Genesis 12:1-4a , "Go from your country . . ."
I guess with any journey, any time we move from one place to another, there is always risk, always chance.
Any time we follow a promise, there’s the chance, no matter how much you trust the one that made the promise, that the promise could be broken. We want to have faith along that journey. We want to believe that we are the kind of people who hear God’s voice and go . . . just like Abraham did.
Because sometimes you have to leave a lot behind in order to follow that promise, in order to go. Sometimes you have to leave behind your ideas of safety and security, of knowing what is going to happen next. Sometimes you have to leave behind your past. And sometimes answering the call, following that promise means leaving and going to another place.
It strikes me that we have all been on those journeys before. I remember when I worked down at Union Mission, a homeless services program in Savannah, that there were a number of folks who would come through there, on their way to somewhere else, on some journey. They would be nomads in a way, not unlike Abraham and his family wondering around, following a promise.
I have to say though that sometimes I would just shake my head. I mean I understand traveling. I understand picking up in one place and moving to another. But for me this means packing boxes, finding one job before you leave the other, finding a house so that when you do move, you have a place to go, somewhere to be.
But the way that some folks move, leaving behind everything, not taking much with you, just trusting that you will find a job, find a place to live, find food and shelter, moving with so very little preparation and planning always blew my mind. It just absolutely floored me sometimes.
But there that fellow and his family would be. “Well we heard that there were better paying jobs in Savannah,” they would say.
I remember about a year later, after working with a particular family that I looked in the Savannah Morning News and saw a letter to the editor from the father in that family, a family that had up and moved from another city, who heard that there were better paying jobs in Savannah, and just up and moved.
In this case it wasn’t God that told them to do this, but a promise that they had made to themselves. The husband of this family had said to himself, I’ll call him Travis, “Travis, when you get out of jail, your life is going to be different.”
I met Travis and his family at White Bluff United Methodist Church when we were running a program there called Interfaith Hospitality Network. For one week, about every twelve weeks, we would host three families there at the church. The Network provided the foldaway beds and pillows, but the church provided everything else: sheets, towels, some toiletry items, essentially converting some Sunday School rooms into three bedrooms and a living room for a week.
These families would be with us at about 5:30 in the evening, where we would gather, have table, share food together, and talk about our days. They would talk about finding jobs, looking for an apartment. Sometimes they talked about what they had left behind. Travis named off all of his four kids, three by his wife Rose, one not, and how he had heard that there were good jobs in Savannah.
He didn’t really care what job he found but he said he wanted to be a counselor, to help others.
He told me that part of what had held him back was having a felony on his record, that sometimes people don’t want to believe that you have changed. I thought to myself that maybe part of what he was doing was running away from that past . . . certainly we all do that sometimes, wanting to forget who we were, focusing so much on the past and our regrets. But I think to assume that about Travis was to misjudge him; he wasn’t looking back. Travis was looking forward. He was following a promise.
And sometimes God says to us, “Go.” And sometimes that can be the most frightening word, to go to another place, a place we haven’t been, where we don’t know anyone, where we don’t really know how things will work out. Sometimes God makes that promise to us, and we want to believe. We really do.
God promised Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred. Leave where you are! Go to the place that I’ll show you. Not that I’ve shown you yet, but that you’ll see once you get there.” Can you imagine? A journey where you don’t even know where you are going, but God is telling you that you’ll know it once you get there. It’s frightening. It’s risky. It’s scary. But God says, “I will bless you. I will bless you. I am going to make something great of you. I will bless you and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you,” God says to Abraham.
I remember running into Travis and his family later on, this time down at Union Mission, where I worked. He told me about what had happened since we had first met while he and his family called White Bluff church their home for a week, that first week they were in Savannah.
Well now, he was enrolled at Savannah Tech, getting some education; he and his family had moved into a transitional housing program. It was like living in an apartment, getting them ready to be out on their own again. Sure it had been a bumpy ride, but Travis kept saying to me, “It’s all working out. It’s all coming together just like I knew that it would.”
And I thought to myself, “Oh me of little faith.”
Because I know from having seen so many people come through those shelters that sometimes families just can’t seem to get back on their feet. Sometimes those jobs just don’t pay enough; sometimes I just wish they’d plan a little better, save some money, make sure that they didn’t get in this situation again. That’s the “Oh me of little faith.”
But then there’s Travis, smiling that big smile telling you how it’s all working out. And I couldn’t deny it, it was working out. I mean they say that if you never lead, never strike out there on your own, if you are never the lead dog, then the scenery never changes. And that’s true.
So Abraham had a promise from God. And he was called to follow that promise, and not to a place that he knew. Abraham didn’t know exactly where he was going. The promise was one of blessing if you follow. Because God said, “I will make something great of you.” A great nation was the promise to Abraham.
But God has given a promise to all of us, to each of you. God has called you to do something that involves risk, that involves not knowing how it is going to work out. We are all called at times to step out on faith, to follow, to “go” as God has called us. And God’s promise to us is that “yes, I will make something great out of you. I will bless you. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” God is saying that you will have God’s company all along that journey, that as we move forward, as we leave behind our regrets and troubles, that God is calling all of us into a blessed future.
You see, I almost always read the newspaper in the morning. And when I looked at the Savannah Morning News that morning, there was Travis’s letter to the editor.
And it was the best news I had read in a long time.
Travis wrote in about how he had finally been pardoned by the governor, his record had been cleared. No longer would even the trouble he had gotten into as a youth hold him back. That sin was gone. It blessed me to read it. We all need stories like that.
Travis wrote that now he works at a parole office, telling other folks who are getting out of jail that they can do it, that he did it. He is counseling them, helping them, just like he said that he would.
And as I think back, I know that Travis was a blessing to us, even as my wife and I were a blessing to them.
One Saturday, my wife and I kept their children because there was no one else and both Travis and Rose had to attend a workshop on homeownership, something else I have no doubt they’ll do one day.
And as we kept those kids that day, as we played in the park, Dena and I were blessed. And as I think now about first meeting Travis in that hallway at White Bluff, with him telling me about his past, but that he was going to make it, I know that I ended up being blessed, even in my doubt and in my reluctance to risk with him. There is Travis smiling . . . saying all along that he was going to make it.
And we will too. God has promised us blessings . . . if we will only follow that promise.