In a few moments students will fill MacGorman Chapel for the convocation of the fall semester. They represent many states, nations, churches and families. This is the sobering reality that makes me want to craft each word in class as an act of stewardship. These are students who have chosen not to colonize in their home church, but pioneer to a different place as an expression of God’s next step. Their obedience is an earnest reminder that that there is a time to colonize, and a time to pioneer.
After the flood, God tells Noah and his family to fill the land. And they did. After a detailed description of the family lineage, Genesis 10:32 notes, “These are the clans of the sons of Noah according to their genealogies. In their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” (See also 10:5, 18b) However, the story of man takes an odd turn.
The nations that were to spread out instead coalesced into one big group in order to build a tower to the sky. The problem was that the building project was motivated by an explicit desire to “make a name for ourselves lest we dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Yet, God had told them to fill the earth, the implication being they were to spread out and take dominion (9:1,7). This was actually a throwback to Eden where God had first commanded them to fill the earth (1:28). In this way the post-flood command was an affirmation that this was indeed humanity 2.0. God was starting over and, in this new race of people, God wanted pioneers, not colonists.
It is there at Babel that God confused their language and spread them apart. This is not because God feared them, but rather that He feared for them. He knew that without disunity they would never realize all there is to this earth.
Actually the story of creation is a story of God dispersing the nations through a series of creations. He created Eve so that Adam could multiply and disperse, and then told him to do so. He then re-created the world through Noah and told him to disperse. Unable to wean his children from their attempted permanent geographical adolescence, he created languages. It was the curse of a gift, which seems to be God’s way. Precious life giving water was used to destroy man, and now the precious gift of language was given to disperse man. They were guilty of the pride of coalescence, the sin of colonizing when God said to move forward. God is very serious about expanding borders.
The next chapter of Genesis is the call of Abram, a call that begins with a simple word, “Go.” (Gen12:1). There were untold blessings awaiting Abraham, but only if he left his current lifestyle. And this is the story of the Old Testament: God would kill those who ultimately did not desire to be led to the new place and accept the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Numbers 14:22,23). Joshua and Caleb would see the Promised Land because they were willing to go on to something better.
God is all about stewardship of space, and this geographical push of God in the Old Testament has a spiritual allusion in the New Testament. The Promised Land is a metaphor for salvation. Those who refuse to be led into salvation will die without God. The metaphor of movement is expressed in terms of stewardship. Paul was motivated by a stewardship of God’s grace
the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, Eph. 3:2;
of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. Col. 1:25
Paul believed that there was a territory he must claim. This meant he could not stand still. In order for Paul to be a pioneer for the Gospel, he had to be willing to constantly live in new territory. Paul spent most of his adult life as a vagabond in an attempt to colonize the call of God on his life. Living inside the call meant constantly moving. And it still does. If God has called you to stay, don’t move. If He has called you to move, don’t fear. The safety of immobility is a mirage. Be armored in the assumed risk of trusting God, always following the call of God by pioneering in this life.
It is the stewardship of time and resources that makes our work in theological education sobering. And for those who have pioneered to this place, we pledge to honor that trust with the most graciously demanding work, symbolic of the demanding and often ungracious world that awaits. Southwesterner, may the road rise to meet you.