Genesis 12:1 – 9
Philippians 3:7 – 14
Every time I have the opportunity to stand in this pulpit I’m reminded of how much this place and these people meant to my parents – especially to my dad, and to his parents as well. And with my brother and sisters here I always feel like I’m coming back to my church home and spending time with my church family. I always end up sharing something about our dad, especially about his love of languages and the way he liked to play around with the English language. Steve and Sandra and Carol can tell you how we were subjected to his “humor” in the form of painful “plays on words” (and no, it’s not “play on words”). We had to endure statements such as, “I know you dropped your toothpaste, Sam, but don’t be so crestfallen!”
Dad almost always avoided politics. He rarely got “political.” But long before all that is happening in our country right now he used to say, “now, the opposite of pro is con, so I guess that means the opposite of progress is congress.”
When I became aware of the theme of your stewardship series – the road ahead – It took me back to numerous road trips with the family as a child. Dad loved to ask, “What’s that in the road ahead?”
And then he’d pause and ask the question again in a slightly different way: “What’s that in the road? A head?” And we’d all say, “Grose!” But we loved it!
On those road trips we would inevitably ask the question posed by all children: Are we there yet?
And Dad’s answer was, “No, and we never will be. Because when we’re there, we’ll say, ‘HERE we are,’ so we’ll really be HERE and not THERE… yet.” And you wonder why we’re all so confused. ( I was in a meeting with dad once, and when the leader began by asking, “Are we all here?” Dad replied (out loud!) “We must all be here, because we certainly aren’t all there.”
Well, HERE we are. Where is here? I believe the apostle Paul described HERE pretty well in his letter to the Philippians. He speaks of a place – HERE – that is somewhere in between “forgetting what lies behind” and “straining forward to what lies ahead.” So maybe before we take a look at the road ahead in mission, we need to first know where we’ve been. We need to take a moment to look back. Not just back to 1851 to the little church in the midst of the forest between new and old Shallowford Road.
Not just back 167 years to 1846 when your brotherly agreement was first signed by Sister Mary Magdalena Miller and others. Not just back to 1732 when Moravians first set out on this road in mission.
Not just back to 1457 when our church was first founded or even 1415 to the martyrdom of John Hus or back in the first century when our Lord Jesus Christ first commissioned the disciples and sent them out on their road ahead. No, I’m talking about ALL the way back to the beginning – the very beginning where this whole road begins!
And what do we find in the beginning? The first 4 words of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God.” God is at the beginning of the journey and God will be with us at the end of the journey… and beyond! But somewhere in between there we find this thing called the Moravian Church and this congregation called New Philadelphia.
From the very beginning, God desired communion with us. God created us in God’s image to be in relationship with God and with each other. Of course, we know what happened. To put it simply: sin came in. Sin threatened to put an end to the journey; to separate us from the love of God. But that’s where we start to see God’s part in all of this – God’s steadfast love. God’s amazing, unending love for us and for the world. And so, we see all along the road as we look back that God keeps on reaching out to us and calling us.
We heard one of those calls in Genesis chapter 12. God’s call to Abraham and Sarah. God promised to bless them, just as God has blessed you and blessed us. God promised to give them a name, to give them descendants, to make them into a nation. But you see a covenant (or let me say it this way: a CO-venant (like the one God made with Abraham and Sarah) always has 2 parts: God’s part and our part. And Abraham and Sarah’s part in this promise was that yes, they would be blessed, but that they would also be a blessing to others. God said that through them and in them ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH would be blessed.
We can see God’s part of the promise being fulfilled: God gave them a son in their old age – Isaac.
Then Isaac and Rebecca had 2 sons, Jacob and Esau. And then Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (the name God promised to give them) and he and Rachel had a bunch of kids (not as many as the stars in the sky, but getting there!). And when there was a famine in the land, the children of Israel moved to Egypt to find food and ended up settling there, and 400 years later, according to Exodus, there were so many of them – so many aliens who had come looking for a better life – that the government (the Pharaoh) was afraid they’d take over, so he made them be slaves. And God raised up Moses to lead them out of slavery and bondage and lead them into this land that had been promised to Abraham and Sarah.
As promised, they did become a nation. They had a king named Saul, and then their second king was David. Then his son, Solomon, followed him as king. Solomon was best known for two things: his wisdom and the temple that he built. At the dedication of that temple, Solomon prayed to God and said, “God, you have put me here in the midst of these people… too numerous to count.” Wise old Solomon couldn’t even count them, because the promise was being fulfilled! They were blessed on their journey – the journey that began when Abraham and Sarah set out on that road ahead. Hebrews 11:8 tells us that they did that not knowing where they were going. Think about that. Think about how old they were, how settled and established they were, how ready to simply coast to the finish line they were when they did that – when they took that amazing step of faith and set out on that road ahead.
Over the past 8 years, the BWM’s Antioch program has seen that there are many young people who seem to be willing to do just that. We have sent more than 40 young adults to mission settings in at least 10 countries as Antioch Servants. We like to think of that as a new direction – a new road in mission. But you know, in 1949, when our mom was 19 years old and a student at Salem College, she left all of that, married my dad and headed off to Nicaragua… not knowing what was in the road ahead.
Tomorrow, Joe Jarvis and I will be traveling to Cuba. Not just Havana. No, we will be visiting some places where I’ve never been, like Matanzas and Camaguey. Well, when Joe and I got together a few weeks ago to talk about this, he already knew a lot about those places. He had Googled them. Of course, that possibility didn’t exist in 1949, or in the time of Abraham and Sarah. But even with Google there are still lots of unknowns in the road ahead. So how do we approach that road ahead in mission?
Well, the simple answer would be, the same way Abraham and Sarah did: one step at a time.
Genesis 12 tells us that they journeyed on toward the Negeb… by stages. I think of that not just as the steps they took on their physical journey or the stops that they made along the way. I see their first step of faith as the beginning of a journey that went way beyond them. Let me explain by asking you a simple math question: What’s 14 + 14 + 14? 42! Of course, the other question would be: why does that matter? Well, Matthew chapter 1 tells us that from Abraham to David there were 14 generations, from David to the exile in Babylon another 14 generations, and then 14 generations later (a total of 42 generations since the beginning of this journey) an amazing thing happened: unto US was born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And so, even though that’s a long journey – a journey that, if you accept Matthew’s math, stretches over 42 generations, it’s not the end of the journey, not the end of the road, because, you see, that Savior, Jesus Christ, stretched out his arms on the cross and opened up this road – this path – to everyone, to the whole world that God so loved.
That’s what lies behind. So, is Paul telling us to forget all of that? Well, you know, you can’t forget something if you never knew it in the first place. Does that make sense? Our other sister, Martha, found that out the hard way at Moravian College. Now, Sandra and Carol and Steve can tell you that Martha was the star student in our family. She graduated summa cum laude (of course, I graduated “thank the laude”). I had to be in many classes where I was reminded of how well she did in that class.
So maybe this is payback time. But in her Old Testament class with Bob Woosley, the assignment was to read Judges chapter 11. Of course she read it. But professor Woosley enjoyed picking on her so the next day in class he said, “Miss Gray, can you tell us the name of Jephthah’s daughter?” Poor Martha turned red. It was a new experience for her not to know the answer. So she blurted out, “I can’t remember.”
Bad answer. The professor responded, “You can’t remember? That implies that you did know it at some point. So, if you are able to recall the name, please let me know, because centuries of scholarship have been trying to determine what it was. No one else knows.”
We need to know. We need to look back. But then, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, we press on toward the goal. Your former pastor, and my friend, David Marcus, has gotten me involved in bike riding. But just when I start to think that I’m making some progress at Muddy Creek, one of your members, brother David Daggett, will post on his Facebook page something like, “Did a 500 mile warm-up today, uphill, both ways.” I told him I would be talking about him today, but unfortunately he’s not able to be with us because, oh yes, he’s taking part in the ironman triathlon! Kind of puts things in perspective, I guess. But I’ve noticed that in biking, as in driving a car, as we’re moving forward (at whatever speed that might be), if we decide to change lanes – go a new direction – we have to be careful about our blind spot. If we look back at the road behind us, we have to make sure that we get the whole picture because that blind spot can be dangerous.
I believe that’s true when it comes to the road ahead in mission. We look back at our mission history and we celebrate August 13 with a Lovefeast or communion service and we see all of the lovely and meaningful customs and traditions and musical heritage… but watch out for that blind spot! Don’t miss the part about the passion that those folks had for reaching souls for the Lamb or their willingness to step out in faith, even their willingness to fail!
What do Greenland, Lapland, Savannah GA, Sri Lanka, Guinea, Egypt, Algiers and Persia have in common? They are just some of the places where Moravian mission work was started, but did not succeed. Now, is that failure or is that faith? I think it shows a willingness to follow, regardless of the odds or the unknowns. Because if we look around now, we see another number. We looked back over 42 generations, and when we look around we see… 43. That’s 21 Moravian Unity Provinces, 6 Mission Provinces, 14 new Mission Areas, and 2 Unity Undertakings. And 3 of those 14 mission areas have been assigned to us: Cuba, Peru and Sierra Leone.
Last year our total worldwide membership passed the one million mark. Less than 5% of all Moravians live in North America. The Moravian Church in the Southern Province makes up less than 2% of the Moravian Church worldwide. But I’m not saying this to make us feel bad about being so small.
No, I’m sharing this because I want us to feel blessed to be part of such a big family! So we can understand what I like to call “our place in the choir,” but what Paul might call, “our place in the race.”
3 weeks from today, Sister Erin Key, our Program Director at Laurel Ridge, will be running in the New York City marathon. Now, she could post a picture of herself, alone, running along 5th Avenue.
But imagine the thrill of being able to see yourself in a picture along with 35,000 others and to be able to say, “Hey, that’s me! There I am!”
Well, here we are. In the middle of a great family. In the midst of an amazing journey on the road ahead. I believe God has put us here for a purpose. And God asks us to take this journey one step at a time. One FAITHFUL step at a time.
Steps… like opening our door on Wednesdays at noon.
Steps… like sending our people (young and not so young) out into the world to places such as
Alaska or Honduras or Jamaica or Sunnyside or Mission Camp at Laurel Ridge or to sing at the prison or to take part in the latest Monthly Mission Ministry blitz.
Or sewing little dresses, not knowing where those dresses might end up! You know, who’d have ever thought that Tuesday evening, some of those dresses will be in Havana, Cuba, and about 50 delegates from 8 congregations and 12 fellowships representing the 5 districts across the island will decide on the best way to bless others in the way that you are blessing them? And on Saturday night Joe and I will be present for the ordination of 3 deacons and the consecration of at least one presbyter. I’ll do the laying on of hands and Joe will be taking lots of pictures (so we’ll both have an important part in that service).
In November, BWM Director Judy Ganz and I will be in Peru, visiting some of the many house churches that have been started by the new Moravians there.
In December a new wing of the Moravian High School in Sierra Leone, with more than 200 students, will be dedicated… 32 years after my parents (and Sandra) first explored the possibility of mission work there.
You see, Abraham and Sarah are still journeying on… by stages – on that road ahead. And what’s that in the road ahead? Well, maybe our dad was right. Maybe the important thing is that our Head and Savior, Jesus Christ is already there. Maybe we just need to catch up with him. Maybe we just need to be willing to step out in faith and follow him, no matter where he might be leading us. And we might be surprised to find out where he is and who is walking with him. But, you see, the closer we get to him, the more clearly we can see what lies in the road ahead. And the closer we are to Him, the closer we will be to those whom he loves. Those for whom he gave his very life. Those for whom the ones who have gone before us were willing to give their lives.
So, are we there yet? Well, I hate to admit it, but dad was right again. We’re not there, and we’ll never be there because… we’re HERE! But maybe that’s exactly where God is calling us to be:
- HERE where we can hear God’s call.
- HERE where we can look back at the rich heritage of our mission history.
- HERE where we can recognize our part in this story – our place in this race – and then, forgetting all of that, and straining forward to what lies ahead, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenlycall of God in Christ Jesus.
We’re HERE so that Christ can send us THERE. And Christ is with us here, but the Good News is that Christ is also out THERE! So let us follow Him… one step at a time.
Are We There Yet?
Bishop Sam Gray
New Philadelphia, October 13, 2013