Pentecost IV, Proper 5 (A)
June 8, 2008
Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Let us pray. Mighty God, we travel today in darkness. We cannot seem to find what we are looking for. We change jobs; we keep searching for "the perfect fit." We don't pay attention to the poverty and hunger around us. Help us to see that Your grace, O God, is a gift that nothing can match. The greatest offering we can make is to live according to your will. Grant wings to these gifts, that they may soar to do your bidding. Bring a melody to our lips, that our days may be songs of praise. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.
According to a recent survey, motion sickness strikes two in every five people, with most experiencing symptoms while riding in a car, boat or airplane. Fifty percent of children under 13 years of age experience motion sickness symptoms. And, since most people would rather not walk to their favorite vacation destinations, Americans are constantly searching for ways to avoid motion sickness. For years, people have been looking to over-the-counter motion sickness medications, but many hesitate to take them because of the drowsiness and other unwanted side effects they cause. In fact, only 17 percent of consumers pack motion sickness remedies when traveling.
Have you ever noticed how often people in the Bible change their mailing their address? It is hard to find anyone who is in a serious drama with God who is not on the move from one location to another. How many of you here this morning have moved in the last five years?
Current research and census figures show that the majority of us will probably move within the next five years. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, "Americans move to new homes about every five years," (October 29, 1998). "Homeowners tend to stay put longer, averaging 8.2 years, while renters relocate every 2.1 years, according to the most recent Census Bureau data. Nationally, the median time people lived at one residence was 5.2 years, meaning half moved sooner than that and half remained in their nests longer. While the bureau has issued reports previously on how many people move each year – about one in six – the new figures are its first look at how long people stay put."
These statistics tell us what is going on, but they don't tell us why. Why are all these people moving every 5.2 years? What are the underlying reasons? Are people being transferred to new locations by their employers? Are they upgrading their homes to larger or nicer ones? Or are they just getting restless, and craving a change of scenery?
n a sense, this is nothing new: Americans have been on the move for years. Walt Whitman wrote about it in his "Song of the Open Road;" Jack London penned his novel The Road; and then in the late 1940s, Jack Kerouac took a roaring drive across America, and wrote the classic novel On the Road. You may recall that the heroes of this book, Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise, "were intended as the automobile-age equivalents of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. 'Beyond the glittery street was darkness, and beyond darkness, the West,' Kerouac wrote. 'I had to go'" (Douglas Brinkley, "In the Kerouac Archive," The Atlantic Monthly, November 1998, 50-51).
Kerouac's love of the road has inspired a generation of nomads, sold millions of books, was the focus of at least one conference, and graced advertisements for cars and clothing. The film rights to his book have been tossed around for years, and are currently held by the renowned director Francis Ford Coppola. Who knows? His rip-roaring road saga may soon be coming to a multiplex near you!
It seems clear that we, as a nation, are determined to be "on the road." Either we are chasing the American Dream, following new opportunities wherever they may be, wherever they may lead, or we are Dreaming of America, "desirous of everything at the same time" and willing to go anywhere to find it. Either way, we are so busy chasing our dreams that we are giving up and sacrificing our "sense of place." And what a loss this is, because without a place of belonging, we are without a certain centeredness.
Home is a concept that goes back to the dawn of humanity, and probably even predates religion. For millennia, it has given people a sense of peace, safety, stability and belonging. Is our urge to hop to new nests now destroying the concept of "home," replacing it with the more sterile idea of "housing"? Are we failing to pass the "old homestead" from one generation to the next, and in the process failing to transmit other important qualities to our descendants? Is the breakdown of the postmodern family somehow related to our need to move? Is our wanderlust a cause or an effect of this problem?
As pleasing as it would be to connect all these various societal failures with the "motion sickness" caused by our hops to new spots, this is not quite fair. People have been on the road since the time of Abraham, or Abram as he is still called in this early section of the book of Genesis, and somehow the values of home and family have survived their peripatetic passions.
Moving, whether it is to a new neighborhood, new city, new state, new job, and although it may involve trauma for children, pets and spouse, need not be a curse, but can be a blessing. What makes a transition good or bad is not when you hop, but how you hop, and the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 can give us some hints about how to make the right moves.
First of and foremost, you should hop only if God is calling. This message may not come in an audible form, a voice from the clouds saying "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house ..." (Genesis 12:1), as the LORD speaks to Abraham, nee Abram. But word will come in the deep inner sense you have that a move is going to be right for you and your loved ones, right in the sense that it gives you new challenges, new responsibilities and new opportunities for growth. God never calls us to new places only for more money, or greater luxury, or a bigger nest, or additional acquisitions.
Second, you should hop to a new spot only if the new land is a Promised Land. The LORD wants Abraham to hit the road, not because there is anything wrong with his present location, but so that he will be in a place where the promise will come true: "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" (12:2). God is determined to do something wonderful with Abraham in the Promised Land, determined to bless him so that he will be a blessing. This can be our destiny as well, if we move to a land where we can fulfill our potential to be a blessing to others – either through volunteer work, church involvement, family life and your particular profession. But at the same time, we should not move if our desire is only to escape the problems of our current situation. Unresolved tensions in the present land have a way of tagging along, following hot on our heels and polluting the Promised Land, so we must move only if, and only if, we've made peace with the land we now live in.
The grass isn't always greener on the other side, unless we are called by God to hit the road toward a land of promise. Abraham heard this call, and hopped well, moving to a land where the LORD could use him to be a blessing to others – to his family, his descendants and people of faith throughout history, including us. Abraham moved, but he didn't lose his "sense of place"; for him, centeredness came from being in the right place with God, and from building altars to the LORD throughout the land of Canaan.
So what does this mean for us? It means that we, too, can retain our sense of place if we "build altars" through faithful living wherever we may find ourselves. We can have a certain centeredness if we consider each new home to be a "Bethel" – that is, a House of God. Not a House of Luxury or a House of Wealth or a House of High Technology, but a House of God.
We are truly centered whenever we live, like Abraham, in Bethel – in a house where God can bless us, and make us a blessing to others. It is only by making each new house a House of God that we can avoid the motion sickness that will in turn lead to the breakdown of home and family.
There is nothing wrong with staying home, and staying put. But if we move, we should be careful not to jump because we are "mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, [and] desirous of everything at the same time," as Kerouac put it. Instead, we should hop because we desire to hear God's guidance and live in a land of promise. If we are in touch with the God of Abraham, we can be on the road without motion sickness, and be a true blessing to others wherever our home may be.
Finally, there is a sense in which God is calling us to get hopping! No, God may not be asking us to move from the specific geographical location we call "home," or to a new job or a new ministry, but God does ask us to recognize that we are on a spiritual pilgrimage (see Hebrews 11:8-16). We can't get bogged down spiritually. Growth is not an option for children of God.
One writer puts it this way: “Have you ever noticed how often people in the Bible are changing their addresses? It is hard to find anyone who is in a serious drama with God who is not on the move. No one ever finds God by nailing life down. Maybe that is because faith is always discovered along the way.”
It is impossible to follow Jesus without moving in some way, either physically or spiritually, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot move without leaving something behind. Some disciples were asked to leave behind their families and professions. Others were asked to leave their sin, or their wealth or even their grief over the dead. Jesus is always moving on, and he expects his followers to travel pretty light.
Those first disciples had a pretty hard time with this, and kept wondering when Jesus was going to settle down. They were waiting for him to establish the kingdom right then and there, so at last they could stop walking around. Like the disciples before us, we don't know exactly where Jesus is leading us right now. And you know something? I really think that is okay. We are not asked to be clear about where we are going, and to follow him. We are asked simply to turn our eyes upon Jesus.
Ultimately, if we keep moving, God will take care of any and all motion sickness we might have.