My uncle was a pastor in Los Angeles his whole career, but he and my aunt had an A-frame cabin they owned on a little lake in Michigan. And so what that meant is when it was time for vacation, my uncle would have the car completely packed when they went to church in the morning…and as soon as church was over, the whole family — three kids and a dog…and they would load up in the car and drive to Michigan. I mean straight through from California to Michigan. Every single year. My Uncle Jack wasn’t going to waste one second of his vacation dilly dallying between LA and the cabin. He drove all day, all night. They could only eat what they packed…or maybe once along the way, he’d go through a drive through window when he needed coffee. But otherwise, there were no breaks for the kids to stretch their legs or stop at a park to play…no stopping to see the sights along the way. Bathroom breaks were to be taken care of when the car needed gas…and exceptions only happened under extreme duress. Uncle Jack was a man on a mission…focused on his goal which was spending every second he could at the cabin…and nothing was going to stop him.
Sometimes we can get like that. Driven. Focused. Those times we know exactly what we want and we are going after it… and everyone else just is going to have to figure out how to survive in the back seat. And when we’re in that “zone”, we can get amazing things accomplished. But, we also miss a lot along the way. There’s a lot between California and Michigan that my cousins never saw.
There has been more than one successful business person…or successful politician…who has accomplished huge things…only to realize they missed a whole lot of more important things along the way. Some of you might remember, in 1983, Senator Paul Tsongas was diagnosed with cancer, and he opted not to run for reelection. His comment – “Nobody on their deathbed has ever said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office’ – has been quoted by lots of folks over the last 40 years. Because so many of us have the tendency to get so focused on our goals — on what we want to accomplish… that we start to miss the things that matter. We miss the holy moments…the God moments along the way.
I don’t know if you paid attention to the last line in our reading today…but it said that Abram journeyed on by stages. I love that. Abram and his entourage would travel a ways…but then they would stop and pitch their tents and settle in for a bit. And at each stop, Abram would take time to build an altar. He would take time to recognize God wherever they happened to be…to see the holy in each place came to…until, after a while, they would move on again.
Abram journeyed on by stages. Not getting so focused on his goal that he couldn’t stop and smell the roses and admire the view. Not so driven to get where he was going that his clan didn’t have time to rest and delight in each other’s company. I think what Abram and Sarai teach us here is what a life of faith looks like. A life of faith…is a journey by stages. This is where we are right now. Let’s stop and build an altar. Pay attention. There are beautiful and holy things happening here.
So the question is…where are you along your journey? This place you’re in right now…the stage of life…it is holy and beautiful. Even if it feels like a time you just want to get through…even if you know it’s not where you want to end up…even so…stop and build an altar. Look around. God is here. It is good. Don’t be so focused on where you’re heading…that you miss where you are. Even during the hard times…the stages that are awkward and painful. Stop. Look around. God is here.
This morning…well, every Sunday morning…we build an altar in the midst of our life…as we journey by stages. Every Sunday morning we stop to pay attention. To notice God here. Now.
I love that Hazel calls church her “speed bump’. It’s a perfect image. Here we slow down…to see where we are. We stop go-go-going….and hurrying and getting things done and worrying about what’s next….and we build an altar. We breathe and remember that this journey we’re on…it’s a God thing. God is with us. Chooses us. Calls us. Loves us. We remember our place in this crazy universe…we remember what matters. We remember that there is goodness all around us and we don’t have to be overwhelmed by the strangeness of this time or the difficulty of the journey…because, Lord knows, we are in strange and difficult times…but we don’t have to be anxious or overwhelmed…because we are not alone. And whatever the times, whatever the stage…there are beautiful things around us when we pay attention. Stop. Look around. God is here.
Wherever you are along your journey. Stop. Look around. There is a beautiful creation all around you — mountains and rivers and trees, many older than the nation we live in. Stop. Look around. All around you swirls creativity — art and joy and music — and it is beautiful. Stop. Look around. And there arel critters of all kinds…sharing our space…adding to the goodness of life. Stop. Look around. Right here. And there are beautiful people — kind people…faithful people…loving people in this fractured world. There are. Look around.
We can get so focused on the things we’re doing …or our worries and anxieties about life, about the future, about the world…that we don’t see what’s around us. We forget that we are on a journey with God through life…and there is goodness. Holiness right here.
Abram’s call from God was to go on a journey of faith…to live a life of faith…to walk with God. And the promise was simply…if he did…all the families of the earth would be blessed because of him. I think God calls us on a journey of faith as well. Calls us to walk with God…by stages. And you know what? When we do…we make the world a better place to be in.
When we stop and pay attention and see God’s presence in the places and the people around us…we make the world a better place for everyone. Today, as we hit the speed bump…and as we build an altar and breathe and mark this holy place together….we make the world a better place. When we acknowledge the beauty and acknowledge God’s spirit in the people and the world around us….the fear and anxiety ebb…and the world is better for everyone. When we notice people…care about them…take time to show kindness…the world is better for everyone.
We don’t know where our journey goes. What places we may end up. We do know that change is certain…but we will journey by stages…stages of life — stages of health — stages of relationships — stages of careers — and stop to build altars at each stop along the way. Because God is here. Wherever “here” is. Amen.