I love Pastor Rob Bell. His sermons uplift me and educate me. I chew on his lessons for days. Not everyone loves him. Some have called him a heretic. He challenges our ideas and assumptions. He calls into question long held beliefs on scripture and gives us a new, fresh perspective to consider. This is precisely what I love about him. He brings God’s word to life in a modern, fresh way. He explains the ancient context of the scripture and then brings it forward to our 21st century world with all its past and present complexity.
I listen to Pastor Bell’s sermons on his podcast The Robcast. The sermon notes below are from episode 187 titled The Endless Invitation. This sermon was based on Genesis chapter 12 verses 1-4. As he always does Pastor Bell begins his scripture reading by asking us to listen for the human story in the verses.
God called Abram (or Abraham as we also know him) to leave his country and his father’s house and go to a land that he chose for him. God promised to make Abram a great nation and would bless him and his name so that his tribe would be a blessing. So, Abram went.
There’s the key line. So, Abram went. Pastor Bell teaches us that in the ancient world this was a radical idea. God told Abram to leave the comfort and safety of his home, his family, his friends, and his neighbors and go off in search of something new. At that time in history people exclusively held a cyclical view of the world. You do what your father did, who did what his father did, who did what his father did. Whatever happened to your father would happen to you and to your children and so on and so forth. Everyone was a cog on a giant wheel that just keeps turning. No one ever got off. No one ever tried to change direction. Everyone stayed on the wheel and rotated in the same direction forever. God wasn’t asking Abram to get off the wheel or to change its direction. God was asking Abram to break the wheel. Leave behind all that was comfortable and familiar and go off to the unknown trusting only God’s word that everything would be okay in the end. This idea isn’t radical today. Our kids grow up, leave home, and start their own lives. Its expected. We lament when our kids don’t leave home and view it as failure. Yet Pastor Rob points out that even today there are those who are still on the wheel. These are the folks who are in a constant state of despair. The folks who say “It is what it is.”
I’ve always hated that expression. To me it means resignation. To me it is a sign of hopelessness. To me it means that nothing can ever be any better because nothing can ever change. It is what it is. The wheel turns on.
Pastor Rob continues his sermon by describing three viewpoints: ego centric, tribal centric, and world centric. Ego centric is where we all begin. He describes this as a childlike view of the world where everything revolves around us. When we were kids and made a picture in art class and brought it home our parents gushed over the crayon smeared construction paper as if it were a Picasso masterpiece. We felt like we were the greatest. As we grow we learn the viewpoint of our parents, our neighbors, and our community. We identify ourselves by a common language, common values, and shared beliefs. At this point we are transitioning to a tribal centric view. Our tribe’s culture is the only culture we know. We cling to our tribal culture for support and for comfort. Here the saying “It is what it is” is a comfort. It means that everything is normal. Everything stays the same. This is a comfortable place. In the Genesis verses Abram is told he will have his own tribe that will be a blessing to others. This was another new and radical idea. Not only was Abram going to break the wheel and form a new tribe but this tribe would have a higher purpose. This tribe was meant to be a blessing to others. Pastor Rob challenges us to think about our tribe today and ask ourselves – is our tribe a blessing to others?
In a tribe we have been given an identity. As Americans our language is english, most of us worship as Christians, our football is the NFL not soccer, and we value our freedom and the rights afforded to us under the constitution. There is always someone who gives his life for the tribe. For us, it is our soldiers. They fight for us to protect our freedom and our way of life. But is our tribe a blessing to others? Are we a blessing to other nations? Are we a blessing to the earth and its resources? Or, does our tribe antagonize other tribes? It is what it is.
Growth. When we grow we expand and move forward. When we grow as humans, being, we transcend. We move past the stage we were in leaving behind what needs to be left behind and bringing with us what we need to move forward. Pastor Bell asks what if we didn’t grow? Imagine if we stayed in an ego centric view all of our lives. We would be an incredible narcissist! Imagine walking through life convinced that everything you did was amazing, that you never did anything wrong, and that the world owes you everything. That would be a terrible place to be stuck. But after listening to Pastor Bell, I think tribal centric is just as bad a place to get stuck. Moving past ego centric to tribal centric requires us to give up our self-centered point of view. It requires that we consider the other members of our tribe and to conform to the common values, beliefs, and norms. This isn’t so bad unless your tribe is a cult. Not all cults are religious. Some cults are political. Fascism requires an extreme ethnocentric view of its tribe. The interesting thing is that if we don’t move past ego centric then a political view can be very enticing. This is how nationalism takes hold of the citizens of a country.
We move forward and transcend past tribal centric to world centric when we recognize that there are other tribes in the world besides ours. We recognize that other tribes in the world do things differently than we do and do not share our beliefs and values. We begin to question our own tribe’s beliefs. We wonder if our tribe antagonizes these tribes. We question whether our tribe is a blessing to other tribes, to the earth and all its resources. And once we begin to see all of this there is no turning back. As Pastor Rob says once you have seen you cannot unsee, once we have tasted we cannot untaste. It reminds me of the first time I tasted Coca-cola. I loved the flavor of the cola, the way the bubbles felt on my tongue. No other drink compared. Once I got my first taste of Coke I didn’t want anything else to drink. Not water, not milk, not juice, not coffee or tea. Always and forever, for me it is Coca-cola. It’s a bit lonely being a Coke drinker. Everyone else I know is either sipping a Starbucks coffee or a glass of wine. There are no memes on the internet for Coke drinkers but there are memes by the thousands for coffee and wine drinkers. This is what it can be like for people with a world centric view. Pastor Rob tells of meeting people who work in the nonprofit sector who have transcended to a world centric view but the price is a broken spirit. They are emotionally and mentally drained. They recognize all the pain and suffering in the world. They recognize that some of that pain and suffering in the world is the result from the actions of their tribe, but they cannot do anything to stop it. I thought of all the people I know who have been marching, protesting, and writing letters to their lawmakers since the 2016 election. They are all so tired and angry. I thought of all the friends and family I know who voted for President Trump in the 2016 election because they wanted a change and now they are so tired and angry of all the people who are tired and angry. Pastor Rob reminds us all that it’s important that we take time to stop and care for ourselves, to pause for a moment and ask ourselves is what I am doing a blessing to others? Is this a blessing to the earth? We are all descendants from Abram’s tribe. We have been blessed by God as promised. But we were also instructed to be a blessing to others. We are called to be a tribe with a higher power. Are the actions of our tribe a blessing to the other tribes on earth? Are the actions of our tribe a blessing to Earth and its resources?
The endless invitation is the open invitation to grow and transcend past our ethnocentric view and into a world view. But this is easier said than done. Our world as we know it is changing. We are traumatized by violence, and stressed over financial inequality. We are in a period of cultural disruption brought on by technological change. We are living in a time of great change as we being living in a period of globalization. Pastor Rob explains that there are two reactions when faced with trauma, stress, disruption, and change. We all grieve but once we move past grieving we make a choice to either ask questions, grow, and transcend or to withdrawal, regress, and entrench ourselves in the old way of thinking. Think about the terrorist attacks of September 11. The day the twin towers were brought down forever changed our world. We were all shocked. Nothing like that had ever happened to us. We all grieved for those who lost their lives immediately and after the attack. We were frightened and wondered why and how this could have happened. Then, we split off into two groups. Some of us continued to ask questions. We wondered how other tribes in the world could hate us so much. Why do they want to hurt us so terribly? Are we not the greatest nation on earth? Do we not bless everyone? Do we antagonize other tribes? How do we antagonize other tribes? Some of us choose a different direction. Some of us chose “Merica!” Those who chose this direction regressed back completely to a tribal centric viewpoint entrenching themselves in extreme patriotism where the national anthem must always be played and everyone must always say the pledge of allegiance. To kneel before the flag was akin to sacrilege! This is the place of comfort. This is the place of familiarity. As we regress and retrench ourselves back into the tribal centric view we tell ourselves that we are great again and that is all that matters!
Pastor Bell teaches us that the endless invitation is that when faced with trauma, stress, disruption, and change we are given an invitation to grow and transcend. If we refuse this invitation then we regress and fall back into a tribal centric viewpoint where we let the tribe carry us through. The key lesson here is that God has given us all not only an endless invitation, but that we have been given the Great Invitation. The great invitation invites us to let the trauma, stress, disruption, and change break us in all the right places. That sounds terrifying. I think of all the violence and tragedy in the world combined and letting all of that break me. But then I think of the personal losses I’ve faced and how they broke me. I think of the death of my mother three years ago followed by the death of my Aunt a year and a half later, along with my daughter’s health struggles and how these events left me broken. I realize that after I picked up all the broken pieces and put myself together I found I was not the same person I was before. I am stronger. I am more compassionate. I have a better understanding of suffering and the human condition than I did before. When you are broken you have the choice to become bitter or better. The teachings and lessons from my Christian faith helped me choose to become better rather than bitter. That’s what it means to let the Great Invitation break us in all the right places. It means we let ourselves fall apart so we can put ourselves back together stronger and better than we were before.
We all have the choice to move forward or regress backwards. We gain nothing by regressing. When we move forward we have the opportunity to align ourselves with how the universe is expanding and join in its growth. This is scary. It’s downright terrifying. It means leaving behind our home, our father’s father, the tribe that we have always known and transcend to a world centric view. It’s not an easy journey. It’s not a comfortable journey. It’s painful and messy and sometimes lonely. It requires sacrifice. But Jesus reminds us that as the tribe of Abram we were called to be a tribe with a higher purpose when he commanded us to be a light to the world. I’m think of one of the first songs I learned to sing in Sunday school This Little Light of Mine. This little light of mine…I’m going to let it shine!
I chose to accept the Great Invitation and let it break me in all the right places. I’m scared but I know that God is with me on this journey. From the scriptures of Isaiah 49: 15-16 and Philippians 3:8-9, and Psalm 43:4 I have engraved you on the palms of My hands, and this is an eternal commitment. Nothing could ever scrape off or corrode this inscription, for you are My treasured, blood-bought possession. Because we are written on the palms of Jesus hands we can know that we are treasured and will always be cared for no matter how difficult the journey or how painful the growth
If you have not listened to The Robcast please do! I am not affiliated in any way with Pastor Rob, just a huge fan. I am not being paid to endorse his podcast. I endorse his podcast because it is one of the most uplifting and spiritually renewing podcasts I have ever listened to. The podcast is available for free on iTunes. I listen to it through the app Podbean. I hope it brings you as much joy and love as it brings me.