Preached by Rev. Gary Dalton, August 14, 2016
Taken from Genesis 11:1-9; 12:1-4
Somewhere, in some agent’s office, or in some old rock star’s mansion, somebody starts dreaming of their former glory, decades now long past them, and they say to themselves, “Wouldn’t it be great to get the band back together for just one more tour?” So, they do.
They line up a string of venues, announce the dates, sell the tickets. Fans who’ve long ago gone on to make lives of their own, raise their kids, work their jobs, maybe even by now, have retired from those jobs. Those fans eat it up: have you heard the news? They got the band back together for one more tour. Yay! Rock and Roll!
Nobody, but nobody, fits into what they once wore when they first went to their first concerts with the band: not the band members and most certainly not the fans. But, in everybody’s minds and hearts, they are all suddenly young, fit, hip, vivacious, beautiful, handsome and ever so groovy.
The band comes to town, the fans flock from all over the region and even from further away. They gather as one into that big arena and they are all transported to that far distant time and place that once was but has long ceased to be. The band plays the old songs and the audience goes wild and sings along every well-rehearsed word. That’s the magic of a reunion tour.
Karen and I got to see The Police in their reunion tour. November 6, 2007. It was like being back in your car with your collection of cassette tapes: ‘Message in a Bottle’, ‘Synchronicity’, ‘Walking on the Moon’, ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’, ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’, and, of course, ‘Roxanne’. And lots of others, sung by Sting, backed up by Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers.
Sting and Stewart Copeland were in pretty good form for old guys; Andy could have used a little time with a personal trainer. But they sounded great, and we the fans sounded great, and it was all great. And that is what a reunion tour is all about.
Abram, bless his old seventy-five-year-old soul, is about to go on a grand reunion tour, picking up where his own father, Terah, had left off. The tour had started quite a few years earlier, when old Pop Terah suddenly decided to do a very odd thing most folks back then would never do.
Terah decided to pack up the family and leave their homeland of Ur of the Chaldeans. He set out to make a very, very long journey northwestward over into Mesopotamia and then straight southward to dwell in the land of Canaan. But, they never made it to Canaan.
Terah made that long northwestward journey over as far as the land of Haran, in Mesopotamia, and then he stopped. Maybe he liked the terrain, maybe he just plain ran out of steam after walking 600 miles, but there in Haran, Terah and his family re-potted themselves and stayed put. Then Terah died, leaving his son, Abram, as chief of his Bedouin tribe.
That’s where Genesis chapter 11 ends. It’s where a new chapter begins, literally, in the Book of Genesis, and, literally, also it’s where a new chapter opens in the wanderings and meanderings of humanity. Abram, in chapter 12, verse 1, thinks he is starting off to find a new homeland in Canaan, where his own father had once intended to settle down.
Abram will tour on down through Canaan, briefly crossing over into Egypt, only to return into Canaan and retrace his steps, up and across and down again, traveling throughout that ancient land seeking the homeland God has promised to him and to his descendants.
Probably, Abram doesn’t really grasp the full extent of what his touring through Canaan, looking for a homeland, is really about. God does try to explain it to him, though.
God tells Abram in chapter 12, verses 1 and 2, “I’ve got a great blessing in store for you: Go … to the [new] land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.” Then skip to the end of verse 3, “… and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves or shall be blessed.”
God invites Abram to understand the really big scope of what God is doing with this dear earth. Abram is heading up what will turn out to be a Grand, Universal, Reunion Tour. God is assembling the band, the managers, the roadies, booking the venues and all the other bits and pieces I can pull out of that metaphor.
God’s long-view ambition is to reunite the many nations into a restored community. God’s ambition and love for humanity is that they finally receive the blessing of life which God intended all along for all the children of Adam and Eve.
Notice what I just did there? It’s important to notice what I just did there: I said, “all the children of Adam and Eve.” I just slipped us back over into the early stories of Genesis, chapters one through eleven. Those are mythic stories, by which I certainly do not mean untrue stories.
Mythic stories, whatever connections they once had with facts rooted in one time and people, take on a far larger life of their own and on a far grander scope. They become stories that capture universal truths common to human experience of reality.
That’s what the stories in Genesis one through eleven are about. They are accounts rooted in Hebraic memory that now reach mythic status about universal human experience.
The final, mythic-sized story come in Genesis 11, verse 1, the story of the Tower of Babel, “Now the whole earth had one language and few words.” That could also be translated as, “The whole earth had one language and one vocabulary,” which would make sense. What did that one language and one vocabulary sound like?
How many of you have seen the Disney movie, ‘Finding Dory’? How many of you saw the Disney movie before it, ‘Finding Nemo’? You recall in ‘Finding Nemo’ when the seagulls show up: a flock of seagulls show up, hoping to swallow up Marlin and Dory who are stranded up on the dock. What do the seagulls all say: “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!”
O.K., one language, one vocabulary: that pretty much describes the folks building the Tower of Babel… “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!” It was the language and vocabulary of self-promotion, self-aggrandizement. “Come!” said the people of the land of Shinar, “Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (11:4)
Then, with a bit of humor, chapter 11, verse 5, tells us that this tower the people of Shinar thought was so immense and impressive was, in God’s sight, so tiny and nondescript that God actually has to come down out of heaven to get a good look at it. And God said, “Hmmm. This is not good.” So, God does what?
God confuses their language, so that they may not understand another’s speech. Which means, when everybody got up the next morning and went to work on the tower, things got screwy pretty quickly. I imagine the Three Stooges writ large. You recall whenever the Three Stooges tried to build something together or hang wallpaper or whatever? Total chaos ensued.
I picture this next morning at the Tower worksite as a kind of Three Stooges flash mob. Things got so frustrating that the story ends in Genesis 11 saying “… they left off building the city … [because] the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” Thus, the origins of all the nations and all the languages, as described in Genesis 11.
There, we cross over into Genesis 12. Here, we enter into a different kind of story-telling. We enter now into a time of recorded history of this single family, headed up first by Terah, and then by Abram. That’s when God speaks up.
Whether God ever spoke to Abram’s father, Terah, to call Terah to go to Canaan, we don’t know. We just know that’s where they were headed, when Terah decided he’d gone as far as he was going and then stopped, and then, died. Leaving, Abram.
So, God speaks to Abram, basically saying, “Abram, it’s time to finish the trip to Canaan. I will make you great. You will flourish. You will teach the nations of me, and the nations will once again share a common language and purpose, the language of worship of God and the purpose of knowing and serving the one true God.
Now, we need to realize, Abram was no hero at the time. For example, Abram gets down into Canaan, and life turns out to be hard there in Canaan. So, Abram packs up and keeps on going down into Egypt. It’s just a little further down in verses 10 and following.
Well, they’re about to cross over the border into Egypt when Abram says to Sarai, his wife, “You know, honey, have I ever told you how beautiful you are?” And Sarai says, “Oh, Abram, you’re so sweet!” And Abram says, “No, really, you are really quite the looker. But, we’ve got a problem.”
Abram continues, “When the Pharaoh gets a look at you, he’s likely to have me murdered so he can take you for himself. So, this is what we’re going to do. We’ll tell everyone that you’re my sister.”
“That way,” says Abram with wink, “Instead of murdering me, the Pharaoh will shower me with lots of gifts trying to gain my favor so I’ll give you to him to be his wife. We can ride that wave for a long time. We just gotta sell it!”
And that’s what they do. You can read about how that all turns out later, but this suggests that Abram wasn’t at this point particularly the heroic trooper we might think he was.
But, God’s o.k. with that. God doesn’t need Abram to be a hero; God simply needs Abram to be obedient and to extend God a little bit of trust. Abram’s obedience and trust in God are going to get stretched quite a bit over the years ahead, but God’s willing to work with what Abram’s got–or doesn’t have, as will often seem to be the case in the years ahead. His Bedouin life was going to have some very interesting twists and turns ahead.
There’s suppose to be an ancient Chinese curse that goes this way – I’m sure you’ve heard it, the ancient Chinese curse – “May you live in an interesting age”. Whether it’s an ancient Chinese curse or not, the gist of the saying is true: if you’ve ever gone through a so-called “interesting” phase in your life, you’re usually pretty happy when things settle back down into just plain old routine.
As with Abram and Sarai, we ourselves are living in an interesting time, with unexpected twists and turns. As Christians, you and I are living in an interesting time. As members of University Baptist Church, we are living in an interesting time. While this time in the church family is an interesting one, it is not a curse or a burden. It is a blessing, just as Abram and Sarai’s travels in following God’s call was a blessing.
You were quite ready for this church to move forward, but somehow things seem to go more sideways. That means that you, like Abram and Saria, have found yourselves with a calling you did not anticipate nor necessarily ever want. But here it is: you are the members of this longstanding congregation during one of its rare interim transitions. So, you should feel honored, if not particularly heroic in it all.
Now, some of you should be feeling doubly-honored today. Because, some of you found your fellow members electing you to the Leadership Transition Team. And some of you found your fellow members electing you to become the Senior Minister Search Committee. It is a true opportunity to render a tremendous service for God’s continuing work in this body.
You yourselves, as members of this body, are now calling yourselves into a Church Conference this coming Wednesday evening to receive that Transition Team’s report. You need to be here to receive and decide on that report.
You need to do that, first, to honor the tremendous work-hours and the quality work-hours they have invested to do what you asked them to do. The second reason you need to be here on Wednesday night is because what comes out of that meeting will go into the hands of the Senior Minister Search Committee. You will essentially be telling them, in your search, go find the next Senior Minister who is like this, this, and this, and not that, that, or that.
To put it the way God put it to Abram that day long ago that Genesis 12 tells, what is the new land is God showing you? Abram really didn’t know the land that lay before him. Abram had a general direction, you know, ‘we’re heading south down into Canaan.’ Abram knew there’d be a different kind of people to encounter there: the Canaanites. But Abram had experience; he wasn’t new to Bedouin life; he was a Bedouin, after all; he was just going to go be a Bedouin somewhere else for a change.
The land that now lies ahead of you as a Baptist, Christian congregation is a new land. You need to affirm these three truths—first, God is leading you. That’s Affirmation Number One; it’s the biggie. Do you trust, right now, today, that God is leading you as a congregation? Yes? Great, God is leading you. Which leads to Affirmation Number Two.
Affirmation Number Two is almost as big as Affirmation Number One: God is leading you …into a new land. The new land into which God is leading you is not back there in the old homeland from whence came our patriarchs and our matriarchs.
You know all the old light bulb jokes?
“How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but first the light bulb’s gotta want to change.”
“How many divas does it take the change a light bulb? Trick question: the diva just holds the light bulb while the world revolves around her and unscrews the light bulb for her.”
“How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? What?! My granddaddy gave that light bulb to this church!”
The times, they do call for a different sort of light bulb.
If you can make those first two affirmations, then you’ll be ready for the third grand affirmation. One, we trust God is leading us. Two, God is leading us into a new land. And, the third affirmation: we believe God has a spot for us in that Great Reunion Tour which God started all those millennia ago. You are of the Tour, to gather all the peoples together, to worship and serve the one true, God.
It’s a big, big story and long, long journey. The story and the journey yet remain incomplete. The Reunion Tour is not finished. The destination still appears to yet to be a far country apart from where we stand today. But, those whom God calls to share the story, to walk the journey, receive God’s blessing. Through them, through us, God extends the blessing.
By faith, you and I are part of the story now. God, each day, invites you and me to keep on the journey, just as God invited Abram to resume the journey with God. There is blessing along this path of faith.
This journey, this Tour, is not just a metaphor. It involves some actual, real time, often, hard work. Like, finding yourself a member of a faith community, such as University Baptist Church, going through a transition.
Rich blessings lie within this journey, as well as the greater blessing that will come when God has done all God intends for us and for all the families of this earth. We’re all in one way or another, are on the Tour.