Sunday 17 March 2019: Lent 2
Are we letting the Lord lead us?
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
By Michael Hopkins
Minister of The Spire Church Farnham (a Methodist and United Reformed Church) and Elstead United Reformed Church; and Clerk of the United Reformed Church General Assembly
Context: a medium sized nonconformist church, with a congregation from a variety of backgrounds
Aim: to challenge the congregation to consider more deeply following God’s way
Today in our journey through Lent we meet Abram, who is at the start of his journey with the Lord. It’s early days for Abram. His name is yet to be changed by God to Abraham, the ‘father of many nations’. Here at the start of his journey Abram is to lead his people on a trek to a new land, which will be a long and hard journey.
When we meet Abram today, he’s distressed because his only heir is the child of a slave. Then one night the Lord takes Abram out to look at the stars, and the Lord dispels Abram’s doubts when the Lord tells Abram that his descendants will be in number like the stars of heaven.
Then Abram undergoes some kind of vision that is terrifying, in which the Lord, depicted as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, passes between Abram and the sacrifices he has made. This is the kind of thing which is so far removed from most of our experience as to be incomprehensible. It all sounds primitive, evocative of something primal, strange, and perplexing. Something very far different from anything that most of us know. It turns out that this bizarre encounter is an expression of God’s covenant, assuring Abram that the land he was promised will belong to him and his descendants.
I find it pretty hard to see the depth of this story, and I think that’s the same for most 21st century Christians in Western Europe. Most of us have little conception of how in the ancient world land and descendants were primal forces. In that ancient world the land shaped the people who lived and worked on it. Without it their identity was compromised. When there were no heirs who wished to continue, almost everything seemed lost.
Even so, this encounter between Abram and the Lord isn’t really about land and heirs, it’s about the journey that Abram and Sarai will undertake together. It’s no coincidence that we consider this journey in Lent, which is the season when we think about Jesus’s journey to the cross. Our Lenten denial, fasting, and prayer are ways that we can focus on the Lord leading us on our journey, just as Sarai and Abram were led on theirs.
It may be that you’ve had the experience of knowing what your task was, working towards accompanying it, perhaps feeling confident that you were doing God’s work, only to find that isn’t fulfilled, perhaps even corrupted or taken away.
This, of course, is what happened to Jesus. His mission, his passion to heal, forgive, and reconcile, ends up in betrayal and crucifixion. The very city where this happened, Jerusalem, which stands for God’s mercy and reconciliation, ends up turning against him.
So, if you are struggling with what the Lord seems to have promised you, if you feel your work may be moving towards failure, if your church seems to have lost direction or energy, you are not alone. Abram struggled with these same challenges, and so does Jesus.
Our Lenten journey is no journey if we don’t experience the cross, that symbol of what stands between the Lord and us. If we are unwilling to be challenged with change, or fearful that nothing can be different, then we risk turning away from the journey Jesus leads us on to the cross. We may find ourselves hiding out in Lent. ‘I’m not making any changes this year.’ ‘I’m going to lose weight by going to the gym.’ And so on.
Instead, follow the path of Abram; ask Jesus what he wants you to do, particularly in this season of Lent. Watch for signs in your waking and sleeping. Each of us has our own journey, and it is one that will not only transform us but encourage others as well if we allow the Lord to lead, now, in this time and this place where we are called by God. As we journey though Lent, trying in our own ways to remember a little of the difficult journey of Jesus, may we journey in the spirit of Abram and Sarai, always with the Lord.
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