Yesterday as I drove to church I heard the news that a gunman had opened fire in a nightclub in Orlando; it was a beautiful, breezy morning here in New Jersey, and on our way into worship we joked that it was the kind of weather we might find in the Florida Keys.
The sermon this Sunday was on Genesis 12, the call of Abram, and my colleague invited us to see how Abram builds altars along his journey to an unknown land, and to stop and notice what God is doing and what God has done with our lives. We made a list of the adjectives that come to mind when we think of our own church community, recognizing, as she said, that we were different last year and that we would be different a year from now.
But I couldn’t help being drawn, as she spoke, to a slightly different message.
As she remarked that Abram was near 75 years old when the Lord asked him to up and move to an unknown land, and that he didn’t know where he was going, I was struck, as I have been so many times before, by how being Christian does not have anything to do with being comfortable. Flipping back through the pages of Genesis to the flood just a few chapters before or forward to the epic journey in the wilderness in Exodus, we find a God whose challenges far exceed his comforts.
What I find so powerful about this message is that while God is always instructing us to get up, to go, to go do something, or greet someone, or explore something, God does promise to go with us. God often promises to go before us, but it’s pretty clear from scripture that we can’t experience the grace and the goodness of God just on our couches.
I think this message was so poignant to me, because I have been someone who has traveled to faraway lands many times in my life, and I’ve often associated my purpose or calling in ministry with that type of journey. But for those of you who have been reading my blog, these past few years since we returned from China certainly smack of a more stationary season, and I’m not sure I realized until yesterday how important it is to find our wilderness even if we’re close to home. In Abram’s story and the countless other narratives of transformation in the Bible, I see God reminding us that while some journeys take place closer to home, all journeys toward God involve some discomfort, some wilderness, and a lot of disruption.
So my question to you (and my question to myself) this morning is where is God leading you, disrupting you, pushing you, and prodding you? Where, like Abram, is your unknown land, the journey that will be long, involving pit stops and altars, and probably fear and regret? But where will you go, not because you want to and not because it’s fitting, but because God is leading you there, and you want to be transformed?
When I turned on the radio after church, there was special programming from NPR about the shooting confirming that over 50 had died and now this is the worst shooting in our sordid national history. On social media, my peers cried out for answers, mourned in solidarity, and wondered how things might ever change. This morning, I’m rather certain that things won’t change swiftly, comfortably, or easily for any of us, but that real change, as it does in the Bible, will require uneasy, disruptive, totalizing transformation, that our country has clearly resisted since my childhood.
I pray desperately that we as people of faith may not just sit on our couches any longer but leap toward our zones of discomfort, following God and not our complacency, seeking disruptive love rather than cheap and easy respite–we can’t wall ourselves off from parts of our country or parts of our history that are dark. We need to go toward them, scrutinize them, and even embrace them, in order to change.
These were the words from a prayer in our bulletin this weekend:
Turn over the tables in our hearts, minds, and churches, and make room for your grace to dwell. We pray in the name of the One who disrupts the world with love, Jesus the Christ.