Readings: Genesis 11: 31 – 12:9 & Hebrews 11: 1 – 3 & 8 – 12
At my own church, Wonford Methodist, Exeter, we are coming to the end of a series of services covering the first twelve chapters of the book of Genesis. I am shortly to take the final service in the series based on chapter twelve where there is ‘a turning point’ with the call of Abram. With Abram’s story there is a movement from ‘pre-history’ to the biblical story of God’s people, the Jews. This journey, through perhaps 1200 years? of Hebrew history, climaxes for the Christian with the birth of God’s Messiah and the redemption of humanity.
Of course, there are many different kinds of journeys. Let me share a memorable journey I undertook many years ago.
The person in the next room to me at theological college was a Turkish civil engineer whom I got to know very well. We became so friendly that I had the brilliant idea that at the end of the academic year instead of Altan returning home alone, we could travel together to Istanbul in my car and that would give me the chance to see Europe as well as get him home. Pete (our former Chairman of District) also thought this was good idea and joined the party. Then a friend of Altan’s who wanted to get back to Poland joined us. I only had a small Opel Kaddet so you can imagine the car was somewhat crowded with camping equipment and everything!
Off we set – it was quite a journey. Amsterdam in the Netherlands was the first stop, then through Belgium into France and onto Paris where I had arranged for us to stay with my cousin. Then Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, (Austria). Then into communist Hungary, through Budapest (where we dropped our Polish friend off and took a wrong turning and almost got arrested for entering a defence establishment). Then into Yugoslavia on to Belgrade. Then into Bulgaria via Sofia and on into Turkey to Istanbul.
We came back by a different route – but that’s another story. Altogether we clocked up 6000 miles in thirty days, despite a car crash in Paris on the way back!
However, the point of recounting this story, is OUR journey was as nothing compared to the journey of Abram and his family in ancient times perhaps 1200 years before Christ! In a place now in ruins called Ur, Abram’s father Terah lived. Ur was about 120 miles upstream from the Persian Gulf by the Euphrates in what, of course, is now Iraq. In Abram’s time sea-going boats could sail into Ur but now the river which once flowed has silted up and only sand can be seen for miles around. Once Ur was a lively colourful place where the moon goddess ‘Sin’ was worshipped but now there is only ruins and sand.
For reasons not known to us Terah uprooted his family and made a very long adventurous journey along the Euphrates to the north some 600 – 700 miles and settled in Haran in what we now know as the Syrian/Turkish border. After the death of Terah, Abram, like his father, became unsettled and, at the age of 75, set out in a new direction. But this was no whim or a desire for travel or economic betterment. He heard the voice of God calling him to a special mission. He was the first man in the Bible who was conscious of a divine mission directing his life. “Go to a land that I am going to show you.” At 75 years old!
But such things don’t happen today, do they? Don’t they?
In my first Circuit appointment I was part-time chaplain to a geriatric hospital in Durham City – which didn’t seem to be the most inviting position for a young minister! However, it turned out to be a great blessing. This was because in that hospital I met a retired Methodist Minister called Kirtley Fawell who was 101 years young!
At the end of my service in the hospital Kirtley would get up and preach his own sermon as if to say – ‘that’s how it’s done young man!’ Kirtley told me on many occasions of how at the age of 75 the Lord called him out of retirement as a Supernumerary Minister to plant a church in the new town of Peterlee. He spoke with great pride and a child’s joy at having got to the available piece of land set aside for a church before the Bishop of Durham and claimed it for Methodism! And, sure enough, he gathered a congregation and built his Methodist Church. Kirtley was a Primitive Methodist of the old school in more ways than one! He had an iron constitution and that pioneering spirit of Abram which heard the call of God and obeyed – disregarding his advanced years.
This personal story illustrates another kind of journey. Not a journey to a different place (Peterlee is only thirteen miles up the road from Durham); but the journey of life and faith which throws up surprises (good and bad) for us no matter what age we have reached.
Abram, to this day, is the great father of faith for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. But what is Faith? It’s that peculiar, indefinable element in life which directs us towards God and in service and witness for him. And sometimes that call of God to faith has startling consequences as it did for Abram and his family.
May God help us to discern His call in our daily living today.
As we journey through difficult and challenging times for the church and the world may we take comfort from those who have overcome personal loss and point us to what has sustained them.
Apparently, the President Elect, Joe Biden, who has himself suffered family tragedy, appreciates the hymn: ‘On Eagles’ Wings’ by Michael Joncas.
(You can hear it on YouTube by clicking here)
This Roman Catholic hymn contains the words:
The snare of the fowler will never capture you
And famine will bring you no fear
Under his wings your refuge,
His faithfulness your shield.
And He will bear you up on eagles’ wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand.
Sorry I can’t be with you. I look forward to seeing you in the new year.
Rev. Terry Spencer