June 19 Sermon

“Abraham’s Call, God’s promise”

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower

 For June 19 2106, The 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time &           Father’s Day

Based on Gen 12:1-9

We will be spending the summer with Abram and Sarai. Their story is told in Genesis. Genesis means “beginning”, and it starts literally with the beginning of all creation. We then get stories about Adam and Eve, Cain & Abel, then Enoch, then Noah, then tower of Babel, and finally Abram. After this comes Isaac & Jacob, then Joseph, followed by Moses in the book of Exodus. Today we are focusing on God’s call to Abram, an order to go where God is leading and a promise that God will deliver blessings.

Whenever you ask me how my vacation was, I am always going to tell you that it was not long enough. Most of our vacations are taken in Orlando. Ronda’s children live there, and so our grandchildren live there. My father in law has a time share in Orlando, so twice a year we have been joining him in what is essentially a condo.

This was a strange week to be in Orlando. Only about 24 hours after I arrived, Christina Grimmie was shot. Last Sunday we learned of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub. A couple days later at a Disney World resort a 2 year-old was snatched by alligator and was found the day before we departed. The day of our departure was the same day President Obama and Vice-President Biden visited Orlando. (We did not see either official, although we did see a motorcade at the airport and we saw Air Force One on the tarmac. Naturally that delayed our departure by 45 minutes …)

Florida was my home for about 12 years, from fifth grade until I completed college and went to seminary. But for Ronda, Florida was home for 25 years. She was offered a job in Florida right after college, she was married in Florida and raised her family there. She only left Florida to marry me while I was pastor of a congregation here in Chicago. For her Orlando was her adult home. As we tried to make sense of the shootings, she made a very astute comment: “While I cannot imagine what these families are experiencing – and I have been praying for them – what makes this so frightening is that it has happened someplace very familiar to me, someplace I consider home.” You see, she worked in a church just a few blocks away from the Pulse nightclub.

Sense of place is very important to our spirituality, and that’s why acts of terror have such long-lasting effects.

Amidst these news stories, we caught up with a couple old friends who live in Orlando – one who is a physician in a community clinic literally yards from Pulse, another who is an entertainer at Universal Studios. Both reflected on the impact of this shooting on their daily work – although obviously in very different ways.

But this vacation was really about family: we attended the preschool “graduation” of Jase; marked the end of Weston’s kindergarten year; played – sometimes with toys; went to Sea World twice and Gatorland once; and observed how our grandchildren have grown. We also observed how dementia is reshaping my father in-law’s life, and quietly discussed what might have to be done to provide care for him. We looked at the blueprints for my step-daughter’s home. We commiserated about my step-daughter-in-law’s job ending, and then rejoiced at a very rapid invitation for an interview and – as we were sitting at the airport – the reception of a job offer. And while we were on the plane, my step son’s 12 year-old dog died from heart failure. So it was an emotional time in for us to be in Orlando.

A couple of Sundays ago, many of you offered me a common blessing: “Go and enjoy your vacation: you certainly deserve it.” I’m not sure what that means, because I’m not sure I deserved my vacation. It is part of my agreement with you, part of my contract with Lyonsville: I receive one week of vacation per each quarter year. But just because it is part of a contract, I’m not sure I deserve it. Claiming the parts of a contracted agreement is more about entitlement than what is deserved. Don’t get me wrong: I feel blessed to have a contracted agreement that permits me vacation time – and I plan to claim every single moment of that vacation time! –but I’m not sure that is the same as what I deserve.

What got me thinking about this, though, isn’t what is deserved, but the word “Go”: “Go and enjoy your vacation.” The Lord said to Abram, “Go and leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land I will show you.” Going on vacation is very different than following God’s command to go to a new place. Abram does not have a prearranged employment contract detailing pay, benefits package, and vacation days.

God tells Abram to break away from his family, the places he has known, even his father’s household – which is one part family, one part workplace, one part neighborhood. Since place is an important part of spirituality, Abram is being told to leave the familiar place to invest his spirit in a new place: “Go to a land I will show you.” The call is not to become immigrants to a new nation but to take up a journey to a new way of being in relationship with others because God is the one who is setting the itinerary of this journey, God has promised a new place to live, God has promised a blessing that will be known by the generations that follow. This is not a promise of prosperity in Abram’s lifetime, but a promise of God’s goodness to be known within creation because someone was willing to follow God. The promise is that God will show the way – if Abram is willing to go immediately and follow to a new way of living.

That reflection leads me to something I ask you to prayerfully consider this morning. I truly believe God is calling Lyonsville to a journey, to a new way of being the church. I believe God is promising great blessings if you are willing to leave the familiar religious land where you have dwelled. This is not a call to emigrate, not a call to relocate from the corner of Joliet and Wolf Roads but to embark on a journey that is a new way of being in relationship with others because God is the one who is setting the itinerary of this journey, God has promised a new place to live, God has promised a blessing that will be known by the generations that follow. I do not know that this is a promise of prosperity in your lifetimes, but I trust it is a promise of God’s goodness to be known within creation because of your willingness to follow God into new territories.

I do not necessarily know what those territories are, nor do I think it is my role as Interim minister to chart your course. I think a significant part of my role is to look at the map with you, to help you discern the how route A is different than route B and C, to help you know the lay of the land in front of you as best as we are able to know ahead of time. Sometimes that means taking short trips together – like trying a different worship style or cleaning parts of the church building or possibly even moving stuff around in the church building. Sometimes it means reassuring you as a congregation that even though things are different, God is calling you and is blessing you along this strange path in this strange time while doing these strange things. I believe the promise God made to Abram is also being made to Lyonsville: God will show the way.

Let me ask you: How comfortable are you with God’s promises of blessing without knowing the details of what new things are in front of you? What do you anticipate is in the near future for Lyonsville? What do you think you as a congregation will experience in the next 24 months? Between now and June of 2018 what will be the spiritual terrain, the activities of ministry, the work of remaining a congregation?

I started this prayer bowl at the November congregational meeting to collect prayers for the congregation. The gold papers represent hopes – anticipations – joys The pink papers represent fears – anxieties – concerns. Today we add a new color: green. These are prayers for what is coming up, things that have not yet happened but which we can anticipate happening. These are prayers for change, transition, transformation, prayers related to doing things that this congregation has never done before – or has not done for a very long time.

An obvious example: there will be a Search Team called, they will have paperwork to fill out to begin the search process, then they will receive ministerial profiles from interested pastors, and top candidates will be identified, followed by interviews, then in-person meetings, leading to a candidating Sunday when a potential pastor is presented to the congregation for a vote. That might be one thing coming up or it might be six things. But there are other events that are coming up in this time of congregational transition for which we should be praying.

That’s what the green papers represent: things that have not yet happened but which you can see coming across the horizon.

To help you keep track of these prayers and the colors that represent them, I wrote this out on a slip of paper for you. What we’re focusing on right now are the green prayers. Now, it may be that green prayer (a prayer for something coming up) could also be a yellow prayer (a joy, a hope, something hopeful) or possibly a pink prayer (something fearful, anxious, a concern). Maybe you want to put the same prayer on two slips of paper of different colors. But I encourage you to try to keep them separate.

After written prayers have been collected

God of Abram and Sara and many other pilgrims of faith:

we come to you this morning thankful for the people who have shared our journey of faithfulness.

Today we are marking the importance of fathers and father-like men in our lives. We reflect on how males have influenced our growing, the development of our character, the shaping of our values. As we grow in wisdom, we ask that we grow in grace to forgive those men for how they failed us, but to also admit that even in their failures we matured to become who we are now.

Each one of us has been called to be part of Lyonsville at this time of discernment, this time of setting a new course, this time of being the church. We draw on all previous life experiences, and we rely on the freshness of your holy spirit to guide us to a pathway of service in your name.

In this bowl are collected many months of prayers – prayers of concern, prayers of joy, prayers related to what has been and prayers related to what may yet be. With all these prayers we trust the future of this congregation to your care, and we ask for clarity about the future directions of ministry, work, and care for Lyonsville.

As you continue to receive our prayers, we ask that we may learn new ways to understand how you communicate to us. This is part of our prayer this morning.

Now God of Abram and Sara and many other pilgrims of faith,

we gather more prayers as we enter our time of sharing joys and concerns.

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