Standing at the Crossroads

Psalm 85:8-13

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.

The LORD will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.

 

How many of you have one of these things? [HOLD UP “TOM TOM”] This one is called a Tom Tom; it is a vehicle-based GPS device.

It’s an amazing piece of technology. There’s something in here that reaches into space, trying to communicate with at least four of the 24 operational satellites that are each 12,000 miles above earth. This teeny-tiny little box measures the distance between itself and three or four of the satellites, does a mathematical computation that makes my head spin, adjusts for interference by tall buildings or trees, and determines its location on planet earth to within a few yards.

You punch in an address, and it will give you turn-by-turn directions to get there. I will tell you (for instance) that the trip from my apartment to my in-law’s house in Chattanooga is 612 miles, not counting stops for stretching, gas, or food. And this little box [“TOM TOM”] always knows where we are. It knows every mile of interstate or US highway; it knows every exit and intersection. It knows where we can stop for gas, and it knows at which exit we will find somewhere the kids would eat. It even knows—less reliably—when we will arrive, though I assure you its sketchy reliability in this regard has nothing to do with the speed we drive.

It is an amazing piece of technology. Of course, when I was learning to drive, we didn’t have anything like this. We had maps.

I confess I may be a bit nostalgic about maps, but they give me the big picture of where I am traveling and what is around me. And I find that their batteries last longer.

But using a map is very different than using a GPS device like my Tom Tom. My Tom Tom likes addresses, and unless you are in a big city, an address means very little to a map. What does matter is the nearest intersection.

I grew up in a town small farm town, but you knew still where everything was by the nearest intersection.

  • So the Fire Station was at Washington and Alyea, with the Post Office next door.
  • The Library was down the block at Washington and Sigler.
  • The School was at Main and Jackson.

And even in such a small town, you made certain assumptions about persons based on where they lived.

  • Families in the historic center of town tended to be more established, with the west side more affluent than the east.
  • If you lived in one of the subdivisions on the north or southwest sides, your family has probably only recently moved to town.
  • And if you lived outside town limits, you were either a farmer or had no connection or history with the town.

These sort of distinctions and assumptions are amplified in larger and more diverse municipalities. But place remains significant.

  • Place is at the heart of creation, as the story is told in Genesis 2. There place provides purpose for the newly created human, and this place becomes the setting of God seeking a companion for the human.
  • Place is at the center of the Tower of Babel crisis, where humanity disobediently clustered into a single place, rather than “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth,” as God had commanded.
  • Place is at the core of the covenant with Abraham, as God vows to give Abraham’s descendants a “promised land” where they can be a proper people, with God as their king.
  • Place is important in the Temple-based religion of the early Israelites, who pilgrimaged to the place where they understood God to reside.
  • Place is significant for Jesus, who seemed to always know his ministry would culminate in Jerusalem.
  • Place has remained pivotal throughout Christian history, as many pilgrims journey to the places of the Bible, often learning more from the journey than the destination.

Whether making assumptions, forming our identity, or finding our way, place is important. And despite advances in technology, I find place is still marked by crossroads.

 

Crossroads are powerful symbols of our lives. On an otherwise lonely trip, you historically were likely to encounter other people at a crossroad, so a crossroads could be symbolic for gathering places and undiscovered possibility. But crossroads also became hiding places for bandits, so a crossroads could be a dangerous place, as well. They are a place for getting lost, and a place for finding oneself. They symbolize choice, and they guide us to our destination.

 

Our scripture reading describes a crossroads—a place—to which God desires to bring us. It sounds like such a beautiful place:

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky (vv.10-11)

This place to which we journey with God is the intersection of “steadfast love” & “faithfulness”…the crossroads of “righteousness” & “peace.”

It is not an accident that these four words express the same qualities that are most frequently used to describe God. Consider for instance Exodus 34:6-7:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Ex. 34:6-7a)

We journey to God when we set our sights on these crossroads. Or perhaps better put, we journey to these places when we set our sights on God.

This crossroads is our destination in the New Heaven and New Earth that we read about in Revelation. It is the complete presence of the Kingdom of God, which is not yet fulfilled in our midst. It is that place described in Isaiah 11 where

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (vv.6, 9)

It does sound like an amazing place, doesn’t it?

Have you heard about this neighborhood?—streets paved with gold, foundations bedazzled with precious gems, gates and walls studded with pearls and other beautiful stones. I’ve driven through some ritzy neighborhoods, but I haven’t seen anything like this! I certainly haven’t lived there.

Unfortunately, the crossroads of “Steadfast Love” & “Faithfulness” and “Righteousness” & “Peace” locate this place in a very different area of town than where most of us live. Where we live isn’t anywhere near that nice.

Some of us live at the crossroads of Doubt & Despair. Our faith has been shaken, and we are no longer certain that God cares for us. We believe we are all alone in this world—that our lives are the product of mere choice and happenstance—and the chaos of it renders us hopeless.

  • We need to experience God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, but we don’t know how to get there.

Others find themselves at the corner of Hurt & Pain. We’ve trusted, and been burned. Our hopes have been dashed; our soul aches with heartbreak. Or perhaps your pain is more physical in nature, like Paul who pleaded with God to remove the thorn in his flesh? But the pain remains.

  • We need healing, and the strength that comes with experiencing God’s steadfast love and peace, but it seems so far away.

And what about those who catch the bus at Abuse & Shame? We who have been taken advantage of, treated as less than human, and been convinced it is our own fault. Our shame renders us unable to open up—much less ask for directions to find our way out of this neighborhood.

  • We need to experience the vindication of God’s righteousness and love, but we are embarrassed that we need it.

Lots of people lose their way at the corner of Confusion & Disillusionment. There was a time we thought we understood—when we believed in something that did not develop as we anticipated. Maybe it was life. Maybe it was God. Maybe it was a friend or spouse. Maybe—and this might be the most frightening type of disillusionment—maybe it was possibility, and we have secretly vowed never to believe we can have what we want.

  • We need to experience God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, but we struggle with whether there is a point since we suspect we will be let down once again.

And the most dangerous neighborhood of all might be where Emptiness & Solitude intersect. This is the place where we know we are incomplete or broken, but we have given up hope of completeness or wholeness. This is the place where we isolate ourselves from the very persons and resources that could heal us.

  • We need an experience of God’s presence, to fill us with God’s love, so that we might be whole again. But how do we take up the journey in a place like this?

Compared to God’s neighborhood, we live in the ghetto—on the wrong side of the tracks. And there is so much that keeps us from reaching our destination. The powers of darkness in this world raise up every obstacle to dissuade us from our spiritual journey:

  • Construction zones where our progress is slowed to a crawl.
  • Road closures and detours
  • Flooding and bridges out

And, of course, unlike the Tom Tom, a new route is not calculated automatically. These obstacles can be a serious drain on our energies, perhaps even making us “run out of gas” before reaching our destination.

It doesn’t help (of course) that the path God calls us to take is not an easy one. Do you remember what Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:13-14?—”Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The path of discipleship does not lead one to the crossroads of Wealth & Fame, but instead involves “denying yourself, and taking up your cross and following Jesus (Matt 16:24).

There’s no spiritual GPS that we can rely on. We do not even have a map where we can locate these crossroads and plan out a route that brings us to a place of being with and like God.

 

And for churches today, our fear is all the more urgent, as the ways we have done church for years no longer seem to bring about the same results. Our world is changing—as it always does—and many churches are struggling to change with it.

There are no guarantees. No one has traveled these roads before. There are no maps—no plans of attack that are sure to succeed.

But yet God beckens us to step out, at this very moment, in the midst of this Great Unraveling, and says, “Follow me.”

In this world without maps or spiritual GPS, God is our compass. And if you have never relied on a compass for travel before, it can be a bit unsettling.

 

I sort of got lost once.

I was geocaching with my daughter Audrey. For those who don’t know, geocaching is like high-tech treasure hunting. People will hide waterproof boxes with trinkets and a note pad, usually on public land (with permission). They post the GPS coordinates in an online database.

You punch the coordinates into your GPS device, and the device gives you a bearing to follow and the distance to the box. Now, having only a bearing is difficult for those who are used to more information, but the GPS will at least continually adjust your bearing so you arrive at the proper place. Since GPS is only accurate to a few yards at best, you still have to find the box, which is often well-concealed in the hollow of a log or something similar.

Well, Audrey and I found the box without too much trouble, and we signed the log that said we had found it, took a trinket and left a trinket. And then the GPS died.

This GPS actually. This device is made to be used in a vehicle, and I was experimenting with whether it was accurate enough for geocaching. Well…it proved accurate enough, but the battery life was too short. Or so I learned.

Thankfully, I had a compass, and I knew there was a trail somewhere north of us. So we looked at the compass for a bearing, and took off.

 

With a compass, you only get a bearing, a direction. If you are on a path, you never know how long you can follow it, what the terrain will look like, or even how far your destination is. You only know which way to go. You have to continually adjust your bearing when you encounter an obstacle.

I find the compass to be a good analogy for God’s calling on a person’s life. God gives us a bearing, a direction; and we are invited to choose our path, as we follow that bearing until God gives us further instructions.

Sometimes, like Jonah, we run away. And I believe that eventually, we all like Jonah come around, too.

I believe God gives us a bearing instead of a destination because there are obstacles in life we simply cannot overcome. By giving us a bearing to follow, and by later adjusting that bearing, God is able to lead us around obstacles we otherwise could never have surmounted.

I also believe that God gives us a bearing when God calls us because our choices affect our ultimate destination. God took an amazing risk by giving us free will and inviting us to participate in the creation and redemption of our world. A destination deceives us into believing that the day will come when we somehow “arrive.” Bearings emphasize the journey, as they are continually adjusted by the God who is attentive in journeying with us.

 

Now maybe I’ve been rambling this morning. I hope it hasn’t been too much. But the point here at the end is that we are all somewhere this morning. We are all in a place—at a crossroads. I won’t pretend to know where you are; most of you I have only met this weekend. But God gave me this message to preach, and I am trusting God to speak to you too.

Like the traveler in Robert Frost’s immortal poem, you have reached an intersection: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” You, like the traveler, may have “looked down one as far as [you] could / To where it bent in the undergrowth.” You can’t see where the roads lead from where you stand, so you fear making a decision.

Listen to me: though we may not have the perspective to know where the road goes, we can trust the God calls us to the journey, who walks with us and gives us bearings to follow. This God knows these roads, and will guide you if you will hear.

This is where our psalm began:

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

No matter the intersection where you find yourself in life, God is speaking if you will hear. God is guiding if you will follow. God will deliver those who believe.

And this is where our psalm ends:

The LORD will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.

You are standing at the crossroads.

Trust God as your Savior. Trust God as your leader. Trust God as your compass.

May God give us the strength to journey into the new world of God’s mission.

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