Road Less Traveled

Genesis 12: 1-4a; II Tim 1: 8b-10; Matthew 17: 1-9

Life is difficult. It’s the first line in the book, The Road Less Traveled. The author, Dr. Peck goes onto say just after that sentence that it takes a great deal of acceptance of that statement to finally let it go and move on, accepting reality for what it is and now what we think it should be. It’s why so many choose not to take the road less traveled because it means change and letting go and remaining open to something new in our lives. We’d often rather just wallow in our challenges and difficulties, somehow victims of a God that doesn’t seem to give me what I want when I ask.

The spiritual journey is no different. It’s difficult and like life, probably why so many choose not to take the road less traveled. It’s much easier to make my relationship with God about what I do on Sunday rather than a daily affair of prayer and silence. The problem, though, is it starts to close us off from even needing God. We begin to settle for something less than we really are and plant our stakes deep in the ground, often even cutting us off from God. As much as we sell ourselves short in life, we can do the same in our spiritual lives, knowing they are so intertwined, often settling for death over life.

I think it’s why the story of Abraham and Sarah is such a model for us in our lives because they did often choose the road less traveled. Listen, pretty much everything up to this point in the bible ends in disaster. It ends with war and violence. It ends in destruction. But when Abraham and Sarah enter the story, there seems to be the dawn of a new day in salvation history. You know, the two of them have every reason to be like so many that had come before them and there lives just ending poorly. They’re 75 years old and it seems as if God never gives them what they want. They could live their lives as victims of circumstances and give up. They can just dig the stakes of their tent in deeply and settle for less. However, that’s not what they do. Here they are, well into their lives, and now being called to embark on yet another journey from a God that hasn’t come through for them the way they wanted. They don’t him and haw about it but rather set out for an unknown land. Despite their age, there’s still a sense of adventure and there’s still something that calls them forth in their lives.
Here’s the thing, unlike for most of us, there’s no going back. If we leave home we can often return to that location. For Abraham and Sarah, it was giving everything up. They were being called to pull of the stakes and take, once again, the road less traveled. They once again will head out into the unknown simply because of a message from the Lord to Abraham. It’s as if they recognize that it’s not about this world and see themselves as passing through. There’s no reason to dig in to deeply because when the Lord calls them to do what would seem impossible and even crazy to us, they go forward. They don’t allow the pain of the past or failed expectations to stop them from heading out to the unknown and once again living with this sense of adventure and child-like trust in God.

Now we couple that with today’s gospel and the disciples who witness the transfiguration. As quickly as Abraham and Sarah are willing to pull up the stakes and head out on the road less traveled, accepting the difficulties of life and yet trusting God and the unknown, Peter quickly wants to settle down. He quickly wants to build and altar, drive in the stakes of the tent, and call it quits. It’s not that they didn’t know life was difficult. They were fishermen which was not and is not an easy life. They understood that. But with Jesus, maybe they thought differently and react to what they see and decide to end the journey there.

Jesus, like Abraham and Sarah, though, still knows that the road will become much more narrow and very much less traveled as they make their way towards Jerusalem. The ultimate test will be the cross and whether they have what it takes to push through and be pushed through such pain and agony. It’s the moment when the spiritual and life intersect and we’re left with the decision whether we want to settle down, drive in the stakes, and erect the picket fence, or allow ourselves to experience yet another adventure by God calling us forth. It really is the reality of our lives anyway, always in transition, always being called forth, always being led to the great unknown, deeper mystery, that leads to the fulfillment of life that we truly desire. It’s easy to not change. But it also makes me miserable, fearful, and well, quite honestly, so self-consumed that I can’t see anything beyond my hurt and pain. We’d rather hunker down in Good Friday than experience the newness of Easter.

As we continue this journey through Lent, our prayer is that we have the perseverance that Abraham and Sarah exhibited in their lives and their own acceptance of the difficulties of life and yet not allowing themselves to become attached to it all. They remained open to change and to whatever it was that God was calling forth in that very moment. When we don’t limit ourselves to experiencing God simply on Sunday, but rather as a way of life, making the time for prayer and silence, we become more attuned to the voice of God as they did. Maybe that’s what scares us the most. When we do hear that voice, it may ask us to do something crazy or impossible, thwarting our own plans for life. But like them, when we choose the road less traveled and persevere, the promise of Easter remains a promise. It doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult. That’s a reality. But it will be an adventure, a change, free of burying our own stakes in the ground, and an openness to wherever God may lead.

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A Greater Vineyard Envisioned

Isaiah 5: 1-7; Matthew 21: 33-43

So how about those Orioles? They’re looking pretty good these days. I remember when I had moved here back in 1999 and they were on that, well, you know, little slide of losing seasons and it seemed as if it would never turn around. Heck, I remember just a few years ago they were practically giving seats away at $1 and they still couldn’t sell them! After so many years, it seemed as if we had to just settle that this is the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. We could complain, because we like to do that, but settle we had to do because that’s just the way it is. Then they hire a manager that wasn’t about to settle. There was something greater to strive for than losing season after season, and now, that seems all but forgotten when new life and winning seasons have become the way. There has been no more settling for less with this team even if we may continue to in our lives and world.

It seems all too often that we are willing to settle for less, often because that’s just the way it is. I wonder what it will take to turn things around. For most of us, it takes a jolt out of the way we’ve always done it and no longer settle for less. Quite frankly, we settle for malaise, for mediocrity, and death; yet, when jolted, we don’t know what to do. It takes death, sickness, cancer, loss of jobs, a test of our mortality before we often turn that corner in life.

We have to believe that Isaiah knows what’s to come. Both him and Jesus use the same story of the landowner and the vineyard. Everything is going along just fine for people Israel. Isaiah tells this beautiful story as it unfolds, but the whole time he’s building a case against their own settledness. Despite all the care, the nurturing, the protection that has been given to this vineyard, it’s still produces something otherwise. We, as a people, become stuck in just coasting by and thinking everything is fine. He goes onto say, “he looked for judgment and sees bloodshed; justice but hark, the outcry.” As many go about their business settling for what is rather than seeking a greater vineyard, the poor, the oppressed, those that are perceived on the bottom only suffer greater. There is bloodshed and outcry for the poor, and yet, often falls on deaf ears. We’re content with the status quo rather than stepping into the unknown. We’re content and satisfied with the settling for something less, as long as it doesn’t impact my life all must be well.

Jesus takes it a step further as he again speaks to the elders of the people and chief priests as he did last week. He speaks of all those coming on behalf of the landowner only to be killed. They don’t want change. Again, as long as it doesn’t impact their lives and change things on their status quo, the get bigger and bigger and the oppressed get pushed further down. The landowner takes drastic means in sending his son, of course, Jesus. We could ask, “Why would he do that? After all he has seen done to the others, why would he risk the life of his son and His Son?” But haven’t we as well? How many of our sons and daughters, how many of our brothers and sisters have been put in the same situation and have lost their lives just so things don’t have to change? When is enough, enough?!? When are we going to confront the real problems of our community and world and I’m sure even our parish that will push us to change and to become the vineyard that God demands of us? We settle for bloodshed. We settle for outcry. We settle for the poor being poor and the oppressed being oppressed. Yet, in the end, so are we if we allow it.

God wants more out of us. God demands more out of us. We don’t have to sit through years of losing seasons of life. We don’t have to wait until it somehow impacts me personally before I take action in recognizing the wild grapes and the weeds that have accumulated. We don’t have to settle for less because God didn’t settle for less in sending his Son into the vineyard to show us a different way. God wants to do it for and to us today, jar us out of our own malaise and often apathetic ways towards politics, towards this city, and often in our own lives. It’s not, “just the way it is” because of anyone else but ourselves. We become stuck, which is our own sin, that God wants to free us from today. To prune us and trim the weeds, and awaken us from our deep sleep that we become comfortable with in order to become that great vineyard that Isaiah and Jesus speak of in caring for our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters because that’s all of us and God wants the best vineyard for each of us, in our hearts, in our community, and in our world. Yes, it demands change, but that’s life. Yes, it demands a leap from the known to the unknown and a leap into trust, but we are guaranteed, by faith, that new life will flourish as we take these babysteps into the great vineyard of our Lord.