(sermon starts at 25:30)
“Traffic” is one of those words that rarely, if ever, elicits a warm-fuzzy response. It typically follows words and phrases such as, “stuck in,” “I hate,” “I’m late because of,” and “why doesn’t somebody do something about this darn.”
James Taylor hated it so much he produced a little ditty about it called “Traffic Jam.” It ends with this stanza:
Now when I die I don't want no coffin, I thought about it all too often.
Just strap me in behind the wheel and bury me with my automobile.
Damn this traffic jam, how I hate to be late, it hurts my motor to go so slow.
Damn this traffic jam, time I get home my supper'll be cold, damn this traffic jam. Damn.
Yet, there are times that the word is used as a positive. For instance, shopkeepers – both online and brick and mortar -- love high levels of traffic through their stores and most web designers hope for lots of traffic to their sites.
I’ve had a lot of traffic through my little home this week – I put it up for sale on Tuesday morning and as I wrote this on Friday at noon, it’s had 14 showings. That means that I’ve basically been evicted from my own home to ensure that it stays in pristine viewing condition at all times!
We had a lot of traffic through the old place last Sunday. By Herc’s count, 147 folks were in the pews for the celebration – and what a grand celebration it was! Everything was just great – service, lunch, presentations and I especially loved seeing lots of friends – old and new!
So yes, sometimes traffic is a good thing!
A commentator on the story of Abram and Sarai in Genesis said that these verses carry “substantial theological traffic!” It’s a busy intersection, this little pericope. We’re at a crucial crossroads between the primal and the specific. Up until now, the Bible has concerned itself with the most cosmic of questions facing our ancestors. Questions like, “how did we get here?” “Who made all of this?” “How come we’re so different?” “Why don’t we treat each other better?” The epic tales of Creation, Fall, Flood, and Tower seek to answer those queries and more!
And then we’re introduced to Abraham who lives, and this probably not a coincidence, in a town called “Crossroads!” Abraham faces a crossroads in his life and God faces a crossroads in God’s relationship with humanity.
Things haven’t gone well thus far, and God could have easily scrapped the whole thing and called it a day.
But God didn’t.
If nothing else, this high-traffic crossroads proves yet again that God chooses to remain intimately connection with humanity. The one sentence story of the Bible is simply this: God’s relentless quest to be in community with humanity – and it begins with one human in particular.
Here’s what we know about Abram at this point: Other than “he went” – not much. He has a couple of brothers, one of whom died and left Lot in his care, plus, Abram has a spouse named Sarai and together they have fertility challenges.
But here’s what we know about anyone that God chases out a normal life:
We know that God doesn’t call based upon credentials or pedigree.
We see, again and again in the Bible and in our own lives, that a faithful response to God’s leading results in a blessing of gifts and talents, of learned and acquired skillsets sufficient for the tasks to which we are called.
In short – God doesn’t call the equipped – God equips the called! Those, my friends, are words to live by!
Remember that the town from which Abram is called, Haran, means “Crossroads?” You have to love that! God calls Abram from the crossroads! God apparently thrives when we are at a point of decision, of not knowing which way to turn, of what’s next – it’s in those moments that God loves to be active. It’s when we’re faced with choices and indecision that God is waiting and God calls. Most of us ignore it and figure it’s a wrong number, we don’t have the time, the gifts and talents, the skills – and even if we had all that – we’re clearly not good enough – but remember – God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called and the One who equips always leads the called to a more complete expression of the persons they were created to be.
All of the traffic in here last week directs us to a crossroads as well. We’ve set a spiritual “mile marker” at 100 years and the road ahead is less certain than the one behind. The sign ahead simply asks, “Now what?” It’s great, truly that this congregation has survived and even, at times, thrived – but now what?
When I proposed the idea behind Vision 2020 it was with this moment in mind. It’s hard to look forward when we’re also looking back. As of last week – the retrospective is complete and now our complete posture is to the future. You may recall that both during the service and in our time downstairs, we invited folks to offer their sense of where God is calling First & Central from this particular crossroad. Among other things, including bringing about world peace, I heard many comments about youth, children, Sunday School, youth group, etc. That list also permeates the Vision 2020 report. Following those strong recommendations puts us clearly at a crossroads and as I said a minute ago, God apparently thrives when we are at a point of decision, of not knowing which way to turn, of what’s next – it’s in those moments that God loves to be active.
Welcome to Haran! Our next months and years will be exciting, likely off-kilter, and ever expanding our vision of the gospel in 2020 and beyond!
Venturing beyond and through the crossroads led Abram and Sarai, and will in turn lead us, to a promised blessing by God.
Now if there’s an over-used word that’s meant to be so sincere and polite – it’s “blessing!” From every sneeze to the Southern Slam of “well bless your heart,” to the ubiquitous “have a blessed day,” to all manner of births and deaths labeled as “blessings” – some of which apparently come in disguise – blessing, today, in so many cases, has become meaningless and a namby-pamby form of a happy church-talk.
“Blessing” in antiquity meant simply a sense of well-being or the presence of peace in the life of the recipient. In Pagan cultures “blessing” was synonymous with fertility – and we still see the birth of children or abundance of a crop as a blessing. Lastly, blessing came to connote gifts, talents, or abilities that God bestows. God blesses people with the drive and vitality to co-create with God through discovery, invention, and productivity. Blessing of curiosity and creativity bestows on humanity the power to create and acquire.
If you take all of that, put it in a blender, hit “pulse” a few times, what you end up with? Blessing equals flourishing.
There’s a word we just don’t use enough!
When something is flourishing – from a career to a garden – it’s visceral. You can feel it, smell it, wander in it, and know that it’s vibrant and vital, at its peak, healthy and growing and strong! It’s life at its prime.
That’s blessing: Life at its prime. That’s what God is sending Abram out to experience and that’s what God wants for each and every one of us and this congregation collectively. Life at its prime – and as a caveat – that doesn’t mean life that’s giddy, happy, and without pain, failure, or disappointment – it means living all of that to its fullest – good and bad. That’s what God is sending us out to experience and God does that simply because God loves us and apparently can’t give up on us. It also says that God has declared that we are good enough exactly as we are.