(this is the final sermon preached at Mount Royal United. On April 15th I begin services on the Red Bank Pastoral Charge outside of Miramichi)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… the opening line to my favourite poem, and I will get back to that, but for now, let me tell you an interesting historical anecdote:
Did you know that in 1910 the so called ‘competent experts’ decided that the airplane was of little commercial value; and decided that finance companies should not back production. They said that it would never hold more than 4 people and so was basically just an amusement. I mention this for two reasons – first, if you believe in something, hold on to that – the experts who tell you it can’t happen are probably wrong. But secondly, and perhaps more to the point today, even the experts don’t really know how things are going to turn out.
No one ever does…. We tend not to be very good at prediction.
Too often we hold on to things without risking the future. Take the Israelites; wandering in the desert, always saying to Moses – why did you bring us here, so far from what we had in Egypt, was it just to die in this desert?
See, the problem is never what it first appears, that there is no food, or water, or even, as we shall see today, that there are poisonous snakes…. All of these things are easy problems for God to fix. The real problem is that they kept looking back, and never forward. And you cannot blame them, everyone does… what Moses needed to do was find something else for them to look at…
Frosted Lucky Charms (They’re Magically Delicious)
- With the kids talking about Lucky Charms, and ideas or objects that give us hope
- Rabbits foot, four leaf clover, penny, cross, lucky dice, …
You Were Dead
I am going to argue that Moses and the Gang, Paul and the church at Ephesus, and John’s upcoming and world famous description of Jesus are all the same passage. And in each case, they are not talking about what they seem to be talking about – it has nothing to do with poison snakes, it has to do with vision.
Listen to Paul: “you were dead through trespasses and sins, in which you once lived, following the course of this world.”
No one was really dead. No one was ever really as sinful as Paul makes them sound. To him everyone was an axe murderer and a baby killer. They had rejected God completely and were destined to hell. Clearly he is being a little over the top…
We were not dead, we were merely trapped. We lived in the world and we acted like it. We made choices based on our observations of the people around us, we allowed the shiny things that people wave in front of our eyes to distract us from the truth… this is Paul’s point.
Where Moses says we spend too much time looking back, Paul tells us we spend too much time worried about the present.
So we think we need a new ipad. We think the car we drive will bring us happiness. We make decisions based on the appeal of the present age, on the values that our family, our friends, our job, our culture, and most importantly, our entertainment sell us.
But God… GOD, says Paul, in infinite grace, can lift us up out of this world. God sent us a sign, God sent us a prophet, God sent us a saviour… God gave us something to focus on, something else, Jesus.
It is not what we do that will save us from this world… it is having faith enough, hope enough, to be able to lift our eyes from the path we are on, and see something else.
Back to the Future
So: let go of the past, see beyond the present, look to the future. I am sure you can see that this is not just random meandering I am engaging in… this is a pretty practical sermon. I am leaving. I made that choice. I didn’t know I was going to make it. And there are good things, and there are bad things that come from that decision – but let’s put it this way – There is a lot of my past here, and staying might have been focussing too much on the present and not accepting the future.
Too often we use John 3:16 as a passage about converting those damn heathen to the one true path, ours…. I don’t think it has anything to do with that. It has to do exactly with what we are talking about. God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn, but to save… just as the snake was lifted up on the pole to save the people when they saw nothing but snakes, so must Jesus be lifted up if we are going to see anything but the world that mires us.
Focusing on Jesus clears things up, it casts a light onto the darkness of this world, it helps us to have faith in something better, something on the horizon…. To believe in what Jesus believed in – the Kingdom, that perfect way of life in which we stop focusing on the past and present, where we stop insisting value comes from money or status, that world where all are equal and love is the only way we relate.
There was a time, not so long ago, when a minister stayed three years. That was it. That was how it worked for most of our church history. And the reason is precisely what I have been talking about. It had to do with not getting mired in the present and keeping a vision of tomorrow being different at the core of what we did.
It has become longer. Some ministers stay in one church their whole careers. But hopefully, God willing, we stay the right amount of time for both you and me. It is hard, this being open to the future whatever it might bring, but it is necessary. Faith, God, the world is not static; and decisions about how to live faithfully into the future are often the hardest we ever make… still, those decisions make all the difference.
The Road Not Taken
So – back to my favourite poem of all time…. It is a poem about the choices we make, a poem written which I feel expresses perfectly what these religious leaders who urged us to live in God’s footsteps were trying to say: Robert Frost once wrote:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could,
to where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, just as fair.
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear:
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the other for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.
So choose the road less travelled, all of you. And may God’s grace guide you into the place you were meant to be.