• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My last sermon - The Road Less Traveled By

Preached at Emmanuel Church, Newport, RI, February 17, 2008

In his famous poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost says,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Some four thousand years ago, Abraham confronted two diverging roads. He could continue to live with all of the familiarity that life offered in Haran, which was in present day Turkey on the border with Syria, or he could set out on a journey into the unknown. God called Abraham to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house and to go “to a land that I will show you.” That’s not much information. All he had was a call to take a journey to the unknown and a promise that God would make of him a great nation. Not really much to go on, is it? Yet, in Frost’s words, Abraham took the road “less traveled by” and his choice became the pivot upon which history turned.

This morning, I want to explore Abraham’s call because I believe that it is paradigmatic of the call that God offers to all of us who seek to travel the spiritual path. I would suggest that the spiritual path is more often than not the “one less traveled by.” Certainly, this was the case for Abraham and Sarah. They did not know where they were going, or even why they were going – only that God had called them. This goes against so much of what both human nature and the pressures of our culture call us to do. We are taught to journey from the unknown to the known, from what we do not have to what we want or think we need, from the unpredictable to the safe and secure, and from promises to guarantees. We demand security and act cautiously.
Author Dan Clendenin writes that responding to God’s call requires that we “move beyond three very powerful and deep-seated fears – fear of the unknown that we can’t control (ignorance), fear of others who are different from us (inclusion), and fear of powerlessness in the face of impossibilities (impotence).”[1]

Lets look at each of these. First, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we embrace ignorance – that we move from the certain to the uncertain. Abraham’s move was not simply a change of geography. It was a giving up of the familiar, of all that gave life meaning, of the rhythms of life that brought comfort and security. Ignorance sounds negative. However, ignorance simply is a lack of knowledge or information. When we contemplate stepping out in faith, when we say yes to God, when we choose the road less traveled by, we can’t wait until we have all of the answers. We can’t wait for certainty. That is why the spiritual journey is a journey of faith, of movement into the unknown, of trust that God will lead us where God wants us to go.

Second, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we over come our fear of those who are different, that we embrace inclusion. Abraham’s ancestors had moved from Ur, in what is now southeastern Iraq, to Haran, in Turkey. They moved into a different culture. Now Abraham was doing the same. The move from Haran to Canaan placed Abraham in a foreign land with people of a different culture and language. To say yes to the call required that Abraham leave behind not only his homeland but also his narrow-minded parochialism that limited his vision of the larger world around him. It can be challenging for any of us to see beyond the world that we inhabit day by day.

The promise that Abraham received was that God would bless the entire world – not just his family, not just the people he knew, not just people who believed in the same God or who dressed the same way. Inclusion is a difficult challenge. We tend to surround ourselves with people who are like us, people with whom we are comfortable, and people who do not threaten our way of life. Yet, in order to embrace God’s call, Abraham, and we as well, must expand our horizon to embrace the other.

Third, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we overcome our fear of being powerless in the face of the impossible. Impotence is not a kind word. However, we don’t have to spend a lot of time in this world to recognize that so much is out of our control. When we try to manipulate our world or when we try to live with preconceived notions of how life must unfold, we usually are disappointed because it just doesn’t work that way.

Life is uncertain enough. Then, in the midst of that uncertainty, God calls us to do something or to be somebody that seems completely impossible. How could Abraham and Sarah be the parents of a new and great nation? What did they have to offer? Were they crazy to step out in faith as they did? They could have been paralyzed by fear instead. They could have seen the impossible in God’s call rather than the possibility that unfolded as they trusted that God was with them.

What about us? God calls each of us to do great things – to proclaim God’s love, to live in ways that lift others up, to strive for justice and peace throughout the world. Are we afraid of the impossible? Can we look beyond what we cannot do on our own and catch a glimpse of what God can do through us? That is the road les traveled by, the road with God, the road that leads beyond our ignorance and our powerlessness in the face of the impossible.

I invite you to journey with me to the place that can only be reached by the road less traveled by. On that journey, we will discover that, indeed, God can work the impossible in our lives! Amen.

[1] http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20080211JJ.shtml

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