When I was a child and teenager a portion of my summer vacation each year was spent visiting my father. My parents were divorced and while I was growing up in Florida my father lived Virginia for a little while, then in Germany, then back in Virginia. Despite what were sometimes difficult circumstances and reasons, I got to travel a lot, a lot more than most of my peers. And for that part of our family situation, I will always be grateful.
One of my best memories of traveling with my father is when we had a specific destination toward which we were heading, but no timeline for getting there, no need to stick to a particular route. When this was the case, or when we just had a free day and wanted to go for a drive, I got to be the navigator. Kids, this was in the days of maps, not GPSes, and my father and I always loved maps. We would pour over them at night, sometimes just playing games we made up, other times plotting our route for an adventure the next day, the next visit, the next year, or just "someday."
Most of the time I'd look for the cities along our way that had the most interesting names, or looked like they were near a good river, or the route that would take us over the highest mountain. I looked for drives that would take us by state parks or scenic overlooks. If there was a town I'd heard of history class, I'd be sure to hit that so we could read the historical markers along the way. Sometimes I wouldn't even pick the route head of time, but would just tell my father to turn left or right whenever I felt like it with the map closed, then a few hours later, I'd figure out where we were and navigate us back to our destination. We would stop for meals when we were hungry, finding anywhere to eat EXCEPT a McDonald's. We would see the sights along the way whenever there were sights to see. Each stage of our journey was a little adventure.
Abram, Sarai, and Lot didn't even have a map for their journey. Years before Abram's father, Terah, had taken his family and left their home land of Ur, located somewhere in what is modern Iraq. He was trying to take them to the land of Canaan, what we know as Israel, but for a reason we are not told, the end up settling in Haran, pretty much in the middle of what is modern day Turkey. Maybe Terah was feeling too old to travel on. Maybe they needed to build up some wealth and resources for the rest of the journey. Maybe he just changed his mind. We just don't know. What we do know is that sometime after Terah's death, Abram receives a direct call from God to finish this journey. Abram is called to pick up his family, move from the land where he has settled, a place he has been long enough to call home, and follow God to Canaan.
We don't talk in "call" language a whole lot, do we? It feels sort of foreign, sort of scary. It sounds, I don't know, "holy," holier than we feel we are or feel we deserve. It's not often I hear someone say, I heard God call me to move to a new place, or a new job, or to teach Sunday School, or to volunteer at Grace Place. Call language might even make us feel uncomfortable because we're unsure of whether a call is something that happens in a dream, or maybe a voice that comes to us when we're praying, or an inkling, or something that a friend says to us. Call language also sounds like a one-time thing.
We don’t think of call language as something that relates to most of our experiences, because we think of calls to people like Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the disciples of Jesus, or the apostle Paul - - these big heroes of the Bible, the people we have put on high pedestals of faith. They get called, but me? Us? We’re just people. What kind of God would call people like us?
But look at Abram here. We don’t have any reason to think that he is anything more than ordinary, an outsider even. He is a foreigner in the land he calls home. There is absolutely nothing remarkable mentioned about his life or his birth, and the Bible loves to include birth stories about people who are going to live great lives. Yet, we have nothing on Abram. He’s not even a worshiper of the God of Scripture. Later stories in Genesis say that he has brought along and turns to his own gods from his homeland. But still, he is called by God. What did he do to deserve a call?
The truth is - - nothing. He did absolutely nothing to deserve a call from God. A call isn’t a reward. A call isn’t bestowed on the ones who have earned them, who have pleased God so greatly that they are given this one thing to do for which they will receive honor and glory. A call is direction for the next stage on the journey.
Abram’s journey is quite literal. He left Ur with his father to go to Canaan. They made it to Haran and stopped for some reason we’re not quite sure of. After his father’s death, God wants him to pick up where Terah left off and continue south to a new place. And he does so in stages the writer of Genesis tells us, traveling from Haran to Shechem, from Shechem to Bethel, from Bethel eventually to the Negeb, the desert of Canaan. He moves through this journey making stops in each place, leaving altars to the god who has called him and blessed him to be a blessing.
This is my favorite definition of what a call is -- a recognition of God’s loving presence in our life that compels us to be a loving presence in the lives of others - - blessed to be a blessing. That’s not so scary, right? That doesn’t have to imply a cross country or cross continent move (although it could include one). That doesn’t take major theological knowledge. That doesn’t require a perfect spiritual life (whatever THAT might be). That doesn’t require youth or age. It doesn’t rely on innocence or experience. It’s simply based on being open to God who might be speaking or nudging or beckoning or whispering or even just being near to us and being willing to carry that sort of attention to others into our daily living.
A call is a blessing to be a blessing - - whether it is lived out in service through the church by teaching or leading or ushering or feeding or sewing or cooking or watching children or singing, whether it is lived out in our work-for-pay through mediating or healing or managing or building or selling or counting or counseling, whether it is lived out in our community through volunteering or coaching or organizing or donating or friend-making. A call is the realization that God is lovingly and graciously present in our lives, wanting and working for good, and God wants us to be present in the lives of others, wanting and working for god.
By this definition our calls are not singular. A call is not received once, completed, and never to be heard again. Calls are not only given to young men and women right about the age of 22, setting them on a life path, from which they are never to stray. Instead calls are for those who are even younger; guided by parents, other adults, the church, the children and teens in this room are not off the hook! God who is with you, who blesses you, wants you to be a blessing to others - - a loving, caring presence in your classrooms, your families, your friendships, your dance lessons and your sports teams, your orchestras and bands. God who is with you is calling you even now. And this call is for those who are even older, whether you are 32 or 42 or 52 or 62 or 72 or 82 or 92 or 102 (we have one almost there!), God is calling you, especially you with a lifetime of experience of God’s presence and God’s absence, to carry your experience of God’s grace into the world - - into your workplaces, your marriages, your friendships, your Rotary clubs and PEO, your classes at the YMCA and your volunteer work around town, your mentorship and teaching of children and the church.
God is calling us all, like Abram and Sarai, to travel through our ages and our stages on this life journey, bringing the love and grace of our loving and gracious God wherever we go. Abram’s journey, unlike the ones I used to make with my father, had no map. He knew his destination, but we see in the story how he moved bit by bit with stops along the way, traveling for a while, then assessing the call, honoring God, and moving on to be a blessing in the next place. Our own journeys through life are more like this than they are journeys with maps. And sometimes the call we are in or even the next is hard to hear.
Author Anne Lamott wrote this week about discerning calls and journeying with God. She remembered something her pastor, Veronica had once said about listening for God’s next direction: "Fifteen years ago, my pastor Veronica said that when she had no clue what direction to take, she imagined standing in a spotlight, as if on stage, and waited, prayerfully, until one more spotlight began to appear nearby. Then she would go stand in that circle of light."
This morning I hope we can all imagine ourselves on that stage - - standing in the light of God’s love, blessed, and waiting attentively with trust in God who is present with us, for that next light to appear. May we see ourselves as blessed and called to be a blessing.