In his first law of motion, Isaac Newton stated that everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces applied to it. I think that might very have applied to Abraham and Sarah, as we’ve come to know them. They were settled in their retirement bungalow, expecting to spend their sunset years quietly. Until God came onto the scene. We’re far too old for that, they laughed. You must be joking. But they took God seriously, and were willing to move. They listened, and they moved. They didn’t say they were too old. They didn’t say they’d done their bit. They didn’t say it was time for the younger ones to take over. They didn’t say it would see them out.
Now, I know full well that no-one here would ever dream of thinking any of those things, of course. But as we begin the Pilgrim Project, it might just be possible that some of you have been tempted to allow your thoughts to wander a little bit in that direction, thinking you’re old or tired and done your bit, and the Pilgrim Project is for the young ones. But if you should find yourself thinking that for a moment, remember Abraham and Sarah, who did set out on a long and unknown journey, at a great age. They heard God’s promise to them, and took it to their heart: you shall be my people and I will be your God.
Perhaps we can hear that promise to us? Perhaps we can dare to believe that is for us?
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The standard-sized gap between the rails on a railway line is four feet eight and a half inches, and it’s no more of a round number in metric. Why is it such a particular number? The people who built the first railways used the same tools and ideas that they used to make carts, and they used that size so that they matched the old ruts along the roads. What made those old wheel ruts? The story goes that the ruts go all the way back to the Roman chariots, which needed the wheels to be four feet eight and a half inches apart to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. Maybe “that’s the way we’ve always done it” isn’t the great excuse some people believe it to be?
You won’t be surprised that I’m not going to let you get away with we’ve always done it that way. I know no-one here would ever think that, but if you found yourself tempted for half a moment to allow that to slip in your mind, then I’d remind you that things are always changing. Hymnbooks come and go, furnishings, décor, cushions, the practical things are always changing. Once upon a time we never had a hall. Once upon a time we never had a suite of rooms at the back. Once upon a time we never had a coffee bar and a balcony. Things are always changing. We’ve always done it that way simply isn’t true.
Saul had always done it that way. Saul was quite happy carrying on doing that way. But God had other ideas. It was quite a dramatic moment, when Saul realised that he couldn’t continue to say we’ve always done it that way. I believe that in the Pilgrim Project that God is saying to us, you can’t go on thinking you’ve always done it that way. It may not be a personally dramatic as the light on the road, but isn’t God very near to us, calling us to take a new step of faith, seeking more light and truth from his Word. Isn’t God calling us to press on with our journey, even if the way is dark, until we see him face to face, and his light and truth is our dwelling place?
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Picture a scene from the American West, sometime in the 1870s. Weary cowboys in dusty Levi’s gather around a blazing campfire after a day on the range. The lonely howl of a coyote counterpoints the notes of a guitar as the moon floats serenely overhead. Suddenly a bellow of pain shatters the night, as a cowboy leaps away from the fire, dancing in agony. Hot-Rivet Syndrome has claimed another victim. In those days, Levi’s were made, as they had been from the first days of Levi Strauss, with copper rivets at stress points to provide extra strength. On these original Levi’s, model 501, the crotch rivet was the critical one: when cowboys crouched too long beside the campfire, the rivet grew uncomfortably hot. For years these men suffered this curious occupational hazard. Then, in 1933, Walter Haas, Sr., president of Levi Strauss, went camping in his Levi 501’s. He was crouching by a crackling campfire in the High Sierra mountains, drinking in the pure mountain air, when he fell victim to Hot-Rivet Syndrome. He consulted with professional wranglers in his party. Had they suffered the same mishap? An impassioned YES was the reply. Haas vowed that the offending rivet must go, and at their next meeting the board of directors voted it into extinction.
I’d like to think that enough of us have felt the hot rivet of our buildings and our mission. The Pilgrim Project is our response to the hot rivet. We may not have heard God in the ways that Abraham and Sarah did, or Saul did, but I believe that we have heard God, and heard him calling us onwards into this new phase of our journey.
The Pilgrim Project is about much more than just our buildings. It’s all about making that love which God makes known in Christ known in our community. Our renewed buildings will not be just a box for us to worship, but a place which shows people welcome and hospitality, a place from which we can more effectively recharge our spiritual batteries, a place from which we can show people that love which is with them and for them.
I believe God is calling us to continue on the next phase of our journey in faith, to take his love into the world, and let people see it. The Pilgrim Project is about how we equip ourselves to do precisely that. I believe this is what God is calling us to do as the next phase of our journey, even it means a journey into the unknown. I believe that God will give us what we need, if we go onwards in faith. The Pilgrim Project will not happen if we leave it to the others, if we leave it to them, whoever they are. I believe that God is calling all of us to give what we can, money of course, but much more than that, giving our energy, our enthusiasm, our hearts, and our prayers.