Before I die, I want to… An artist named Candy Chang created a huge chalkboard on the side of a house in New Orleans and let people “fill in the blank.” And random people on the street responded. To summarize…
A guy dressed as a pirate said, “before I die, I want to be tried for piracy.” Those who have been to New Orleans will know that somebody walking around dressed as a pirate is completely normal. Others said…
I want to straddle the international date line.
I want to sing for millions.
I want to plant a tree
I want to hold her one more time.
I want to be completely myself.
The wall started to become “news.” Then it started to pop up in other cities around the country and around the world. The remarkable thing about what people write is that their answers have nothing to do with death; only about life.
People have all sorts of answers to that question and everyone is different. Your answer might have to do with some experience you’ve never had. It might have to do with some relationship you’d try to fix. Most people seem to hope for some kind of different future – at least some small new thing – and didn’t dwell much in the past.
Maybe you know where that question takes us. If you think your life would be more fulfilled by doing that one thing, what is that? Maybe you should figure out a way to do it. This goes for the church as well.
God’s desire is to do a new thing, in you and in us. God’s people are always moving to some next stage, some next place.
Hebrews 11. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Many people travel in the summer, and vacations take planning. Depending on the kind of vacation you prefer, the planning can be simple or very complicated. Some people need to have every detail worked out. It probably depends on how much you can spend and how long can you be away. By car, or can we afford to fly? Where will we stay? Sleeping on what kind of beds? Where, exactly, will we eat? What will we eat? I think that if we took a survey around the room we’d find a variety of opinions. Some people need to have all the details to be worked out from beginning to end.
The easy way to accomplish that would be a cruise, with a drive/flight to the port city and a shuttle to the ship. Just get there. Everything is taken care of. Room, food, sightseeing. No worries.
On the other side of the spectrum is the kind of trip where you just block out time on your calendar and… go. Gas up the car. Make a plane reservation a week or two ahead if you need to. See what happens when you get there. Make plans as you have to. Carry a good travel guide and go. Getting lost on a back road is part of the experience. Put a tent in the trunk, just in case. There are people who will only travel this way – because they think it’s more fun! It’s more of an adventure than having someone else plan your trip.
But how about moving – relocating – with no particular place to go. Not too many people have that kind of faith. But that’s what Christians are called to do: sell out, step out, and move to a new place spiritually. Trust God completely. Keep moving keep growing. Don’t allow yourself to get stagnant. Looking too much in the rear-view mirror won’t help.
God gave Abraham a purpose to create a new people for God. His great fulfillment was living into the purpose God gave him. “before I die, I’m going to do this one thing for God.”
To fulfill his life’s purpose, to be in the place God wanted him to be, to create new generations of believers, Abraham took a leap of faith. The question this scripture is asking of everyone who reads it is – what about you? What about you, church?
It starts with that first moment of trust: believing that hard-to believe story that Jesus really did die for our sin and rise from the dead? God brought you to this moment. The journey already began and you may not have been aware. The hardest is that next step, making the decision that God can be trusted and giving yourself to God. There are a million excuses not to make that trip. “I don’t want to think about it today. I can’t get the day off, and we’re just not prepared. We don’t have a map. What if we get there and don’t like it?”
God says, “Take that first step. Trust me.”
“But there are so many other things to do first, before I get serious about God. Being a Christian is something you do when you’re ready to settle down, put your feet up and think deep things. I should read my Bible a little more. I really need to get my theology and philosophy of life figured out before I can make a commitment.”
God says, “Just take that first step. Trust me.”
Here’s the thing that set Abraham apart: he was not a young man. His “prime years, his “productive years,” are past and there’s nothing much left to look forward to. He’s done well for himself; he’s a rich guy with not much life left and no good reason to take chances or have faith in anything. He is an unlikely choice to do anything huge. Just the sort of situation God loves. God loves to take the most impossible circumstances, the most unlikely person, and do a miracle.
The punch-line of this story is not that God helped Abraham go from point A to point B. God didn’t say, “Abraham, you and your family need to go to the address I give you.” Abraham never even knew where he was going. Faith was what God wanted from Abraham – trust. Faith that when he packed up everything he could carry and left home for good, he would be in a better place simply for doing what God wanted him to do.
God says, “Take that first step. Trust me. If I could do this with Abraham, think of what I could do with you, if you only said ‘yes.'”
You can substitute yourself in this story…
By faith, you headed back to school. By faith, you changed your job. By faith you moved.
By faith, you dealt with that habit. By faith you apologized. By faith you forgave.
By faith, you organized yourself to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.
You trusted God and took that step. You said, “I will follow you where you lead,” and took that step.
Think for a moment. What is the purpose of your faith? Does it involve a list of things you hope for? A bucket list? Having faith does not mean making exchanges with God so that we get what we want; having faith means simply saying yes to God, believing that Jesus is who he says he is. It means taking a deep breath, stepping out and trusting. “God, I believe.” And then going in the direction God sends you. Live into your purpose. God will open doors.
This is not easy. It’s one of those things that’s so simple it’s hard. Some believe that faith is the belief/hope that God will change circumstances. But faith is allowing the Spirit of God to change you, to change us.
Abraham had to decide for himself whether God could be trusted. But once he took that step of faith, that leap, he found a friend who never left him, and this is still true for anybody who has faith. That first step is between God and you. And we don’t just have God with us on this trip; faith is something we do together.
Personal faith may be a private decision, but there is no such thing as a strong solitary Christian. God created the church to be a force, living out the love of Christ, and that’s all of us using our gifts together. Everybody here brought those gifts into the room. Together, they are a force.
Look at the Covenant of our church in your bulletin one more time. You know, our Covenant (the agreement we make that describes how we live together) has nothing to do with worship styles or the sort of building we worship in. It’s about how God lives through us and changes the world.
We covenant with one another to seek and respond to the Word and the will of God. We purpose to walk together in the ways of the Lord, made known and to be made known to us. We hold it to be the mission of the Church to witness to the Gospel and Jesus Christ in all the world, while worshipping God and striving for trust, justice, and peace and to make a difference through the love of Christ. As did those who preceded us in the faith, we depend upon the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us. We pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and we look with faith toward the triumph of righteousness and eternal life. Amen.
The challenge I would have for us goes like this. If we had to start over, if we were starting from scratch and all we had was that purpose, what would we do? What we do to witness to the gospel and make a difference for Christ? Let’s do those things. It’s the way forward.
O God, we believe; help our unbelief. For the things you’ve taught us on the journey, we thank you. All along, we know that the ups and downs, the good times and bad times along the road, all these things have been leading us to you. You are the destination; you are the one we have been looking for. Within ourselves, we know you hold the key to the peace and fulfillment we know we need and only you can give. Forgive our lack of courage in turning to you. Forgive us for ignoring you when you call.
But now we open the door of our lives to you. With faith in your son Jesus, we each give ourselves to you, and trust in your leading. Transform us through your Spirit into the kind of people, the kind of church, known for their faith in a loving God. Amen.