Pastor's Note: We are going on a journey this fall! We don't know exactly where it will lead us -- but our goal is to discover more about God's mission for our congregation! Please join the conversation on October 6 to brainstorm after worship on our core values -- those essential things to carry into the future. And please join us for a second conversation on October ___, again after worship. We need all of our value-holders and creative thinkers to help us understand our mission here in our community and beyond!
If you would like a copy of the book, Canoeing the Mountains, please let Pastor Katherine know. If you miss a Sunday, we are posting the sermons for you here, or you can call Katya and she will print a copy for you to pick up during office hours.
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!”[i]
Those words still strike chords in us: of nostalgia for childhood and times when we believed anything was possible; the thrill of considering what space travel might be like; the wish to explore new worlds and do something bold with our own lives.
Are we, whatever our age, really ready for a new adventure? Do we long to explore new worlds, to seek our new life and new civilizations? There is an opportunity before us to do just that! Spaceships not required! Are we ready?
Welcome to an Adventure! The world in which we live doesn’t look like the world we inhabited in the past. It is changing rapidly. And God invites us into a new world. Perhaps even a “STRANGE new world.”
Abram and Sarai (Their names are changed later to the more familiar “Abraham and Sarah.”) are barren and hopeless.
Explain “BARREN” and why it mattered..
The ancestral line of the faithful people of God has come to a full stop – they don’t have children and they are old. They’ve done all they can. There is nothing else they can do and no where else to go to solve this problem – and for them it was a problem. They are all played out. They have no potential to carry on the line of the faithful people of God. [ii]
But God can act. God calls Abram and Sarai in the midst of their barrenness. God calls them to go on a new adventure – a journey of faith. And God calls them into a new world where there will be a community for them, a family for them, a future for them. But not in their home. They have to move. They have to leave a lot of stuff behind.
If you have ever had to move, you know this is hard.
??? Who has moved? What did you leave behind?
THINGS Leaving behind things that meant something to you is hard.
HOME Leaving behind the place you called home is hard.
PEOPLE Leaving behind friends and family – people you love is the hardest thing of all.
Moving is hard. Leaving what is familiar and people that you love is REALLY hard. But for Abram and Sarai, to stay in the place that is safe and familiar is to remain barren, without a child – and to leave and risk everything is to have hope. They wanted to leave their barrenness behind so badly that they were willing to leave everything familiar behind too. It was quite a shift in life plans. Instead of quietly living out their retirement as husband and wife, they are off a new adventure to gain a family and be the way God will bless all the people on earth! Abram and Sarai had NO IDEA where they were going, what the trip would be like, or what they would find when they got there.
GOD’S PROMISE: God promises them that if they will go on this adventure, that they will be well, that the trip will be the making of them, that God will bless them, and even more – bless those who bless them and curse those who curse them. In other words, God will be on their side. But they have to leave stuff behind first.
They have to be willing to go on an ADVENTURE WITH GOD! The world they are going to won’t be like the world they know. They have to be willing to follow God into a STRANGE NEW WORLD without knowing anything about it until they get there!
The Invitation to an Adventure is a common pattern for the People of God. It isn’t just Abram and Sarai. It’s also the People of Israel who followed a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire at night. It’s also Ezra and Nehemiah, who rebuilt a broken-down city and its walls. It’s also the disciples who followed Jesus around in his lifetime and then were sent in different directions after his death. It’s also Mr. and Mrs. Kettlestrings who began our church in Oak Park. And now it is us. God is calling us on an Adventure of Faith too. When everything around us is different than we thought it would be – Hold on to your hat! We are on an adventure!
The early church had an adventure! The Book of Acts was written because the world had changed with Jesus. The old ways of deciding what mattered had ended, and life was very different. The world was different. Jesus turned the world upside-down. And so the Disciples waited for instructions on what to do in a very different, a new, world. They were told that they couldn’t just stand around in amazement that Jesus was with them after his death. They couldn’t just gaze into heaven thinking he would come back. They didn’t have the foggiest idea what it was that God was trying to do at first. But they still had work to do – to pray and tell the story. Their journey had surprises all along the way. Just because the world had changed didn’t mean God had stopped working to make new things happen. And they were invited on an adventure with God![iii]
God keeps doing new things. The world keeps changing so the old things don’t work as well. There was a time not too long ago, and some of us remember it, when almost everyone went to church every week. There were no sports practices or games on Sunday, and stores were closed. Everyone was at church, and the churches grew.
But that world is gone. We are pulled in a lot of different directions, and it takes a lot of determination to be involved in a church. Churches compete for people’s time and attention. We are in a new world – so – Hold on to your hat! We are on an adventure!
And now we have to figure out new ways to help people connect with God. Look around and we’ll see the reason for God’s urgency: the world rather desperately needs a new creation! And God’s mission, God’s project needs a church: a people called together to share and become God’s New Creation! So we are invited on an adventure that means surrendering our quiet, comfortable, safe decline to venture out in new ways to a destination we don’t know.
Our leaders have been a reading a book about how to be the church in a new world. The book tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition as a way to understand our own situation. Meriwether Lewis and John Clark were exploring the territory between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean trying to find a direct water route. They thought that the part of the country west of the Mississippi would be just like the part of the country east of the Mississippi. But it wasn’t. They ran into the Rocky Mountains! They figured out that they were wrong – there was no easy river route to the Pacific Ocean and they couldn’t ride their canoes over those mountains. They had to figure out a new way to get through the mountains – which were a different kind of terrain than they had faced before. They were moving “OFF THE MAP” that they were given. That’s the moment when you know – – Hold on to your hat! We are on an adventure!
?? What might they do to get over those mountains? Their canoes wouldn’t work. What can you think of? They didn’t have ATVs or Jeeps….(walk, horses, donkeys…)
??? Do you have any ideas on what WE might do to reach out and share God’s New Creation and God’s vision for a new world? Keep thinking about that question – because we don’t have any answers yet! We have to find them as we go on this journey, this adventure with God! And we will have scriptures to help us figure out what God is wanting us to do! And insights from Canoeing the Mountains to help us think. And we need LOTS of questions to help us figure out possibilities. Hold on to your hat! We are on an adventure!
This Invitation to an Adventure is a common pattern for the People of God. And it comes to us too – the opportunity to journey with God on an Adventure in Faith. And we also have to be flexible about how we do things, and come up with different ideas to keep moving on the adventure.
III. This Adventure is for the whole church. We don’t travel on it alone. We go as a team. And God goes with us – so we REALLY aren’t alone! Just as God promised to be with Abram and Sarai, and just as God told the disciples that they would be given power to be witnesses, God will be with us also.
And that helps – because when we are leaving behind what is most familiar, and moving into unfamiliar territory, especially when its uncharted territory that’s not actually on the map – we NEED a team, and we need God’s help. Radical trust is a lot easier when you have a good team! We need some extra direction, especially when we are off the map! It’s a new world we are exploring – and like Lewis and Clark, what GOT us here, won’t take us where we need to go! We have to find new ways to do things, We may have to “change plans, give up expectations, and even reframe the whole mission” like Lewis and Clark did. [iv]
And we need each other! We are a team! The different talents of our group will be helpful to us. We are all good at different things. Even just those of us in the front row – and in uncharted territory, you don’t know exactly what you are going to need!
??? What talents do we have here that might help us on our adventure? …We’ll probably even take turns leading – because some of us may know how to handle the specific challenges that we’ll find ahead. This journey off the map is a bit like making STONE SOUP.
Do you know that story? These two soldiers needed to eat – and they had nothing. When they asked people for food, the people insisted that they had nothing to give. So they borrowed a pot, filled it with water and proceeded to make “soup from a stone.” But they said out loud that it would be SO much better if they had an onion….and some potatoes….and a carrot. And those people who didn’t think they had much to share found that they had a bit of something after all – and all those bits made soup enough for everyone!
And if we all share our talents – we may not think they are worth much – but all together they can turn into a wonderful set of options to help us on our journey!
Besides each other, we have God with us. God is wanting us to move into new places to serve other people, to help them. And so God will help us, encourage us, and sometimes lead us. God is calling a church to carry out God’s mission in the world. That’s us!
This Adventure is for the whole church. We don’t travel alone. We go as a team. And God goes with us – so we REALLY aren’t alone!
This is not an easy journey. God doesn’t often call us for a walk in the park – but for an adventure into uncharted territory. It’s a strange, new world – but this allows us to learn new things. Being off the map helps us forget what we already know and discover what we really need for the journey. We discover things that will help us create the future![v] We’ll gain confidence as we have a few successes with our risks. We will likely even learn how to “get lost with confidence,” as we “learn our way into the new and emerging world.” [vi] Hold on to your hat! It will be an adventure! PLUS --we go as a team. Each of us brings talents and abilities that may be needed on the journey. We will help each other on the way! And God will go with us – leading us on. That’s our invitation from God. Now – who wants to go on an adventure?
PRAYER: O God, we feel a bit like Abram and Sarai must have felt when they started their journey in obedience to you. We don’t know where we are going either. We aren’t comfortable with the idea that we won’t choose the route we take or be in charge of choosing the destination. Although we know that we have some challenges now, we have become accustomed to them. Help us to let you take the lead, guiding us into unknown and even uncharted territory. Open our hearts to let your love cast out our fear. And fill us with hope for our wholeness enough to overcome our hesitancy. Guide us, comfort us, and keep us until we arrive at the destination that YOU choose for us. Amen.[vii]
[i] Opening words of Star Trek: The New Generation. Modified only slightly from the original version for inclusive language and a continuing mission rather than a 5 year one.
[ii] Walter Brueggeman, Genesis. 117-118.
[iii] William Willimon, Acts, 19-20.
[iv] Todd Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains, 19.
[v] Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, 12.
[vi] Quinn, 12.
[vii] Modeled on a prayer by M. Robert Mulholland Jr. in Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation, 79.