Sunday, November 09, 2008
Dance Wit’ What Brung Ya
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
Matthew 25: 1-13
When you go to Yosemite National Park, there are lots of trails. Some of them are easy, taking you up to the point of falls, or to easy scenic overlooks, where you barely need to get out of the car. There are the easy ways that wind around the mountain, easy grades that are paved and so gentle even scooter chairs can be used for those who aren’t able to walk. There are some harder ones, that wind through boulder fields and forests, for the more fit day hiker. The extreme “trails” are the ones that climb the mountains them selves, even one trail (if it can be called that) that is the marked part of the sheer vertical side of Half Dome, a granite face that was half sheared off by the last glacier.
Most or all of these trails, easy or hard, have as their goal some high place. While it isn’t always the top of something, it is usually high enough to be able to see something. There are many paths, suited for lots of people.
What is almost certainly true, and the park service would endorse this for their own reasons, is that to get to those rare high views, you have to stay on the path.
There are choices to be made periodically. If you turn to the left, you will go to the waterfall. If you go to the right, you will go through the woods and come to a rock outcrop. You have to choose. You have to decide what way you will go, and the payoff is what’s at the end. Rarely do you take a walk for it’s own sake in Yosemite. What you find at the end will make your journey to Yosemite individually special. You will have seen the park in a way that no one else has, and no one else ever will. The sun will hit those rocks in just that way only once. That chipmunk will cross your path just once at that time, in that way.
Choose this day what you will see, is almost what’s said.
Joshua has laid this out for the Israelites. In Chapter 24, the last chapter of the book of Joshua, Jericho has been fought, the land has been conquered for God’s people, and the land has been allocated to the tribes. This last chapter is now Joshua gathering the tribes back together, and saying that they must now make a choice. They have walked a path that has gotten them this far- a path led by pillars of fire and clouds. A path led by God, and a series of wars that through God’s leadership, have given them their promised land. Now, with the mission finished, it is time to make a new choice, and the people must choose. There are many ways to go—they have available to them the Gods they left behind in Egypt, they have the Gods of the people they have just conquered and now live among, or they can dance with what brung them, The God of their fathers and mothers. Joshua is clear as to his choice: As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Hikers never get where they want to go by hesitating at the trailhead. But it is very true that when you make a choice about which trail to walk, you loose the chance to experience other trails. By choosing the waterfall, you loose the chance to see the rock outcrop. But if you hesitate at the trailhead, you gain neither.
Choosing a life of Christian faith means that you lose out on another faith. Choosing a life of Methodist practice and doctrine means that you lose out on growing as a Presbyterian, or a Baptist, or a Catholic. It’s still God at the end, but the path of the mountain is different for each one. The way on each path may be hard, or blessedly easy. What is definitely true, however, is that if you do not choose a path and start walking, you will never get to the end, you will never get to the summit. The bridesmaids are wise or foolish according to how they committed to the wait, and those that didn’t bring adequate oil for an uncertain wait lost out on the party.
Methodists are Christians. It is one path up the mountain, the top of which is full communion with God. It is a lot harder to climb up the mountain if you are trying to straddle two paths, or if you keep climbing across the side of the mountain, breaking through the forests where there are no paths, or across rock faces that have no handholds. Sure, you can get there, but why make it so difficult? Why must we insist on making our own way when there are wise people who have gone before that have experienced the same thing? We have times of dryness, so did they. We have times of trial, times when we have made mistakes, so did they. We are no less human than John Wesley, or Benedict of Nursia, or Julian of Norwich. They were no more human than we are. The reason why they are remembered is because of their wisdom, or insight, or spiritual maturity. But underlying all of that is the plain fact of their commitment. They committed to a path, and walked it to it’s conclusion. That is their model for us; that is what we can learn from them. Even though they lived in different times, with different worldly threats, different technology, different cultures, what their humanity and our humanity have in common is that they committed in the same way we can. And that is what God looks for—commitment.
The Methodist form of Christian Practice is one among many. There are differences between us and Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, and Catholics. Each practice has it’s drawbacks, each has it’s strengths. Each is a special distinctive path up the mountain to God. I’m not saying that one is better than the other. I’m saying that you are here on this path, some at the trailhead. Why not take a few steps up the path? Why not use what’s here to help you grow in Christ?
Why not dance wit’ what brung ya?