God called Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred…to the land that I will show you.” The purpose of that move was for Abraham to be blessed so that he would be a blessing to others, or to put it in other words, to be transformed so that he could transform the world.
Abraham had to leave his security, his inheritance, his known world and go on nothing but faith into a new land, a whole new way of being. God asked him to be vulnerable and dare to make a dangerous, courageous journey for the sake of future generations. (Genesis 12:1-4a)
Surely God is calling us to do the same now. Look at the world we have wrecked, look at the suffering we have caused, look at the oppressed and refugees and growing inequity, look at the species killed, and the legacy of trillions of tons of plastics, and the nuclear waste that will be a danger for over 100,000 years, and a climate in chaos, and toxic water, soil and air, and severely depleted resources—the curse we are leaving our children and grandchildren. Lent is a season for facing the truth because we cannot cross the wilderness to the Promised Land without the truth that sets us free, but the truth of what we are doing to people and other species and future generations is extremely painful to face.
“Go from your country and kindred to the land that I will show you.”
God’s land, God’s realm—we know from Jesus, the scriptures, the artists and poets and mystics of all spiritual traditions what that Promised Land is like. It is a land that follows laws like the Golden Rule, and the love of neighbor as our self, and compassion for the vulnerable, where all dwell in justice, peace and oneness, where the earth is a garden we steward well and hand on to future generations in even better shape than we found it so that life may be sustained and enjoyed indefinitely.
This has been humanity’s wisest, highest vision for thousands of years. The time has come when we need to be as brave and faithful as Abraham. We need to journey to that reborn earth, we need to create the realm of God in our time, we need to evolve to the blessed way of being that Jesus and so many others taught. We know full well the inner and outer obstacles. The reasons why we have failed to do it until now are abundantly evident and show no signs of relenting. And yet we know the consequences if we do not do make this journey. We know we must.
So how do we get there? The 121st Psalm offers comfort and assurance for the journey, but Jesus challenges us with the strange advice he gave to Nicodemus. Our hope in an earth reborn lies in being reborn ourselves, born of the Spirit, born from above. (John 3:1-21) This is profound wisdom two thousand years ahead of the science that would come along in our day to verify it. We will translate it into practical steps over the course of the service.
The congregation will sing two beloved hymns, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” and “Be Thou My Vision” plus a newer hymn set to an old tune. The congregation will also join the choir singing “Deep River” as the choral benediction. (Listen to the versions below to prepare for your part!) The choir will also sing “Seek Ye First the Kingdom,” and “Pater Noster” by E. Chausson. Pianist Annemieke McLane will play pieces by Sibelius, Ljiadov and Mussorgski.
Here is a famous solo of “Deep River” followed by a second recording of a congregation singing the version we will use, along with the lyrics. I hope you will sing it as a prayer, and let yourself be moved.