The Invitation To Be Transformed: Our Stories
August 16, 2015
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
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. 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. 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.’ 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. 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, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 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. 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. And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.”
Have you noticed how these are rapidly disappearing? (Holding up an old fashioned road map).
For you folks younger than say 25, this is called a “road map.” Before the days of GPS being built into our cars or phones, your parents and grandparents would pull into a gas station, which in those days we called a service station; and there, we’d get, well, service! A man would come out to your car, wearing a uniform that marked his big oil company. Listen how well some folks can fill in this blank: You can trust your car to the man who wears a ____________(star). That was the Texaco motto. And this uniformed man would ask you how much gasoline you wanted and then pump in for you; no stinky hands, no being splashed by an overfilled tank. Then, he would wash your windshield and open your hood and check your oil level. If you asked he would also check the air pressure in your tires. This was all free! It was built into the price of the gasoline: 27 cents a gallon! Something has gone badly wrong! And inside the service station, where you paid, there would be a rack of road maps: again free!
We’d use these things to travel; mapping out the best route to visit relatives, vacation or go on business trips. One person would drive and the other followed along on the road map, giving directions. My only problem with them was getting them to re-fold correctly.
Now, turn to a neighbor, and if you’ve ever used a road map, share with them the longest journey you’ve ever made by one! Please carry the conversation on after the service in the gathering space and turn this exercise into new friend making and Christian community building!
I asked Alice about hers and it was to Canada! Lauralee and I once went from Nashville to Berkeley, California for relocation for seminary. Here’s what was funny, we were moving in a U-Haul pulling a Volkswagen behind it. It was in the days before U-Haul trucks had Air-conditioning. And we had to take Lauralee’s cat for some reason! In order to keep cool and keep the beast in the cab, we duct taped chicken wire over the windows. So, one-day California looked up and here came some people from Tennessee with chicken wire duct taped over truck windows. And you didn’t think the Beverly Hillbillies were real, did you?
Give the distance travelled, I’m sure that Abraham and Sarah could have used a road map! Trouble was, there were no roads, only caravan routes. Their journey was monumental in the size of their moving party, given their relative to the era advanced age and the distance and terrain they travelled. In deep faith they responded to God’s call to leave all that was familiar behind and from them, acting on faith, came the nation and people Israel, among others. They followed God’s promise of descendants a numerous as the stars in the heavens, who would bless all the nations.
If you study their journey, you’ll see they started on one side of the mid-East and travelled to the other. They began in Ur, current day Iraq, near Kuwait and the Persian gulf. They traversed Saudi Arabia, to Canaan, near the Mediterranean Sea, then north to Egypt and back to Canaan, where they had set up altars. Their route took them through deserts, stopping at oases, up and over mountains. They heard from God and moved on God’s hopes and dream for them.
And in a sense, their physical journey, fueled by faith, was emblematic of their spiritual journey. It was almost a roadmap of the hand of God in their lives and with some reflection, their story can help you discover your faith journey’s roadmap.
This is our next to last sermon in our Invitation series. As pastors we’ve wanted to give you motivation and tools to be “inviters for God,” to the moveable feast that is life in Christ. We’ve explored how all of humanity needs and can respond to the invitation and today, we look at how our spiritual road maps may be used by God to help others respond to God’s invitation. We’ve given some pragmatic tools too! Some of you have, and we urge all to get, Invite prayer cards, to list and pray for inviting people you know aren’t active in a congregation to worship with you. This week and next, you’ll find in your bulletins, actual cards you can use to invite people. One side has the wide variety of worship we offer at Christ Church and the reverse some timely sermon series, for autumns re-engaging of life, home, work and school. We’re beginning with what Jesus would Undo – favoritism, mean talk (doesn’t our culture need to learn civil speech and how awful is cyber bullying for young people) arrogance and indifference. Then in October, we’ll have a series aimed at helping people go and grow deeper and closer to Christ on the Christian walk.
The other tool we have for you today is one to help you map your spiritual journey. I want to thank Dr. Kunka, Alice, for giving us permission to use it! She designed it for her former appointment at First UMC, Cary. Let’s look together at the “Faith Journey” insert and let me walk you through it with some brief comments.
Beginnings, where and when did your faith journey begin? I hope you will own and celebrate your faith journey, particularly if you were blessed with a Christian home and raised in the church. Somehow with celebrity Christianity, folks are led to believe that if they didn’t have a Pauline, blinding light experience and turn-around in their life, their journey isn’t real or is somehow second-class; toss that out the window! If the church and Christian home worked for you celebrate it!
I remember well a few years ago, when a church member, who was on the football coaching staff at Davidson College arranged to have Steph Curry speak to a back to school bash on the lawn of the church I served then. Steph was already in the pros but having a tough time with ankle surgery. It was the first time he shared his faith to a large group. And get this: he celebrated that the Christian home and Church worked for him. He told the kids, study hard, mind your parents and go to church, it will work! What a liberating message that was for 300 United Methodist youth.
Deserts: again, some in the faith act like they have it totally together and have never struggled. Why the prosperity preachers teach that struggle, whether spiritual, economic or physical are signs of God not blessing, that someone did something wrong. Such leads to people not listening to us. When we are vulnerable and share our tough times and how, maybe in retrospect, we realized God was with us, it carries much import.
Oases: where have you found refreshment for your soul? Retreats have been wonderful for me. Alice is planning 4 for us over the next year. Many have been to Emmaus or similar programs. Dayspring is an annual retreat for our church. In October the United Methodist Marriage Encounter retreat will be held in Charlotte. Find your oases and visit them frequently.
Altars: what sacrifices have you made for a higher purpose and how did you feel about that? How do you parents feel when a child graduates from college? Lauralee and I received the gift of being generous when as a young couple we sacrificed significantly for a capital campaign at a church. We discovered a life long joy in being generous.
Mountains: Where and how has God revealed Godself to you? Nature, prayer, people, teachers, youth leaders, mission trips?
Angels: Who delivered good news to you? What was that good news?
Hopes and Dreams: What hopes and dreams do you believe God has given you? Will you in faith, like Abraham and Sarah act on them?
Some of you will want to write out your thoughts. What a legacy that would be for your family when you’re in heaven, for them to be able read your spiritual roadmap! Others may want to pray and meditate on them; others may want to talk through them. Here’s what I hope: you’ll become comfortable with your journey in any conversation. Why? Because the story of God in your life is of highest importance: your story shared with some may invite them into The Story, of Jesus and His love. No theology, no canned 4 point spiritual laws, no Bible quoting is as powerful a witness as your story of God in your life.
A Faith Journey: Abraham’s, Sarah’s, and Mine
Everyone’s journey of faith has some of the following elements: beginnings, deserts, oases, altars, mountains, angels—as well as hopes and dreams. As you think about your own journey, jot down notes to describe those parts of the journey.
For Abraham and Sarah, their faith journey began in Ur when God said: “Leave your land, your family and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.” Where and when did your faith journey begin?
We all have dry times in our lives, times of wandering in the desert. When have you had times like that along your journey?
These are places of refreshment found in the desert. Where have you found such places on your journey? Who has led you there?
In the Old Testament, the altar was the place of sacrifice, foreshadowing the cross of Christ. When have you had to make sacrifices in your life for a higher purpose? How did you feel about that?
From Scripture, we find that God often reveals himself from mountains. Mount Sinai, for example, is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Matthew’s gospel has several significant mountain “scenes”: Jesus’ temptation (4:8), the Sermon on the Mount (5:1), a number of healings (15:29), the Transfiguration (17:1), Jesus’ final discourse (24:1), and the commissioning of the Apostles (28:16). Where and how has God revealed Godself to you.
The word angel comes from the Greek word for “messenger.” In the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18, we read about their visit from three strangers who announce the news that Sarah was to have a baby. Who has delivered good news to you? What was that good news?
Hopes and Dreams
In Genesis 26:4, God promised to make Abraham’s and Sarah’s descendants as numerous as the stars. What hopes and dreams do you believe God has given you?