The Art of Wandering
September 15, 2019
Rev. Fritz Nelson
I got lost the other day. Not seriously lost, not life threateningly lost, but lost nonetheless. I was up in Youngstown’s South Side visiting my new friend Bishop Joseph MacNeal, a long-time volunteer with Needle’s Eye Christian Life Center. We met at the Center, a mere one block off Market Street, a trip so easy, so basic I figured I didn’t need Google to tell me how to get home. With the GPS off, I turned the wrong way out of the parking lot and soon found myself wandering among the potholed streets, abandoned lots and tired houses of Youngstown’s South Side. Eventually, tired of wandering, I pulled over, checked the GPS, turned the correct direction on Glenwood Ave and headed south to the familiar turf of Boardman.
Sometimes I think we spend much of our lives lost – just wandering, turning this way and that, trying to figure out how to get where we’re supposed to go – if we can even figure out our destination. I’d like to think God has a plan for my life, but it would be really helpful if I knew what it was, what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to go, how I’m to respond to life changes I know will be coming.
But I can’t just pull over, unlock my phone, boot up an ap, and be told turn by turn how I’m supposed to go. And, to be honest, if such an ap existed, I probably wouldn’t listen. At least not always. Its not like I always turn when Google tells me. I mean who knows the roads of Northeast Ohio better, me – who’s lived here for five whole years, or some computer? And who knows how to live my life better? Me or my doctor, or my mother, or my wife or any of the people who try and fail to get me to change? We’re a stubborn lot, us humans. Even if we see the train wreck coming we keep going, not turning, now slowing down, our eyes closed, our ears stopped, running headlong into our own destruction.
God’s people Israel do such a good job running toward their destruction God throws up his hands, unleashes his tongue and, like a frustrated parent after one too many, lets them know exactly what he thinks:
My people, God says through the prophet Jeremiah, are foolish.
Despite all I’ve done, they do not know me.
They are stupid children, they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil.
They don’t even know how to do good.
I got lost in Youngstown because in my oblivious self confidence I turned left instead of right out of the parking lot. The sheep gets lost because it refuses to follow the shepherd’s lead and separates itself from the herd. The woman loses her coin because she’s careless or forgetful or the house is a mess or her grandkids came over and accidently moved it, or whatever. The Israelites run headlong into their train wreck because they blatantly disregard God’s most basic instructions for completing the journey and finding our destination.
Jesus, and the rabbis before him, summed up those basic instruction with two commandments – to completely love God and to completely love your neighbor.
In completely loving God we make ourselves subservient to God. We recognize this world, this life, isn’t about us, is bigger than us, even beyond our understanding. We can observe the Sabbath because we know God runs the world, not us, so we can rest and everything won’t fall apart. We can give of our time and our wealth generously because we know our creator God surrounds us with abundance even when we see scarcity. We can live open, vulnerable lives, without fear and filled with hope, because we know our God will protect us, support us and love us.
In loving our neighbors as ourselves we choose to hold others’ needs equal to – if not more important than – ours. We remember God’s commands to care for and protect the most vulnerable in our society. With Jesus as our model we prioritize compassion over judgment, reconciliation over division, healing over violence. With our ancestors as our model we allow our lives to be redefined by holy practices – prayer and hospitality, listening and feeling, giving and sharing, forgiving and serving. We may not always know where we’re going but at least we’ll be journeying as Christ journeyed.
But I know, try as we might, we will get lost. We are foolish, stupid children. We will turn right instead of left. We will hate instead of love. We will take instead of give and lord our power over people instead of serving them. We will become distracted by inward cravings and outward pressures. We will seek easier ways. We will become so lost, so confused, so hurt, so broken, so wrapped up in our own lives of falsehood and evil, of hate and violence, of despair and destitution we will run headlong into the train wreck everyone but us can see a mile away.
And when the dust settles upon the wreckage God will be there waiting. Ready to pick us up as the shepherd cradles the lost lamb, ready to value us as the woman values the lost coin, ready to restore us to divine presence, to holy community. Ready to set us anew on the holy journey.
I want to close today with a song by the late Rich Mullins. Its called Maker of Noses.