Two-Thirds Of God Is Go!
November 9, 1997 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | Genesis 12:1-9; Matthew 9:9-13
Some years ago, the late Dr. Bruce Thielemann preached a sermon under the title: “Two-Thirds of God is Go!” The title intrigued me then; it intrigues me still. Here then is my attempt to preach under the same title.
G-O-D. Two-thirds of God is G-O. That’s straight out of the Bible. Look at the Old Testament. God says to Abraham: “Go from your own country to a land I will show you.” And God says to Moses: “Go down to Egypt and say to Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’” So Moses went and said: “Let my people go” and the people of God have been on the go ever since. In fact, there is a sense in which the Old Testament can best be described as a travel diary of the Hebrew people—God’s people always on the move with God always leading the way.
Or look at the New Testament. The story begins with Mary and Joseph traveling first to Bethlehem, then down to Egypt, and ultimately back up to Nazareth. Jesus, in His service to God, was the first-century equivalent of a traveling evangelist, always on the road. In fact, at one point, it is noted that Jesus, the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. After His resurrection, he told His disciples to go to Galilee—later on He met them there and He told them that they were to “go into all the world, making disciples of all nations.” The Apostle Paul was the most on-the-go Christian of them all. The airlines today would refer to him as a “million-mile frequent flier”. He turned the last half of his life into an unending missionary journey for Jesus.
Sometimes people refer to Christianity as a movement—and that is not a bad description because that’s the way it is with God’s people: always on the go. And why not? After all, two-thirds of God is go! Modem society understands that. Did you hear about the family who transferred to a new community? Their young teenage daughter on her first day at school was trying to make some new friends. One of her new acquaintances asked where her father worked. She answered: “IBM.” The other girl said: “I’ve always wanted to know what those letters stand for.” The girl answered: “I’ve been moved!” Well, anyone in the corporate world knows that that is often the way it is today. All too frequently the way to climb the ladder of success is to move.
Today I want us to see how that same principle works in the spiritual world. God always seems to be calling His people to go—sometimes it’s a literal going, sometimes it’s a figurative going, but the call is the same. Look at Abraham and Sarah. They were seventy-five years old and God called them to pull up their roots and travel to a new place. Most people who are being transferred by some corporation have an idea where they are going. Abraham and Sarah didn’t have a clue. The only thing they had was God’s assurance that He would guide and direct them. Or look at Matthew. We don’t know much about him, but what we do know isn’t so good. He was a Jew working for the hated Romans and he was helping the Romans extract from his own people cruel and regressive taxes. Yet Jesus calls him to leave his tax tables and follow him. Abraham and Sarah were called by God to take a literal journey—and they responded. Matthew, the tax collector, was called by God to take a figurative journey, a journey of discipleship—and he responded. And in both cases, it was in going that they experienced “growing.”
That’s the way it always works. God calls people to go, literally or figuratively, and when they respond, they are blessed and they become a blessing. I happen to believe that God is still in the business of calling His people to go, to embark upon a journey of faith, and I happen to believe that the way Abraham and Sarah responded to that call provides a pattern for us all. When you look at the call of God to Abraham and Sarah you notice that they put their trust in God.
Think of it. They had no idea where they were going, but it was enough for them that if God said to go, they would pack up and go. What incredible trust! Little wonder that Abraham is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the faith”.
Think also of this: God is still in the business of calling His people to go. For example, God may be saying to you, “I want you to go from this idea to that one”, or “I want you to move from this attitude to that attitude.” You see, there are ways of being on the go without moving from one place to another. That kind of going leads to growing. Is it possible then, that your inner longings and struggles, even your internal discontentments could be God’s way of stirring you, calling you to go, to grow, to move on to new thoughts, new ideas, new ways of doing things? It is said that Buddha noticed that there was a lot of misery in people. He figured that the reason there was so much misery was because people wanted things they could not have. His solution to the problem was quite simple: quit wanting. Be content with what you have and who you are and you will have eternal bliss. Well contrast that with the teachings of Jesus who said: “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly. Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be open to you.” That does not sound like settling for what is. Rather, it sounds like reaching, stretching, going and growing for what, by God’s grace, may yet be. The one prayer I pray for myself every day is for God to give me a sense of divine discontent, so that I will never settle for the way things are or the way I am, but I will instead keep pushing and driving and stretching and going and growing in my faith and in my service to the Lord.
The year was 1872. He was fifteen years old. His name was Booker T. Washington. He sensed, even at that early age, that God was calling him to do something significant with his life. When your mother is a slave plantation cook in Virginia and your daddy was a white slave owner, and you have no idea who he was, well, you haven’t got much going for you. But Booker T. Washington was determined to let God do something great in his life. He knew he had to get an education. He heard about the Hampton Institute in Virginia. It was 500 miles away from where he lived. No problem. He could walk that. So he packed a satchel and headed off to Hampton. When he was still 80 miles away, he ran out of money. So he spent some time unloading pig iron from a ship and sleeping under a board sidewalk so that he could earn enough money to complete his journey. When he finally arrived at the Hampton Institute, he went up to the head teacher and asked to be admitted to school. Looking back on that, later on, Booker T. Washington wrote: “Having been so long without proper food, a bath and a change of clothing, I probably didn’t make a very good impression on her.” In fact, she asked him to go sweep out the adjoining room while she tried to figure out what she was going to do with him. Well, he swept the room all right, now just once, but three times. He wiped down the walls and the woodwork. He opened up the closet and cleaned it out. The place was spotless when he finished. When the head teacher came in and saw it, she said: “You’re admitted.” Washington would write later: “ft was the happiest day of my life. The cleaning of that room was my college entrance examination. Never did anyone pass an entrance examination to Harvard or Yale that gave them more satisfaction. I’ve passed a number of examinations since that one, but none has pleased me more.” A child of God on the go. A deep inner hunger. A profound sense of call. A strong desire to serve the Lord. Go, Booker T. go! And go he did, trusting God. We can do the same.
But also when you look at the call of God to Abraham and Sarah, you notice that they built an altar to God.
That doesn’t make much sense to us today. But remember this was Abraham and this was a long time ago. Back then people believed that in order to experience the presence of God, you had to get God into a fixed place—an ark or an altar. So here are Abraham and Sarah and I can just imagine them saying something like this: “We don’t know why we’re here. It doesn’t make much sense. We don’t know a soul. And we don’t know why God has done all this. But we do know that God is with us.” And so in the midst of the darkness of uncertainty, they built an altar to God. It was the one certain thing in their moment of darkness. It was the one thing they could do to claim the promise of God for themselves.
Today we don’t build literal altars to establish God’s presence in our lives, but we do build figurative ones to remind us of God’s presence with us. And what was true for Abraham and Sarah is true for us as wel l- in times of darkness, fear, uncertainty and loneliness, we need to be reminded of God’s unfailing presence. That’s the way it was a century ago when a certain preacher was on a ship going from Italy to his home in England. His name was John Henry Newman. During the 1820’s in the early days of his ministry, he became widely known as a preacher because of his eloquent speaking and his magnetic personality. He attracted large crowds wherever he spoke. However, when he was just 32 years of age, his busy life and his demanding responsibilities began to take their toll upon him physically. It was suggested that he spend several months in the warmer climate of Italy recuperating. It wound up making things worse. The weather there became unbearably hot and Newman contracted Sicilian fever. He nearly died. He felt that he needed to get back to his beloved England, but the only available transportation was a citrus boat. In the midst of the long voyage, the boat encountered a lack of wind and heavy fog which kept them becalmed at sea for more than a week. In the midst of that week—on June 16, 1833 to be precise—it was then that Newman was experiencing great physical pain and virtual despair. In a deep, heartfelt cry for God’s presence and guidance he sat down and wrote some lines. He didn’t build an altar like Abraham, but he wrote a poem and it accomplished the same thing. The poem was called, “Lead, Kindly Light”. He never intended for it to be a hymn. In fact, he was surprised when his words were taken by others and set to music. He was even more surprised when it became the most popular hymn in 19th century England.
We don’t sing it anymore. It’s not even in our hymnbook. It was sung at the funerals of both General Douglas MacArthur and President Eisenhower and since then, apparently, people have simply written it off as a funeral hymn and nobody sings it much anymore. It’s a shame. I want you to listen to Newman’s words:
Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on.
The night is dark and I am far from home.
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see,
The distant scene, one step enough for me.
Somewhere out on that ocean, in thick darkness, a child of God on the go built an altar, wrote a poem, claimed the presence of God, and God led him home. He will do the same for you and for me.
I am calling you today to give yourself to God through Jesus Christ to accept His leadership in your life and to commit yourself to what God is ready to do in your going and in your growing. Elie Wiesel has a book called Souls on Fire. At the end of that book he says this: “When you die and you go to heaven and you stand before the judgement bar of God, God will not ask you why you didn’t become some kind of Messiah. God will not ask you why you didn’t discover the cure for such and such. God will ask you only this: ‘Why didn’t you become the best possible you?”’
So get going and growing by giving yourself to Jesus Christ. For then you will discover, by His grace, all the wonders that are you…