“My LORD God, I have no idea where I’m going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I’m doing. I hope I never do anything apart from that desire…”
I love this prayer. It was written by the contemplative Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. When I first came upon it decades ago, it was instantly familiar even though I had never seen it before. I just knew. This was the prayer I had been trying to say all along. This was my prayer and maybe it’s yours too.
In these past twenty years, I have come back to this prayer again and again —usually in seasons thick with discernment. I have no idea where the next new chapter will lead, but I know the desire to please God does, in fact, please God. I hope I have this desire in everything I do.
Also about twenty years ago, I spent a semester in Ireland as part of a study abroad program. This program employed an activity called a Drop Off in order to help American students become acquainted with a new place. We did a few Drop Offs; they all went more or less the same way.
For the first one, our group was driven around in a minibus, then we were individually dropped off at different locations around the city with one clear objective: find your way back. Another time, we were sent out the door each with a landmark to locate, and study, and come back to make a report. Just go out into the world and figure it out. No help from the teachers. No internet on our phones!
These Drop Offs had a plainly stated purpose: Get back home by the end of the day. (Or, find the designated landmark then get back.) The unstated purpose was to help us find out how it feels to be lost in a strange city, how to find the confidence to approach a stranger to ask for directions. I’m telling you, it didn’t matter where I was going or what I was trying to find, I always had to ask four different people. One or two would get me partway there, but it always took four. That’s just it.
You learn how to ask four people, how to find yourself at the mercy of the kindness of strangers, and then find out —this is what will save your life. We’re always saving each other’s lives. We may have no idea where the road ahead will lead. I can promise you, there are people who will help along the way. There’s always help on the way.
Today in the scripture Marie just read, Paul is writing to the people of the church in Rome. He’s clarifying exactly what they are choosing if they’re choosing to be united with Christ. And you know Paul. He’s not pulling any punches.
Make no mistake, being united with Christ means we were baptized —into his death. We go with Jesus into the fullness of the horror of humanity. We suffer with him until his suffering and our suffering ring in compassion. We die with Christ. We have our own hearts break by the same fault where his heart breaks —the sin of the world killing us all. But then. We’re still with him for the breaking of the day and the breaking of the bread.
Death turns into life. Life turns into the fullness of new life in Jesus. It’s not just at the end. When you join your own mercy with the mercy of God, when you join your own life with the life of Christ, the next step is to keep on choosing this, like a recovering addict has to keep on choosing sobriety.
What we don’t get to choose is whether or not we’ll serve someone. Paul is clear on this point and so is Bob Dylan: “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Could be money. Or family. Or professional accomplishment. You are already giving your life. Who or what are you giving it to?
Paul writes this: “No longer present yourselves to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; present yourselves to God as instruments of righteousness.”
We could choose to give our lives to following Christ, even when we feel lost and can’t see the road ahead. We could bring our desire into rhythm with God’s desire. You could bring your dream into harmony with God’s dream, so that when you can’t even hear your own dream, when you wonder what is even the point of going on, you’ll begin to hear the overtones ringing from God’s dream. And what if this was your dream all along! It was the prayer you were trying to say.
See there’s help on the way.
And Paul should know. Paul knows what it is to get hunted down, and found, and saved by resurrection only to keep choosing to follow Christ into prison, and persecution, and shipwrecks, and church fights.
You might remember what happened. Back when Paul went by Saul, he was on his own kind of Drop Off heading to the high priest in Damascus in order to get intelligence on the early Christians. See he was breathing threats and murder against the church, so he planned to kidnap the Christians and collect the bounty.
While he was heading down this road, suddenly a light from heaven blinded him and knocked him to the ground, and a voice from heaven spoke to him and asked him Why.
Oh Saul. Why are you giving your life to this…
Next the LORD sent help. God dispatched Ananias to find Saul who had been taken in as a guest in the house of Judas. When Ananias arrived, Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit, the fish scales fell from his eyes, and he had something to eat. At the mercy of strangers, Saul changed his name, and his mind, and his dream.
Now we can see how it’s both things. It’s the light on the road that knocked him down, and it’s every choice he made after that day —every letter he wrote, every sermon he preached, every person on his path, every prayer. Jesus saved his life, then changed his life, and this could happen to us, you know. It already is.
It is already the case that God is calling you to live your own life. And you and I know, God is calling Church of Peace to new life. It’s already happening. The question isn’t whether we are called, it’s where. Where is God calling us…
And so we’re making this our project for the summer. In the fall, we will work together as a congregation to identify a yearlong mission focus naming Twenty-Twenty the Year Of ________ forgiveness? children? I have no idea! Now of course, we could just think of a topic. If we had to, we could open the floor for discussion and vote right now. That would get us back home, but it would miss the point.
This summer Church of Peace is embarking on a kind of Drop Off. More than getting back home in time for dinner, more than settling on a topic for Twenty-Twenty, what we’re doing is choosing to find out how it feels to be lost, how it feels to approach a stranger and ask for help. We’re choosing to find ourselves at the mercy of the kindness of strangers; this is what will save our lives.
Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Because you know the world will call you in a million directions: make more money, get more done, work a full time job while being a full time stay at home parent while giving all your money to the poor and saving all your money for retirement while looking amazing and always being happy! We all hear the calls of the world all the time. God’s call is different.
Buechner says you can tell that it’s God who’s calling you by the location. It’s here: it’s this intersection at the corner of your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.
So here we are. We’re all getting dropped off in a strange place with this same destination in mind, and I can’t guess where we’ll end up or what we’ll learn along the way. I’m pretty sure we’ll have to ask at least four people for help, probably more.
I know the Spirit has a dream for our life and for our church. I know the desire to please God does, in fact, please God even when we cannot see the road ahead. My LORD God, we have no idea.
I know we can follow Christ into the fullness of God’s dream, the fullness of new life.
I know we will get our lives saved by the tender mercy we never saw coming.
I know there are people who will help us along the way.
You know there’s always help on the way. Thank God.