Year B Proper 6, 13 June 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal Church, Ashland, VA
“By Faith & Not By Sight”
Collect: Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
I have shared in sermons that nothing is wasted in the economy of God. I have shared that God takes what we bring, no matter how simple or horrible, and transforms it to his honor and glory. I believe both of those things. Even the most tragic or traumatic can be taken, blessed, broken, and given in new and glorious ways. This does not make it easy or painless, but it does take our suffering and imbue it with meaning.
But today I want to explore another way of thinking on what we do here. Somewhere along the way some have taken to describing faith like it was a commodity, or some special, secret, insider information. “Psst, hey, have you found Jesus?”
But faith is not like that. In our book club this last week, Rachel Held Evans reminded us that, “Scripture does not speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God.”
God is not playing hide and seek; God invites us to see Godself where we are whenever, wherever that is. Like the prayer at the beginning of our service, God is God of all times and all places. The Psalmist penned:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast. [Psalm 139:7-10]
So if finding God is not the problem, what image might we use for our walking with God?
We have a simple one on our campus, and there is one at Richmond Hill, and there are examples in many of our cathedrals, and in holy sites of other religions around the world. Labyrinths, I find, are one of the great spiritual metaphors for our journey.
Solvitor ambulando is the Latin phrase meaning it is found in walking. Often when I am at a mental impasse, getting up and moving my body gives me the space I need to gain the true focus I have lost. We may yell, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” And sometimes that is exactly what we need. But walking a labyrinth is not there to arrive, walking a labyrinth is there to drive us inside, physically to the center of the labyrinth, and inside ourselves.
One thing I have always loved about the labyrinth discipline when I have used it is to ask a question as I begin. It may be something I struggle with, it may be a dilemma I am facing. But when I have gained an answer when it is Solvitor amblando, when it is solved in the walking, I have to remind myself that whatever I have received was actually already with me, or God chose to provide it when I paused and took time to ask. Labyrinths, metaphorical and physical, are there to drive us inside.
A well-designed labyrinth begins by skirting the center and then sending you out to bring you back in. Like with beginner’s luck, we are provided with a glimpse of how great it could be to arrive at our destination, and how great it will be if we keep on keeping on. The glimpse of the reward is key. Our spiritual life is often like that. In our Gospel reading we are given that as well. Some seeds spring up quickly, but they do not stay the course. Those that do come to fruition.
St. Paul reminds us that “we walk by faith, not by sight.” And that, “For the love of Christ urges us on.” The intentionality of the labyrinth is what we must trust. We will not be lost, we cannot be led astray.
Once again, from Rachel Held Evans: “The difference between a labyrinth and a maze is that a labyrinth has no dead ends… [S]ome like to say, we make the road by walking, but I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” RHE, Searching for Sunday, p. 180.
No matter where we begin, no matter how dark the road we have trod, we must trust that God will get us where we need to go. It’s not like the old joke about the city slickers who were in a rush for an event, and saw an old farmer on his porch. In desperation they barreled down the drive and asked the farmer if he had heard of their destination. “Yessim,” he replies. “Can you tell us how to get there?” they ask, pleadingly. After a long pause, the farmer looks up, “Well, the way I reckon it, you cain’t get there from here.”
God’s path for us is not like that. Wherever you start from, “nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.” Romans 8:39
Once, when I was working at a summer camp, we went on a night hike. We had walked up a fire trail around sunset. On the way back it was a moonless night. I had a younger hiker walking back next to me. I was a bit notorious for not using a flashlight for walking around camp, preferring to let my vision become acclimated to the dark. My flashlight was still in my pocket for this hike as well. The camper kept asking me to use my flashlight, but I reminded him we had just walked this path in the light, and walking it now was no different, except for us seeing everything more clearly.
We continued on, and it was pitch black. I could barely see the dirt of the fireroad. By this point the camper was getting more and more scared and asked me how I could know which way to go. And that was when I said it was easy. “When I cannot see the road, or where to put my foot, I look up.” And then he did. There was a gap in the trees, and we could see the stars and the Milky Way above us shining down. We might not see the road, but the light from above marked our way to go. The road created a gap that showed us the way, all we had to do was look up.
There are times in our lives when our way is dark, or the direction to go is unknown. I remember that night. I remember the darkness. But I remember that looking up showed me the way.
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
“We walk by faith, not by sight.”
We can say that because we have walked this way before. It is safe. It may spin us out, but it always gets us where we want to go, where we need to be. Labyrinths are the nature of this life, especially our spiritual life. Anything we need, we already have or God will provide. And if you are fearful and not sure of where to place your next step, don’t stare into the darkness. Look up! Amen