Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
Have you ever participated in one of those team building activities with rope courses in the trees, zip lines and rock climbing walls? When I worked at Whirlpool we had several teambuilding outings. One included an afternoon at Five Pines Ministries. It was an opportunity to get out of the office away from the stresses of the office, the pressures of deadlines and business travel; it was a time to get to know each other outside the office in collaborative activities and a time to push our boundaries of what we thought we could do. The current website defines it as, “a series of activities designed for human development and enrichment through challenge confrontation. Our safe challenges provide a supportive environment that results in many beneficial personal gains.”
That might be true, but for me it was an afternoon of sheer terror! I am sorry, but I am not sure that I would fully trust Jocelyn and Dick to catch me if I was to lean back and drop to the ground. Have you ever tried climbing a rock climbing wall? It sure looks easy when you see twelve year old boys scamper up it, but the pull of gravity and the promise of the hard ground four feet below sure make the bell eight feet above seem impossibly far away. Sheer will power and the desire not to let my team down was the only reason I made it. I had little faith in the security harness or the ropes held by the spotters. I think Frank had the right idea by saying he could not participate because of a bad back. I ran through the rope courses in the trees, ok shuffled, but at least I had ropes to hang onto, but when I arrived at the 250 foot platform from which I was supposed to hurl myself I was just about done in. I secured the harness, tested the snap, and then sat on the platform. I don’t know how long I sat there before I finally got the courage to slide slowly of the platform and “zip” down the line. It wasn’t so bad, but thank God it was the end of the day with no time for further adventures. I am sure our bosses would not have put us in harm’s way and Five Pines Ministries would not have stayed in business for so long if their program was not safe, but I sure had trouble trusting them that day.
You have probably had similar times in your life. In this morning’s Old Testament reading Abram and Sarai are in a similar situation being asked to put their trust in God for their very lives. God has asked them to leave the safety of their home, their family and their friends. In those days their safety and very lives were dependent on their close knit community, their father’s home and land for food, water, shelter and safety from marauding bandits and animals. God doesn’t even tell them where they are going; just that he will show them the way. Later in the story God promises Abraham and Sarah, now with new names, that they will be the ancestors of many descendants, as many as the grains of sand on the beach or the stars in the sky even though they continue to age beyond the years of childbearing. Abraham and Sarah doubt that they can produce a child and Sarah offers her handmaid Hagar to Abraham and a son Ishmael is born, but God says, “no”, that their descendants will come from Abraham and Sarah. When the long awaited child, Isaac, finally appears, God commands Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Fortunately God stays Abraham’s hand at the lost moment and provides a ram to sacrifice, but this God seems to be a hard God to trust and obey and yet Abraham is remembered and commended for his faith in God and it was counted as righteousness. God blesses Abraham and tells him that he will be the father of many nations and that people will ask God to bless them as Abraham was blessed and yet Abraham has only two sons and never sees the Promised Land. Abraham trusts God to fulfill his promises even beyond Abraham’s own life time.
Today we believe Abraham is the father of many nations, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abraham is the father of all who have faith in God not through obedience to laws and through works, but through faith. Abraham was considered righteous with God before Moses and the Ten Commandments, not because of anything Abraham did, but because Abraham trusted God and obeyed God. We are not saved by what we do. We are saved by the love and mercy and grace of our God and his son Jesus Christ.
So where are we being called to step out of our comfort zones, to step out of the safety of tradition, to step out of the safety of trusting in ourselves, to step out of the safety of St. James and to step out into the community of Albion in the name of Jesus Christ? Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is asking us to step out of our churches into our communities and join the Jesus Movement. Bishop Whayne is asking us to experiment, to try new ways of being church and the body of Christ, to be with our neighbors where they are in Reading Camps and Summer Dream Programs, in Community Gardens, in classrooms, at Parks Drugstore, wherever we find God active in our community of Albion. God is trustworthy. God will catch us as we make a leap of faith into the future. Jesus will show us the way. Praise be to God. Amen.