Two Paths: Fear or Faith

Proper 14C’19

11 August 2019

Gen.15.1-6; Heb.11.1-3,8-16

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone+

 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  – a line from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

I’d like to begin this morning by sharing two images with you to visualize; one is of a maze and the other, is of a labyrinth. Many people believe that the two are the same thing, but they’re totally different. A maze has several ways in and several ways out. There is no way to see more than a few feet or inches ahead, and it is filled with wrong turns and dead ends. In some of the large mazes in Europe that are constructed from shrubs and hedges it’s possible to get lost for hours.

On the other hand, a labyrinth has only one way in and one way out and the way in is the only way out. There is no way to get lost in a labyrinth. You can usually see where the path is leading. If you stay on the path and continue putting one foot in front of the other you will always make it to the center. To exit all that is required is to retrace your steps and remain on the path. With a maze comes fear and worry, but with a labyrinth, faith and belief that all shall be well. Both the maze and the labyrinth, represent two ways of living, the way of fear in the case of the maze, and in the case of the labyrinth, faith.

In 1962 John Wayne starred in the movie, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” In the film we are introduced to a term that Wayne used in several of his western movies – “Pilgrim.” When referring to certain characters he would say things like, “Whoa, take ‘er easy there, pilgrim.  Well, good luck, pilgrim. You’re a persistent cuss, pilgrim.” From that point on Hollywood impersonators like Rich Little would add “Pilgrim” to their lexicon of impersonations.

 Beyond a group of English settlers who made it the New World on The Mayflower, our associations to the word are limited. The title is even older that “the Pilgrims” of 1620. In fact, it goes all the way back to humanity’s first ancestors – Adam and Eve who were exiled from Eden. From then on human beings would be driven by a restless wandering in search of a better life and ultimately for eternal life.

It is interesting to trace the journeys of our more recent ancestors and consider the fears that drove them: wars, religious dissention, poverty, the class-based limitations, and that all too familiar restlessness they must have experienced and the journey of faith that brought them here.

Thanks to Ancestry.Com I have learned that a single young man by the name of John Stone left Rugeley, England in the 1650’s and after the transatlantic journey landed in Virginia. While there he married, Mary O’Bissell and they had a family. But his son grew restless, and they moved on to Tennessee. Future generations grew restless again, moving farther west a number of times seeking something better. Another generation decided to move on to the newly dubbed ‘Show-Me-State’ of Missouri. Finally, in the mid 1800’s spurred on by a familiar restlessness, my great grandfather John Dawson Stone headed south, to Arkansas, the “Land of Opportunity.”   While for some of these, life was a pauper’s journey filled with many fears, for others with the eyes of faith, could see themselves as pilgrims, enabled by God’s grace to let their fearful journeys be transformed by faith, into a pilgrimage. They were spiritual pilgrims on an earthly pilgrimage heading towards an unknown destination, trusting that the God they knew would guide them into the unknown.

In both the OT and Epistle readings from today we hear of our first spiritual ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. A Word comes to Abraham, “By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.” But what was the word that God gave Abraham and his wife Sarah? What was to be their task? “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…So shall your descendants be.” To have lots of babies to form a new people of faith.

Now there were at least two big problems with this – Abraham and Sarah, both of them were as old as dirt and with age came the loss of their reproductive capabilities. How on earth are they going to have descendants as great in number as the stars? One other problem, his AAA camel insurance didn’t cover any breakdowns along the way, they would be totally vulnerable.

Nevertheless, Abraham and Sarah had the faith the step out into the unknown: “By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old – and Sarah herself was barren – because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore, from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born.” Today the descendants of Abraham and Sarah include all Jews, Muslims, and Christians; and are greater in number than all the grains of sand upon all the beaches of the earth! In Abraham and Sarah, we find the prototype of life as a spiritual pilgrimage as a faith journey. Hudson Taylor, an early missionary to China nailed it when he said: “There are three stages to every great work of God; first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” [1]

The call of God then and now is as the first 3 steps of the 12 steps of recovery states: Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over ___________, and our lives had become unmanageable. The impossible was being asked of Abraham and Sarah, and there was no way that by themselves they were going to be able to pull this off! Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Through faith in God and by receiving God’s power the impossible could become possible. Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will, and our lives over to the care of God (as we understood God). There comes a time for talk to cease and to step out by faith and take action.

I remember a time in my family when I was growing up where there was a lot of fear and scarcity. Suddenly an opportunity appeared to my mother, to purchase the first health food store in Jonesboro, AR. Now this was back when you couldn’t even find wheat germ, real whole wheat bread or herbal supplements in a regular grocery store.

My mom and dad took the general ledger to the bank to see about a loan. The banker’s name ironically was “Carey” and after looking over the books said, “I’m sorry but there’s no way we can loan you the money, you’ll lose your shirt.” After getting home my mother hit the carpet on her knees and earnestly prayed for God’s will. After praying she was ready to talk with my dad who to say he was skeptical would be an understatement. My dad proceeded like a prosecuting attorney to make his case against buying the store. To this my mother, filled with faith said, “Don’t let some young banker tell me what me and the Lord can’t do, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil.4.13)

The next day they called another banker who agreed to meet with them. My mother like a skilled defense attorney made her case for loaning them the money to buy the store. The bank did, they bought it, and the rest, as they say is history. First it was impossible, then it was difficult, then it was done!

Robert Frost perfectly describes in his poem “The Road Not Taken” a person standing at a cross roads that symbolizes the choices that we are called to make.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence: 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.[2]

 

The calling will be impossible, the pathway difficult but by faith God’s will will be done!

There are indeed just two roads, 

A maze, or a labyrinth 

fear or faith

 

 “Tell me, what is it you plan to do

 With your one wild and precious life?”



[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/335717-there-are-three-stages-to-every-great-work-of-god

[2] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken

 

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