Becoming: The Path From Here to There
Rev. Louis Timberlake
October 4, 2015
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
Growing up, I was a Boy Scout. I even reached Eagle Scout, though I probably owe most of that to the persistence of my parents. But, I am a strong believer in the skills and lessons you learn from participation in scouting. So, I love being a part of a church that has such a strong commitment to scouting. We have one of the largest Boy Scout troops in the state and a number of dedicated Girl Scouts, in addition to members of other scouting organizations. I grew up in a strong troop, one that has a great reputation and has produced a bunch of Eagle Scouts.
Now, I don’t want to misrepresent myself or my troop. You hear “boy scout” and tend to think about someone that always does the right thing. But, while we weren’t a bad group, I wouldn’t call us a well-behaved group. We spent most of our time thinking of creative ways to light things on fire. We nearly burned down outhouses on a couple of occasions. My troop actually almost got kicked out of scout camp—though let the record state that I wasn’t there that year and I’m pretty sure it was mostly my cousin's fault. In our defense, we were teenage boys and we could have been doing much worse. And I’m sure that the guys in Troop 101 make far better decisions that we did.
As many of you know, in most scouting organizations you work on merit badges. And, as those of you in scouting know, some of those merit badges are HARD! Some require weeks to complete and a serious commitment. Others you can knock out in an afternoon. One that I remember that took an above average amount of time and effort was orienteering. In orienteering, basically you have to prove that you know how to use a map and a compass. It sounds simple, but I pulled up the requirements this past week and I’m pretty sure most adults would struggle to do it. One of the things you have to do is follow a course of waypoints that has been setup by someone else. You have a series of distances and compass bearings to follow, but you have figure out things like topography and the difference between magnetic north and true north. It’s like a math-intensive treasure hunt. It gives you a little more respect for pirates.
In the age of smartphones and GPS, we don’t have to rely much on compasses. But, it’s not a bad idea to understand how they work. For example, most maps are drawn based on true north, or geographic north. But, most compasses point to magnetic north, which is different. If you’re at a certain location or traveling a long distance, that difference is pretty important. If you get something wrong, you could end up miles away from your intended destination. Also, you can have interference from strong magnetic fields. Kids, this is something you can try with the magnet in your worship bag. If you hold a magnet up to a compass, the needle will follow the movement of a magnet. You can actually do it with the speaker part of a smartphone, as speakers have magnets. So, your compass can actually send you in the wrong direction, if you have strong interference.
The book we’re moving through during our series this month, Hebrews, is a letter written to a community facing some strong interference. The author actually tells us that this is a second-generation Christian community. What that means is that these aren’t people that knew Jesus directly. Rather, they were taught by people that knew Jesus directly. And, they’re starting to teach the next generation. But, with that generation of separation from Jesus, they’ve started to lose their bearings. Different kinds of interference have caused them to lose sight of what it means to follow Jesus. So, the author of Hebrews is focused on cutting through that interference in order to help them get their bearings.
That’s something that we, as Christians and as the Church, need from time to time—to be reminded of our true bearings. We need something that will cut through the interference, all those things that pull us in so many directions, and remind us of what it means to follow Jesus. I met with a group of young Methodist clergy this past Thursday here at Christ Church. We have gotten together a number of times over the past year to discuss what it means to have constructive, healthy conversation in the church. You don’t have to spend much time in a church to realize that we don’t agree with each other on everything. That’s just life. But, too often, we do one of two things. Either, we try to ignore the fact that we disagree and practice conflict avoidance—even though both the Bible and most organizational leadership books would tell us that conflict is a good thing, when handled well. Or, we allow our conversations to become polarized and dominated by people—on both sides—that have no desire to understand those that disagree with them, that put agendas before people. This creates the illusion that you have to pick a side, that it’s either A or B. The problem is, it’s never quite that simple. The idea that one side is completely right and the other is completely wrong is an illusion. It sounds like I’m talking about American politics, but I’m talking about American Christianity.
So, our little group of clergy has spent time talking and thinking about what it looks like to have constructive conversation with all voices at the table. It’s not easy. If it were, we’d have figured it out by now. But, something made me laugh at this most recent gathering. Someone started talking about the Pope and how he has made a habit of upsetting people by not neatly fitting their agendas or expectations. He’ll do something that makes one group happy, but then turn around and do something that upsets that group, but makes another group happy. If you read through the gospels, you might notice a similar pattern with a man from Nazareth. It’s all because his compass is not directed towards some ideological agenda, it’s directed towards Jesus. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but he’s not trying to appease people, he’s trying to follow Jesus.
You caught a glimpse of it in the passage today, but the author of Hebrews is interested in what it means to follow Jesus. Following Jesus means walking the path that Jesus walked. But, what’s important in Hebrews is the idea that we cannot walk that path without Jesus walking it first. Jesus is the Trailblazer. He starts where we are and then blazes the trail that leads towards God’s hopes for our lives. Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Jesus starts where we are. Where are we? To the author of Hebrews, we are low on the cosmic totem pole. The author says that we are below the angels (a topic for another day), who are below God. And, our existence is one of suffering. So, for Jesus to start where we are, he had to become low, like us, and experience a life of suffering—which ultimately ends in death. So, the life and death of Jesus is crucial in Hebrews, because it puts the beginning of Jesus’ path at our feet. We can’t walk in the footsteps of God, but we can walk in the footsteps of a fellow human. The word “perfect” here means “complete.” Jesus completely embraces the human experience. He calls us brothers and sisters. Jesus starts where we are, so that we can follow.
But from there, the path goes somewhere exciting. This passage says that God is bringing many children to glory. So, to walk the path that Jesus walks is to walk towards glory. This isn’t glory in the sense of winning the Super Bowl, it’s glory in the sense of salvation. The path Jesus leads us down is the path of salvation. Now, salvation is a huge concept. We could spend a lifetime trying to define it, but our definitions would still fall short. My inadequate definition is that salvation is about God making things right. We catch glimpses of it when we see the love of God overcome the hatred in our world. When we see the peace and justice of God overcome violence and injustice. When we see the hope of true life, eternal life overcome the fear and power of death. Salvation is about God making things right. It’s about the transformation of our lives and our world in a way that reflects God’s hopes for Creation.
As the Church, we are called to participate in the work of salvation. The Church is the community of people that follow Jesus’ path. As we follow, we are transformed. And, not only are we transformed, but we are called to transform the world around us. That’s what the series this month is all about—how we navigate the path that Jesus established. We’ll talk about what it takes to follow Jesus from where we are to where God hopes for us to go.
In Boy Scouts, I did my fair share of backpacking. Later, Kate and I found that we enjoyed backpacking together. Some day in the distant future, I’m looking forward to taking Felder backpacking. When you are backpacking, or doing any sort of extended hiking—you have to be able to read a map and use a compass. Sometimes the trail is clear and sometimes it is overgrown and confusing. If you cannot read a map and use a compass, you risk getting lost. And, if your compass reading is distorted by interference, then you risk taking a turn down the wrong trail.
There are many trails that we can take in our lives and there are many things that create interference. In order to follow the path that leads to salvation, we must direct our compasses towards Jesus. And, in order to keep our bearings true, we have to work to cut through the interference.
What are the sources of interference in your life? What are the things that keep your compass from being directed towards Jesus? And, what are the things that help you to cut through that interference?
In the Methodist Tradition, we call these things the Means of Grace, meaning the channels through which God’s grace works in our lives and keeps our compasses true. These are things like studying scripture, prayer, serving others, worship, and the sacraments.
One sacrament that we participate in today is Holy Communion. Partaking in the bread and cup together is a way of us recommitting ourselves to walking the path that Jesus walked. It affirms that we are a community, that we follow this path together. And, it’s a means by which God’s grace works in our lives and resets our compasses, directing them towards Jesus. It’s particularly special today, because today is World Communion Sunday, which means that it’s a day that, around the world, Christians acknowledge that we are all a part of one Church, one large community of people that follow this path together, that set our compasses upon Jesus.
So, as we come to Christ’s table together this morning, let us come as one Church that spans the globe and spans the centuries. Let us come as one people, of countless cultures and perspectives, that seek to set our compasses upon Jesus.
- What does it mean to follow Jesus?
- What is the course of the path that Jesus blazed? What places does it take you? Where is it going?
- What are the things that cause interference in your life and walk with Christ?
- What are the things that help you keep your compass set upon Jesus?
- What’s one thing you can do this week to reset your compass?