Lent 2 C – The Journey and the Purpose
Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18
Luke 13: 31-35
28 February 2010
By Stuart Pike
We are a people on the move. It seems that every year we become more mobile. Almost every family that I know has one extended family member living across some continent or ocean. We, or our kids move away to get educated, or to find work. And even if we are one of the exceptional people who have lived in the same house since we were two, there’s still something in us which draws us to travel and to look further afield. There is a deep restlessness which, I think, impels us to journey. I think that it is God that places that restlessness in us. In some way God makes sojourners of us all.
Could this have been part of what impelled Abram to leave his familiar country and his wealth and to journey into the unknown? For Abram was a man of great wealth in his first country of Ur, which was itself a beautiful land of plenty. He was also very old when he started his journey. What would his neighbours have thought as he left all of this, to strike out across the desert? There was just something “more” which he sought.
Likewise, even if we have all that we need and more – even if we live in a land of plenty, we sense that there is something missing, and so we embark on a journey to find this “more” which we lack.
Nevertheless, there is another, opposing force which is in direct competition with this desire to search for more. This opposing force is the desire to belong – the desire to put down deep roots: our need for depth, to really know and be known, our need for the familiar and the security which it seems to promise.
Many people’s lives are lived in the space between these two forces and sometimes they pull is in two different directions at once.
Much of my own life has involved experiencing the influence of both of these forces. Growing up in a military family meant that we had to move every one to three years. I loved it for the most part – always seeking a new adventure, but every now and again I would pause and imagine what it would be like to know stability of place.
There were people, I knew, who had deep roots. When I began in ordained ministry 20 years ago, I started meet some of these people. In Gaspé there were people who’s families owned the land on which they were living for generations. In Grimsby there was one old gentleman fruit farmer named Don who died just a month ago. His farm is called two century farm because that is how long his family has farmed it. The roots of the cherry and peach trees in his orchards were symbolic of his connection with the earth: with this place.
When the farmers came up for communion and held out their hands for the host, I could see the soil right in the skin of their hands. It could never be totally washed off, because of their deep connectedness with the land. They worked the land to produce food for themselves and the whole community. And the land made its indelible mark on them as well. It isn’t that the land belongs to them, but it is they who belong to the land. And the land is passed on to their descendants after them. It is almost a kind of immortality that their line continues in the stability of the land which they truly know as “home.”
When I see the people of the land and know that they are marked with the earth of their belonging, something in my heart smiles, and I wonder. What would it feel like to belong like these people? I am still baffled when people ask me where my home-town is.
Abram had already been a sojourner for a long time when he meets God in today’s Old Testament lesson. He had already shown his great faith; he had followed his restless heart and now he is looking for depth – for roots. Abram wanted to find “home.” He wanted a place for his descendants to live in.
But he is met with a huge obstacle: he is already old, and so is his wife, and they are childless. Now perhaps his wanderings seemed to him to be aimless, and he thinks that his only heir will be his servant rather than his own flesh and blood. Abram is feeling very mortal right now and he thinks that his life will stop and his bloodline will stop with him. He is beginning to feel hopeless. Abram knows the reality that being a sojourner means obstacles and struggle.
We too can have periods of hopelessness in our journeys. There are times in our lives when we might look back and think: “What was it all about? Am I really headed somewhere? Or have I just wandered aimlessly?” These periods often come when we are at an intersection between a time of searching and the great desire to find home and to belong.
Jesus is on a journey too. He is doing his ministry of healing and casting out demons and simply by doing this he is threatening the power of the kings and empires of the earth: Herod and Rome. Herod is threatening to take his life, just as he did the life of John the Baptist.
But Jesus knows that his journey isn’t over. He has set his face toward Jerusalem, which is code for the big showdown which he will have with the powers which rule the physical world: the chief priests and the Roman Empire. Jesus knows that he is heading for “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Luke 13:34) Jesus is heading toward the cross, and yet he faces it with courage and faithfulness. No threat is going to throw him off his course. His journey is one of sacrifice, not to finally find a home for himself, but in order to bring all who are on the journey of faith home. To make us all belong.
God does an amazing thing for Abram in his time of hopelessness. When Abram is dejected and looking around and longing for a home, God takes him outside and gets him to look up at the stars and gives him the promise of home and belonging.
It is the season of Lent, and it is appropriate that we be sojourners: that we be seekers, looking for the “more” which we lack: that we be on the journey which God has placed in our hearts. It is a journey of struggle with our obstacles, and with our very selves.
And it is appropriate that we sense our need for belonging and for home. May God grant you the strength you need for the journey. And may you have the grace to look up to the stars and know God’s promise to you that you belong, and that you have a home with him, through the sacrifice of Jesus our Lord. Amen.