Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 10 July 2016
Genesis 12:1-9 Psalm 25 Philippians 3:10-15 John 14:1-7)
“Not to become Sluggish!”
Certainly not Robert Frost’s best poem, but probably his best-known is “The Road Not Taken.” Many critics would also say it is his most misunderstood poem; because, although at the end of the poem, Frost does say that he takes the less traveled road, earlier in the poem he says that “leaves lay equally on both paths and they were both worn the same.” Thus, critics would say that this poem is more about the dangers of self-deception in any path we choose to travel in our lives. So maybe the point of the poem is not simply to take the road that appears less traveled, but rather, not to be deceived by outward appearances in whatever path we choose.
I suspect that is enough poetry for today, but it does lead me into the sermon this morning. In this second of our preaching series as we wish to provide a Biblical grounding for our Long-Range Planning Process, our theme today is “We are a Pilgrim People.”
Let’s begin in the Old Testament. When it comes to faith, God is always telling God’s people to go somewhere other than where they are. It begins with Abram, when God appears to this 75-year-old guy and tells him to “…leave your country and go to a land I will show you” [Gen. 12:1]. Then we get to the Exodus story, as the Israelites wander in the wilderness on a 40-year expedition; again, going where God tells them to go. To me, what seems most important is that God always goes with them as a companion and a guide [Ex. 15:1-18].
So now I’ll jump to the New Testament.
The Letter to the Hebrews may be the most clearly-defined writing in the N.T. around this theme, as it literally uses the Exodus to describe the early Christian community, but now Jesus is the leader from start to finish [6:22ff]. Because we are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses,” we can live as long-distance runners [Heb. 12:1-2].
Paul uses a similar image in Philippians because he warns us not to get stuck in what lies behind [Phil. 3:13], but rather to run the race with great determination, always with an eye on the finish line where Jesus is waiting
I could go on with many more examples, but what becomes important is that the one essential characteristic of the Christian life is movement impelled by the call of God.
The entire ministry of Jesus was built around his journey toward Jerusalem, and when he arrives there, Jesus tells his disciples that He is the true living Way to the Father. For Jesus, discipleship was not a place to stand, but a road to walk, what St. Paul would later call “a still more excellent way” [1 Cor. 12:31].
So from a Biblical perspective, once you get to know God, you better be careful, because there’s a pretty good chance God will come knocking, telling you it is time to begin moving.
So what does all this have to do with Long-Range Planning?
The central purpose of Long-Range Planning is to set the people of God in motion as the Gospel takes hold more deeply in our lives. St. Augustine used to say, “we need to get moving in order not to become sluggish.” Maybe that could be our Long Range Planning slogan: “Don’t become sluggish!”
Long-Range Planning is not a summons to frenetic activity; rather, it is a challenge to keep moving from the “no longer” to the “not yet” of God’s redemptive journey as we live this journey in the everyday life of this congregation.
Following in the steps of Jesus means that discipleship is not a noun, but a verb, setting our lives in motion, turning our lives in new directions, and inviting us to new possibilities.
As I bring this sermon to an end, I realize that maybe I should have begun by saying something about community in today’s world, and the relevance of a faith community. So I will end with these thoughts.
As I’m sure you all know, there is lots being written today related to church growth, the purpose of joining church communities, at all ages. Much of the research shows that people today are joining groups more in a quest for personal fulfillment and connectedness.
So those who want to influence the common good, those who want to make a difference in the world, realize they must begin by building relationships, by building inclusive communities with character and integrity.
To the degree that this is true, then Long-Range Planning is not just about planning what we do in the future; the plan itself must begin by building community, gathering a somewhat amorphous collection of individuals into a cohesive group with a shared understanding of mission, naming what we can do together that no one of us can do on our own.
When the Israelites arrived at the base of Mount Sinai, this was exactly the purpose as to why they stopped. God needed to give Moses the Ten Commandments in order to create a common identity in order to continue on their common mission as a pilgrim people toward the Land of Promise.
That’s the Biblical grounding that speaks to me this morning. To create a common mission, we begin by creating a common identity, so we can move forward, as I quoted the proverb last week: we can walk this faith journey together as the pilgrim people we are called to be. I don’t know if that will be the road less traveled, but I have the Biblical guarantee that God will walk with us to guide us and sustain us along the way. Amen.