This decade has seen a spike in human migration – large numbers of people moving from one country to another. Humans migrate for a variety of reasons: some are escaping war zones in search of peace; some are escaping famine in search of food; and some are simply seeking a better way of life. And sometimes none of these things applies.
Occasionally, people migrate in response to the divine mystery calling them into new life. Abraham was such a man. At 75 years of age, Abram, as he was known then, uproots his wife and his nephew to follow the call of an as yet unknown God into an unknown land. Thus begins the story of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
And it’s not always a pretty story. It’s not smooth sailing. Abraham and his family hit a lot of bumps on the way. And Abraham and Sarah are not always nice, likeable people. And God seems to take God’s own sweet time in fulfilling the promises made to Abraham and Sarah, often renewing the covenant relationship along the way.
But the story Abraham and Sarah is a timeless story of promise and fulfilment against impossible odds, when only God’s grace and goodness can bring things to pass. And through such stories of the struggles of our ancestors in the faith, we learn something of the nature of God.
We learn that ours is not a God of quick fixes. Nor does God just give us everything we want or remove every obstacle from our path. And sometimes God even calls us to paths we would rather not travel at all.
Peter and the other disciples were certainly hoping for a much different ending to their walk with Jesus. Their adventure with Jesus had been going well up until now. But when Jesus starts talking about going to Jerusalem to suffer and die before being resurrected, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him like the handler of a wayward politician who has gone off script in the middle of a campaign.
But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebukes Peter and says, Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.
Then Jesus calls the crowd and says, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
Poor Peter. As one homilist has said,
That’s the moment that Peter and the disciples realized that the God they wanted was not the God made known in Jesus Christ!
The disciples wanted a God who would be a savvy political and military leader, leading the charge to put the Romans in their place once and for all. They wanted someone who would raise them up to a position of power and importance. And they wanted someone so radical that their enemies would cower and flee. They were convinced that the keys to a good life were strength and power.
Instead, they got a guy who taught about loving others, feeding the hungry, and foretold his own impending death at the hands of the very same powers he was supposed to overcome.
Lent is a good time to reflect on what we signed up for. Are we looking to follow the God of Jesus Christ or one of our own making? Have we set our minds not on divine things but on human things? The choice is always ours. It’s just good to be aware of where we stand.
There is a spiritual migration going on in Christianity today and the good news is that you don’t have to leave home to join it. This migration is a return to the God and gospel of Jesus Christ, with its focus on love of God and care of neighbour and creation.
It means resisting the temptation to think its all about us in terms of getting what we want and focusing on how we can help bring about the commonwealth of God.
Whether we call it a migration, reformation, or recovery of the faith and the church – it can sometimes feel like a daunting task for the leaders. I could not help but smile at Pope Francis’ comment that Reforming Rome is like cleaning the Sphinx of Egypt with a toothbrush. In Anglican circles we tend to think of movement in terms of relentless incrementalism. Either way, this rebooted – reclaimed – version of Christianity is not quite so steeped in imperial cultures or fundamentalist ideas -and it is anything but tame and comfortable.
Yet people like Brian McLaren and Pope Francis have felt compelled to speak out and begin walking a different trail in response to where they hear God calling them. And there have been people, like Peter, who have taken them aside to rebuke them. But they keep on talking and making the road by walking.
And it has forced us to take another look at the road we’ve been walking – asking if in fact, we have been a bit like Peter and those first disciples, resistant and trying to stay with an easier, more comfortable path.
What does it mean for us to take up our cross and follow? It means living our life for the common‑wealth of God. It means not letting ourselves get sidetracked by power, wealth, fame … or personal comfort. It means engaging the nev
er-ending task of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and loving the neighbour.
And that too can seem overwhelming but, as the Talmud suggests (thank you Irene for this one), Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to abandon it.
Changing gears slightly. Next week is Vestry. Annual reports are at the back and on our web site. So, too, is a document from the worship committee about what we believe is a faithful and sustainable way forward that is also flexible enough to accommodate suggestions from your new incumbent.
I just want to say thank you to all of you for being willing to go down a road you may not have wanted to travel. And for being willing to put the needs of the whole church ahead of your own person comfort. Thank you.
Its been a bit like a mini death and now we are into resurrection. One of my favourite symbols is the tree of life, a reminder that God always brings new life… though not always in the way we imagine.
The road ahead is not always clear. But unlike Abraham, we know something of this faithful God we follow into our unknown future. And there is comfort in that. And we are getting to know more of this Jesus who leads the way. God grant us courage and wisdom on the road. Amen