This was the message that I gave at Walker Valley UMC for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10, 1 Corinthians 15: 12 – 20, and Luke 6: 17 – 26. It was also Boy Scout Sunday.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
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.
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost has always been one of my favorite poems. I suppose that is because of all that times that I have chosen roads not traveled by others. But though the roads that I have walked have been different from my counterparts, I know that I have traveled them with Christ as my companion.
The same is true for all of us. As we journey through life, we come to points were decisions must be made. One reason we are here today is that, at some time in our life, we decided that the journey we would make, the road we would take would have a singular destination. And just like the tree draws its strength from the stream, so too does the strength we need to complete our journey come from the presence of Christ in our lives.
As Paul said, our faith is built on the singular idea that Christ died and was resurrected for us. Jeremiah stayed true to the task put before him because his roots drank from the deep, life-giving water that assured him of God’s faithfulness to his people.
Paul reminded the early Christian community that this living stream is the firm belief in and commitment to Christ’s resurrection. Without the resurrection, our faith is truly in vain and we are “the most pitiable people of all.” With belief in Christ’s resurrection, the Sermon on the Mount is not just counter-cultural but utterly senseless as well. To claim the resurrection is to know that the least of people will truly will be first, and that our tears truly will be turned into joy. It is the certainty that those mired in death will be raised into new life, that God’s kingdom will reign on earth, liberating the captives and rescuing the poor.
We have to remember that the word “disciple” does not mean “a student of a teacher” but rather “a follower of someone”. Discipleship in the New Testament meant following Jesus and journeying with Him. As a journey with Jesus, discipleship means being on the road with Him. It means to be an itinerant, a sojourner; to have nowhere to lay one’s head, no permanent-resting place. To journey with Jesus means listening to his teaching — sometime understanding it, sometimes not getting it. It can involve denying Him, even betraying Him.
Journeying with Jesus also means to be in a community. While the road we take with Jesus may be an individual one, being a disciple means we make our journey in a company of others. Though we may travel a road less traveled, we are part of a community that remembers and celebrates Jesus. That is why we are here this morning; we have chosen to be part of a community that celebrates the presence of Jesus in our lives.
It is a journey in his company, in his presence. There is a joy in his presence. It is impossible to be said in Jesus’ presence. Perhaps one might feel sadness, but not sadness about existence itself. Jesus spoke of the joy that we would receive when the journey was completed and he warned what would happen to those who felt that the rewards they had gathered on this earth were the rewards that they would get in heaven.
As we invite others to join in this community, to walk with us on the road we have decided to take and share in this joy, we have to realize that each of our journeys is unique. Though we share our journey and celebrate our being a community together, we have to realize that we cannot make someone walk the path that we are walking. Each person chooses to walk his or her own road and we cannot command them to walk road that we walk.
The challenge is not to get others to walk on our road but rather to share in the journey, to arrive at that same destination. Like Paul and Jeremiah before us, we cannot wait for the kingdom to come to us. The waters of our baptism, our understanding as Methodists compel us to start construction here and now.
Following Jesus requires a strength, passion, and courage that is not of this world. Without it, we would all be “done for” after the first week. This source of life and strength is the stream which Jeremiah and the psalmist speak, and only when we plunge our roots deeply into it do we have any hope of being God’s instrument of justice and peace in this troubled world.
Being a disciple is also about being compassionate. “Being compassionate as God is compassionate” is the defining mark of a follower of Jesus. Compassion is the fruit of life in the Spirit and the ethos of the community of Jesus. Ours is not to command others to walk on the road that we have chosen to walk but rather to invite others to share our journey with them and to be a part of a community of sharing and compassion.
Discipleship means eating at his table and experiencing his banquet. That banquet is an inclusive banquet, including not just me and not just us, but those whom we might want to exclude. It means being nourished by him and being fed by him. Such seems to be the point of Jesus feeding the five thousand in the wilderness, just as Israel was fed in the wilderness during the Exodus from Egypt. It becomes a powerful symbol of journeying with Jesus and being fed by him on that journey. “Take, eat, lest the journey be too great for you.”
As we come to the table this morning, knowing that it is open to all, we are sharing in that journey and the community who make that journey. At some time our roads may separate and the paths we take vary, but we know that it is the destination that we are headed to that counts, not the path we take.