Sermon by Anne Robertson ~ On The Threshold


TEXT:  Genesis 12:1-3

            Well, here we are on the day when United Methodist congregations all across New England are wondering what they’re in for in a new pastor, and we new pastors are hoping and praying that the Bishop and Cabinet knew what they were doing during appointment season. 

As you know, there’s a huge amount of anxiety in transition, and this was nowhere more evident this past week than with my poor dog, Grace.  Grace is somewhere between 11-12 years old, which qualifies her for the senior discount at Dunkin’ Donuts.  She has made two other moves with me with little trauma, but what they say about old dogs and new tricks is true, and Grace has had a harrowing week.

First there was all the anxiety around the growing pile of boxes and the increasing chaos in Dover.  Then came several days of bouncing back and forth between a little cabin I have in Center Barnstead, NH, Dover, and Westford.  On her first trip down here when the movers brought my furniture, we put Grace in the newly fenced yard.  Her anxiety level went so high that it enabled her to do amazing feats, which she demonstrated by leaving her usual lameness behind and leaping like a gazelle onto the roof of the parsonage shed.  Then she was stuck, and Mike Higgins had to cut a hole in the deck rail to get her down.

Later that night I took her back to the cabin, where she proceeded to hide underneath the car, making me crawl under there with her to get her out.  I’ve since found her curled up in the shower, trying to hide her 50 lb. body in the bottom shelf of a bookcase, and I spent yesterday morning creating a stair runner out of bath towels and blue tape because she was too frightened to come down the hardwood stairs.

Her mother is only slightly better.  Leaving home is a hard thing.  It takes courage, faith, stamina, and lots of cookies.  And Grace and I are not the only ones who have left the familiar behind.  You have not physically moved, but your surroundings have changed.  The familiar, loving face you’ve been used to seeing in the pulpit is now the face of a stranger, and a woman stranger at that.  We’ve begun a new journey together, and neither of us really knows where that will lead or what will happen along the way.

So this morning I thought I would talk a little bit about Abraham.  Because, you see, leaving home is not a new experience.  In fact, it seems to be a painfully frequent experience for those who would call themselves God’s people.  Adam and Eve get booted out of their comfortable garden into a strange and dangerous world.  Noah gets stuffed on a boat with two of every creature on the earth…and if they behaved anything like Grace, it’s a wonder Noah wasn’t a raving lunatic when he finally got off on Mt. Ararat.

And then there’s Abraham, who God plucked out of his comfortable city home and sent to a land he had never been to and never heard of.  No sin forced him out, no cataclysmic disaster made him leave.  God simply said, “Will you go?” and Abraham said, “Yes, I will.”  And he picked up his entire family and all his earthly possessions and set out without so much as a GPS system.

And it wasn’t just the road to another established house.  When Abraham left home, he left the settled, city life to become a nomad.  He set up his tents in the hill country, and moved from place to place with his flocks and herds.  Abraham had to learn that with God “home” means something different than just a particular place.  “Home” for God’s people is found inside the will of God, not in the walls of a house or a church. 

People always ask me why God chose Abraham instead of somebody else.  Well, I don’t know that Abraham was the only person that God asked.  For all we know, God could have asked 120 people before Abraham to do the same thing.  But Abraham was the one who said, “Yes,” and that act of faith was enough for God to act.

What I want to say to you this morning is that saying “yes” to God’s call is always enough.  Through the Bishop and Cabinet, God called to me and said, “Anne, will you go to Westford?”  I said, “Yes, I’ll go.”  Grace is hiding under the bed and I have no idea what awaits me here, but that doesn’t matter.  When God says, “go” you go, and “home” goes with you.

And that’s not just a call for ministers.  God is calling to every one of you…asking each of you to go…to leave home in some way, and promising to take care of you along the way.  Maybe your call is to a certain profession or to a volunteer position in the church or community.  Maybe it is a call to be more intentional about prayer, Bible study, or some other aspect of your spiritual life.  Maybe it is a call to make your peace with someone who has wronged you or to go to a quiet place so you can hear God calling in the first place.

I don’t know what your specific calling is, and in the months and years ahead, we will listen together for God’s calling for this local church.  But I do know that God is calling you…because that’s what God does…and I know that God’s calling always takes us beyond our comfort zone.  We are free to be pew potatoes if we want, but if we do, we will never be the people God is calling us to be.

Salvation history begins in earnest when Abraham picks up his staff and walks out of his house and leaves all that is familiar behind, trusting that God will provide what God has promised.  That is not an easy step to take.  It can feel like you’re walking over the edge of a cliff.  We are people who like to know where we’re going.  We want to be in the driver’s seat, know all the landmarks along the way, and have advance hotel reservations.

Most of the time God doesn’t work that way.  We get just enough information to take the next step and just enough provision for the next day’s journey.  I don’t know about you, but I want six suitcases and a big cooler filled with everything I might possibly need.  But God says, “Why don’t you trust me instead?  I clothe the lilies of the field and feed the birds of the air.  Why wouldn’t I provide what you need for what I’ve asked you to do?”

Every journey of faith begins with leaving home…with the willingness to be led in a new direction and the courage to step out of the range of comfort.  And so we stand this morning on the threshold.  What we have both known as “home” is behind us, and before all we can see is a bit of road.  We have a choice.  God is holding out a hand and saying, “Come, follow me.  Make your home in me.  Buildings are nice, traditions are good, but I am your true home.  I need you to bless a hurting world…will you leave your comfortable home and bear my message to those who have not heard?”

Leaving home.  It’s so hard.  As I walked down the aisle on the way out of my last service at St. John’s last week, I fell on my liturgist and cried.  I know it’s hard for you, too.  But, here we are on the threshold together.  Will you take my hand and come with me?  Can we choose the faith of Abraham and say, “Yes, I’ll go.”?  It might mean some anxiety for both of us, and some stretching beyond our comfort zones.

But it might also mean what the life of Abraham meant…the beginning of one of the most amazing stories of God’s people:  The story of a promised land, flowing with milk and honey.  The story of a man who became an intimate friend of God.  The story of how just one person being willing to leave home ended up blessing all the nations of the earth.

Physically, life with God is unsettled.  It is a life of movement from one stage to the next, from one camp to another, following the direction and leading of God.  Spiritually, however, life with God means we are always at home, no matter how new our surroundings.  When we make our home in God’s will, we will never have to leave home again.

Abraham’s calling is our calling; and Abraham’s story can be our story, if we will only say “yes” and step out onto the road.  We are standing on the threshold, much as Jesus once stood outside the gates of Jerusalem, knowing that the road before him held both great pain and great glory.  He chose to enter the city, following the calling of God, and in a few minutes we’ll take the symbols of his journey as food for ourselves…remembering that God’s road is not always easy, but that God walks with us and feeds us along the way.

It’s a meal of commitment and of rejoicing…it is the meal that reminds us of our true home and our true calling, where flesh and blood are filled with the spirit of God.  The table is set, but not back in the usual dining room.  It is set inside a nomad’s tent, pitched at the first oasis along the road.  Will you step off the threshold and meet me there?  At the table?  In the tent?  On the road?  Amen.

(c) 2005, Anne Robertson