Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Road Less Traveled (Good-bye sermon to Gloria Dei)

Jeremiah 28:5-9; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

Lately, with so many changes in my life, I’ve had this Robert Frost poem in my mind:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as 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 first 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 traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem isn’t my way of telling you that I am going down a road and will not see you again- not at all. I believe it’s the result of pondering the roads that I’ve been on that lead me to this moment here with you. And the roads you’ve all been on yourselves- life roads you might have chosen or some on which you’ve simply found yourselves.

Different paths are discussed in our readings as well. The prophet Jeremiah tells the prophet Hananiah, “I do hope that all you have prophesied comes true- that the children of Israel are returned from Babylon, but what’s the likelihood of that? You know how people are and how frequently they turn to war and struggle against one another. A prophet who speaks of peace coming- that would be something different and when it happens, we will know that the Lord really did send that prophet.”

Later that year, the prophet Hananiah died because he offered words to the people that were not from God. Jeremiah continued to preach, reminding Israel to turn their hearts to the Lord in hope and devotion despite all that had befallen them- a prophetic road less traveled indeed and a lonely one for Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was hoping for and looking toward a prophet who speak words of peace- not just a laying down of arms, but offer a vision of true reconciliation among people. Jeremiah looked for one who could unite people in the joy and blessed assurance of God’s favor.

Biblical prophecy is not merely prediction, as in: “This will happen next Tuesday”- but is more about showing promises and a pathway. The prophets of the Old Testament continuously remind people of God’s love for them and of God’s desire to be close to them. It wasn’t that God wasn’t walking with God’s people down their road, but that they were still looking for pillars of cloud and fire and missing the still, small voice. A voice saying, “I made you and I love you. You are mine.”

When the Prince of Peace came to earth, carrying that message from God, but in human form- he was a little hard to recognize, even if Jeremiah had still been around to see him, and the King of Prophets’ message even harder to swallow. However, through his life, death and resurrection- he cleared a new road in which sin would no longer have dominion in our lives, but grace, God’s grace would surround us as a constant, traveling companion. So there are steps that precede us down every path we travel.

This is where things get a little tough for contemporary believers, especially Lutherans. We want to have control, to make the choice when the roads diverge and to know that we have chosen the road of faith, of goodness, of God. But we know in our hearts, through the power of the Spirit, that we have all we have because God has chosen us, chosen for us, chosen to be with us.

The theme at camp this week was God’s justice, persistent, equal-minded, forgiving and unexpected- accomplishing all things for us and through us. We do not work for it. Since we are saved by grace through faith, what is our work? What kinds of prophets can we be? What is it that we have to do? But there is work to be done. There are people who need welcoming, who need healing, who simply need cool water. They are why we are here and why we all have the gifts we have, individually and as a congregation.

We are called to the work of recognizing Christ in all those around us. We have the work of forgiving one another, of supporting each other, of loving our neighbors. We are called to the work of proclaiming the peace of Christ- through our daily deeds and words. We are called to baptize and teach our children, instructing them in faith. And some of us have gifts to be leaders in the church and some of us have the gifts of shaping leaders in the church.

That kind of work is often the road less traveled, work without major recognition or even great return. Yet it is on this path that we most often meet God- in the hungry, the hurting and the hopeless. In these tasks, God the Spirit works in us and through us. And though we strive to the best of our very human ability, we know that we fall short. Yet in our weakness, we are given the hope of Christ’s strength and forgiveness and the promise that we cannot be separated from the love of God.

Believing that Christ walks with us in our daily lives and work when the path is wide, smooth and light and when it is narrow, rocky and dark helps us to do walk the paths that appear before us and to make the choices we all must make.

In good times and in bad, we get up day after day and we are amazed at how quickly time passes. As for me, as our paths diverge, knowing that Christ’s love shines in and through this place and that you will continue to seek and grow in that love, having shared this year with and been shaped by the saints of this church… I do believe in the power of Spirit, the forgiveness of sins through Christ and the work of God in the world.

I believe because I have experienced these things with and through you. And in the life of faith, that makes all the difference.