Summary: This sermon, using the call of Abraham, is the first sermon I preached at my new church.
It was about lunch time one day in early May, 1991. I was sitting in my office at Fondren and the Southwest Freeway in Houston. I was a programmer/analyst with the FDIC. I was working on some random computer program when the telephone rang. It was not the kind of call I generally got at work. Those calls usually had something to do with a computer program someone had managed to find a way I never thought of to break a program I had written. Occasionally a Scout leader would call to talk about some activity or another. Cindy and I were very involved in Scouting in those days. Or, it may have been Cindy calling to talk about the kids and what was going on in their lives or even what we might be doing for dinner that night.
I was not used to getting calls about church or church work while I was at work. After all, my employer was the Federal government. They wouldn’t have had much to say, at least not in a positive way about church, separation of church and state and all that jazz.
It was quite a surprise when the voice on the other end of the line said, “Keith, this is Asbury Lennox.” At that time, the late Dr. Asbury Lennox was the District Superintendent of the Houston East District. I was surprised because, while I had anticipated such a call, I thought it would come one night when I was at home. I never thought about him calling me at work, though there was nothing wrong with that. Dr. Lennox said, “I have called to talk to you about an appointment. The cabinet has met with the bishop and we would like to appoint you to Elwood.”
Before I realized what I was saying the words came from my mouth, words that are the title of this morning’s message, “Where in the world is Elwood?” I thought I knew Texas pretty well. I have since learned I didn’t know Texas as well as I though. I had never heard of this place.
It’s is no wonder I hadn’t heard of it before. Elwood is a rural community about twelve miles northeast of Madisonville. The closest town is Midway. I think it is named that because it is located about midway between Madisonville and Crockett. Midway’s population is 229 and the only store in town closes at 6:00. That shouldn’t be surprising, even the Walmart in Madisonville closed at 8:00. My closest neighbors, other than cows were half a mile away.
Friends that was quite a culture shock for a born and bred city boy. I was used to 24 hour Walmarts and convenience stores that never closed. Now, if I didn’t have it by 8:00 I was either driving an hour to Huntsville and an hour back, or I was going to do without. It had to be pretty important to make the drive.
I titled this morning’s message, “Where in the World is Elwood?” because of that phone call 22 years ago. But, I could just as easily titled it after a good number of the places I have served over the years since. Prior to entering the ministry I couldn’t tell you where a good number of these places were. I didn’t know about Lovelady, Kennard, Mount Sylvan, Van, or Grapeland. Before my ministry days I made the same mistake many Texans make. If someone were to say something about Grapeland to me, I probably would have replied, “That’s up around Dallas isn’t it?” mistakenly thinking about Grapevine.
I had heard of Canton, but I really didn’t know where it was, I had to look for it on a map. The only places I knew where to find were Tyler and Freeport. I remember a couple of trips to Tyler before my ministry days and remember going fishing in Freeport when I was a kid.
I also could have titled the sermon “Where in the world is Santa Fe?” and no, we aren’t talking about New Mexico. I hadn’t heard of it before going into ministry, but before serving there I did work a UM Army based there.
I couldn’t have titled the sermon, “Where in the World is Diboll?” My mother’s family is from this part of the state. We came up to Lufkin almost every year when I was a kid for a family reunion. I knew when I got to Diboll I was almost there.
The point of all of this is to say, for many of us, there are places we know little if anything about. Yet often these are some of the very places where God calls us to go.
Such was the case for one of the great heroes of the Bible, Abraham, in our lesson this morning. God spoke to this 75-year-old man and told him to pack up all his things and move, only God didn’t tell Abram to move to Elwood or Freeport or Diboll or some other named place. God told Abram to move to the land God would show him. Friends, God was asking Abram to take a great leap of faith. Yet, God didn’t just ask Abram to take that leap of faith, God made him some promises as well. God promised Abram would be blessed.