Sunday, March 20, 2011

BG (Before Google)--a sermon for Lent 2A

Rev. Teri Peterson
B.G. (Before Google)
Genesis 12.1-4
20 March 2011, Lent 2A

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Often, when I am preparing to go somewhere, I check out all kinds of things. I head to google and I look up the hotel, the restaurants, the attractions, the community news and statistics…I read reviews on yelp and trip advisor, I plot which places I want to try and which I’d rather avoid, based on other people’s experiences. I even do this here at home, looking up businesses I’ve not used before to find out about them before I ever make a call or walk through the door, to find out about the churches hosting Presbytery meetings, or what else is good at a local restaurant besides the thing I always order. And when I, or a friend, get ready to meet someone new, whether we’ve been set up on a date or we’re just making new friends, I almost always google them to see if I can figure out what they’re like ahead of time. Employers are now doing this too, googling candidates before they interview them, checking to see that there’s nothing embarrassing or controversial about them floating around the web, checking up on their history or their time management or their ability to keep the shocking photos off facebook.

And, of course, before I go anywhere—sometimes long before I even decide to go anywhere—I map it on google. How long will it take to drive there? Can I walk between these different places I want to go? Are there alternate routes I might prefer? I put in the addresses, I move that little blue line all around—because who wants to drive down Randall Road all the way to 90 when we could drive down 62 instead?—and I check out all my options. Sometimes I print the directions, sometimes I just put the address into the gps, sometimes I do both…but I almost always have a map before I leave, and I have a fair idea what to expect when I get there, thanks to Google.

Abram had none of these things. He heard the voice of the Lord telling him to leave his home and his family, to set out to this unknown place that God would show him. Abram didn’t have the opportunity to google who this God character is—this is the first time we find out that Abram and God have talked, we don’t know whether Abram and God had a prior relationship, and yet Abram asks no questions like “who are you?” or “can I see your photo?” or “what other things have you done, what other journeys have you guided, what other people have you blessed?” He doesn’t whip out his iPad and google “God” which will, as of this morning, get you about 726 million results, the first of which is the Wikipedia entry about God. Abram also doesn’t manage to ask God for a map—where is he going, how is he going to get there, how long is it going to take, and what’s the traffic adjustment? He just seems to believe that this voice is trustworthy, so he packs up all his stuff and heads out into the desert.

I don’t know if many of us would do that.

When God calls, we probably would prefer to do a quick Google search and ask for a map first? It’s so tempting, and so easy, to try to mitigate our fear of the unknown by doing some research ahead of time. Of course, then it’s also easy to get distracted by the millions of other things out there, the myriad options, the many voices. And it’s easy to find reasons not to go—it’s dangerous, it’s humid, it’s cold, the people are snooty, the food is only so-so, it’ll take a long time and cost a lot with today’s gas prices, there are a lot of 1 star reviews. Or it’s just that sometimes following God is too difficult a path, it doesn’t fit in our busy schedules, it might ruin our social status.

Presumably Abram had a busy schedule—he appears to have an entire household and a large extended family, and we know he has large flocks and servants which means his household was like a small village of tents. He was probably a respected member of his community. Not to mention that he was 75 years old! And yet, off he went, leaving all that behind. It kind of makes me wonder what people said about him after the last of his camel caravan was out of sight…I can practically hear the gossip. But he went anyway. Once he’d heard God’s call, he had to make a choice—he could try to return to life the way it had always been, before he heard God’s voice, or he could follow that call and see where that led him.

Dropping everything and following God’s voice into the wilderness is a common theme in the Bible—from this story of Abram to the Israelites leaving Egypt to Elijah to John the Baptist and Jesus and Paul. But even if we never leave home, God still calls us to a journey—a journey involving risks and life-changing choices. Once we hear God’s voice, things can never be the same. We have to decide whether to set our face back toward the past, pretending nothing has changed and that we can go on leading our safe old lives, or to set our face toward Jerusalem and accept the consequences of following God’s call.

One of my favorite quotes says, “faith is believing that one of two things will happen—that there will be something solid for you to stand on, or that you will be taught to fly.” Now, of course, I prefer to think about flying, because it sounds more fun and adventurous, but sometimes the journey just involves stepping out and finding the path is there, waiting for us even though we couldn’t see it before.

Indy didn't believe until this moment...he heard the voice of someone he trusted, and he chose to take the step.

This Lent, we too have some choices. God is calling…but to where or to what, we may not be sure. Who does God want us to be? What kind of people? What kind of work are we to do? How can our lives, both individually and as a community, be part of God’s kingdom quest here and now? Our church is at a crossroads—now we have to discern which voice is God’s amidst that jumble of voices, and then we have to decide…we can’t just stay where we are, looking at the sign—signs point somewhere, they’re not meant to be stopping places. We have to turn one way or the other. And perhaps this is a decision we need to make BG—Before Google, or maybe even live life Beyond Google, because there’s no way to remove our fear of the unknown, so at some point we have to decide whether, with Jesus, we will set our face toward Jerusalem or toward something else more comfortable and predictable. We know is that God has great plans…the question is—once we know God’s voice, which journey will we choose to walk?

May the Lord guide us as we travel together.


  1. beautiful work here, Teri! thank you!!

  2. I love this! We are doing a Midweek Lenten series on Hebrews 11 about those who walked by faith. This week is Abraham. Could I borrow much of this to use? If so, let me know how I should attribute it to you.

  3. Silent, you are welcome to use or adapt whatever is useful! I only ask that you don't publish it without my full name attached. You can either say that I'm just a Presbyterian from Crystal Lake IL (believe me when I say our church name is even longer than that!) or that you saw it on my blog Clever Title Here. Thanks!

    Thanks for the feedback, friends! When the youtube video is posted perhaps I'll link it here as well. :-)

  4. Thank you! I can't decide if this will sound grateful or whiny, but I mean it to be grateful!

    This is my first Lent as a solo pastor so I'm figuring out this preaching twice a week (Sun. and Wed.)all of Lent, while 32 weeks pregnant (and trying frantically to be ready for Easter and maternity leave shortly on its heels) and parenting an almost 3 year old (who has decided to fully enter the terrible 2s/3s temper tantrum stage and stop sleeping through the night). I'm grateful for colleagues like you and how God works so that I have a lot of a midweek sermon by Monday night instead of Wednesday afternoon! I am grateful for your willingness to share--it means a ton right now especially.

  5. Silent, I am glad to be part of your cloud of witnesses! I have been rescued by RevGals on more than one occasion, and I'm happy to pay it forward. borrow away! :-)