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. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I 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.”
4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan,
6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the Lordappeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Today's theme is “No Place like HOME.” As I reflected on that theme, clearly the concept of “home” was very important. What do we mean when we say home? Well, some would say home is where the heart is. Emily Dickens say that home is “where thou art.” The contemporary Christian author Kathleen Norris says, that the other name for home is peace. Billy Graham, however, gave the answer that (not surprisingly) probably most closely reflects an biblical understanding of home. He said, “My home is in Heaven. I'm just traveling through this world.”
Well, as I thought about the different ways we each may define home, I thought it might be wise to turn to the Bible to understand what it has to say about home.
Now the first text I turned to wasn't the one we read today, arriving there was a sort of journey of it's own. The first text I turned to was from the Gospel of Luke. I wanted to look at what Jesus had to say about home. The first scripture I looked at was when Jesus returns to his home as an adult and reads from Isaiah in the synagogue. Jesus, the son of God, proclaims that in the reading of the words from Isaiah that say, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,” - he says in the reading of those words the have been fulfilled.
Well this was his hometown, so you'd expect a reasonably warm reception – right? Only that's not what happened. The crowd became increasingly agitated, which leads Jesus to basically say, “you can never go home again.” (OK, I might be paraphrasing). At which point those who knew him as a child chased him out of town and tried to run him off a cliff. You can never go home again.
I suspect that this, in part, is what led Jesus (just a few chapters later) to say, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Even more interesting is what Jesus was responding to when he said this. You see someone was wanting to follow Jesus and that was the answer he received. Furthermore, the poor guy says, “OK, but let me go bury my father.” Jesus says, “let the dead bury the dead.” Then the guys says, “at least let me say farewell to those at home.” And Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
At first that seems like a rather cryptic exchange, but the more I read it, the more a very clear theme came out of it and ultimately it is how we ended up reading the Abrahamic call story for today's scripture.
Jesus' early experience with trying to return home sent him packing. As a matter of fact, his earliest memories were probably not of Jerusalem but of Egypt. You see, Jesus probably spent his first Christmas in Egypt. Because Joseph was warned by the magi and then directed by an angel, Jesus probably spent the better part of the beginning of his life traveling to Egypt. His first home was a journey.
Then when he tries to return as an adult to his home town, he get's run out of town. For him, maybe home is not always where the heart is – maybe, you can never go home again.
So, a few chapters later when someone ask to follow him, Jesus give him some hard truths about what being a follower of his is like. There is not place to lay your head. We do not settle down and get comfortable for long. Then the guy's immediate reaction is to want to tie things up at home. And Jesus says, the past is the past – let the dead bury the dead. You can not plow a field looking backwards.
For me, all of a sudden, placed within the context of his life, what Jesus is saying seems a little less than cryptic. He's simply saying, being a follower of Jesus means moving forward. Being in a relationship with Jesus means being on a journey. In many ways it was simply the life he knew. He had essentially said, you can never go home again. But I think time had taught him it was a little more involved that that.
Maya Angelou says, “You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right.” Combine that with Emily Dickens' thought that home is “where thou art,” and I think Jesus' response to this man is to say, “If you are to be my disciple, you have to have a new understanding of home. Home isn't the history, home is the journey.”
Well, that insight led me to consider Moses. After all, one of the key things Jesus' family's flight to Egypt does is tie him to Moses. Moses came out of Egypt to free the Jews, Jesus will come out of Egypt and free Jews and Gentiles alike – free the world.
And that's when it hit me, home for the Israelites fleeing from the Pharaoh for 40 years was also a journey. It wasn't always a journey they wanted to be on, but the journey (for 40 years) was their home none-the-less.
For that matter David spent much of his life journeying first from the countryside to the king's side and then when Saul saw that David would succeed him, David's home was on the run from Saul's wrath, spending years journeying from cave to cave in enemy territory while also journeying in his relationship with the very God whom he understood to have forced this journey upon him. It would seem that even for David, who wrote so many of the Psalms to God, journeying with God did not always lead him were he wanted to go.
Throughout the old testament prophet after prophet, in an effort to be good followers of God, find themselves unwelcome in hometowns and other places and find themselves on the move in order to follow God.
From the New Testament, we've already mentioned Jesus, but let us not forget Paul who spent his life on no fewer than four journeys as he chased the will of God. He found himself everywhere from Damascus to Antioch, Cyprus and Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, Caesarea and even Rome.
Clearly following God means being on a journey. Which is what brought me back to the Abrahamic call story, because it is the foundational biblical journey story. God tells Abram. Go. Go from your land. Go from your birthplace. Leave your father's house, where he is buried. (You should hear echoes of Jesus saying, “let the dead bury the dead – you can't plow looking back.”)
God takes it a step further basically saying, “Head thata' way. Not telling you where you are going. You are on a Journey with me. But I will tell you, it will be a blessing when you get there.” So, for Abram, and his family, home (home with God) was a journey. Over and over again Abram literally “pulled up his stakes” and and left what was home behind. And as is the case with journeys, it meant change. For Abram his whole identity changed, even his name changed.
Much like our church's founders who 50 years ago stepped out on faith and started a new journey, a new church...., as people of faith, we too are called to take a journey. Sometimes we may only know which direction we’re going, or that God has called us to leave what has been familiar, comfortable, and known for “the land that God will show us.” Biblically we can see that obedience, listening, worshiping, selflessness, and remaining open to new understandings of God can turn all sorts of experiences and efforts into Abram-type pilgrimages. We may be out of our comfort zones and in places where we feel out of our depth, but God calls us to go anyway, toward an unknown future.
When the people of Israel left Egypt, it took them forty years to finally enter the land of Canaan. Only two people who actually left Egypt were still living to enter the promised land. That trip could have been made in two weeks, but there was a lot of spiritual formation that needed those years “on the journey.”
In many ways, this is the kind of journey we have been on these last few years as a congregation. Over our history, our journey with God has taken us to many wonderful and exciting places. It has also (like with the Israelites, David and others) has taken us places we either didn't want to go or never imagined going.
Most recently, our journey has taken us away from a lot of things that have traditionally been considered essential for a church. We have found ourselves outside of our comfort zone with what the worship space sometimes looks like, with what we do in worship, with new church activities, with our view of pastoral ministry, with how we connect with the community in which God planted us and in many other ways.
Even now, we don’t know just where we will end up, or whether we will ever reach our destination – whether one day again Vandalia will be a vital, and growing congregation. But it’s not whether or when we get there that is the important thing – the important thing is how we make the journey.
It’s the pilgrimage, the journey, that is important, not reaching the destination. It’s the journey that is our home, not the destination. God calls us not to a final destination but to make a pilgrimage that involves obedience, listening, worshiping, selflessness, and remaining open to new understandings of God. These are the qualities that can make all of our journeys and changes of direction into spiritual pilgrimages.
Billy Graham once said, “My home is in Heaven. I'm just traveling through this world.” Indeed, there is no place like home, when the journey with God is our home.