Summer Settings Series
Road Trips I
Summary and Themes for Preaching:
The purpose of this “Summer Settings” sermon series is to connect people’s favorite summer destinations with the biblical and theological importance of similar settings. The hope is to help people see the stories and events in the Bible with new eyes and new understanding, identifying with our ancestors in the faith in ways we might not have known possible. In so doing, we can gain a better understanding of how God worked in their imaginations and how He is longing to work in ours.
Going deeper, this series is a set of four two-week themes: mountains, lakes/streams/rivers, beaches, and road trips. The first week features an Old Testament passage with a passage that transitions toward the New Testament. The second week focuses on a New Testament passage.
While the definitions of “oceans” and “lakes” had to be qualified a bit in order to relate biblical locations to our present-day vacations, road trips—like mountains—can be found throughout Scripture. Granted, they happened more as a result of necessity or God’s own command, but we are not distantly removed from that purpose in America today. While we may think of road trips as opportunities to explore parts of the country, many of those parts were very sparsely populated only 120 years ago and became settled by those who were escaping difficult circumstances or seeking better economic opportunities.
Of course, taking that angle may need to be qualified with an acknowledgment of the populations that were displaced and marginalized as a result. That could even be the case with various parts of Scripture, as anyone who has done a series on Joshua knows, although in Scripture we deal with God’s direct plans and not simply those which worldly peoples infer. Still, there is much that can be gleaned by relating biblical journeys to our own.
Despite the wealth of God-led road trips in the Bible, we are going with two of the most popular for this portion of the series: Abraham (nee Abram) and Paul (nee Saul). Each had his share of trips and received a new name along the way. One started a nation and the other started Kingdom outposts.
Abram did quite a bit of moving. He may have even known people who had been dispersed from Babel—or at least heard their stories—given the genealogy and longevity of the people in Genesis 11, as well as the fact that his family had already gone from Ur to Harran. In any case, he set out with little understanding other than a call and a promise from God. He took his family, his servants and their families, their livestock, and presumably their tents and other belongings, faithfully waiting for where God would take them.
By contrast, most of our road trips today are planned, although occasionally we may just set out and see where the road takes us. Actually, we may want to do that more often. We plan and plan our lives, but how often do we truly set out in faith? By extension, if we try to meticulously plan out a road trip, then is it really a road trip or just a gas-guzzling vacation? Part of the beauty of a road trip—and part of the beauty of setting out in faith—is the vulnerability to see where God takes us. When we allow “God to take the wheel,” so to speak, we find new adventures and landmarks that shape us and form us in more powerful ways than we could have determined ourselves.
When we return from those trips, we also make landmarks for ourselves and others. Abram had the great oak of Moreh at Shechem and his altar at Bethel, perhaps the ancient equivalents of Chimney Rock in Nebraska and Cadillac Ranch in Texas (or whatever roadside landmarks are in your area). These places were marked for generations by those same descendants that God had promised to Abram.
When we set out in faith, we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He may lead us to the more difficult paths (wilderness rather than seaside in Exodus) and even the valleys of the shadows of death, but He is with us. Just as road trips can be galvanizing for the people who take them and experience new things together, our journeys of faith can bring us closer to God and lead us into liminal experiences of the Holy Spirit together.
Looking ahead to next week and Saul’s conversion on the Damascus road, we find that Jesus often changes our paths and sends us with a purpose. In light of the gospel, we do not simply go on blind faith but the knowledge that we are part of a message and a mission. Wherever we might go, we also know how the story ends. Like Saul, we also might be surprised by who joins us on the way.
Note: if you want to go a different route (pun intended), then Joseph’s story may be a good option for discussing how we can look back on a trip and seeing how God intended it for good.
Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.) His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.
Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music. He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now. As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.
Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).
From TPW’s quote page on faith
Faith isn’t a feeling; it’s a choice to trust God even when the road ahead seems uncertain.
Corrie Ten Boom
Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
Key Sermon Illustration
From TPW’s illustration page on travel
The Progress Paradox
Yet despite all of these advancements, we are more discontent than ever. Gregg Easterbrook wrote a book on this very topic entitled The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. In First World countries, he argues, even as the advances I have just cataloged have materially improved the physical comfort level of everyone in those societies, the rates of depression and psychosis continue to rise.
People feel their lives lack meaning, and they can’t seem to find any remedy to the plague of their own consistent discontentment. A clear example is transportation across long distances. It has never been easier, and yet still we complain!
I remember sitting recently in a brand-new airport terminal reading a historical account of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower crossing the North Atlantic in perilous conditions in November of 1620. These intrepid people lived for many weeks in the dark and crowded below-deck area, eating cold biscuits and putting up with the stench of the vomit caused by the incessantly heaving little ship.
A clear example is transportation across long distances. It has never been easier, and yet still we complain! I remember sitting recently in a brand-new airport terminal reading a historical account of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower crossing the North Atlantic in perilous conditions in November of 1620. These intrepid people lived for many weeks in the dark and crowded below-deck area, eating cold biscuits and putting up with the stench of the vomit caused by the incessantly heaving little ship. A woman even gave birth in that setting.
As I was reading this book, I overheard a well-dressed businessman as he was walking by me, talking with immense annoyance on a cell phone: “Yeah, it was a total nightmare! We were sitting on the tarmac for over an hour before we finally took off! Now I’m probably going to miss my connecting flight!” His voice trailed off as he bustled past me, and I chuckled to myself about his perspective. He was certainly not thinking how blessed we are to be able to cover thousands of miles by air in the astonishing comfort of a modern jet.
Andrew M Davis, The Power of Christian Contentment, Baker Publishing Group, 2019, p.17.
How to Get to Dublin
An old Irish joke tells how a tourist in the County of Cork asks a local man how to get to the big city of Dublin. “Ah,” responds the local man with a deeply furrowed brow, “I wouldn’t be starting from here.”
Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age, 2015, Brazos Press.
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Hebrews 11:8
LEADER: By faith Abraham,
ALL: When called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,
LEADER: Obeyed and went,
ALL: Even though he did not know where he was going.
Loving God, give us this same faith as we gather to worship you today.
Prayer of Confession
Heavenly Father, we confess that we often take stock of your work and your goodness based on what we have and see in a particular moment. We follow the desires and encouragements of crowds rather than waiting on you. We are oblivious to your mercy amidst the needs that we feel. You long to lead us, but we desire to number our own steps. Forgive our lack of faith, and encourage us by your Holy Spirit to follow the way of Jesus, who provides and perfects our path and our faith. We pray these things in his name, and we ask that you hear these things that we confess in silence…
Assurance of Pardon
LEADER: The good news in Christ is that when we face ourselves and God with the awareness of our need, we are given grace to grow, and courage to continue the journey. Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.
ALL: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
As you go, go with the law of the Lord guiding your steps. The Holy One guides your steps. He leads you to streams of living water. He leads you to life: life in Him, in His word, and in His Name.