“Stepping by Faith”
“Stepping by Faith”
Psalm 66:8-16 ; Matthew 9:9-13
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
June 11, 2023
A few years ago I was part of a pastors group, and one of them started a text thread with this question:
“Y’all I need help with this sermon. What is your (or a) definition of “home”?
The group began chiming in, first with pastor humor:
“My personal one? Or the Greek in Matthew 2?”
Then: “A home is a dwelling where the basic activities of living take place on a regular basis”
Someone quoted Robert Frost: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
“Home for me is that place where I feel the weight of the world slide off my shoulders.”
“I feel like home is more defined by things inside my head or heart than by external things that can be seen..”
“Home is where you can be yourself.”
“I am remembering the first time I caught myself calling NC State “home” when I was in college. Rather than the place I grew up in Winston-Salem. I was like, “Whoa. What does that mean?”
Personally, I added “I feel like home has a taste…Like the meal that you tell everyone “this will be the best ‘blank’ you’ve ever had.’”
What would you say? What is your image of home? Your taste? Your people? How do we think of ‘home’ collectively at FPC Georgetown?
And then one pastor ruined the whole thing. Just after one pastor had said:
JS: “Home is where you can be yourself.”
She chimes in and goes… “And God calls you to leave it ”
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.’
Our story today is the foundational story in which three of the major faith traditions around the Globe – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – find their common roots. The story of Abram, eventually known as Father Abraham.
It is difficult to underestimate how significantly faith-shaping, paradigm-shaping, history-shaping this story is… and it begins with God calling Abram from home.
From the land most familiar. The people most familiar. The rhythms most familiar.
Of course, if we are going to make a move that significant… we want to know where we are going and how we will get there and how long it will take.
Just last week we were finishing up a 10-day trip to the UK visiting London and then some dear friends in Edinburgh.
And for one was so grateful for the remarkable spreadsheet Michelle put together ahead of our trip to ensure we had all the details covered:
Back up itinerary ideas.
Plan for our dog, Dexter.
Rain gear and cold weather gear and warm weather gear because the weather is so all over the map there…
If you going to go somewhere very different, very far away… we want plans and details and back-up options.
Fortunately, God continues, telling Abram not just “Go to a place 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.’
And that’s it.
Seven promises are named by God in the two sentences – amazing promises of blessing which we’ll talk about in a moment… but also, did not notice how little specificity?
Nothing about what to pack, precisely what route to take, where exactly we’re going, how long it will take, what it will cost…
On top of that, the promises are near-absurd. “I will make you a great nation” does not mean “I will make you a confederation of like-minded citizens with some neighboring groups of people.” It refers to making Abram a huge extended family.
But Abram and Sarai have no children. The Bible talks about she has been unable to conceive, and they are in their mid-70s so…
“You who have absolutely no rational reason to believe this makes sense that you will be the father of multitudes so great you will bless the families of the entire earth…Go in that promise.”
Then again, it proves to be in keeping with how God goes about blessing us and blessing the world.
- To Matthew, in our second reading today, at home in his everyday profession of tax collecting, “Follow me.”
- To the rich man very much at home with his lifestyle and wealth and wants to know how to inherit eternal life, Jesus says “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” A little more instruction, however incredibly painful, but still rather vague on the treasure and what happens upon the following.
- When Jesus first sends out 72 disciples in Luke 10 as those disciples had undoubtedly just started feeling at home with being students studying from their rabbi: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.”
There’s some detail about how hard it will be and what not to pack…but really the most striking thing here and throughout Scripture is that when it comes to how God changes and blesses us and changes and blesses this world – “Go.”
Trust the blessing is assured.
The harvest is assured.
Or, to use Paul’s language,
Trust that God really will do more than we could ask or imagine is assured.
Trust that somehow, somehow, ultimately in the end… Love never fails.
When God calls… God is rich on promise; poor on the particulars.
Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst of the early-mid 1900s and whose work informs counseling and therapy around the world…he once put it this way:
“If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”
If you are ever looking out at the next step, the next thing, the next road and you can see the particulars…
- First this
- Then this
- Then that
Jung says, you are probably looking at someone else’s path and how they did it and articulating what you saw them do. How they did their journey.
The only real path forward, the only way to step into the genunine call God has for us as a unique people and as unique individuals…the only real path forward is one where the call to “Go” from ‘home’ runs deep and specifics about how and what it will look like and how long remain painfully vague.
In the church, of course, we call this walking by faith – ever-trusting that the God who cannot help but be faithful will be with us every step of the way.
So again, what is your image, your definition of ‘home?’ (And we may have multiple definitions).
Home, for some of us, may be a literal location.
Home, for some of us, may be certain comfortable rhythms.
Home, for some of us, may be the safety of the relational dynamics we do know, good or bad.
Home, for some of us, may be the addiction that tears us apart – but at least it’s the devil we do know.
Home, for some of us, may be wealth.
Home, for some of us, may be a certain vocation.
Home, for some of us, may be certain, fundamental ways of doing and being the church.
And one way we know we are actively being called into another step of faith… of growth… of transformation… of blessing and blessing others…
…is that we notice a tug pulling us from a version of ‘home’ that feels perhaps strange, confusing, scary even…and yet also more true than anything else we know….does the “Go” of God tug deeply this day?
Is there a way in which God is calling us from something deeply familiar into the unknown…but rich with the promise of God? (I will be with you and I will bless you and keep you and lead you)
And at 75-years young… “Abram went, as the Lord had told him… he 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.”
Let’s start moving and see where God leads. It’s really the only way. We take a step and then and only then do we discover where God has the next one for us.
And… “When they had come to the land of Canaan… the Canaanites were in the land.”
In other words, Abram begins stepping by faith and eventually he shows up to where one of the significant promises will eventually unfold (the giving of land), and the land is not available.
In fact, there are a whole bunch of powerful people who live there who make clear that the promise actually is not just going to happen.
And actually (Abram does not know this) it’ll be another 400 years before the promised land is given to God’s people. (talk about not being in charge of the timeline on the when we step by faith).
And yet the reason this story is faith-shaping, paradigm-shaping, history-shaping, the reason this story is an archetype for all of our stories is because it tells the fundamental truth:
God calls us to step by faith – and precisely because of how important it is to God, to us, the world… some kind of genuine resistance is guaranteed to show up.
Abram steps by faith…and the Canaanites are there.
We step by faith… and quite quickly obvious reasons this just won’t work/cant’ work will show up. Do show up.
Have you known this?
Steven Pressfield wrote, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, a book that has been published with great success for over 20 years because the insights are so concise and rich and memorable.
And one point he writes in that book, “Rule of Thumb: The more important the call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
The more important the call, the more Canaanites will be standing there the moment we step. Internal ones. External ones. Both.
Goodness, Jesus himself stepped toward his ministry and who first meets him in the wilderness? The devil himself shows up to thwart the call. Talk about Resistance from the get-go!
And it hardly stops there.
The very heart of our faith (cross) makes clear that to walk by faith is not to step in such a way that each step is a new level of shiny blessing unfolding but to walk in a way where the resistance to God’s path, God’s way – is significant (whether internal or external or both)
Because forces aligned against God readily know how significant the work is so significant.
Most of us are prone, quite frankly to stop right there on the road of faith at the first sight of danger, trouble challenge, resistance.
Which is perhaps why God speaks again to Abram precisely at the moment when it becomes very obvious that the Resistance is real – the land is occupied.
“The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
On the journey of faith, as inevitable as the Resistance is, so too is the inevitably of God showing up precisely in that moment and that space with just enough manna to carry us forward in the promise.
God shows up in the Resistance with some kind of reminder, encouragement, word or action or sign or otherwise to declare unto our soul… “Yep, I’m still with you and for you in this. I cannot help but be faithful.”
What about you? On the road of faith… Have you known, amid significant Resistance, maybe even in a time where you were just failing and flailing and folding…have you known manna to arrive and call your soul to reclaim the promise?
It’s no wonder Abram builds an alter to the Lord right then and there when Abram hears again from God.
It’s no wonder we hold onto church bulletins from church services where we heard God in a particular way in just the right time…
….or we hold onto a seashell from a walk along the beach where God spoke so clearly amid the turmoil…
or we hold onto the particular coffee mug from which we drank when sharing a long conversation with a friend whose presence was manna in the storm.
One way or another we cannot help but want to mark and remember with gratitude when God shows up on a journey that can otherwise seem so confusing, vague, and uncertain. Because those moments make clear – oh yes, yes, this is the call. This is the road.
Many years after our story this morning, the book of Hebrews offered one of the most famous definitions of faith:
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
And the author knew that walking by faith is incredibly challenging and an easy road to step away from. And so the author goes from there to encourage the people of God to walk by faith (to heed the “Go” of God) by spending all of chapter 11 recounting all the various people who have gone before us and walked by faith.
The list includes this: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
And after the author continues through a long list of people who walked by faith in Scripture, we hear this:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
“From your home… Go. I will bless you and the peoples through you.”
Yes… the road ahead is quite vague, the Resistance quite real…but God cannot help but make good on God’s promise.
And… there are a whole bunch of others who surround us who have heeded the surprising Go of God without really know where and how it would go. Who among them can you hear cheering us this morning?
- Shall we then step?
- Shall we leave home…and so find the only true home that we’ve ever had or will have – namely God?
- Which is essentially, to ask, is today the day we leave a home to find home?