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Date: March 12, 2017 (Lent 2) 1. Texts: Genesis 12:1-4a; Ps. 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; Matthew 17:1-9. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: “leaving” as essential to discipleship. 4. Aim: challenge. 5. Proposition: “We have to leave our comfort zones.”

 

 

GO? WHAT? ME GO?

 

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.1 As soon as I read this, it made me think of other leavings in the Bible:  the Hebrews leave Egypt,  Moses leaves the people behind to go to Mount Sinai,  the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness,  Jesus sends his disciples out two by two to go ahead of him, and  St. Paul leaves Jerusalem to evangelize Asia Minor. And then, top on my list, was the Great Commission from Jesus himself. ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’2 So, here’s the thing: throughout history God has called people out of where they are to a new place where he wants them to be. God’s ambassadors are sent places. We are to leave where we are comfortable and secure to go to a new place where his life and love are to be proclaimed and lived. I understand the call in 1 Genesis 12:1-4a. 2 Matthew 28:18-20. Page 2 of 4 -Our “leaving” equals our “trusting”- terms of God’s authority: he has the power and right to call us elsewhere. The reasoning behind the call was a far more difficult reach. But here’s the short version, without the tears: we have to leave where we are secure so that we learn to actually work out of faith, trusting in God. You see, if we stay where we are, then we operate out of our own strengths, understandings and habits. We only do that to which we are accustomed. We don’t really learn new faith or spiritual habits. We all know what that’s like: we want to return to the days of the beloved rector of the past. We’ll put on a Sunday School program even though we have few children and just as few volunteers. We’ll use modern hymns instead of traditional ones, but they’re hymns nonetheless and presented in ways that our grandparents would have accepted. By staying where we are spiritually and in terms of faith, we lay claim to a nostalgic faith and to a life the way things used to be. To be honest, that’s not working well, is it. None of our congregations are thriving. Some are doing ok and because of size can fend off the imminent threat of closure. Most are wondering how to make a go of things so that they can keep the doors open. The way things used to be under good ol’ Canon What’s-HisName when the parish had a Sunday School of 40 kids will never help us thrive in our current circumstances. Nostalgia will be the death of us—as it would have been for the Hebrews when they longed after the fleshpots of Egypt. What? You’d rather live as slaves making bricks with no straw and under threat of execution rather than follow God in faith into the unknown land of Canaan? Nostalgia won’t work. Nostalgia doesn’t work—plain and simple and obvious. So as he has done for, well, maybe three and a half thousand years, God calls his people out of the nostalgic past so that they might discover his new present and his abiding presence. We leave what we have known to see his new future for us. We are called out of habit into trust and faith. This congregation now has to figure out to where God is calling them. Abram was led specifically to Canaan as the Hebrews were later. Moses and Jesus are led to mountains. The disciples are sent out to communities to which Jesus himself planned to go. In the Great Commission, the disciples are sent to all the Page 3 of 4 -Our “leaving” equals our “trusting”- world—very broadly understood, to be sure—but it was away from their comfortable Jewish homeland. God’s people are a “sent” people—or to use the language of the Church, we are “apostolic”. This congregation is apostolic. That is our nature as the Body of Christ. We just have to figure out God’s call. He is sending us, but to where? Or perhaps more accurately, to whom? St. Helen’s, Fairview, was sent out of their building to a shopping mall. St. Peter’s, Slave Lake, and St. Thomas’, Fort McMurray, were sent to Africa to look for incumbents. Christ Church, Grande Prairie, was forced to learn to walk in their own exodus as they ministered during an 18-month interregnum. Every congregation in this diocese is an apostolic congregation. God is sending us somewhere, to someone. While it doesn’t seem likely that the journey will be one of huge distances—I don’t think All Saints’, Fort McMurray, is being called to pack up and move to Grassland, Alberta. It does feel as if our congregations are being called to new forms of ministry, to places of deeper faith and trust. So what could this possibly look like? How will we leave where our nostalgia wants us to stay and move to where God wants his ministering Church to be? First, we publicly admit and declare that we are an apostolic Church. God is sending us out somewhere, which demands that we let loose of the past and look for his new future. Nostalgia equals death for the Body of Christ—every single time. Second, we have to immerse ourselves in the realities of Christian faith and practice, but expressed in contemporary terms. The truths of incarnation, sacrificial love and resurrection have to be lived out on a daily basis and expressed in ways that the world around can understand and to which it can respond. Third, we must know the people and culture who surround us. The Church does not exist in a Christian context. Canada is not a Christian country and will Page 4 of 4 -Our “leaving” equals our “trusting”- not likely ever be one. The people around us know next to nothing about God, Christ, the Spirit and the faith of the Church. They do not understand our Church vocabulary and they do not accept our faith or our religion. This means we must know them and learn to communicate our faith in ways and in language that they can appreciate. Of course, most people are going to say, “We have known these people for decades. They know us. Case closed.” But when was the last time you actually spoke to someone about God, Jesus and the Spirit? When did you last have a meaningful conversation about God’s call on your life? Would your neighbour even begin to understand what you meant by “God’s call”? Will your neighbour actually understand what it will mean for you to leave your nostalgia and seek his new location for you? You will only truly know your neighbour when you are able to effectively share these realities. Perhaps, then, the most difficult “leaving” will be leaving behind your old assumptions and habits with respect to your current relationships. Being a disciple of Christ never meant just being nice, kind and well-behaved, but it is surely time to stop laying claim to politeness as our chief Anglican virtue. Rather, we will leave those old assumptions to step out in courage and faith, trusting in God to lead us in our now holy conversations with others. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Like Abram, Moses and even Jesus, we are called to leave what we knew behind and journey out in faith and trust to what God has prepared for us. It has always been like this: like the Hebrews before us, the Church of Christ is an apostolic family of God. We are called to leave our nostalgia behind and reach out for God’s future with both hands. I know it’s frightening, but we can do all things through him who strengthens us. AMEN.