“And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.”
Abraham has to be one of the more complex characters in the Bible. He is a man of incredible faith and serious doubt. He is honored as a patriarch yet is also a fearful husband. He is the father to three world religions yet he is willing to commit atrocities a loving parent could not begin to comprehend let alone perform. The complexity of Abram is at times reassuring and yet bewildering.
Moving after a decade in Idaho, ending my call with the Presbytery of Boise, and spending nearly 4 months working as a stay-at-home dad are but a few of the recent events that remind me of the complexity of my life too. I’ve grappled with the right way to describe this time and I found it in the story of Abram. It is the phrase, “journey by stages”. I am drawn to this phrase because it captures the realization that like Abram; where the church and where I am going is a journey by stages.
The call to ministry, like the call to Abram, is complex. It is a inner response to a divine claim, the ability and persistence to succeed in training, and an approbation by a specific community of faith. That is only the beginning! The journey while in ministry is equally complex as I fearfully and faithfully strive to live and encourage others to live in a manner that at times just won’t fit the world’s standard. Ministry takes you by the hand to lead you and when necessary stands behind you shoving you to places you had never considered and cannot fully understand until you have traveled a bit farther along the path. Ministry like life, is a journey by stages.
The season of Lent is described as a season of journey. The forty days, beginning Ash Wednesday and concluding with Holy Week, are depicted as a journey alongside Jesus – traveling a road to Jerusalem, to a garden at Gethsemane, to an upper room, to Golgotha, and a tomb. Lent is a journey by stages.
When we begin this journey we cannot plan to reach the destination quickly. Lent needs to settle in on us. If you’re like me, the season begins in complexity with an uneasy feeling that things just aren’t right in the world, in me. We cannot rush to answers but allow answers to settle in by stages. The journey begins with words that are hard to hear and confront us with a bit of life’s complexity.
It can be unsettling to hear the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. They speak of the finite to a people who haven’t considered and aren’t prepared for the end, or for whom the end is a very present reality.
Ash Wednesday is one of those significant mileposts in the journey in ministry. There can be no more powerful service of worship than the service of ashes on Ash Wednesday when you stand before individuals with ashes and oil at hand marking the sign of a cross on their forehead. I am saying one of the most important things one person can say to another. As I do so I am reminded that life is complex and answers aren’t always easy and is best lived as a journey by stages.
I will continue to journey by stages personally and vocationally in this Lenten season. Most of this journey will be spent in personal reflection, examination and in vocational preparation to assume a new role in a congregation. It is a journey I am eager to continue and resume. I look forward to seeing you on the road.