I Will Teach You the Way You Should Go
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
March 5, 2017 First Sunday in Lent
Psalm 32; Exodus 13:17-22; Matthew 4:1-11
We need to believe that God is capable of creating a new church that carries forward the best of the old, a future church we will love just as much as the church of the past.
“God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness,” the book of Exodus says. It is so easy to think we have gone wrong when times get hard or we get lost. Think how reassuring it would be if in those times we thought, “Ah, God is leading me by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Promised Land!”
But how can we know that it is God who is leading? God went in front of the children of Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, guiding and lighting their way. We long for such clear signs. We want skywriting, like “Surrender Dorothy” in the Wizard of Oz. How can we tell the difference between being led by a roundabout way and being hopelessly lost?
The Psalm and Gospel passage both give the same answer to that question. The Psalm says, “Let all who are faithful offer prayer to you.” The Gospel shows Jesus following the Spirit and turning to God in every temptation. Our children will tell you that the answer to every question is “Pray!”
God speaks in the Psalm saying, “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go.” God pleads with us not to be stubborn “like a horse or mule…whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.” The Psalm says that people suffer many torments when they do not let God teach them the way, “but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in God.”
Jesus suffered many torments even though he let God lead him, just as the children of Israel suffered in the wilderness, yet because he kept turning to God, worshipping and serving only God, the temptations eventually subsided and “angels came and waited on him.”
Part of how we can make sure God is leading us is to keep looking to God to teach us the way. Continuous metanoia is the spiritual practice of turning back to God in prayer in every moment when we catch ourselves getting distracted.
Praying, studying sacred writings and seeking spiritual direction from a wise counselor are the classic ways to discern if we are hearing God’s guidance correctly, but the Psalm says that torments are another thing that will tell us if we go wrong. How can this be if Jesus suffered torments while innocently following the Spirit? Continue reading Sermon, March 5, 2017