The Long Way
There is often more than one way to arrive at a destination. There are those who prefer two-lane roads that meander through the countryside, the scenic route. There are others who desire four and five-lane freeways that guarantee speed, the faster route. I remember as a child my dad invariably opting for the scenic route from the North Carolina mountains down into the South Carolina foothills. Most days, I prefer freeways.
In the Old Testament book of Genesis, Abraham and Sarah – whether they desired it or not – take the long way, the very scenic route with looping and forking roads. More than a few times they make dubious decisions and take wrong turns. Telling local officials your wife is your sister, who does that? Instructing your husband to start a family with your maid, is that really in the Bible?
Amidst the circuitous paths Sarah and Abraham follow, we find God’s relentless fidelity to the promise of blessing. “I will bless you… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). Perhaps, there may have been more worthy folks through whom to bless the world. Surely, there were. But it appears worthiness was not among the prerequisites for blessing.
In the Old Testament, blessing is material – family, land, wealth, and well-being. As people in the Old Testament constantly live amidst severe scarcity, they yearn for material blessing.
Blessing and the language of blessing are complicated. The former co-moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), Jan Ed-miston, commented recently, “Blessings are underserved experiences of grace and the truth is that many of us secretly believe that – actually – we deserve our ‘blessings.’”
And, Jan continues, “If we see our successes as a result of being ‘blessed’, then we might make the false assumption that those who are not ‘blessed’ are lazy and irresponsible.” When we confuse blessing as a result of our hard work, experiencing moments of grace can lead to self-entitlement and a demeaning of neighbor. This loses sight of the very nature of blessing, of grace as a free gift.
Among other things, unwittingly taking the long way may very well be a humbling reminder that grace is not a result of our own cleverness, ingenuity, or hard work.
As we approach stewardship season, let us prayerfully consider the ways in which we have experienced grace and how we may hold that grace open-handedly.
At whatever point we find ourselves on the journey of faith – in a low valley or a fork in the road or cruising a freeway, may we be channels through which blessing flows generously to our neighbors.
Grace and peace,