Paula Northwood May 6, 2018
Scripture: Proverbs 22, selections
When I was young, I thought the entire United States of America was laid out in square-mile (paved) grids, because in northwestern Ohio that’s how it was. I never got lost because four rights turns always brought you back to where you started—it all made perfect sense. Then I moved to southern Michigan, where it’s hilly with lots of lakes. I lived and worked at a camp while I studied at a seminary in northern Indiana. Once I tried a different route home using the assumption of the Ohio grid. I ran into a dead end because of a lake. I tried another road. Dead end. I tried another road. Dead end. This was before GPS and Google Maps. I was getting frustrated when I saw a person walking down the road. I slowed down and asked how to get to the camp where I lived. He said, “Sorry, ma’am, but you can’t get there from here.” What do you mean you can’t get there from here? I was incredulous. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “You have to go a different way.” Was I lost? Not really. I knew I was in Michigan. Did I know where I was? No. I didn’t.
I don’t know if you realize, but that’s what the year of Confirmation is like. For Confirmation students, you have grown up in a family that has brought you to church. You attended church school and worship. You have heard the stories from the Bible. Maybe you have participated in Third Sunday meal or a Habitat build or another kind of service project. You might think you know what this religion thing is all about. You understand the grid. You’ve made assumptions. You likely believed what your parents believed. Then your brain started developing and you could think your own thoughts and suddenly some of those things didn’t make sense. I mean Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy all turned out to be fairy tales . . . so maybe this religion stuff is like that, too.
During Confirmation class, we invite you to explore thinking in a new way. You may now realize you can’t get there from here. You can’t keep on thinking the same way. You have to find your own way. You have to find a different way. Your youthful ways of thinking about God, Jesus and spiritual things aren’t sufficient. You need a new map.
I don’t know if you have ever noticed how much the people of God are travelers. After the creation stories in Genesis, God asks Abraham and Sarah to go on a journey to a new land. They get into all kinds of predicaments where they are told, “You can’t get there from here,” and they have to try a different approach. In Exodus, we have the people of Israel enslaved and in exile. When they are freed from Egyptian rule and set out toward the Promised Land, the people spend forty years trying to find the way, trying to figure it out, and they did . . . eventually.
In the Christian scriptures, Jesus encountered a young man who told him “I love God and follow the commandments but something seems to be missing.” Jesus told him, “You need to sell everything you own and give it to the poor.” The young man went away sad because he was very rich. But we don’t know the end of that story. Maybe after some thought he realized that Jesus was right. Money wasn’t going to get him where he wanted to go. Many of our Bible stories are about people who are lost, stuck in some personal problem, or oppressed by the government and unable to find the way because of fear, or hate, or skepticism.
God doesn’t magically teleport us through a journey of faith. It doesn’t work that way. The journey isn’t a onetime decision. It’s a lifelong journey where you make a million decisions and God promises to go with us even when we get lost. Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” It’s the same with faith. You can’t figure out a plan for going forward by using childlike thinking. This year, you have started thinking and asking the hard questions of adulthood. You have started a new journey.
So what would it take to get there from here? What lessons need to be learned, what habits need to be let go, what perspectives need to shift, what tools do we need? Sometimes it’s easier to stay lost or stuck than it is to figure out what you need to do to get further along the road . . . to go deeper into or on the journey. It becomes easier to stay an agnostic or atheist or apathetic because it takes great risk to explore the ineffable mystery of the sacred. Some people stay stuck their whole lives because they do not want to risk a journey of faith.
Even when we are stuck, lost or afraid, we are promised that God will find us. There is no place so desolate that God cannot restore. No injustice so egregious that God cannot grant forgiveness. God’s unfolding in the person of Jesus demonstrated to us that there is a possibility for change, real change, big systemic and structural change, not like changing a flat tire, but the creation of a divine highway that gets us all the way home.
My prayer is that you will be open to asking for directions. In some ways, that is what the church is all about. Together we are exploring new ways to “get there.” Every Sunday, we read the sacred map together. This community gathered made a covenant with you when you were baptized that they would help nurture your spirit. Take them up on it. There is a great deal of wisdom in this room.
It has been a privilege for me to spend this church year with the Confirmands in a more intentional way. Some of you I have known since you were born. I even baptized you or was present for your baptism. I have enjoyed getting to know you better, and my life is richer because of it. I always learn something by listening to your questions. A few of you have reminded me that church and religion are just not that interesting right now, or that it is difficult to give them attention because you have so much going on. I understand, but when the time is right, turn around and find a new way. Allow your life to be transformed. Be open to taking a sacred road into wisdom and wholeness.
I have being talking mostly to the Confirmands, but right now we as a church stand at a fork in the road, and it’s okay to stay here for a while as we get our bearings. Soon we will start an adventure, and I hope everyone—especially the Confirmands—will be willing to participate! We need everyone because Plymouth Church is made up of all its members. We need everyone! May it be so. Amen.