to lift it up…like that façade on Union Station I mentioned. But it travels through time and space to land where it needs to be…and to do what needs to be done…to become a blessing.
It’s like the celebration of healing through sound that we had here on Friday night. Mary McGrath began the evening by encouraging us to hear the sound they shared, not just with our ears, but with our whole bodies and minds…with out whole bodies…our whole being.
We were blessed by the hour we spent together…and I think those who shared in the performance became a blessing to those they met …and will meet…after that hour.
Jesus tries to explain this to Nicodemus in our Gospel reading this morning, and his language is as metaphorical as mine has been. Nicodemus knows our Lord brings a special message…that he is the Message…and he wants to understand it in a way that lets him carry it around in his hat or pocket. He wants to objectify it…reduce it …from an idea or concept…into a thing.
When Jesus tells him that no one can see the Kingdom unless they are born again, he asks, “How can someone enter their mother’s womb a second time, when they are old?”
Jesus opens Nicodemus’ mind up to a whole new universe of thought…. a whole new horizon line… a whole new expanse of understanding.
It is not a matter of the flesh…what we pump through our veins and move through by our physical strength…but of the Spirit…what we live and breathe … more than our muscles and bones…what we think and speak…what we can see from here.
Flesh gives birth to flesh. Spirit gives birth to spirit. And the wind blows where it pleases.
So God called Abram to leave his home…to go to a place that God would show him…and God calls all of us to do the same…to become a blessing as Jesus was a blessing… the blessing…with his message …given so humbly and fearlessly that it became clear to all who had eyes to see and ears to hear…to every Nicodemus in the land…that he was The Message.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life…
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day…so that we can be…and receive…your blessing? Amen.