Led by the round-about way (10/13/2013)

Read Exodus 13:17-22 In my search for the most direct way to the Interstate entrance at Faribault, someone showed me a new way – to go up the Snake Trail to County Road 11. I will time it and see if it’s shorter.
The shortest distance between two points is “as the crow flies,” we say. That’s the way most of us want to go – The shortest route; the straightest path; the quickest way. We, of course are dependent upon good roads, but the crow can fly above it.
Scholars who study language tell us that the phrase “as the crow flies” has been with us since at least 1800. No one really knows whether the crow flies in a straighter line than any other bird. And there is a fair amount of evidence that crows don’t.
A journalist named Sandy Dacombe writes: “Of all the birds I’ve watched, crows are the most acrobatic of aviators. They seem to derive real pleasure from flying. They play with the wind and each other, weaving, sweeping, tumbling in tight barrel rolls and dramatic turns. They swoop and glide and hang on the breeze like Para gliders. And their hoarse cawing sounds are like the shouts of sheer exhilaration made by a bunch of rowdy street kids.”
What is known is that crows have a reputation for intelligence (in spite of having bird brains). Meaning that they could fly straight to their goal, assuming they wanted to.
And there are times when that’s exactly what I want to do. When I go on vacation, I like to know what to pack, how long we’ll be gone, where we’ll stay, and when we’re going to get there. I know there are people who travel in a different way,
and I’ve thought about trying that sometimes – I’d just say to Nadine, “Let’s just start out and see where the mood takes us.” But the pragmatist within me takes over which says, “Let’s not take the back-roads and meander. Let’s take the direct route and get to where we’re going.”
But my life has not been that way. When I graduated from High School, I wanted to be a musician. Music was a lot of fun, and so I thought, “why not?” But after a couple years of college I found out I didn’t have the discipline for a career in music. After that, I struggled in college and meandered in and out of many things, trying to find my “niche,” sometimes stumbling across a job or something interesting and saying – “This is it; this is my calling; this is what I want to do; only to change my mind. After 3 ½ years of college I dropped out for a semester, then I went back to get my business degree, because I wanted a degree in something.
Finally at the age of 33, after several years of sensing a growing call within me, I entered seminary. I was scared to death that this would just be another one of those “meanderings” into some temporary interest or passion that would soon die out and I would just change my mind once again. But, after 23 years, I still sense that same call from God that got me started on this path. And now I’ve been thinking, “If this is what God wanted me to do all along he sure took me on a roundabout way to get here.”
I have since discovered that there are many people like me for whom life is all over the map, which leads me to a question: Why wasn’t the path more obvious? Why does life sometimes take us on such a roundabout way to get to where God wants us to be?
I remember attending a Career planning seminar when I graduated from college. For me, it wasn’t all that helpful. We were supposed to learn how to assess our abilities and interests, set goals, and basically plot out our career path. I think the whole seminar was based on a miscalculation, that, in attempting to plan our lives, they assumed we had more control over our lives then we really had…or ever would have.
Now, I’m in favor of people taking charge of their lives. That’s a good thing, as long as we don’t think we have total control over our lives. I don’t have it. You don’t have it, Never had; Never will.
So who does? Well, in my case, all kinds of people exhibit a measure of control over my life. My wife; My children; My dad; My siblings; The Bishop of our Synod; My colleagues in ministry; You….most certainly you; Along with the happenstances of aging and health. Those, too, control my life.
And being people of faith, most of us wrestle with the idea that God has some measure of control over our lives. Most of us agree that there is “a measure of divine steerage” in the unfolding of our lives. The only question being one of degree.
And most of you would agree that there is a way that God would have you go….a bent for your living….a summons for your answering….a road for your taking. But if that be true, why hasn’t God’s way been “as the crow flies”?
Our reading from the book of Exodus in our Bibles gives us a different way of looking at this: Have you considered the possibility that some of the detours might be God’s doing….and that God might be leading you “in a roundabout way?”
The phrase “in a roundabout way” comes right out of our Bible reading. For that’s what happened to the Jews when they left captivity in Egypt and set out for the Promised Land. Remember the story: they were in captivity for 400 years, then Moses received God’s call from the burning bush, and then came the plagues, and then finally Pharaoh let the people go. But then we read, “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, ‘If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness…” (13:17-18)
We are told they wandered forty years. The path along the coast to the Promised Land would have been about 150 miles, which they could have walked in about a week. But they wandered forty years….much longer than expected or desired, so long that they complained. Not once. Not twice. But daily, it would seem. We read that Moses died before entering the Promised Land. No word on the cause of death. But one preacher said, “I’ll put my money on bleeding ulcers.” After 40 years of leading the people through the desert, with complaining every day, I think ulcers might make sense.
The word we are given to explain the reason for the round-about way us the word, “military.” The Philistines lived along the coastal route. And the Philistines were a war-like people. The people weren’t prepared for that.
But the “roundabout way” had as much to do with the word “maturity” as with the word “military.” God’s people lacked the character….the inner toughness….the stick-to-itiveness in the face of adversity, the kind of resolve needed to carve out a life in the Promised Land – given that while the land may have been “promised,” it was also “occupied”. Maybe that’s why God slowed them down and sent them round. Meaning that the detour was not so much about protection as it was about formation.
I heard one preacher who shared this about prayer as it relates to life’s journey:
If what you pray for is not right….and you are not right….and the time is not right….God will answer your prayer by saying “No.”
If what you pray for is right….and you are right….but the time is not right….God will answer your prayer by saying “Slow.”
If what you pray for is right….and the time is right….but you are not right….God will answer your prayer by saying “Grow.”
And if what you pray for is right….and the time is right….and you are right….God will answer your prayer by saying “Go.”
I’m not sure there is a direct road to your personal Land of Promise. But neither do I believe that every detour is necessarily the work of God. Some, yes. All, no. But whether or not God is behind your detours, God is able to use them. This is what is meant when we read in Psalm 121, “The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” It means that no experience in your life should ever be viewed as a total waste. You are who you are as a result of where you have been….what you have done….and whom you have met along the way. Someone once said to me: “I may not like all of my past, but I needed it.” God will use your life experiences to form you and shape you. It may be a “roundabout” way, but it is God’s way.
Let Us Pray: Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet un-trodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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About pastorjohnwaseca

ELCA Lutheran Pastor
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