Listen/Go/Pause: Journey in Stages

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Genesis 12.1-9

Now God said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as God had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

Then God appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to God, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to God and invoked the name of God. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.



Now God said to Abram.


I have heard several of you say that you wish that God would speak to you. You pray and talk to God, and it seems to you that you wait in vain for God's reply. You would love to have God speak directly to you. Reading the scripture this morning, I would remind you to be careful what you ask for.

God spoke directly to Abram: Lech l'cha, and to Sarai: L'chi lach, and perhaps God is speaking to you,


but you don't understand Hebrew…


I know these phrases from the song by Debbie Friedman:

L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you
Lech l'cha, to a place you do not know
L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
And (you shall be a blessing)3x l'chi lach

Rabbi Arthur Waskow tells us that: L'chi lach is the feminine version of the phrase, Lech l'cha, that in the Bible God speaks to send forth Abram and Sarai on their spiritual journey. It means: "Go forth toward your self." Or to pick up the word-play in the sounds of the two words --  "Outward bound, unbind inward."[1]

And it's those two dimensions we are going to talk about today. God said to Abram. You, go on a journey with yourself; you, leave the familiar and comfortable behind in order to unbind yourself and to find yourself in relationship to me. And when you do, I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.

But first, God tells Abram and Sarai to leave their home, their family, their friends and go to the unknown. See what I mean about being careful what you ask for? If you listen to God, God may just tell you to do something, like … change your life! And there is one more piece that Abram is 75 years old and his wife Sarai is barren and they have no children, and God has said I will make of you a great nation. Happy Father's Day, Abram! And Bill Cosby would reply to God, yeah, right.

So we come back to that issue of listening to God, and how and where and when and if we can hear God speaking, and what does God have to say to each of us? Are you waiting for a real voice that sounds like Charlton Heston[2] or George Burns[3] or Bill Cosby[4]? I'm dating myself, but I'll post the YouTube links and you can view the clips if you don't remember them. If you're waiting for the voice of God in that form, I'm not saying it can't happen, but I do think you are putting God in too small a box. Can we stretch ourselves and open ourselves to listen when God communicates in different ways?

My sermon today was inspired by several books that I have read or am reading. I am a big fan of the free promotional books on the Kindle, and downloaded a book titled A Rose Blooms Twice by Vikki Kestell. This story starts with a birthday party that becomes a tragedy on the way home in an ice storm, and Rose's husband and children drown when their carriage skids off an icy bridge. She is tossed out the other side and lands on the rocks, not in the river. Rose is found and is nursed back to health, and then understandably, tries to make sense of this tragedy. Why would a loving God let her husband and innocent children die while she lived? She regularly attends church as a social event, but it is not a church that provides her any answers, and she makes the pastor distinctly uncomfortable with her anger at God. Her mother and brother are urging her to go to the ocean for a while to get away from the sad memories. She decides that if the Bible is God's word, maybe she can find an answer there. So Rose, having never read the Bible, starts reading at the beginning. If you've ever tried this you know that those early genealogies can be tough going, so she also turns to random Bible pages when she gets stuck in her reading. This is the passage that inspired me that I want to share:


Since she couldn’t concentrate on her reading, Rose turned back to ‘her’ verses, Deuteronomy 4: 29–31.

But if from there you shall seek the Lord your God, you shall find God, if you seek God with all your heart and with all your soul.

When you are in tribulation, and all these things are come upon you, even in the latter days, if you turn to the Lord your God, and shall be obedient to God's voice; (for the Lord your God is a merciful God;) God will not forsake you, nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which God made with them.

A phrase she hadn’t noticed before caught her eye: “… If you turn to the Lord your God and shall be obedient unto God's voice …”

Obedient to God's voice?

“How can I be obedient to God's voice, if I can’t hear it, if I don’t even know what God's voice sounds like?” Rose was irritated. “This isn’t fair, and I don’t know what to do now. If I take this trip—any trip—I don’t know if I’m obeying God if I do, or for that matter, if I don’t!”

She slammed the book closed. Immediately she was contrite and whispered, “Lord, I’m sorry, please forgive me. Do you want to speak to me? I’m listening.”

For a while Rose waited expectantly, then sighing she opened her Bible again. It opened to Genesis 12, and she read,

“Now the Lord had said to Abram, go from your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, unto a land that I will show you.”

The hair pricked on Rose’s neck. This wasn’t the way one heard God’s voice! She quickly turned elsewhere to escape the eerie coincidence.

The verse at the top of the page read, “Fear not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Rose jumped from her bed sending the Bible flying. In a chair by the fire she sat, all scrunched up and shaking.

“I’m not going to look at any more maps or train schedules,” she vowed. “This is too much. I’ll turn into a fanatic if I go on like this!”

About an hour later she went back to her bed, having convinced herself to go to the ocean in May. Bending over and retrieving the open Bible on the floor these words stared up at her:

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he would after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” (Hebrews 11:8)

Obeyed. Rose began to weep, her tears spilling on the pages. “ … obeyed  … not knowing whither he went.”[5]


How many of us have prayed and gotten some sort of response that just seemed too eerie, and like Rose, have decided that maybe we're going crazy, so we deny it and don't pay attention?

How many of us wonder, really, who are we that God would talk to us? Probably God is too busy or too distant to speak to us!

How many of us are just not listening because we're afraid? Perhaps we're afraid that God might say to us: Go!

Maybe we have so many doubts and questions that we're stuck. Unlike Abram and more like the Psalmist, we say, wait, I can't just go. Make my way plain!! Lead me Lord.

Our movement onward and outward is hampered by our fears and our tenacity in holding those things that we need to let go. We have an innate Immunity to Change (another book I recommend by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey), an unconscious and compelling reason that we don't change what we have always done, and that unconscious reason immunizes us against change and overrides our best intentions to do something different. Abram does something different, and it starts with listening to God's call to go. Lech l'cha.

In the blog, Journey with Jesus, Dan Clendenin writes: "God's call upon Abraham's life is a call that's repeated to each one of us today. It's a call that subverts conventional wisdom, and so it can feel counter-intuitive, for it's a call to move beyond three very human, powerful and deep-seated fears—fear of the unknown that we can't control (ignorance), fear of others who are different from us (inclusion), and fear of powerlessness in the face of impossibilities (impotence).

… In leaving Haran for Canaan, Abraham left all that was familiar—all custom and comfort, family and friends, all the regularity and rhythm of his life. … He journeyed from present clarity into a future of profound ignorance. Abraham journeyed … from the known to the unknown, from everything that was familiar to all things strange."[6]


Now God said to Abram and Sarai, “Go. Lech l'cha! L'chi lach!

Now, whether we've acknowledged that God is speaking to us or not, we are all on a journey that requires many changes. I am very conscious of the changes we are facing here as individuals and as a community: in one house a child is excited about going off to college and leaves a parent with an empty nest; in another, a father is wondering how to comfort a grieving child. In the next months, at least one of us will start a graduate program, and one of our community will travel half way around the world. In one family, a couple is contemplating marriage, and in another, the family is facing the changes that will occur from the pain of a chronic and deteriorating disease. In several households, people are figuring out how to live in retirement from work, while in several other households, people are considering how to improve their working life or looking for new or different jobs. We are all individually in the midst of navigating change.

As a church community we have commissioned our search committee to start the work of finding a settled pastor, a big change for us. As a community we have lost beloved members and we have new people joining us, bringing their energy and concerns. We are on the journey. So, how are we supporting one another in the midst of changes? How can we get the help we need to step out in faith to face or make the changes in front of us? How can we support one another on the journey? As a community, we provide a faith safety net. When we get fearful, someone here has a word of hope and encouragement. The joy of not traveling alone is that someone else can be strong and faithful and carry the load in your moment of fear and weakness, and you'll be able to do the same for someone else.

We, like Abram, are called to be a blessing as we go. One way, and maybe it's the only way, you can be a blessing is, if like Abram, your journey includes all of the stages: Listen/Go/Pause.[7]

When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

Then God appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to God, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to God and invoked the name of God. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

In the Pause, stop by a tree, build an altar, pitch your tent, rest a while, invoke the name of God. Restore and re-orient yourself. Maybe we can't listen to God because we're too rushed. Maybe God has appeared to us and we're too busy to notice. We don't pause enough. This is counter-cultural to all of the deadlines you and I manage our lives against. Information for the bulletin has to be in on Tuesday, the first draft of the report is due this week, the forms are due, oops, yesterday. So Pause is just as hard as listening or stepping out in faith, and may be harder for some of us.


Meg talked in her sermon two weeks ago about the tensions between faith and fears and those are exactly the tensions facing Abram, and all of us, as we move forward on our journey. That is our "outward bound" motion. The "unbind inward" is another set of tensions between faith and fear, between what we hold onto and what we let go. While some of us have a hard time with listening for God, and others can't imagine the faith just to go like Abram, some of us have difficulty with Sabbath or Pause. But I do have faith that we all can get a little better at each of these stages.

God calls all of us to go, go forward into ourselves and into relationship with God. L'chi lach. Outward bound, unbind inward. What does it mean to unbind inward? If you are untying a knot, you have to let go of one end and hold on and pull on the other. That's the tension and paradox we grapple with: what to let go and what to hold onto.

One of the ways I pause and let my soul catch up and be restored is through music, in composing music. The creative process really is one where I feel filled with the Spirit. The music comes as a gift, as flow, and it is an entirely invigorating and restorative process for me. While I'm in that creative space, God speaks to me, to the issues I am struggling with, to the questions I'm raising, and I step out in faith, taking a risk in putting the words and music down on paper to share. It's a journey in stages in and of itself.

Our sermon hymn is one of several songs that I wrote last year in one of those creative flow times about seeking the balance between letting go and holding on. It really is music as prayer, asking for God's help and presence in doing both of those things on the journey. I hope it will be a blessing and a gift to you. Even in the singing it is an opportunity to Listen/Go/Pause. We all need to practice each of these. Some of us are better at one than another, so let us support each other as we journey together.

Abram listened to God, stepped out in faith, and God gave him encouragement, and coached him on how and why to travel and when to stop.

L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
And (you shall be a blessing)3x l'chi lach

Listen, go, pause. Repeat. Blessings on all the stages and changes in the journey ahead! In the name of God, Amen.





5 Kestell, Vikki (2012-02-28). A Rose Blooms Twice (Kindle Locations 549-575). Kindle Edition.


7The Power of Pause by Terry Hershey

  • Rev. Nancy Willbanks