Instructions Outside
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

March 16, 2014

Genesis 12:1-4a
John 3:1-17

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

We have all heard or said at some time, “We need to think outside the box.” The problem with thinking outside the box is that to do so, you have to leave the box. As Boyd Carter used to say, the instructions for getting out of the box are clearly printed. On the outside.

We all have boxes: categories by which we make meaning of our world, boundaries of our comfort zone, inherited and learned meanings and understandings of life, ways of making sense of it all. And a lot of energy is spent defending and shoring up these boxes. Without them, life teeters on the brink of chaos, the way we understand the world is in jeopardy, our own purpose feels broken. But living in our own boxes is not the abundant life to which Jesus came to deliver us.

This reading about Abram is early in the story. We have the benefit of knowing what is coming: promises of children; new names: Abraham and Sarah; a new way of God being with humanity; the beginning of covenant.

The beginning is a simple command: “Go.”

Go from your country and your kindred
and your father’s house to the land
that I will show you.

Leave the land you know, the place of your people, your family, your inheritance, and travel to a land I will show you. This command comes with a promise:

And 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.

This is not “Come check out this cool thing.” This is “Go from all that you know and trust and love and rely on, and God will bless you and others will be blessed through you.”

“So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Would we? Would I? Leave all that is known and comfortable and assumed to be valuable and trustworthy? Even for the promises of God?

If Abram is to become Abraham, if he is to become the first in a line of covenantal partners with God, if God’s promises are to be fulfilled, he cannot stay home where he knows everyone and everyone knows him.

Ed Friedman used to say: “We do not think our way into a new way of walking. We walk ourselves into a new way of thinking.”

For many of us, it is not as nice and neat as God coming and saying “Go,” and we go. For many of us it is in response to something that happens in our lives and we can no longer stand to be the same as we were.

When we learned of Mira’s heart conditions, you probably remember Mary and me being shell-shocked. When we learned of Patrick’s heart conditions, we were still in shock, still devastated, but we had been there before and had a much better idea of what was coming. Sort of. Mostly.

We did not choose this path because we knew what would be on it. In many ways we still do not know. We chose to be parents and this is the path we are on. Nor would we trade our children for anything. When we were in the hospital with Patrick, we recognized our own faces in the faces of parents facing this for the first time: shock, devastation, courage, relationships drawn closer together or torn apart by the stress. I give thanks to God for Mary and her strength and the way we have drawn together through this. I give thanks for all of your prayers and support and love that have held us. We knew kids would challenge us. We had no idea they would push us this far outside the box.

Nicodemus has a problem seeing past his own understanding. He is learned in the Torah, versed in the faith of the God of Abraham. But he cannot wrap his mind around what it means for Jesus to be the messiah, for everything to change.

Nicodemus appears two more times in the Gospel of John. Once he is defending Jesus to the crowd and the authorities and it gets him in trouble. The other time is after the crucifixion. Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea to care for the body of Jesus, buying the expensive spices used in burials.

We are left wondering how much change took place in Nicodemus’s life and mind and heart. I think that is okay, to be left wondering. Because our question is not about Nicodemus. Our question is about ourselves.

Are we willing to listen for our Still-Speaking God to tell us to go, or to stay, or to change, or to be healed, or to heal others, to work for justice, to show mercy, to build up the neighborhood, especially when it calls for sacrifice?

And when (not if!) we are pushed out of our comfort zone and can see a little better the instructions on the outside of the box, are we willing to help others leave and follow God as well?

Go from your country and your kindred
and your father’s house to the land
that I will show you.

Whether we left willingly or not, the promise is that God will be with us.

Thanks be to God.