A few weeks ago I got to know a new acronym.
It made me think, what is the difference between an acronym and an abbreviation?
Do you know? I had to look it up. An acronym is a new word that is created from an abbreviation, whereas an abbreviation is a list of letters. For example, USA is an abbreviation, but NASA is an acronym because you pronounce it like a new word. Actually, NASA means "National Aeronautics and Space Administration", but don't pronounce it "N", "A", "S", "A", but NASA.
A useless fun fact at the beginning, but never mind.
The acronym we are going to talk about today is called "VUCA".
Does anyone know it?
I didn't know it until two weeks or so ago. I think I first heard it on a podcast about church planting, but I'm not sure.
"VUCA" stands for "Volatility", "Uncertainty", "Complexity" and "Ambiguity", in English of course, and describes the high dynamics and speed of change of today.
- Volatility: The speed and extent to which things change are high.
- Uncertainty: There is a high degree of uncertainty about future events and developments.
- Complexity: The world has become increasingly complex and interconnected.
- Ambiguity: Information can be ambiguous and there are often different interpretations and perspectives.
These statements describe today's world quite well, I think, and therein also lie the challenges for us as Christians and for our congregation and of course for the new leadership.
Into a new land...Nevertheless, I think we can find an example of VUCA in the Bible as well, at least in part. I read from Genesis 12:1-5; NL
But these times are largely over today, especially due to the commitment of Christians, and for the sermon today, the topic is irrelevant.
It starts with uncertainty for Abram. He will probably have been fitter than today's average 75-year-old, as the Bible says people got even older on average back then than they do today, but that's still a houseful to leave everything behind at that age.
"Leave your house, your relatives and your extended family and go first. I will show you the way then."
It doesn't get more uncertain than that.
After all, we often don't know where it all leads. What will the future bring? What will the rapid pace of technological development bring? What will climate change do? How will social changes affect us as a congregation?
About 20 years ago, I was on a basic theology course with Methodists, and the Methodists hold liturgy and tradition in much higher esteem than we do. One of them said that people from other places thought it was great that the procedures and symbols were the same in all Methodist congregations. You find your way around immediately.
That is also the case in other congregations: The main thing is that everything remains as it is, so beautifully familiar. The same songs as a hundred years ago, etc. In such congregations, a song like "Thank you for this good morning" is considered modern, which is now over 60 years old.
But does that also work in a VUCA world?
Abram was on his way into the unknown (Genesis 12:6-9; NL):
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for "worship" can also mean "call out", so that another translation (NEÜ) writes here:
He doesn't know where or why, but he sticks to God and even testifies to Him before the Canaanites.
What happens next? (Genesis 12:10; NL)
That's a picture of volatility. OK, we can't tell from the text how quickly this happened, but the situation worsened so much that he broke down the tents and moved to Egypt with his entire household. Whether that was the right decision is impossible to judge today. The extent of the famine was probably beyond his control, he apparently could no longer cope with the situation on the ground and so he moved away, to rich Egypt, where there is always food.
But that's how it is for us too. What is the extent of all this? Will there be enough money in the future? Everything is getting more and more expensive. And the war! Will it come to us one day? The scale of change can be frightening. Others are afraid of immigration. Still others would like to turn back the clock to the 90s. Everything was simpler then, at least in our memories.
And on top of that, these changes seem to be happening at breakneck speed.
Dealing with the danger
Abram sees danger and makes a decision:
Personally, that doesn't sound right to me. It's also a bit cowardly to be honest and I don't think he thought it through to the end.
But he's never been in a situation like this before and it's a very complicated situation.
He needs food, for his people and for himself. But he is afraid. The Egyptians were apparently in a position where they could do what they wanted. Whether his fear was well-founded or it was just prejudice against the Egyptians, we don't know. According to the Bible, Abram had never been to Egypt before and now he has to deal with a culture that is foreign to him and how should he behave?
When things get complex, prejudices help, of course, because they lead to simple solutions.
That's often enough the case with us. When things get too complicated, we look for simple explanations.
Where do we go from here?
Yes, over four thousand years ago, equality was not so far off. But in his perspective, which is of course somewhat disturbed by today's standards, the Pharaoh behaved fairly. He gives Abram many valuable gifts for his supposed sister.
This situation is now really complex, but despite this absurd decision in an overwhelming situation, God intervenes. And there God is the same then as now.
It is interesting that nowhere does it say that he had to return the gifts and in the next chapter it is described that Abram was very rich.
I am also not sure that Abram's original fear was well founded. Would Pharaoh really have had him murdered if he hadn't lied? To me, this Pharaoh doesn't seem that way, but of course one doesn't know.
God did not abandon Abram, though his decision was certainly questionable.
In John 16:33; NL Jesus Christ says:
In other translations it says "are you afraid", "will be oppressed", "will they put pressure on you", etc. But Jesus has overcome the world.
And as with Abram, this is true not only when you do everything right, but also when you make suboptimal or even wrong decisions under pressure. In Jesus Christ we can have peace.
The separationIn the next chapter, Abram has a luxury problem. He and his nephew have so many farm animals that they can no longer stay together. There simply wasn't enough room for both of their herds. The Elberfelder Bible translates this so beautifully (Genesis 13:6; ELB):
I would like to have a problem like that sometimes ;-)
But this leads to a separation from his nephew, which was certainly not so great. Abram is very calm about it, though, so he leaves the decision to Lot. I find that very decent.
Lot's decision-making process is interesting (Genesis 13:10-13; NL):
Here we have a bit of the ambiguity mentioned above about this land that Lot chooses. "Like the garden of the Lord", now that's an attribute. One can understand why Lot chooses this land.
He has the choice and he has to decide not only for himself but for his whole household. And "like the garden of the Lord" is certainly very tempting.
On the other hand, the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked and sinned grievously against God. Should he have kept his distance? On the other hand, he does not have to live in the city, he can continue to live in tents.
We know that Lot moved to Sodom and had a house there. This is mentioned a little in passing in Genesis 14, when a war between various kings in the area is described (Genesis 14:11,12; NL):
I suspect that Lot turned his herds into money and thus afforded himself a good life with a nice house in the city, because that is the only way I can explain that the foreign soldiers captured all his possessions.
The foreign soldiers would hardly have taken all the livestock. I admit it's a bit of combination and speculation, but it seems very likely to me.
It does make one wonder to what extent the choice of the land, which was like the garden of the Lord, makes sense.
We know, of course, that afterwards in Genesis 19 Sodom was destroyed. Lot was saved with his wife and daughters, although Lot's wife did not survive the flight. And all his possessions were also gone, which, by the way, speaks for the fact that he no longer had huge herds on the land outside the city.
In retrospect, as a Bible reader, it is easy to judge Lot's decision for the Jordan Valley at Sodom and Gomorrah negatively. In retrospect, by the way, it is always easy to judge decisions.
He had a lot of cattle, a large household and the land was like the garden of the Lord. That was the important information for him. Whether the people in Sodom were evil apparently didn't interest him. Then later he probably found out that he would rather live in the city, which makes the first piece of information unimportant and the second piece of information, which at first he apparently didn't take seriously, made life very difficult for him.
I also find it difficult to impute any wrong motives to Lot here. Sometimes one tends to ascribe such wrong motives to someone whose life is failing in some way. "He had a completely wrong mindset from the beginning."
But when you are in the middle of it, you have to make decisions and they can turn out to be unfavourable in retrospect.
In John 14:2-6; NL Jesus Christ uses the image of the Way:
We need to know where we are fundamentally going, it is this view for eternity that we must never lose.
The term "path" has a similar double meaning in Greek as it does in German, namely, on the one hand, the pyhsic path to walk and travel on and, on the other hand, the path in the figurative sense, on which one travels with one's life, for example.
The Christian faith is often referred to as a "way" in the Acts of the Apostles (e.g. Acts 9:2). We are through and with Jesus Christ on the right, eternal path to his Father's house. And we are also on the way with him here on earth, in a world of uncertain, rapidly changing and complicated circumstances.
And for this we have the Bible to help and guide us (Psalm 119, 105; NL):
- Volatility: Abram was surprised by a famine on such a large scale that he saw no other way than to leave everything behind again. We too experience crises and changes on a scale that often overwhelms us: Climate change, war, inflation, the rapid pace of technological development, and even more
- Uncertainty: Abram had to leave his familiar world and move into the unknown. We don't know what is coming either, but just as Abram worshipped and called out to God in the new places, we can do the same.
- Complexity: Abram was afraid and made a questionable decision in a complex situation in a society that was foreign to him. Nevertheless, God stood by him and saved him from the situation. God is the same today as he was then and we can also trust in him when we have to make decisions.
- Ambiguity: There was different information and perspectives for Lot on the land at Sodom and he misinterpreted that information for himself and made the wrong decision. But that can only be judged in hindsight. God saved him anyway.
- We are on the way: with Jesus on the way to the dwellings that God is preparing for us and here on earth too, even if we don't always see where we are going here. But with the Bible as a lamp for our next steps, it can work.