It was exactly one year ago this week, that I packed a small suitcase and travelled to the city of Calgary for an in-person interview at St. Andrew’s United Church. It was an action packed three days beginning with meeting Barb and Wendy at the airport and then days full of meeting the Search Committee, Rev. Tom Melvin, St. Andrew’s staff, sharing over meals, listening, and praying and discerning of whether or not God was calling us to begin ministry together.
In my video that was shared with the community of faith, following the vote, I said: “Never in my wildest dreams would I think that God would call me to travel across Canada to serve our church, and yet, when we allow ourselves to listen to God, to be fully open to the Spirit, we can be taken to the most unexpected of places”
It is not so easy to move across the country, find a home that we hadn’t seen in person, and trust that Kevin would find work. Many of our family members and friends were surprised that Kevin and I would uproot ourselves, leave loved ones behind in Ontario and start a new chapter province away. There’s no question about it, there have been moments we long for our people back home, but we heard the call to go, and we’ve never been happier.
Plus, moving at 29 is much easier than 75! That was the age of Abraham when God called him to go with his wife to a new land. So, imagine then how Abraham must have felt when he was called by God to leave everything behind and travel to a far off country. He did not know where he was going and did not have the luxury of visiting Canaan before he went. No one met him at the airport, shared in lovely meals and encouraged him along their way. Abraham simply heard God’s call to go.
Abraham was stepping into the unknown. He was leaving everything that was safe and familiar, his home, his friends, his country, his people, to journey to an unknown land. At 75 years old, Abraham could be forgiven for looking forward to a quiet retirement in his home city not setting out of this great adventure. So, put yourself in his position for a moment. How do you think you would feel if to uproot yourself and leave everything behind and travel into the unknown?
Sadly we live in a world where there are many people who don’t have to imagine what this is like, they live it every day. There are millions of refugees around the world who leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere because of conflict and persecution. For Abraham however, it was not war or conflict that prompted to leave his home, but a call from God.
It’s not clear how Abraham received his call, whether God spoke clearly to him one day, or whether he had a growing sense that this was what God wanted him to do. But what is clear, is that Abraham had cultivated the habit of listening for God’s voice and acting on it. Listening to God, and discerning what God is calling us to do can be challenging. The reason many of us feel God doesn’t speak to us is that we have not developed the habit of listening. When I am waiting to hear the voice of God, I want God to speak clearly and powerfully, so I am not left in any doubt that it is God that I am hearing. But God rarely shouts to us, instead, whispers softly.
This is the lesson Elijah learnt when he was on the mountaintop waiting to hear God’s voice. As he waited he experienced a great wind, an earthquake and a mighty fire, but God wasn’t in any of those, instead, God spoke to him in the stillness and silence. If we want to hear God’s voice, rather than expecting God to shout to us from across our busy lives we should hunger for the Holy Spirit’s quiet whisper in our ear. God wants us to make time in our busy lives to draw close, to approach God daily so that we can hear and recognise that intimate whisper as God’s voice, and then respond.
Abraham hearing God’s call, responds in faithfulness. It was a response that was based on love and trust. Although Abraham was venturing into the unknown, he trusted that God would not fail him. He knew that whatever challenges or obstacles, dangers or threats he would face, God would be there for him, and help him to overcome them. Trust is essential for any healthy relationship to flourish and grow, and the same is true for our relationship with God. When God calls us to something new, we need to know we can trust.
When Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus on the water, he was fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. It was only when he took his eyes off Jesus, that he began to sink. The United Church New Creed states “We are not alone, we live in God’s world, in life and in death, God is with us, we are not alone” Despite Abraham’s age, and the fact that his wife Sarah could not have children, Abraham trusted that God would fulfil his promise to make him into a great nation, to bless him with land and descendants.
When Abraham received God’s call, he also received the promise that God would bless him. But this was not just a blessing for Abraham and his family alone. The blessing was for the whole world. This promise was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus, who was a direct descendant of Abraham. When God calls us and blesses us, it isn’t for our own sake, so that we feel good, happy or comfortable, God blesses us in order that we may bless others.
There is an old hymn which has as its chorus these words:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, each and every one
And it will surprise you what God has done.
The blessings that we enjoy from God, of life and love, are given to us so that we may, in turn, bless others. The more we share the blessings we have received from God, the more God blesses us. For God always fulfils promises, sometimes in ways, we don’t understand. Yet, we like Abraham must learn to trust in God. Together, let us take Abraham’s view and remember that God is always at work, that we are important to God and that God will not allow us to wander aimlessly in life.
For we, as followers of Jesus, are called, just like Abraham, to be a blessing to the nations. For we are blessed to be a blessing.
Thanks be to God.