Friday, 23 February 2018

Making Journeys.

Making journeys is not so unusual these days. People move to find work. People move to study. Young people think nothing of travelling for gap years. We’re a very mobile society. Not so in Abraham’s day. What a statement of faith that he should pack up his whole life and, with his family, go where God calls. So, I have great sympathy with Abraham when it seems that God calls for one more incredible stretch, makes one more demand— to believe that he could start, not just a family, but a whole nation.

It’s something I have done many times in my adult life. I moved to various places in Aotearoa (New Zealand) for education and work and then moved to the Solomon Islands, always accepting that God called me to make these changes. Then I moved to Australia twenty odd years ago to make a new start little realising I would be called into marriage again and we would follow my wife’s occupation to various parts of Australia, leading me to various ministry positions on the way.

It’s clear that Abraham seldom had much clue about what God was up to. Although we read of Abraham spending time in discernment and building altars in testimony, there are occasions when he tries to second-guess God and short-circuit the process. And yet, Abraham has become one of the exemplars of faith, maybe precisely because of his cluelessness. Although he didn’t know why, he did as God asked.

Sometimes those asks were huge asks that some of you may have experienced in your lives.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bit clueless like Abraham. We are told that Abraham was asked to pack up his whole life and travel, asked to believe that he could father a nation, asked to sacrifice his one and only heir with no idea that God would provide an alternative. Abraham might well have been clueless about God’s plans, but he certainly wasn’t found wanting in his faith.

Sometimes I have thought about Abraham and Sarah as I have reflected on all the shifts I have had in my life. I have found that some do not understand moving where God calls as it looks like to them you are unstable in some way because you move a lot. In Romans 4: 18, we see Abraham held up as an exemplar of “hoping against hope.” God’s people are called to practice such unlikely faith today so that God’s improbable will can come to pass.

Then if we move on to the reading from Mark this week we find we are being told life is difficult. Awakening to personal complicity with evil in the world cruelly adds to the difficulty. Aligning with God against injustice, oppression, exploitation, and violence propels us toward the cross. In Lent, giving up illusion is probably the primary sacrifice. It seems that we are being called to give up our illusions about God, the world, safety, self-satisfaction; or, even the illusion of clinging to the easier, friendlier Jesus of Galilee and Epiphany rather than traveling with the suffering Jesus of Jerusalem and Holy Week.

Peter tries to cling to an illusion. “God forbid you should die!” Jesus’ harsh rebuke is devastating, and the harshness reflects a continuing struggle. Certainly, Jesus does not want to die a criminal’s death by torture. Why wouldn’t he lash out as Peter witlessly touches this raw nerve? From time to time, it is necessary to abandon the illusion of what we previously called faith.

Faith draws us to a dark realm behind reason. Reason is merely a placeholder of discernment; the content of the pages can shock with their unreasonable wonder, complexity, beauty, horror, emptiness. But dark faith is not the same thing as blind faith. Blind faith draws on ignorance and illusion, while dark faith draws us toward the crucible of liberation from fantasy, compulsion, and self-justification.

To go forward in dark faith sometimes means risking faith itself to face truth. Difficult truths, perhaps like the one that tells us our personal complicity with evil mentioned earlier is a problem. In any case, dark faith leads to the cross. There’s no way around the darkness. And maybe just maybe the cross does stand at the heart of darkness. And then, God’s will for wholeness, for shalom, places the empty tomb at the heart of life itself.

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