Christian Education Sunday: “A Walk of Faith”
August 30, 2015
Rev. Louis Timberlake
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long
I have to be honest with you this morning; I have a bit of a problem. I have a slight obsession with Google Maps. It is amazing to me that I can click around on a map of the world and zoom in on some obscure island six thousand miles away and see it as if I were standing right there. I have this fascination with remote places. My favorite stories have always been those of men and women who have journeyed in the wilderness, to places that few, if any, people have ever been. They are stories of adventures, of exploring unknown places. One of my favorite books as a kid was Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, which tells the story of a boy named Jim, his journey to seek lost treasure and his run-ins with a number of pirates, most notably Long John Silver.
There’s something about those stories that resonates with many of us, particularly as kids. We dream of going to far away places, of having adventures that are beyond the normal human experience, of discovering things that no one else has ever seen. There’s also this desire that we have to test ourselves, to explore our full potential, our innate capabilities. I think this explains the popularity of shows like Survivorman or Man Vs Wild. We have this wanderlust at the core of our being, but it so often dampened by the noise and busyness of our world.
Deep down, we know that life isn’t just about going through the motions, but that it is supposed to be an adventure, a journey that is exciting and challenging and invigorating. Yet, so often our day-to-day existence doesn’t feel very adventurous, right? The sheer number of responsibilities, to do list items, and expectations leave us scrambling just to stay afloat. And so, we end up fighting to tread water, completely unaware of the magnitude and beauty of the ocean in which we are swimming.
The thing about adventure is that it involves an element of risk. But, we are conditioned, particularly in adulthood, to practice risk-avoidance. To preserve and protect what is, what we have, rather than risk for what could be. The Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland said that “Adventure without risk is Disneyland.” And that’s true, right? It can be fun and exciting, but ultimately it isn’t real, it is lacking true substance. It is an illusion, a production. True adventure involves risk.
I love our Christian Education theme this year, A Walk of Faith, because it speaks to the fact that the life of faith is a journey, an adventure. Too often, we end up looking to religion for something that is safe, secure, predictable. The truth is, scripture does not claim that God is safe, secure, and predictable. I love that quote from CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They’re talking about Aslan, the Christ figure in the books, and someone asks if he is safe, to which the response is “Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”
This is the God we serve, the God who guides us, the God who seeks us out. God isn’t safe, secure, or predictable, but God is good. And so, as people of the Christian faith, as people who would to follow and be in relationship with the God revealed in Christ, this journey is not without risk; it is not Christian Disneyland. It is something far more substantial; it is an adventure, something that speaks to that deep desire of our beings to discover, to be challenged, and to grow.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long
This is a difficult passage, because it acknowledges that we are utterly dependent upon God. This is a struggle, particularly in a time when, although we are more connected than we’ve ever been, there is a high value on individualism, on the ability to determine the course of your own life, to overcome challenges by your power alone. If you succeed, your success is your own. If you fail, your failure is your own. But that’s an unhealthy and an unreasonable view of the human experience. Life is not a solo journey, but rather one we walk with others. And, as this Psalm affirms, it is a journey that, if we are to walk the road that leads to life and fullness, requires dependence on God.
There are times when we wish we had a map, right? Times when we wish we could get a bird’s eye view of this journey—so that we could see the unexpected turns and prepare ourselves, so that, when we encounter times of darkness and difficulty, we could find strength in the knowledge that times of joy and goodness are ahead. Sometimes, we wish we had a map, just so we could catch a glimpse of the destination, of where all of this is heading.
When I read adventure books, I always love it when the author provides a detailed map in the book, so that you can visualize the journey and see the destination, even before you finish the story. The thing is, while a map is nice, it is not what provides the substance. The substance, the true adventure is contained within the details of the journey and the whole which they create.
Sometimes, people treat the Bible like a map, like something that, if you just follow the basic instructions, then you’ll get where you want to go. The problem is, that’s a pretty limited view of the Bible. There’s nothing basic about the Bible. The more you read it, the more meaningful and the more confusing it becomes. The Bible isn’t a map; it’s more like a journal. The Bible is a collection of stories of the journeys of many different individuals and groups of people. It is a path through the woods that has been worn down by many feet over the years. And, if you look carefully, you can see the blazes on the trees that have been left by the one who guides all who would journey down that path.
I have a cousin that thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Maine. If you’ve hiked a portion of the AT, you know that it’s marked by white, rectangular blazes. So, while you might use a map to plan your trip, actually hiking it simply involves following the path and looking for the next white rectangular blaze. One thing that I’d love to do is hike the NC Mountain to Sea Trail, which stretches from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. Now, I probably will have to do it in sections, as it takes 3-4 months to thru hike it. But, if you’ve been hiking in NC, there’s a good chance you’ve spent at least a little time on the Mountain to Sea trail. It is marked by white circles.
It is so cool to me that you can determine the path you’re on simply by the blaze on the trees. That’s what this theme is such a good one for Christian Education, because the work of these ministries is to help people look for and recognize blazes. It is in Sunday School classes, small groups, and bible studies that we learn to read the trail. Those of you who serve in these areas do the work of helping people to look for blazes and follow the path.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a map for life. Our lives are not predetermined. We cannot foresee every twist and turn, we cannot anticipate every hazard or every mountaintop view. But, we do have blazes, we do have markers that help us to follow the path that leads to life. Now, the best practice, if you’re ever going to hike a trail, is to seek the wisdom of those who have gone before. It is generally a bad idea to undertake a journey without talking with someone or reading a guide from someone who has walked that path. That is what we have in scripture, the stories and wisdom of those who have sought to follow the same blazes that we would follow.
This psalm talks about seeking to walk in the ways of God, to follow God’s paths. Learning to walk in the ways of God means recognizing our need to rely upon the wisdom of others and our utter dependence upon God, who sets the blazes that guide our steps.
The life of faith is a great adventure. It is not without risk, but no real adventure is. It is challenging, is exhilarating, it is humbling, and it is inspiring. When done right, though, it is not a solo journey, but one that we undertake together, guided by those who have gone before, and marked by the God who desires nothing more than for us to find the path that leads to life.
- Do you agree or disagree with the notion that we have, at the core of our beings, a desire for adventure?
- What are some of your favorite adventure stories?
- How if the life of faith like an adventure?
- What are some of the major influences on your life in how you navigate the journey of faith?
- What helps you recognize and follow the blazes that God provides to guide our steps?