Sermon for Sunday, March 16, 2014; Lent 2
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.”
OK. We’ve known each other long enough that I can finally admit to you… that I love the Dixie Chicks. What a great band! I love their clear voices and tight harmonies. I love their instrumentals, how skillfully arranged and played they are. I love how they’ve got a knack for a catchy tune and a moving text. And, OMG, Natalie Maines’ voice (Natalie Maines is the lead singer) – so powerful yet fluid, with a wide range, not merely in pitch, but in tone: now it’s tender, now defiant; now it’s playful, now sassy; now it’s like a Camaro, now a Mercedes. With nine children between the three of them, it’s rare to see them in concert, and the country music stations tend to carry the newer stars, so it’s possible that some of us may never have heard one of their most famous hits, Cowboy Take me Away. Here are the opening lines:
I wanna touch the earth
I wanna break it in my hands
I wanna grow something wild and unruly
I wanna sleep on the hard ground
In the comfort of your arms
On a pillow of bluebonnets
In a blanket made of stars
Cowboy take me away
Fly this girl as high as you can
Into the wild blue
Set me free oh I pray
Closer to heaven above and
Closer to you, Closer to you.
As I try to imagine what it was like to be Abram obeying God’s command to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” I can’t help but think of “Cowboy.” I wonder if Abram, as he packed up his household and traveled across the land, slept “on the hard ground… on a pillow of blue bonnets, in a blanket made of stars.” I wonder if Abram, as he moved across the land and considered God’s promise to make of him a great nation, ever touched the earth and broke it in his hands and desired to “grow something wild and unruly.” I wonder if Abram, as he traveled – even though he may have missed his country, his kindred and his father’s house – might nevertheless have had moments of sublime joy, and shouted out to God the early Mesopotamian equivalent of, “Cowboy! – God! – take me away… Closer to heaven above and Closer to you.”
As I imagine what it might have been like for Abram to travel across the expanses of Mesopotamia, I imagine Abram not only had many “Cowboy” moments in which he marveled at the beauty of the land and the expanse of the sky and feeling close to God, but that he also had some extremely difficult moments of grief and loss over having left his country, his kindred and his father’s house. I wonder if Abram, even though he may have enjoyed sleeping on a pillow of bluebonnets in a blanket made of stars, didn’t sometimes ache as he thought about the people and place he might never see again. I wonder if Abram –as much as he believed God’s promise of blessing and looked forward to seeing the land that God would show him – didn’t also mourn for what he had left behind.
It’s worth considering what it was like for Abram not merely because all of us have experienced grief and loss, but also because one of the dynamics of Lent is leaving behind an old place so that we might be free to arrive in a new. Lent invites us to leave our “country,” our “kindred” and our “father’s house” – our “country,” “kindred,” and “father’s house” being anything and everything that keeps us from knowing God’s love more fully. And Lent invites us to go to whatever “land” God will show us, a place of blessing where God can more readily show us His glory. I bet that each of us, were we to reflect on our lives, could probably identify a “country,” or “kindred” or a “father’s house” – something that keeps us from knowing God’s love more fully and that God may be calling us to leave behind. And I wonder, what might be the “land,” the place of freedom, “closer to heaven above and closer to you,” that God wishes to show us?
As much as we know that blessing awaits in that new “land,” leaving behind the familiarity of a “country,” a “kindred,” or a “father’s house” – even if it keeps us from God – is not always easy; in fact, leaving these behind can be extremely difficult and fill us with a sense of loss. Remember the poem by Emily Dickinson, “A Prison Gets to be a Friend,” in which Dickinson describes how we can grow comfortable, even in places that aren’t healthy for us?
We learn to know the Planks—
That answer to Our feet—
So miserable a sound—at first—
Nor ever now—so sweet—
I wonder if this Lent God might be calling us to make like Abram and – difficult though it may be – to “Go from our country, our kindred and our father’s house to the land that God will show us?”
The scriptures don’t tell us how Abram found healing from any sense of loss he may have felt, but they do tell us how Abram, after he left his country, kindred and father’s house, entered into covenant with God. I wonder, if we would find healing from any sense of loss we might feel in leaving behind those places and patterns that keep us from God, I wonder if we would be helped by considering the covenant we have made – our covenant of Baptism. At the end of Lent at the Easter Vigil we will renew our Baptismal covenant, and I wonder if between now and then we might talk to God about what may be keeping us from Him, and I wonder if we might this Lent ask for the grace to go from this “country,” this “kindred,” this “father’s house,” to go from anything and everything that keeps us from God. So that, come Easter, our hearts might be open to receiving the “land,” the blessing, that God wishes to show us.
Shortly, we will celebrate the Eucharist. The Eucharist is, as Augustine puts it, the “repeatable part of Baptism,” the part of our covenant that we repeat again and again to remind us of God’s love, to bring healing from any loss of “country,” “kindred” and “father’s house” that we may have left behind, and to give us a foretaste of that “land” that God wishes to show us.
We will touch this bread
We will break it in our hands..
Why not let it grow in us something wild and unruly? Why not let Him whose body it is
Take us away…
Set us free oh we pray
Closer to heaven above and
Closer to you, O Christ… Closer to You?