Summer Requests – FBC Laurens
August 18, 2013
The Badwater Ultramarathon, held annually in California, is advertised as “the world’s toughest footrace”. The race begins in the Badwater Basin of Death Valley and covers 135 miles in a journey to the base of Mount Whitney thus taking competitors from over 200 feet below sea level to over 8,000 feet above sea level from start to finish. If that wasn’t enough, the race is held in July when average temperatures are often somewhere between 120-130 degrees. It is no wonder that only about 75% of the yearly competitors ever finish the race or that runners are given a full 48 hours to complete the 135 miles. After all, the race is overwhelming both in the obstacles that it presents and the endurance that it requires. (Badwater Ultramarathon entry in Wikipedia.com)
Life and the spiritual life are often the same way. It is not an overstatement to suggest that sometimes it feels like we ourselves are unwilling competitors in the Badwater Ultramarathon. Sometimes the race that we are running or the journey that we are on is also filled with overwhelming obstacles that require profound endurance and faith if we are simply to complete the course.
This week, as I have spent time thinking about the story of Abraham and the call to sacrifice Isaac, it seems to me that the Badwater Ultramarathon is a good illustration of where Abraham found himself too. Throughout the week, I have found myself reflecting on the fact that we often do a great disservice to this story when we separate it from the rest of the Genesis account of this father of the Israelites. It is easy to do, no doubt, because after all there really is no other story in Abraham’s life that holds a candle to the occasion when God called upon Abraham to sacrifice his son. For that matter, few stories in the entire Old Testament are as perplexing and thought provoking. So, it really is easy to understand how this one story can so overshadow all of the others.
But, it is when we see this story within the overarching saga of Abraham’s life that we are able to mine it for one of its great lessons and truths. That lesson is the fact that to a certain degree Abraham’s life was nothing more than a journey composed of one moment after another that required tremendous faith, belief and trust with the call to sacrifice Isaac being the pinnacle of all of those collective occasions. Think about it. There was God’s call for Abraham to trust him, pack up his family and move to a new land when Abraham, then Abram, was 75 years old. Then there was the moment that Abraham and Sarah separated from their relative Lot, and there again, was a need for faith as life and relationships unfolded differently than expected. Sometime later, there was the need for Abraham and Sarah to muster patience and ongoing reliance when God promised them a son in their advanced age. Then, even after this child was born, again Abraham was challenged to depend on God when God seemed to be leading him to sacrifice this same long awaited and only son. Time after time, life was filled with obstacles and challenging moments for Abraham and his struggle every step of the way had been to exhibit faith, to show courage, to continue to trust and to be patient.
In the end, what we must say is that Abraham doesn’t deserve our respect for what he did simply when it came to following God in the midst of the mindboggling call to sacrifice his son, rather, he deserves our respect and attention as this was only one among a lifetime of occasions when he continued to walk with God in great faith in the midst of incredibly difficult life situations.
Again, as I said in the beginning, Abraham’s life was a lot like most of our lives. All of us are on a journey too. And our journeys, like that of Abraham, require countless occasions where all we can do is exhibit trust, great faith and patience as we recognize that the struggles and difficult moments of life are simply a part of being human. They are nothing more than a real part of the journey. They are our obstacles through which we grow stronger and deepen our faith or they are the obstacles that will cause us to stop running the race and abandon our journey.
Why these words on the Sunday that we ordain Deacons you might ask? The reason is that as we make this journey, as a body of individual and collective people, you as Deacons are charged with the task of helping us to stay on the course. When our faith waivers, we need you to come along side us. When our patience wears thin, we need you to remind us that God is faithful. When our trust is eroding, we need you to help us to remember that this is all simply a part of the journey and it too can and will be overcome. At the same time, when you as our leaders are prone to waiver, we need for you to allow us to remind you of the same truths so that collectively we can be faithful as God’s people to finishing the race set before us as individuals and as a collective body.
James Austin, who was a Lutheran minister in Colorado back in the 80s, once suggested that when we think about staying on course in the midst of life’s difficulties, a piece of good advice for us is the same advice that is given to hikers who find themselves caught outdoors in a snowstorm. Austin said that hikers are told that the worst thing they can do in such a moment is to lie down, stop moving or become stationary. Instead, no matter how fuzzy things seem to be in front of them, they must continue to move forward, even if it is once inch at a time, holding on to whatever landmark is in front of them. (Rev. James Austin as quoted by Norman M. Lobsentz in the article Questions People Ask of Ministers Most in Readers Digest, October 1984.)
Your task is to help us move forward, through the presence of God and through your embodying of God’s presence, you are the one’s tasked with our continued progress in the right direction no matter what comes our way. And again, when your way becomes blurry too, you must remember, the all great leaders are also willing to allow others to help them be strong away. Bless you and you prepare now to lead us on this greatest journey of life, the journey of obedience to our Lord. Amen.