Summary: This is a farewell sermon that I preahced to my previous congregation.
RESPONDING BY FAITH
Text: Genesis 12:1-9
It is truly interesting that the last Sunday before moving day in the South Carolina Methodist Conference corresponds to this text of Genesis 12:1-9 that is a suggested text of the lectionary. It was thirteen years ago that I first entered the ministry as a student pastor as I was then leaving from the Rock Hill District. Here it is thirteen years later and I am leaving the Rock Hill District as an ordained Elder. Like my first appointment and the appointment where I am going to have three churches. Like Abram, I am leaving the familiar and going to a place that I not so familiar with. I have an advantage that Abram did not, and that is that I used to live near where I am going when I was a child. I have also been through areas close by to where I am going many times since my childhood. Abram was called by God to walk in good faith and to go where God was sending him. He was going where he had not been before.
LEAVING THE FAMILIAR
It is truly frightening to leave a place or a part of our lives with which we have become familiar. In clinical terms, they label this kind of fear as Separation anxiety. Anxiety is the fear of the unknown. Separation anxiety then describes the kind of feelings that we have when we are leaving the familiar and venturing into a place that we have not been before. I am sure that Abram must have felt something of this kind of fear when he was leaving the place that he had called home. But, there was one thing that Abram did that made the experience bearable. He responded by faith to God’s call. Oftentimes, we find that leaving the familiar is easier said than done.
We tend to play "what if" when we are leaving what has become familiar. We say to ourselves, "What if this… ?" or "What if that…?" as we leave. We do not see in the scripture any where recorded where Abram played the "what if" game. There are both joys and uncertainties about facing a new situation. The joys are the positive things. The uncertainties are the unknown things. There is the story of a man who was on his horse galloping swiftly along the road. An old farmer standing in the fields seeing him pass by called out, "Hey, rider where are you going?" The rider turned around and shouted back, "Don’t ask me, just ask my horse!" (Henri Nouwen. Creative Ministry. Garden City: Image Books, 1978, p. 3).
There is also the element of grief about leaving the familiar. I remember after I graduating High School back in 1983, a bunch of my peers were standing outside after the commencement (graduation) ceremony was over. They were sobbing. I was sad also. Whether we wanted to admit it or not, we were all on our "proverbial horses" wondering where our horses would take us. We were sad because we had graduated and could not go back. We were excited about the challenges of life that awaited us. And at the same time, we were suffering from separation anxiety. Life teaches us that there will be many times when we will graduate from one thing and get ready to take on another.
For Abram, the promise of a great life was ahead of him. Abram had graduated from his youth. He had also graduated from his mid-life era. But, now he was older in age, he was in his seventies and was about to go where it was that God was sending him. His graduation in this case required him to relocate. All of his life he had done all that he had done in one location. He was older in years and he and his wife Sarai were childless. That was the one thing that he had not graduated from. At his age, he and Sarai should have been parents, grandparents and maybe even great-grandparents by now. Yet, Abram went RESPONDING BY FAITH that he would one day become the father of many nations.
There are times when God sends us to another location for one reason or another reason. Sometimes the reason might be to heal. Other times, the reason might be to grow. Still, other times the reason might be a place of preparation for the place that will follow. Sometimes the reasons might be mixed. Today is my last Sunday in this pulpit as your pastor. God has His reasons for all of those of us who are moving.
Soon you will be receiving Mary Nichols, your next pastor. God has plans for all of us ministers who are moving. God also has plans for the churches that are receiving new pastors. God has plans for the ministry that the churches and the pastor will share. We do not always know where that "proverbial horse" will take us. Nevertheless, God wants us to follow His lead. It is like a one-sentence-sermon that I saw on a church sign, just recently, "God provides where He guides".