Leaving home

Leaving home is never easy. I’m not talking about leaving home in the morning to go to school or to work. And I’m not talking about leaving home an hour earlier to go to church. I’m talking about leaving the place you called home for good.

Do you remember a time when you had to do that, pack up and go? How did it feel to pull up the stakes that had held your tent taut for so long? It took effort, didn’t it, pulling them up and loosening the lines and watching your familiar dwelling collapse, metaphorically speaking. Then you found yourself on the road, not sure whether you were an explorer, a pilgrim, or a refugee, or what they call just a kid growing up. Others had talked about this moment as going to college, or getting married, or being between jobs – but to you it was a journey into the unknown. Everything was new, and at least for a while you found yourself floating in a river, on currents of excitement, fear, and hope.

Perhaps you recall that moment when you thought you had arrived; when you felt settled, when you had put down roots—and then someone you loved died; or your doctor’s office called with the test results; or your parents divorced, and what seemed like a reasonable thing to do for two adults who had grown apart turned out to be so painful and hard. And you pulled up the stakes and you rolled up your tent and you found yourself on the road, again. Where would you set up your tent next and for how long? Who would be there for you? Who would you be at the end of the journey? We always know what we’re leaving; the rest is unknown.

Leaving home is never easy. Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali-British poet and writer. I want to read a few lines from a poem she wrote, adapted from Conversations about home (at a deportation centre).

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying -
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Abraham and Sarah didn’t flee, they didn’t run away. The voice Abraham heard was God’s, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” It wasn’t that it wasn’t safe there anymore in Haran, or that his herds couldn’t find pasture there anymore, or that the wells had dried up and he had to pull up the stakes and move on.

It was about a new beginning for the whole world. It was as though the world had not only forgotten that it belonged to God, but had even forgotten how to say, “i don’t know what i’ve become.”

Most of the stories in Genesis 3-11 are tales of a rebellious, corrupt, and violent humanity in the grip of sin. It’s like the whole world has maneuvered itself into a dead end, far from the life God desires to share with creation. Layers of hopelessness and fruitlessness are summed up in eight sad words, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.”[1] Far from the life God desires for creation, there is no life. This family, and with it the whole human family as portrayed in the opening chapters of Genesis, has arrived at a dead end.

And now God speaks. God whose word brought forth light and life from chaos speaks words of promise that tell of land, descendants, and blessing. But the first word is, go. The first word is deeply unsettling. The first word is, leave – your land, your kindred, the house of your father. God calls Abraham to shift his identity from rootedness in his land, his kin and household to entrusting himself to the promise of God.

No longer your land, but a land I will show you.

No longer your kindred, but I will make of you a great nation.

No longer your father’s house, but I will make your name great.

No longer humanity stuck in sin’s corruption of life, but I will bless you and you will be a blessing and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

God’s call gives history a new direction, with the end being once again what it was at the dawn of creation: blessing. At seventy-five, even in ancient biblical times, the last thing on your mind is packing up all your belongings, moving to a new place, and starting a brand new life. And the thought must have crossed Abraham’s mind, but it’s not mentioned in these four-and-a-half short verses. The focus is solely on God’s call and promise and on Abraham and Sarah’s response. They became migrants for the sake of the promise, resident aliens sojourning among other peoples.[2] And as sojourners of the promise, they became the ancestors of Israel and of all who entrust their lives to God’s call and promise, as Paul insists. And those who belong to Abraham’s family by faith are heirs of God’s promises, members of God’s covenant community, citizens of the world to come.

It has always been important for God’s people to remember that we are a people on the way, not necessarily geographically, but in terms of our identity. The land impacts who we are, yes, and the way we’re treating it, I wish we’d pay a little more attention to what makes us who we are. And obviously our ancestors and our kin matter, as do our traditions, our language, our songs and cuisines along with all that helps us spell out the meaning of home. But none of that determines our identity as people of God. We are a people on the way. We are a people who live into the promise. We are a people who believe that the kingdom is already here, and we live into it until it is here for all and forever.

It has always been important for God’s people to remember that we are a people on the way, and it is particularly important in this day and age, when nativism, nationalism, and “us first” is written above the closed doors of many a house. The simple fact of being a human being is you migrate,” I heard a man say the other day on the radio. “Many of us move from one place to the other,” he said. “But even those who don’t move and who stay in the same city, if you were born in Manhattan 70 years ago, you’re born in Des Moines 70 years ago, you’ve lived in the same place for 70 years, the city you live in today is unrecognizable. Almost everything has changed. So even people who stay in the same place undergo a kind of migration through time.” [3] The pace of change and its depth are disruptive and overwhelming for many, just about anywhere you turn these days, and fear is rampant, not only among those who flee from home just to survive, but also among those who are afraid to let them in. It’s easy to forget that we are all migrants, which makes it all the more important for the descendants of Abraham and Sarah to remember. We are migrants, walking in the light of God, on the way to the city of God.

Last Sunday we sat for a few minutes with the words of Psalm 32, and we wrote on pieces of paper what weighs us down, what drains our spirits and keeps us from trusting God with our whole heart. We also wrote down the heavy burdens we saw on the shoulders of others, the things that dry up their strength and cause them to groan. Writing it all down was our prayer, a silent lament; for some of us, a silent confession. And then we burned those pieces of paper, affirming our hope that the God who raised Jesus from the dead would also transform us and all things, until all that God has made shines with the splendor of God’s glory.

The listening, the sitting, the writing, the fire — it’s an ongoing prayer of confession and lament, intercession and affirmation, building up during the days of Lent to the joyous praise of Easter morning. Today we use the ashes to write words of hope on a banner, and all of us are invited to participate. We have made paint with the ashes, and during communion, we will move a work table to the middle of the chancel. And we invite each of you to come up after you have shared the Lord’s Supper and add a letter or two to our banner of affirmation. You don’t need to worry about your handwriting or your painting skills; we use stencils and small sponges, so people of all ages can participate. For this part of our Lenten prayer we walk a little and we work a little. It helps us remember that we are a people on the way, walking and working in the light of God.

When the world had maneuvered itself into a dead end, far from the life God desires to share with creation, God spoke. When it was as though the world had not only forgotten that it belonged to God, but had even forgotten how to say, “i don’t know what i’ve become,” God made a promise. And with our ancestors in faith who first set out on the journey, we affirm that God is faithful.


[1] Gen 11:30

[2] See Gen 12:10; 17:8; 20:1; 21:23, 34; see also Hebrews 11:8–9.

[3] Mohsin Hamid in an interview with Steve Inskeep. Mohsin Hamid’s Novel ‘Exit West’ Raises Immigration Issues http://www.npr.org/2017/03/06/518743041/mohsin-hamids-novel-exit-west-raises-immigration-issues

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