Where in the World is Elwood?

12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
    those who curse you I will curse;
        all the families of the earth
            will be blessed because of you.”

Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped in the Lord’s name. Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went. (Genesis 12:1-9, Common English Bible).

It was almost lunchtime one day in May, 1991. I was in my office at Fondren and the Southwest Freeway in Houston. I was a programmer/analyst with the FDIC. I was working on some random computer code when my phone rang.

It wasn’t a call I got at work. My calls usually were about a program I had written and someone managed to find a way to break, doing something they weren’t supposed to do and the program wasn’t designed for.

Occasionally a Scout leader would call to talk about some activity. We were very involved in Scouting then. Our boys were young and very involved.

Cindy called to talk about kid stuff and if any of us had anything in the calendar that night. It might be what was on the dinner menu.

I wasn’t used to calls about church work. I was, after all, an employee of the Federal government. They wouldn’t have had much positive to say about church.

It was a surprise then when I heard, “Keith, this is Asbury Lennox.” The late Dr. Asbury Lennox was then the District Superintendent of the old Houston East District. I had anticipated a call, but I assumed it would come one night at home. I never thought he’d call during the day the workday.

Dr. Lennox said, “I have called to talk about an appointment. The cabinet met with Bishop Oliphant and we want to appoint you to Elwood.

Before I realized it, the words tumbled from my mouth, the title of this sermon, “Where in the world is Elwood? I hadn’t said it. I knew Texas pretty well, but have learned not as well as I thought. I hadn’t heard of Elwood and and many other places in the Lone Star State. While it is on some state maps, Elwood isn’t even a town! No wonder I hadn’t heard of it.

Elwood is a rural community about 12 miles northeast of Madisonville in rural Madison County. The closest real town, if you can call it that, is Midway, named that because it’s located about midway between Crockett and Madisonville. Midway’s population at the time was 333. Today it has declined to 229 as of the last census.

The only store closes at 6:00. The Walmart in Madisonville closed at 8:00. Our closest neighbors, other than cows were over half a mile away.

At one time, Elwood, then named French was a thriving town and the county seat for Madison County. That was before anyone thought about Madisonville.

Today Elwood consists of a few residences, ranch land, and the Baptist church. I am sorry to say, the Methodist church closed a few years ago. The building is there but belongs to the Elwood Cemetery Association today.

That was a culture shock for a city boy used to 24 hour Walmart stores and convenience stores that never closed, even on Christmas Day. Elwood took careful planning. To get something after 8:00 PM required driving an hour each way to Huntsville, or doing without. Only something important made that drive.

The title of today’s message, “Where in the World is Elwood?” is because of that phone call 30 years ago. I could just as easily titled it after a good number of the places like, “Where in the world is Lovelady, Kennard, Mt. Sylvan, Van or Grapeland. I thought I knew Grapeland but I was talking about Grapevine. I’ve heard it from many since then. “Where in the world is…” Groveton or Huntington. I did know where Prairie View is but it isn’t the same one.

I had heard of Canton, but I didn’t know where it was. I had to look for it on a road map in the days before most any of us had a GPS in the car.

I knew where to find were Tyler, Freeport and Diboll. I made trips to Tyler when I was younger. I went fishing a few times in Freeport. And, my mother’s family used to have a family reunion every year in a little community a little larger than Elwood, named Central, just north of Lufkin.

I could have titled the sermon, “Where in the world is Santa Fe?” and no, not New Mexico. This Santa Fe is in Galveston County, on the mainland. I hadn’t heard of it before a UM ARMY.

I couldn’t have titled the message, “Where in the World is Sweeny?” I knew where it was long ago. But I did hear the question many times when I would tell people I had been appointed there. Much like Tyler, nobody questioned me on. “Where in the world is Nacogdoches?” when I told people about this appointment.

The point of all this is to say, for all of us, there are places in the world we know little, if anything about. Yet often these are some of the very places where God calls us to go and most needs us to go.

Such was the case for one of the great heroes of the Bible, Abraham, or Abram as he was called in our lesson this morning. God spoke to this 75-year-old man and told him to pack up all his stuff and move, only God didn’t tell him to move to Elwood or Nacogdoches or Grapeland or some other named place you might find on a map or with your GPS. God told Abram to move to the land God would show him. Friends, God was asking Abram to take a great leap of faith.

But, God didn’t ask Abram to take a walk on the wild side. God made Abram some promises too. The biggest promise was, God would be there and that Abram would be blessed.

Abram went packing and God made another promise, Abram, descendants would inherit the land where he stood. Abram never saw that promise fulfilled, but he knew God would keep the promise.

If we continued on in Genesis we would see God’s faithfulness in those promises. God blessed Abram in virtually everything. God promised land to Abram’s descendants. God saw to it. In time, those descendants grew in number as promised. If you keep reading, in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, as promised, Abram’s descendants inherited the land God promised.

God gave a faithful man a task. The man did as instructed. God made promises and kept them, including a promise of blessings on a faithful man.

Blessing is a recurring theme throughout Genesis. Really it is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. When people remain faithful, they receive God’s blessing.

The same is true for us. God asks us to start a faith journey together. It is something that in many ways will be different. But, we don’t travel alone. We travel together as the people of God in this time and place. Further, we don’t just travel with each other, God travels with us.

Friends, if we are faithful to God’s call, we will be blessed.

Someone emailed me a little clip I thought I would share with you as I close the message.

At first I thought God was my observer, my judge, keeping track of my wrong doings to see if I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was sort of like the President. I knew the picture but I didn’t really know God.

Later, I recognized God, and life was like a bike ride, but a tandem bike, and God was in the back helping me pedal. I don’t know when God suggested we switch but life hasn’t been the same since.

When I had control, I knew the way. It was boring but predictable. We took the shortest route. When God took over there were delightful long cuts, up mountains and rocky places and fast speeds! Sometimes I could barely hang on. I was scared sometimes, God reached back and touched my hand.

I met people with gifts I needed: gifts for my journey, our journey, God’s and mine. Then we were off again. Then God would say, “Give those gifts away, extra baggage, too much weight.” So I gave them to people we’d meet.

I learned then that in giving we receive. Our burden was light. I didn’t trust God at first, being in control of my life. “What if God wrecks it?” But God knows, “bike secrets,” how to make it bend in sharp corners or jump high rocks or to fly through scary passages.

I’m learning to shut up and pedal in strange places. Now I enjoy the cool breeze on my face, with my delightful companion. And when I’m sure I can’t do any more, God smiles and says,”Pedal.”

We have work to do. Let’s be faithful like Abraham. If we are, God will bless us to be a blessing. Oh, and don’t forget, pedal!.

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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