“Now 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.
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse,
and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
(Genesis 12:1-3)

The lights went down. The audience – more than 1,600 people – instinctively transitioned into a place of silence. And out of the void the orchestra broke into the silence with musical sounds indicating that something was about to happen. Even my 12 and 8 year old granddaughters, for whom this was their first Broadway production, understood that the music was introducing them to something more – that something new was about to begin. And it did. Our attention was turned to the stage as the story line of the young lion cub Simba unfolded in the musical “The Lion King.”

Preludes, musical or otherwise, have a way of introducing our spirits to glimpses of what is to come. Every week in our churches we traditionally begin our gatherings with music of some kind. We sometimes forget that it is not music for the sake of performance – it is music that invites us into another space. It creates a space for the movement of our hearts and minds to be open to what is not yet but will soon be. Preludes can take on different forms; a sermon, a prayer, a hymn, a poem, an instrumental introduction. In whatever form they take on, preludes invite us to listen and pay attention to what is coming.

This reading from Genesis 12 reflects one of those moments. It is a turning point moment in the story of God and humanity, a prelude for what is yet to come. For the first 11 chapters we experience the dramatic dance between God’s life-giving love and hope for humanity and humanity’s dangerously disappointing dance with their sense of identity – a distinction that continues to challenge us to this very day. Do we the creature understand ourselves as being of God. Or do we believe ourselves to be like God? From God speaking life and breath into creation we are escorted through the turning from God in the Fall; the murder of Cain, the story of Noah, the flood and destruction of the world, to the tower of Babel seeking to reach the sky. We encounter a humanity that has lost its way – giving credence to Calvin’s theological claim of humanity’s depravity.

Yet it is into the void of this lostness, this barrenness, this emptiness – that God breaks in, speaking to Abram, telling him to give up his homeland and way of his life and go to the land of Canaan some 3,400 miles away. It is into this lostness and barrenness that God promises what would seem like an impossible dream. How can there be any descendants when this elderly couple has no children and Sarai is barren? It’s impossible! But this Biblical moment causes us to stop and consider the possibilities, inviting us to pay attention and prepare to pivot. Following years of human chaos leading to hopelessness, Abram is invited to allow himself to believe in the humanly impossible. He is invited to allow himself to consider another way of life beyond the barrenness. To pivot and join God on a pilgrimage to a place of promise and possibilities. And Abram’s heart is open to what seems absurd. It was Cervantes in the novel Don Quixote who wrote that “In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” So Abram does the absurd and goes…

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. As an archeologist Indiana Jones seeks the Holy Grail. He finds himself at the edge of a cliff being called by a God-like voice to cross over to the other the cliff. Just one catch – there was no way to get to the other side. With the enemies pressing in on him, the Godlike voice invites him to step out into the abyss, the nothingness. There was no turning back but the choice before him was absurd. With a sense of reluctance, he steps into the abyss probably thinking he would plummet to his death. A bridge appears allowing him to make it to the other side safely. His willingness to be open to the absurd, to listen to that God-like voice not only saved his life but escorted him to find the promise of the holy grail.

When have you felt God calling you to what felt like the edge of a cliff. A time when you knew you had to let go of a way of life and let God guide you to a new place – if you will. A time when you trusted that spirit nudging you to a new place. It could be a new job, new home, relationship, new school. Whatever it was, the choice was to do nothing – to stay where you were or to risk the security of that moment – to lean into the possibilities – unseen and seen – before you. Theologian Walter Bruggermann says it well in his commentary on Genesis “departure from securities is the only way out of barrenness.”

I believe that we as a church, in many ways, have been taken to the edge of that cliff as we have had to consider leaving the securities of our assumptions, denials and judgments behind, causing a disequilibrium that has invited a new but unsettling understanding of who we are called to be. The past two and a half years have been challenging for us as individuals and as communities of faith. We’ve wrestled with dual pandemics (racism and covid) that have threaded their way into the fabric of our assumptions. Pandemics that have caused grief, isolation, loss, fear and anxiety. There is no question that we’ve done extraordinary ministry, but contrary to our initial hopes, there is no turning back to what had been. Like Abram and Saria, we are invited to step into an unknown reality. So, as we emerge from this unsettling season, as we lean into a new program year, I invite us to consider what this historic prelude is inviting us to hear and consider about what is to come; about who we are as individuals and as a people of faith.

  1. Perhaps we’ve learned that we are being called out of the theology of scarcity to a theology of flourishing and possibilities. No longer can we begin our sense of call with what we don’t have. We are invited to name and claim the gifts in our midst.
  2. Perhaps we’ve learned that our buildings do not define our identity. We are defined by a community of believers – the ecclesia – not a community of buildings. Now buildings matter as they facilitate our ministries and can serve as safe havens. But when our budgets are simply paying for keeping the lights on in the building, we need to wonder about the mission we are serving.
  3. Perhaps we’ve learned that we have new tools that can be used to enhance our incarnational hand-print and heart-print in our communities. The new technologies and virtual modalities will help us reach and deepen friendships near and far. May we use them well – not making our technology our newest idolatry.
  4. Perhaps one of the most important reminders of this season, this prelude has taught us that our faith matters and that we need one another, and we are in this together. At heart we are an incarnational people faithfully serving an incarnational God in Jesus. May we embrace this identity as we lean into the ministry before us.

These Sundays mark the beginning of newness. May we boldly embrace the pain and reality of what has been as we lean into what will be. May we recall that those moments of brokenness and barrenness serve as a prelude, inviting us to listen and pivot to new possibilities and promise, to a place of the seemingly impossible, claiming our identity as a people of the impossible and trusting that the Lord our God is with us always.