A woman approached the minister after the service and thanked him for his sermon. “I found it so helpful,” she said. “Thank you,” the pastor replied. “But I hope it won’t prove as helpful as the last sermon you heard me preach.” “Why, what do you mean?” asked the curious woman. “Well,” he said, “that one lasted you three months.”
The African impala can jump to a height of over ten feet and cover a distance of greater than thirty feet in one leap once it gets going. Yet these magnificent creatures can be caged-up in an enclosure with only a three-foot high plywood wall, because they won’t jump if they cannot see where their feet will land. They have no ability to trust what they cannot see. We can’t jump that high or far but we can certainly take a leap of faith.
As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Walk with God, and the path in front of you will run straight and true.
God wants us to live unafraid of tomorrow. God certainly isn’t afraid of tomorrow. Scripture says, “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” The Lord has confidence about our tomorrow. And just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it won’t be there.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep ourselves going. It’s so much easier to get somewhere and stay there. We bump up against someone who rubs us the wrong way, and we never get past it. Now we may tell ourselves we’re over that person or that situation but when we meet up again, we unload everything we’ve been holding onto for the past three months. We never moved on, moved up or moved forward.
Don’t stay stuck. Just because we say we’ve moved past it, doesn’t mean we have. Bring the person to the Lord. Take time to pray for her or him. Find a way to ask God to bless them. That’s how you move forward.
The story of Lot’s wife starts out with destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah due to some folks turning on visitors, strangers, and rejecting the Middle Eastern norm of hospitality to travelers or migrants. So important was this norm or custom that it carried with it the sentence of destruction. A society that turns against the vulnerable such as asylum seekers travels a dangerous road that can lead to places unforeseen an unwanted.
Angels arrive to tell Lot, Abraham’s nephew, that he and his family are the only ones permitted to escape the coming destruction. At the end of the instructions, they are warned not to look back or they will die. Upon their escape, Lot’s wife looked behind to see the remains of the city and immediately turns into a pillar of salt.
Throughout the Bible salt is used in various ways. One of the ways, salt was used was as a preservative. When Lot’s wife looked back, she turned into a pillar of salt, a pillar of preservatives, because she was trying to preserve what once existed.
Too many people go back to a past they shouldn’t return to: a relationship that should be left behind once and for all, a hometown that’s right for someone only by virtue of it being comfortable, a former group of gossiping friends, or an old, draining job because you know the boss.
We’re supposed to be heading forward, trusting that God will provide, living by hope in a better tomorrow, but instead we turn around and fall for the same old troubles and problems. God tells us in Isaiah 43:18-19 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”
Lot’s wife wanted to remember the good old days, and preserve her life that had been. I’m sure she had good memories in that home and that town: Rearing children, being younger, a nice home. And while memories are important to us, God’s Holy Spirit doesn’t stand pat on memories. The Lord our God is alive. The Spirit looks forward. Christ’s word continues to empower us to live fully today, moving forward into tomorrow.
Imagine that you had the guts to take the leap of faith called bungee jumping. You strap on a long elastic cord to your ankles. You go up to a height of 100 feet or more. You walk to the edge of a bridge and look over. You make a decision to trust the cord. You make a decision to trust the people who tied the knot in the cord. You make a decision to trust the sinews of your ankles that the cord is tied to. You sign multiple pieces of paper that have something to do with waiving liability. And then you jump.
People bungee jump when they step forward. Some get to the top and step back. Their courage fizzles. They miss out on the thrill of the fall, and they also miss out on something even more valuable. The moment of victory isn’t in the falling. Gravity does that part. The victory comes in making the decision, conquering the resistance, and doing it in spite of.
Many people like to get to one place, and then stay there. We want to grow only so old; we want to have our children grow up to a certain age, and
then put on the brakes; we want to reach our height of strength and smarts, and then keep everything on hold. “I’m happy right here, thank you very much.”
When we do this, when we turn around, when we refuse to face forward any longer because we don’t like what we’re looking at, we are saying God has only so much. By our fears, we bear witness to our deepest belief, our deepest fear that there is a power greater in the universe than God, and we will go forward only so far, and then we must turn back because the Lord can no longer care for us.
Don’t give up on God. There’s no greater power, no final say, other than the Lord our God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Living One. Turn to the Lord and face forward. Be convinced, like Paul, who saw clearly “… that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In the story of Adam and Eve, God looked to lead Adam directively. He gave one simple command, one directive: Don’t eat from that tree. But with Abraham, God wanted to lead directionally. He gave him one instruction, one direction: Get your belongings and head out toward a new country.
Abraham must have felt fear. After all, God didn’t make the exact destination known to him. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’”
Have you ever stopped to think about what Abraham was asked to do? He was asked to leave everything he knew. He was asked to pack some things up and leave. He was asked to act based on the idea that he would be the father of many, even though he and his wife were barren. He was asked to live his life looking forward, to the future, and a legacy that others would live. He was asked to travel across a foreign land full of strangers and enemies and different customs. He was asked to go to a land that he had never seen and had no way of knowing if it really existed. What courage it takes to have a forward faith, to walk where there are no other footprints in front of you, only the Lord’s next to you.
This past Friday was the 50th anniversary of the start of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, a series of spontaneous, demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against an excessive and violent police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn. They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to organizing the LGBT community to seek full expression and inclusion for themselves into the United States, to what I call the civil rights movement of the LGBTQ community.
Those who began this struggle didn’t know where it would lead. Their faith made a way where there was no way. They just picked up their hope and their lives and said, “Let’s go.” But it led to us and Church on the Hill becoming an Open and Affirming church, and to so much more good. Those who walked first could barely even imagine where their initial steps would take our country 50 years later. I’m glad their faith and our faith are joined together.
Abraham’s faith wasn’t measured by what he did when life was predictable and good. It wasn’t measured by how he acted when he was safe at home. Abraham was asked to look forward, live forward, and move forward. With God, the impossible to us becomes possible, the unknown will become known, and the unseen shall be made visible.
Trust that the Lord is always in front, always leading forward, always directing us. Because tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow is and shall always be in God’s hand.
Can the church say Amen?