“Off the Trail”
Sermon: “Off the Trail”
Rev. Glenn G. Grant
Kirkridge Presbyterian Church
Transcription from May 15, 2022
Sermon transcription is automatically generated. Please forgive any grammatical errors.
Over the years, Debbie and I have done a fair amount of hiking. I think I’ve got a few more miles under my belt than she does. You know, we spent a lot of time, especially on one section of the Appalachian trail between, Markham, Virginia, or even a little further to the south and the West Virginia-Maryland line, because that was a nice weeklong hike that we could take the youth group from the church out backpacking on. And it was a nice trail. It was really well marked except for the one year that as we were hiking into Markham, there was supposed to be a shelter. And that was going to be our destination for the night. There was supposed to be a lean to shelter on a side trail, just off the Appalachian trail. And as we came hiking up, there was no shelter.
So, our hike that day ended up being an extra 10 miles, I think it was to where we were supposed to finish our hike the next night. But still we knew where we were because it was a really familiar trail to us and where we were going, we actually owned property on the mountain where we were supposed to finish our hike and stay in another church family’s cabin. But, as this was all happening, you know, we get really comfortable with things like that.
And we do that every day in our lives where we're going through life, and we are really familiar with the trail that we're on and that it's a good trail. No, it is a good trail. It's like going down to Holly state rec and always doing the same loop of the trail that’s there, because you know, it's just the right distance for the day, or maybe it's going and walking at the mall because you know, everything that's there and you just do your laps absentmindedly, and that allows your mind to travel and do other things while you're walking.
Maybe it's that you always take the same route with a dog when you're out for a walk. I know Kim’s route because I see her every morning as she’s going that way and I'm coming to work, but we do those things because it's habit. And we do them because it's comfortable. You know, what, if it wasn't comfortable, we would not have ever established that habit.
Peter had the habits of being a good Jew, as far as the diet was concerned. And yet he had this vision where God is lowering this sheet, filled with all kinds of things that Peter wouldn't eat, because it wouldn't have been kosher.
And yet God calls him to do that in this vision as a way of getting Peter to step out of his comfort zone and go to Joppa and meet with some Gentiles where he would, of course, would have been fed a non-kosher meal. God does things to get us off of our beaten trail.
When I was in early well, when I was in high school, the scout troop, I was in had a system where if the older Scouts went to the regular scout camp and help the younger Scouts with their advancement, they got a reward trip at the end of the summer. And that reward trip was a backpacking trip in the Adirondacks of New York.
Now the assistant scout master that always led that trip was a great guy. He had about, no, Ken you have more hair than he did, because he didn't have it here either. But to give you some idea of the appreciation that that the Scouts had for him, one year at the end of the trip, we gave them a comb that had no teeth in it. You can only do that with somebody that you like.
But the point is on this hike, is that we could have gone with the set trails for the camp, but instead when we got there, spent the first night we get up in the morning and he lays out the topographical map and says, okay, we're here. We're going there. Here's the compass go.
Well, but there aren't any trails that go there. Right. But you still need to get there. That's where we're spending tonight. And slowly but surely, we get used to the idea of keeping the map handy, keeping the compass handy, keeping our bearings on where we're going. Which is really tricky when you come up to what should be a wet weather spring. And you find out that it's 30 feet wide and a couple of feet deep because somewhere downstream, the beavers were busy, and you had this straight line that you're following.
Well, you've got to figure out how you're going up here and finding a place where you can cross and coming back and getting your bearings again, to continue on your trip. And this whole thing was his way of teaching us to be more competent and confident in the Backwoods. So much like the vision that Peter had, becoming more confident and competent to go and witness to Gentiles.
And of course, this ties in with a revelation reading this morning of I am creating a new thing. You know, we want to think that God, finished creation after seven days and we just get to live in it. It's beautiful. Isn't it? We've got trees in bloom. We've got hay fever. Oh, well maybe that's not the beautiful part. But it's a gorgeous morning out there even after the rain last night or maybe even more so because of the rain last night.
We have this beautiful creation we live in and book, why do we need a new creation? Well, the new creation is the kingdom creation. And so often we just want to be comfortable with where we are and the whole idea that God is creating… is creating, and making all things new, upsets us. Not that we would ever admit to it, but it upsets us because we like the way it's been.
And yet God is always calling us into a new way of life. Is anybody here still the same person they were at 12 years old?
I mean, we're not, we change as we get older and we have more life experience, we change and God is creating new all the time within us. And yet we still like to go back to that comfort zone. We still like to be comfortable with where we are.
And yet we watch our young people grow up and we say, oh my gosh, you've gotten so tall. Or is it that we shrunk? Or is it both? You see, we recognize the change in them. We don't necessarily recognize the change in ourselves. I mean, after all, I'm still 30, right? Until I try and do some heavy yard work. Or until we try and open the garage door?
But we like the way things are. And yet God is calling us to this new creation, this new kingdom that God is always creating. Now in the gospel of John reading this morning, Jesus was doing that last farewell address to his disciples. He had washed their feet, and now this is after Judas had going out from among them and the law at the last supper.
And he says and now the son of man has been glorified. But if he finishes this paragraph or this section with, I give you a new commandment, A NEW commandment!
The disciples are saying, hold it, we spent three years with you and now you give us a new commandment, but we kind of like the way it's been with you being our leader, we've been good following you and letting you tell us what we're doing. But I give you a new commandment that you love one another, as I have loved you.
He's asking them to step off that comfortable known trail. He's asking them to go off the trail and to do something new. And that is to love as God first loved them. And as he, Jesus, loved them.
Now, Peter had already been told to get behind Jesus one time, because he had suggested that Jesus not go to Jerusalem and Jesus still loved him.
There are other times when the disciples had questioned Jesus on various things and Jesus still loved them. There are times when Jesus listened to the religious authorities complaining about the fact that his followers were eating with unwashed hands or were hanging out with sinners, or even that Jesus was hanging out with sinners and Jesus still loved them.
They had witnessed Jesus having met with a woman of ill repute at a well and loving her. They had witnessed Jesus stopping someone being stoned and he loved them. Jesus is asking the disciples to get off the comfortable trail and to love other people, regardless of anything else, just as Peter is being asked to get off the comfortable trail and to go to Joppa and to eat with Gentiles. And oh my gosh. Look what happened when Peter did get off the trail and out of his comfort zone, he went, and he ate with Gentiles at Joppa and they ended up being baptized.
They ended up being baptized because Peter got out of his comfort zone.
We are asked all the time by God to leave the beaten path. And in this day and age, the beaten path means that we follow this party or that party, no. The beaten path means we pursue a life of making as much money as we can, no matter whose toes we step on, no.
God is asking us to leave all of that and to love others as God first loved us. Without qualification, without reservation, regardless of whether they look like us, act like us, sing like us, or speak like us or love like us.
The old camp song They'll know we are Christians by our love is exactly what it's about. You can wear all the crosses you want, and you can put the fish on the back of your car. You can even put a scripture verse on your personalized license plate. But unless you are loving as God loved you, no one will know you're a Christian. All they'll think of you, is that your hypocrite.
Thank God for hypocrites. The church is full of them.
Let us pray.