The Journey is messy
I bring you greetings, from Renee, Gregg, Gavin, Gwendylyn, Mecedes, Jennifer, and Justin. They told me to tell you they’ll be back this afternoon, unless the weather is nice, in which case they’ll be staying on the Eastern Shore for a few more days, or maybe a couple of weeks.
I also bring you greetings in the name of Jesus.
It was getting late Friday evening. The sun was dipping out of existence. We sped along I-50—Pastor Gregg—who may be known forevermore as pastor-led-foot was in the lead, Gwendylyn following him, and Justin and I followed her.
Just out of curiosity, and boredom, it’s a 150-mile drive after all, Justin and I turned on my GPS to see if it liked the path Pastor Gregg was taking us.
And it didn’t. Every 300 feet it would say, “Make a U-turn” and when we continued to follow Gwendylyn it would say “recalculating” and then tell me to again, “make a U-turn” or, sometimes it would phrase its dislike of our path slightly differently and say, “Turn Left, then turn left.”
You see in my GPS’s mechanical mind there was only one way to get to 10,301 Costal Highway Road, and Pastor Gregg’s way of getting there wasn’t it.
My machine’s mechanical mind believed that if things didn’t go a particular way—things just don’t go.
In fact when we arrived in the parking lot of the retreat center my GPS let me know that we still had an hour’s journey left before we would arrive at the retreat center.
I bring this up because, like our journey to the Son and Sand Retreat Center in Ocean City the journey of faith is not mechanical, but messy. The Journey of faith is not mechanical, but messy.
Let us pray: Lord God, be with me as I preach. I pray that my words may be acceptable to you and that all the things that my words elicit in both myself and others may be the same. Amen
As we read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians Genesis 16 can be read as an Allegory… That is it can be read symbolically (I would go so far as to call this type of reading mechanical). Hagar is no longer Hagar, Sarai no longer Sarai, Ishmael no longer Ishmael. Instead, for Paul, the whole story is a way to express a particular view about the theological concepts of Law and Gospel to the community in Galatia.
And as exciting and helpful as this way of reading our lesson for the day is, I believe allegory can do damage to God’s message and the plain meaning of today’s scripture. I believe it simplifies the real and raw human and divine drama that is before us today. It stops us from hearing how God acted in the mixed-up, messed-up lives of these people of faith.
After all an Allegory can’t express contempt, but a person of faith can. An Allegory can’t be okay with an agreement until its not, but a person of faith can. An allegory can’t run away into a deadly desert, but a person of faith can. In short, an allegory doesn’t express the messiness of a faith journey
Likewise, when we tell the story of the founders of our faith we often flatten their stories. We erase the smudges on their records. We clean up the messiness of their lives.
We ignore Abraham pimping his wife in Egypt as Pastor Gregg preached about last week. We mute Moses’ mumbling. We insist that Job is a patient man even though 39 of the 42 chapters of the book named after him involve him complaining!
It’s like we put together a photo album but crop all the photos with our ex-es present.
It’s like creating a family tree, but removing the limb that contain our crazy aunt and creepy cousin.
Its like we insist on taking a U-turn and going on the Ocean City Expressway when we’ve already went 12 miles down Ocean Gateway.
But by going all the way back to these stories of Abraham, the founder of three faiths, we aren’t allowed to do that!
Instead we are confronted by the messiness of, Sarai, Hagar, Abraham, and Ishmael’s journey with God.
We might like to simply say, “Abraham was faithful, and God blessed him, and that is that.”
We might like to say “God promised a child and Sarai had a child.”
But we would hear the GPS of scripture saying, “recalculating” and “Make a U-turn” because we find the holy couple waiting for 10 years in the Promised Land without receiving the promised son.
We might like to simply say, “Through Abraham’s second wife, Hagar, God created his chosen people and everything worked out.” But again we would hear “Recalculating” “turn left and then turn left.” Because Jealousy strikes and Sarai asks for God to judge between her and Abraham. Instead Abraham dons the judge’s robe intended for God and judges between Sarai and Hagar.
But surely then we may sum things up, “The offending wife, Hagar, is thrown out and order is restored!”
“Recalculating.” “Make a U-turn!” Despite Hagar having cursed Sarai—and despite God having said to Abraham that he would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him—God steps in with a blessing. Its like a reverse Exodus.
A reverse Exodus.
Just as the people of the promise were oppressed in Egypt and God heard their cries an Egyptian woman was oppressed in the Promised Land and God heard her cries.
Just as we read today in Exodus, God looks out for the oppressed and for the resident alien!
So finally, we can sum things up!
“God blesses this son of Hagar with a life of ease and plenty… “Recalculating” “turn left and turn left.” No! The blessing God bestows upon Hagar’s child is a baffling mix of hardship and health, of anguish and hope.
Finally, finally, we can say happily ever after! No, because even when we reach the end of today’s lesson such as assessment must be met with Recalculating…. Make a U-turn! Because the Journey of faith is not mechanical, but messy.
The Journey Of Faith Is Messy.
Now, you might ask why I belabor this point. Why am I making such a big deal about this? Why am I insisting that any reading of “The mixed-up, messed-up Origins of our faith” is incalculably in need of a U-turn if it is mechanical? Why is Hagar’s journey off track if it is track-able?
Because hearing about how, and in what conditions, God acted in the past for other people shapes our understanding of how God acts in our present! Hagar’s story shapes our story.
And you see, now that its summer I’ve got out into the neighborhood more. In fact last Saturday—for the second time—I set up a table out from of the church for people to just come and sit and talk about their faith with me.
And from the stories I’ve been hearing here-and-now I have to assume the way “The mixed-up, messed-up Origins of our faith” have been told is inaccurate, it is simplified, it is mechanical, it is allegorical, it is in need of a U-turn.
Because when I talk to people about what God is doing in their life they so often respond, “I’ll worry about that once I get my life straightened out,” “I’m not good enough for God yet” “I’ll go to church once -I- take care of some things.”
First off I asked what God was doing in their life… I didn’t say anything about church!
But second, waiting to get everything together before you enter a journey of faith is, to quote the Goo Goo Dolls, like being a “young men sitting in the old man’s bar/waiting for his turn to die.”
If God can work in the messy lives of the founders of our faith God can work in our messy lives too! Even if things aren’t going a particular way that doesn’t mean they aren’t going at all!
The Journey of faith is not mechanical, but messy. Its driving behind a led-footed pastor on I-50 in rural Maryland. Its 10 years of barrenness in the face of God’s promise of a child. Its jealousy and misjudgment. Its mysterious blessing in the face of curses. It’s a mixed blessing in the desert. Its messy!
Yet its also a journey to a life giving well called “God sees” and a journey to a magnificent cost-line, a blue horizon-line bumping up against the curvature of the earth—the white-cap waves sparkling in the rising sun.
The journey of faith is messy, but God’s there in the messiness, and its worth it!