Acts 1:15-17 AND 21-26 & Luke 24:13-17 AND 28-35 & Luke 24:13-17 AND 28-35
This week we celebrate Ascension Sunday. The time in the church calendar when we remember the risen Christ’s return to Heaven, before the gifting of Christ’s Spirit in the season of Pentecost.
Today’s two readings are set close to that event – one on either side of Jesus Ascension. They both talk of decisions made and paths taken.
The first, from the Book of Acts, is set after the resurrection and before the Spirit’s Anointing on the followers of Christ.
Peter is already becoming bolder in his words and actions and here shows some leadership.
The Eleven disciples needed a replacement for the betrayer, Judas. It appears that a supernatural answer was not given to their collective prayers on whether to choose (or should I say confirm) Matthias or Barsabbas for the task. So they drew lots – either as another way to justify God’s decision or because it would just be the luck of the draw.
Two candidates, two paths, to choose from. I know something of this, from the decision making surrounding my first stipended ministry placement. I was in the lucky place of having two simultaneous minister offerings for Thea and I.
One was Frontier Services, as a Patrol Padre. This was something I felt led to, for a number of years. The other was a Resourcing or Teaching ministry in the North West Plains of NSW. This, like the Frontier Services position, gave me a parish about the size of Tasmania, but utilised more of my teaching skills than the pastoral skills which are an important part of being a patrol minister.
I prayed for discernment, sought wise counsel, prayed, made a list of advantages and disadvantages, prayed, spoke to experts, prayed, looked through the scriptures for the answer and then prayed some more.
After many days, I came back to the passage from Acts and decided to toss a coin – such was my desperation.
The decision has affected my ministry since then. At the time, I stood at a junction point, like the disciples, to decide which road to follow. We cannot, any of us, simply stand at the junction for two long. To use the old Chinese proverb, those who stand in the middle of the road are likely to get run over.
A favourite poet of mine is the American, Robert Frost. In a poem called A Road Not Taken, he writes:
Two roads converged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
We can only look down that path to a certain point, to where our eyes can see, and not past a bend, or a dip, or a hill.
Then we go forward with a sense of our own good judgment or preparation, but ultimately with trust in God, and a hope for his good graces to be upon us.
And so we came to the Gospel from Luke, which sees two disciples on a path towards Emmaus – a small village several miles from Jerusalem. A stranger is suddenly beside them as they follow the path to Emmaus. In the conversation (about the events of the crucifixion and the reports of a risen Christ) they do not recognise him. But their hearts are burning, as he opened the meaning of the scriptures to them, in a prophetic and hope-filled way.
It’s only when he breaks bread with them that the penny drops and they see the stranger for who he really is.
That’s often our experience. We come to a fork in the road and wonder which path will best achieve the outcomes God desires.
As we take the path we desire (or the one sometimes chosen for us) we start off with a vague burning of the heart, trusting with God’s eyes rather than ours, and then, at some point, the vague and blurry becomes a defined and clear purpose. What we call the ‘Ah Ha’ moments. The path is about the journey and sometimes it seems like there are only little ‘Ah Ha’ or temporary staging points. It is only when we reach home and break bread with the stranger that the roads all become straight, our eyes are fully opened and the burning in our heart becomes a full or joyous bursting of the heart.
In the meantime, let me leave you with the words of Robert Frost, as he concludes his poem and as he speaks again of the path taken, the Emmaus experience he had, and the Emmaus experience open up to all of us, through our ministry as well as life choices.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Lord, show us the way, to the less well trodden way, to take the path – not of least resistance – but the path of most opportunity.
In taking it, may we grow our faith and grow your kingdom as we speak to, and act for, the people we meet upon the road.
Remind us that the path is full of God-incidences, rather than co-incidences.