This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh) on Saturday, September 21st for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9: 2, 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 7, and Luke 16: 1 – 13; I focused primarily on the passage from Jeremiah but used thoughts from the other two readings as well.
If I were to list my favorite things, as a poem I would use Robert Frost’s poem “Two Roads”. It speaks of two roads diverging and the writer having to make a choice as to which road they will walk down. One road is well traveled while it appears that no one has ever traveled down the other one. How often is this choice the one we have to make, of choosing the road that everyone else is traveling or taking a new path, one that has never been tried.
Sometimes you have to take the road every one travels; if you want to get to Beacon from Newburgh, you almost always have to take the Newburgh-Beacon bridge. But that’s not to say that you can’t go down to Bear Mountain and cross over there; or go up to Marlboro and cross over to Poughkeepsie. But it is so much easier to use the Newburgh-Beacon bridge because it is shorter and more familiar.
How much of our life is like that, where we will take the easier path, the shorter path, the one that everyone else takes? Sometimes, it is the best way to go but often times, just because everyone else does it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do.
In preparing these notes, I turned to my prayer guide for some thoughts to help my thinking and writing. I don’t know who James Allen was but in his book, “As A Man Thinketh”, he wrote the following.
The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires, and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.
Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.
The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.
Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts, by which one allows oneself to be dominated (pursuing the will-o’-the-wisps of impure imagining or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavor), a person at last arrives at their fruition and fulfillment in the outer condition of life.
The laws of growth and adjustment everywhere obtain.
This says to me that we have two choices, one that will lead to the good life and one that will lead elsewhere. Now, this good life is not necessarily that “good” life of the secular road. That’s what leads Jeremiah to cry out over the imminent destruction of his people. They have been chasing the “good” life and now they will reap the penalty.
I go back to something that I have said before but it is always worth repeating, when you come to this place, you leave your baggage behind.
This is a place of renewal, a place to find that one thing that will turn your life around. Last week I spoke of the transition of power that was taking place, of Paul’s retirement (actually, his impending execution) and Timothy taking over the mantle of leadership.
In that portion of the letter that is part of this weekend’s lectionary, Paul continues instructing Timothy on what he is to be doing. Timothy is to continue telling everyone about the Good News, that Jesus Christ came for everyone, not just a few people but for everyone.
He, Timothy, is also to pray for everyone including the leaders of the community so that they make the decisions which will allow each one of us to live the life we are supposed to live.
And that leads me to the other note that I found in my preparation. It is a prayer by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and scholar. It speaks to what we must do, both in prayer and in life. Hear this prayer,
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am impressed by my own spiritual insights. I probably know more about prayer, meditation, and contemplation than most Christians do. I have read many books about the Christian life, and have even written a few myself. Still, as impressed as I am, I am more impressed by the enormous abyss between my insights and my life.
It seems as if I am standing on one side of a huge canyon and see how I should grow toward you, live in your presence and serve you, but cannot reach the other side of the canyon where you are. I can speak and write, preach and argue about the beauty and goodness of the life I see on the other side, but how, O Lord, can I get there? Sometimes I even have the painful feeling that the closer the vision, the more aware I am of the depth of the canyon.
Am I doomed to die on the wrong side of the abyss? Am I destined to excite others to reach the promised land while remaining unable to enter there myself? Sometimes I feel imprisoned by by own insights and “spiritual competence.” You alone, Lord, can reach out to me and save me. You alone.
I can only keep trying to be faithful, even though I feel faithless most of the time. What else can I do but keep praying to you, even when I feel dark; to keep writing about you, even when I feel numb; to keep speaking in your name, even when I feel alone. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.
Now, I will be honest. Those words perhaps mean more to me and my own struggle in the faith than they may have meant for you. But if one pauses and thinks about one’s own life, those words, perhaps in a slightly different tone, are words that you might have spoken.
What if you were one of the those whom Jeremiah was crying out about? How would you feel? Would you not wonder where your hope, your salvation might be?
There are a number of instances where Jesus alludes to the abyss, the distance between each one of us and Him. And it is clear that we cannot shrink that distance, no matter how hard we try. But Jesus has the ability to bridge that gap and bring to us that which we seek, if we just reach out to Him.
In those times when we feel alone, or helpless, or powerless, we know that Jesus will be there. We also know that He will be there in the times of plenty and bounty, times when we are apt to ignore Him and think that we did it ourselves.
Each person comes to this point on their own and they must make the decision about what comes next on their own. But each of us, having in someway been there, can help find that path, help each person find Christ in a world that often doesn’t want us to find Him.
We come to a crossroads in life and we must decide which path to take. That is the call we make this morning, “which road will you walk?”