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2nd Sunday of Lent - 2023a

Old Testament – Genesis 12:1-4

New Testament – Romans 4:1-5, 13-17


Reformed, Always Reforming


INTRODUCTION: Crossroads—the intersection of two roads in the rural countryside—have long played an important role in American folklore. 


You see, crossroads, especially in the deep south, are always more than just the meeting of two roads. Crossroads are also locations loaded with spiritual and religious meaning. 


At a crossroad, after all, people literally have to make a choice as to which direction they’re going to go next, right? They can keep heading in the direction they’re currently moving, or they can take a turn one way or the other to move in a new one. Why, a person can even choose to turn around and just head back the way they came, I suppose.  


So crossroads naturally have a kind of mythic quality to them. They serve as a neat metaphor, I think, for the various decisions and choices we all must make as we try to navigate life. We all stand at crossroads at various times during our lives needing to make choices, right?


Perhaps one of the best known stories about crossroads has to do with the bluesman Robert Johnson and his supposed deal with the devil.  As legend has it, Robert Johnson was filled with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. 


Instructed to take his guitar to a crossroads somewhere in Mississippi, Johnson was met by the Devil at midnight. Taking Johnson’s guitar, the Devil tuned it in such a way that Johnson could play anything he wanted. Of course, such a gift from the Devil didn’t come without price. In exchange for the guitar, Johnson reportedly had to give the Devil his soul. 


In keeping with the story, Johnson, in one of his songs called Me and the Devil Blues, speaks of Satan knocking at his door early one morning to make good on his deal. Sings Johnson, “Early this morning when you knocked upon my door/I said ‘Hello Satan, I believe it’s time to go.’/Me and the Devil was walking side by side/Me and the Devil was walking side by side.”


ONE: Well, perhaps it’s no small coincidence that the city or village of Haran, Abram’s hometown, can be translated as either “highway” or “crossroads.” 


For it was while living in Haran that Abram one day found himself at his own crossroads also having to make a pretty important decision. 


Basking in his “golden years” at the ripe old age of 75, Abram unexpectedly finds himself one afternoon getting paid a visit by God who presents him with a decision.  “Abram,” says God, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”


And while the terseness of God’s words can trick us into thinking there isn’t much going on in the brief passage, the scene is actually packed with meaning. For in just a few short words, God is presenting Abram with a seminal decision in need of making. He can either stay in Haran and live out the remainder of his years in peace and quiet, or he can suddenly pack up all his stuff and move.


No wonder many commentators consider our passage from Genesis this morning, although succinct, to also be one of the most important moments in all the Bible. For the advancement of the biblical story as a whole in many ways depends on Abram deciding to take God up on his offer.


If Abram takes a pass on God’s offer, then the story comes to a screeching halt and there is nothing more to tell. The biblical story would in essence just end right there. But if Abram says yes, well, then the story is able to continue unfolding. The passage, in other words, serves as a kind of literary lynchpin, so to speak, for everything that follows in the Bible - including even the New Testament.   


So Abram also knew a little something about crossroads and making important decisions. One day God shows up to make him an offer and suddenly he’s faced with making a monumental choice. 


TWO: And what’s amazing, of course, is that Abram actually decides to go.


After all, it’s not as if God is really clear about what will await Abram if he decides to accept his invitation. Sure, God promises to make a great nation out of Abram, but it’s not as if God then pulls out the blueprints to show him just how such a promise will unfold step-by-step.


Nope. God just shows up one day to say “Abram, go to the land that I will show you,” and strangely that’s it. And then even stranger still, Abram decides to do just that - he decides to go.


Stuffing all his belongings into a U-Haul trailer while also making some room for his nephew Lot, Abram, with his wife Sarai at his side, just starts walking. With no idea where he is headed or even how he will get there, Abram heads out from his homeland of Haran all because the voice of God showed up one day saying, “Go.”


No wonder one well-known writer likes to say “Faith is not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway.” Because that’s exactly what Abram does. With hardly a clue as to what awaits him, he goes. 


Ready to live out the remainder of his days in peace in quiet, with that 30 year mortgage paid off in full and his various retirement accounts earning a good interest rate, Abram decides nonetheless to take God up on his rather vague offer and just starts walking. 


THREE: Of course, in Abram we have a model of faith for all of us, right?


Yep, in the sameway Abram was willing to move into God’s unknown future, we are asked to do the same. For “faith is not being sure where you are going, but going anyway.”


Perhaps that explains why we Presbyterians believe the word reformation always refers to more than just a period in history. It is also something we are supposed to be engaged in even now. Or as we like to put it: “The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God.”


Faith, in other words, should be an evolving, growing, moving, and ever advancing thing. Faith, rather than be static and fixed, should be dynamic, alive, and open to the leading of God’s Spirit. 


It’s to be engaged in a daily and continual process of reflection and discernment as we seek to understand how we might be better followers of Jesus Christ. Or again, as we say, “As the Church seeks reform and fresh direction, it looks to Jesus Christ who goes ahead of us and calls us to follow him.” 


So it’s more than just change for change’s sake. It’s change brought about so we might be better followers and disciples of Jesus Christ. After all, none of us are perfect disciples of Jesus Christ just yet, right?


Instead, we’re all stumblers and bumblers, who every single day are faced with trying to understand how we might better live as Jesus’ followers. 


FOUR: That’s not to say the church “reformed, always reforming” is not a difficult process or, sometimes, even painful. 


For change when it comes to humans, well, that isn’t really one of our specialities, is it? What’s that old line about the seven last words of the church we’ve all probably heard before? The seven last words of the church, goes the bit, will be: “We’ve never done it this way before.” And so it goes when it comes to humans. Reformation can be hard for us.  


And yet, that doesn’t mean change can’t happen, right? In fits, and starts, and restarts, reformation does happen - admittedly often at a pace we might not like, but it still happens. 


Back in 1956 on October 24, for example, the Syracuse-Cayuga Presbytery in New York did something that many people thought would never happen - and that many people from other Christian traditions still don’t think should happen even now.


Yep, after many long years of discussion and study, Margaret Towner was ordained as the first female minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. Today, of course, some 65+ years later female Presbyterian ministers are pretty common in our denomination. 


Is there still room for improvement? Of course. For most of the big church positions still go to men and there are probably some Presbyterian churches that even now wouldn’t be too happy with having a female minister. But change, thankfully, has come in that regard and, hopefully, will continue to come.


And while there are plenty of Christian traditions that still won’t ordain women, there are small signs even they are rethinking such a position. You may have seen in the news that Saddleback Church in CA, one of the leading Southern Baptist Churches in the nation, recently ordained four women. 


And while the Southern Baptist Convention has now formally cut ties with Saddleback for making such a choice, the church is standing by their decision, since they have concluded women can be called into ministry just like men.      


Reformation, it turns out, can happen even today.            


CONCLUSION: Well, faith can be tricky, right?


For while it’s important to hold onto some things, we can all too easily forget faith is more than just staying the course above all else. For it’s also a daily process of seeking to better understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. 


For the word reformation refers to more than just a period in history, right? It’s also a way of being a disciple. “The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God.”   


So let us continue the journey. Even when we’re not sure where we might be going, let us go. Trusting that along the way, we’ll eventually find the way. For faith is not being sure where you're going, but going anyway.   


And blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

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