WASHINGTON CITY CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
June 30, 2013
Psalm 16 Luke 9:51-62
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
There’s an old joke about a guy who’s lost as he’s driving through Ireland. He has no idea where he is or which way he’s headed. Finally he sees a farmer and pulls over to ask for directions. After the guy explains where he’s headed the farmer says, “Well if I were you I wouldn’t be startin’ from here.”
I’ve had that feeling sometimes. I was doing a wedding in Locust Grove, down near Fredericksburg, a couple of months ago. There’s no direct way from our apartment to Locust Grove. You either have to go down Lee Highway and cut over to Route 17 and then back to Locust Grove, or you go up to I495 and over to I95 and down to Fredericksburg and then cut over. There is no direct route.
On the way home after the wedding it was late, and I was tired, and I wanted to get home. At the reception I’d overheard a couple of people at my table talking about a shortcut to Lee Highway, and so when I saw the road they’d mentioned I was excited. If I could find some road that was a straight shot over to Lee Highway, I could save a good 15 minutes off of a 1 hour trip. So I took a right on the shortcut and congratulated myself on my sharp eye.
About 20 minutes later I had driven what felt like hundreds of miles of twisty, curvy roads. I had come to at least two T intersections where I had to guess whether to turn left or right. It was dark, I had no idea where I was or which direction I was going. I was reduced to looking in the distance to see if I could see the lights of a town shining in the night, on the assumption that if I could get to a town it would have a road or state route or something in it that I had heard of so I could figure out how to get home, but that plan wasn’t working so well because of the woods.
It took me about 35 to 40 minutes to finally find Lee Highway, and once I did I found that I had saved all of about three miles of driving on it. I didn’t know where I was going, and it showed. I should not have started experimenting from where I was.
Guidance and paths are kind of the themes that tie together all of our scripture readings this morning. In Psalm 16, our call to worship, the writer asks for protection and for refuge, and recognizes that it’s God’s presence that shows him the path of life. Paul in Galatians talks about being led by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit into a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness. Jesus talks about how discipleship means going with him into an uncertain future, a future where foxes have holes and birds have nests, but Jesus and those who follow him will have nowhere to lay their heads.
It’s appropriate that this Sunday’s scripture reading talks about the leading of the Spirit and what it means to follow Jesus and how God shows us the paths of life. These are the readings suggested by the lectionary used by the Church of the Brethren. The lectionary is set years and years in advance. Various portions of scripture rotate through the lectionary and thus through use on Sunday mornings on a three year cycle. 10 years ago I could have told you that these would be the scriptures recommended for this morning. Perhaps that these readings fall on this day is part of the movement of the Spirit.
Why do I say that? Because this is Annual Conference Sunday. Right now as we speak thousands of our brothers and sisters are gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina for worship, work, sharing, prayer, and fun. That’s why Nate and Jenn and Don and I’m sure some others aren’t here with us this morning. Today has been designated a “Day of Spiritual Renewal” at conference. Sunday morning worship in Charlotte began at 9 this morning, Right now folks are gathering in smaller groups for Equipping Workshops that cover a variety of topics from prayer to spiritual growth to evangelistic outreach to conflict resolution.
All of this is about seeking God’s guidance. All of this is about asking God to lead us into new paths, about being willing to leave behind what is familiar and comfortable and being willing to move into new and maybe dangerous territory. All of this is about how do we reach a place where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness are the routine of our lives instead of things that we hope and strive for.
The pathways that we follow as Christians are not broad six-lane interstates, with mile markers every mile – or even every tenth of a mile around here. There are no signs that tell us where to get off to reach a particular location. There aren’t any notices of how far it is to the next city, or even what the next city is. In fact, the pathways that we follow as Christians don’t even have directional signs on them – we don’t know if we’re going north or south, east or west.
Philip Scharper says, “A popular church metaphor is that of the people of God on a pilgrimage. But a more apt metaphor should be that of the people of God as nomads. Pilgrims know where their journey is headed… Nomads are called to go by uncertain paths to a place that shall be made holy at some indefinite time by something God shall say or do. And there is no guide, no guide except a pillar of fire by night and a wind-driven cloud by day — sounds and symbols of the Holy Spirit.”
I like that. We’re not pilgrims, headed to the New World, or to the Holy City, or to wherever other specific place it is that pilgrims go. We’re nomads, not sure of our destination, not sure of where we will lay our heads. We’re nomads, wanderers, looking for paths that lead to uncertain places, guided only by the Holy Spirit which comes through our faith in God.
It’s not so much about where we’re going as it is how we act on the way. We see that in the letter to the Galatians. What must have been going in in that church for Paul to talk about how they should not “bite and devour one another”? How dysfunctional did things have to get? Paul goes through a long list of things that are not for Christians – things like fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and carousing.
It’s sad that people need to be reminded of that, but they do. Sometimes we make wrong turns. Sometimes we get off of the path. Sometimes we do not let God guide us; we do not listen to the Holy Spirit. The great commandment, after loving God, is to love our neighbor as ourselves. We forget that sometimes when we become too comfortable, when the path turns into something of a rut, something that we do because we have to or because we’re supposed to or we’re expected to, not because we are seeking and following God’s leadership and guidance.
Let me close with something I read on the Internet . I wish I could claim credit for it, or at least give credit for it, but I don’t know who wrote it. It says, “When I meditated on the word GUIDANCE, I kept seeing “dance” at the end of the word. I remember reading that doing God’s will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement
doesn’t flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and
When one person realizes this and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It’s as if two
become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender,
willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and
skill from the other.
My eyes drew back to the word GUIDANCE. When I saw “G,” I
thought of God, followed by “u” and “i.” “God, “u” and “i” dance.” God, you and I dance.” And we need to be willing to let God lead.
My prayer for us today is the same as the anonymous writer on the Internet: that God’s blessings and mercies will be upon us and our families and friends on this day and every day. May we abide in God as God abides in us. Dance together with God, trusting God to lead and to guide you through each season of your life. Amen.