Getting Unstuck (Second Sunday in Lent)

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Sometimes, in order to understand the story, you gotta know the back-story.  And that’s especially true for today’s first reading.  As today’s first reading begins, God tells Abram to go from where’s living to “the land that I will show you.”  And remarkably, Abram gets up and goes.

But in fact, Abram – and his whole family – had already been on a journey towards a new place.  But they got sidetracked.  Or at least, they got stuck.

The verses before today’s reading give us the back-story.  It begins back with Noah and the Ark, and traces the genealogy of Seth, the son of Noah, down to Terah, the father of Abram. (This involves a lot of funny names, which is probably why we don’t read those verses!)

And for reasons that Genesis never tells us, Terah decides to leave Ur of the Chaldeans (which is located in what today is southern Iraq) and take his family and head for the land of Canaan (which is later on the very promised land to which God sends Abram.)  But when they’re about halfway there, the come to the land of Haran (pictures of which you’ve seen lately in all the earthquake photos – it’s basically on the modern border between Turkey and Syria).  But they stop there.  And they apparently stay there for a very long time.

They stopped their journey. They didn’t continue.  Why was that?  Again, Genesis doesn’t tell us, and there’s no suggestion that God spoke to Terah and told him to go to Canaan in the first place.  So it seems like they got to Haran, and just got stuck.

Maybe they got stuck because:

  • The journey had been hard and long, and this seemed like a nice place to be.  Maybe they didn’t even intend to stay very long, but as the weeks and months wore on, they became comfortable with the routine and the situation, and they just never pulled up stakes and continued on…
  • What lay ahead scared them – from ancient times, the “land of Canaan” was continuously fought over by every big power and every regional power.  It had a lot of promise, but it wasn’t the safest place to be; maybe Terah and Abram heard about a lot of chaos ahead, and figured maybe it would be good to sit tight where they were for a while longer…
  • They got distracted by life – sometimes we read these ancient stories of people being on a journey and forget that, while they were “journeying”, they also had to deal with all the day to day functions of life and the fact that people got sick and injured and couldn’t move around as easily.  Maybe they just got busy with other stuff and never managed to get back on the road…

But for whatever reasons, they stay where they are for a pretty long time.  And eventually, Terah dies there in the land of Haran.  And it’s at this very point that our reading begins, when God speaks to Abram and says, “Now it’s time to get back to the journey.  Get unstuck.  Move forward to the land that I will show you.”

God could have told Abram something else.  God could have told Abram, “stay where you are and I’ll do great things with you.”  Surely, God was capable of doing that, and after your Dad dies, you’ve had enough trauma in your life already without uprooting yourself and heading to a new land.

God could also have told Abram, “Return to where you came from.”  After all, you’ve probably got support and family back there.  And of course, God could have done great things with Abram back in Ur of the Chaldeans as well.

But instead, God tells Abram to get unstuck – to continue the journey.  And moreover, it’s through this journey that God is going to act.  And God is not only going to make Abram’s name great, but God is also going to bless “all the families of the earth” through him.  But it seems that those things come not just through a person or a static place, but through the journey itself.

And so God tells Abram to get unstuck and continue the journey.  And this is not the only time in the Bible that God has that message for people.  It happens over and over again.  This is really the same message God had for Elijah when he hid out in the cave and wanted to hide from the world around him.  And it’s the same message Jesus gave to Peter, James and John after the Transfiguration when they wanted to stay put and camp out on the mountaintop.

We sometimes speak of the season of Lent as a journey of following Jesus to the cross and the empty tomb.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a season of practicing how we journey with Jesus each and every day.  Jesus calls us – individually and as a community – to a journey of life through which God both blesses us and makes us a blessing in the lives of others.

But sometimes, we get stuck.  Perhaps like Abram and Terah, we get stuck because:

  • We need to take a break and we find a comfortable spot.  Yet sometimes, that spot becomes the place where we dwell, even if we didn’t intend to stay there.  I know this has sometimes become a hazard for me after Covid – I learned a routine or a pattern that worked while a crisis or trauma was going on, but sometimes the “emergency situation” grew into a life pattern; and while I know I can’t go back to where I was before, maybe it’s time to get unstuck and get on with the journey.  And perhaps God’s call to us through today’s first reading is to ask what patterns or routines have become ruts in our lives?  Where have we paused and not started again?  In what aspects of our lives is God calling us to get unstuck and get on with the journey of life to which God calls us…?
  • The road ahead is scary – I mean, you don’t need me to tell you about all the scary stuff going on in the world around us, or the fact that things are changing so quickly that it’s often tempting to sit tight where you are if you’re feeling safe and warm.  Abram, Elijah and the disciples clearly felt a lot of those same things!  But when you get paralyzed by the fear, the past traumas or just the unknown which lies ahead, you also miss out on the promise.  And while every journey to which God calls people – indeed every journey of life – involves risk, God promises that the journey is also rich with the promise of blessing, which you can’t find if you don’t get on with the journey.  And perhaps more importantly, like Abram, until we get unstuck from the scary stuff, we can’t be agents of blessing to others around us …
  • We get distracted by life – you know that saying that goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff”?  There’s a corollary to that which says, “It’s all small stuff!”  Big things are often a collection of small things, and sometimes we miss the forest for the trees.  And part of God’s call to Abram – and to us – is to see the bigger promises of life and blessing that God is offering us, so that we can begin to get unstuck from the distractions and the mundane, and instead resume the journey to which we’re called through our baptisms…

Lent is a season of journeying with Jesus.  But it’s not just a journey to the season of Easter.  It’s a journey which helps us practice following Jesus in the journey of our lives.  It’s an opportunity to reflect on where we are and where we’ve been, and to ask whether perhaps we’ve become stuck in our journey.

And so today’s first reading is an opportunity to hear God’s call in our lives to reflect on whether we’ve become stuck in a routine that’s become stale.  It’s an opportunity to ask whether we’ve become stuck in a spiritual or emotional place that isn’t working for us anymore.  It’s an opportunity to rethink whether the things we’ve been focused on are helping us move forward or holding us back from the journey.

And in those situations, God calls us also to get on with journey.  God promises us strength for the road ahead to help us get unstuck.  And most importantly, God promises us also, that even when it’s unclear exactly what lies ahead, God will use the journey to bless us and to make us a blessing in the lives of others.