The Bible is full of pilgrimage stories from the Old Testament to the New. Everyone was on a literal and spiritual journey. For many months now, I have been speaking with some of my closest friends about the story of Abram and the separation of him from his family and his homeland as directed by the Lord. This scripture came at me in almost every form; sermons, lessons, memes, song, devotions, and random discussions. There are currently many forms of separation for me personally. I am physically separated from most of my family, my church body, work team, friends, favorite restaurants, adventures in travel, and favorite dining spots. I know that most of you are also separated from those and other things that are of great importance to you.
As these scriptures have been made evident to me, I have studied them more. As I studied, I have been both excited and a little nervous about why the subject of separation kept coming up in my life. I want to share some of these scriptures with you as a reminder of what God intends for His children—no matter what the world or the enemy intends.
The genealogy of Abram and Sarai begin at the end of Genesis Chapter 11. In Genesis Chapter 12, the Lord calls on Abram to take his wife and leave Haran, which was his homeland, and to also leave his family. The Lord tells him to go; the land where he is to stop will be revealed to him when it is time. Many things unfold on this journey and it is worth reading but I want to skip forward to Chapter 15. In this chapter, the Lord begins to prepare Abram for a covenant relationship. More life unfolds for Abram and Sarai and in Chapter 17, the Lord changes their names to Abraham and Sarah. It took separation from everything Abram and Sarai knew to become new, to become Abraham and Sarah. I love that we have that same promise of a new name from the Lord when we believe, profess, and follow His way!
The story of Joseph began before Genesis Chapter 37, but it is in spot where we begin to see how special Joseph is to his earthly father and to Abba. We also begin to see severe jealousy from Joseph’s brothers. In a short time, Joseph’s brothers decided rather than kill him they would sell him for profit to the Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him to Potiphar. In Genesis Chapters 39-41, Joseph has many enslavements at the hands of others and emancipations at the mercy of the Lord. My favorite part of this story begins in Chapter 42 where Joseph’s brothers end up in severe need for themselves and their families due to famine. Joseph has been greatly favored and blessed by God, and he welcomes his brothers and provides for them. There are many things Joseph commands his brothers to do throughout these next few chapters. It is in Genesis 50:19 where Joseph responds to his brother’s concerns about forgiveness and mercy saying, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is in this day, to save many people alive” (NKJV).
In a sermon on April 19, 2020, Pastor Ken Pierce at the First United Methodist Church, Dayton, Tennessee, preached on the 7 mile journey (pilgrimage) to Emmaus in Luke Chapter 24. During this pilgrimage, two disciples are discussing all that had happened in Jerusalem over the past 3 days. These disciples had been present for the life of Jesus and had known with certainty that Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, and Jesus had to reveal all the things of Himself from Moses to his own life on earth.
Many revelations of the Lord throughout the living Word of God remind us of His faithfulness, His promises, His protections, and how He loves and favors His children. In the days of physical distancing due to COVID-19, He is with us. In all these stories, the separation of each of these people of the Bible from their homes, family, and Christian friends furthered the Kingdom of God. The pilgrimages in these stories originated from different circumstances and motivations, but God was the same in all. Through the obedience of Abraham, the ill intentions of the brothers of Joseph, and the disciples trying to understand the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, God was faithful and used all these circumstances for the God of His children and His glory. In the Old Testament stories, before the life of Jesus, the goodness of God was evident and in the New Testament, the amount of love God has for His children is shown by the sacrificial life of His Son, Jesus Christ.
I have heard many of my friends say that they have been able to study the word of God more than normal because of this slowdown of life. I have seen the internet and technology show evidence that sermons, songs, and testimonies for and of the Lord reach many more than would have been possible in the physical space of a church building. As we continue to navigate this odd, uncertain time of physical distancing, let us remain full of the knowledge of God and of His promises to us.
It occurs to me that under Pastor Bill Akers’ leadership, our church recently updated its mission statement to “Advancing Christ’s Kingdom, Locally and Globally”.
So, I will leave you with these final thoughts. What if He has been preparing us for such at time as this (Esther 4:13-14)? Spreading the love and hope of Jesus is always our task but it could surely never have been more important than it is today. Let’s ask ourselves what gifts can we use to encourage others? And let’s pray about the pilgrimage God is calling you to in this time of separation. Happy searching!