Sermon: The Road Less Traveled

18 April 2010


The Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Third Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2010

“The Road Less Traveled”

Acts 9:1-20

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our minds and hearts gathered here this morning be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

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 traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

            I have never been a particularly big fan of poetry.  It was the one section in English class each year that I dreaded.  I apparently am not poetic, so my mind doesn’t function quite that way.  I am one of those people who needs to hear a poem 5 or 10 or 30 times before I even start to understand what it means.  However, this poem has always stood out to me.  And more and more recently I have been hearing it or about it – whether shared in a college application essay, at memorial services, or during recent faith testimonies.  There is something about Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” that has withstood the test of 90 plus years – that has touched the hearts of generations of people.  And as I read the account in the book of Acts once again about Saul’s conversion experience, the last stanza of this poem came into my mind.  Why did Frost pop into my mind in the midst of this very dramatic description of Saul’s conversion?  I will do my best to explain.

            You see, although Christianity is a community-based faith we each have our own individual ways of having come to be where we are today.  Have you ever been asked if you are saved?  For someone like me who was raised in the Christian faith that is perhaps one of the most jarring questions that someone can ask me.  I don’t have a miraculous conversion experience like Saul’s to tell of, but I know of people who do.  And I have wrestled at times with whether it is okay – whether I did it right – whether I have missed something along the way.  For some of us, we were baptized and brought to church as children and youth, got involved in programs offered at whatever stage of our faith or tried hard to rebel against them, listened to scriptures and stories that have helped to shape us.  For others of us, our conversion to Christianity is as memorable as the moon landing, as the day JFK was shot or the towers came crumbling down – remembering every detail of where we were, what we were wearing, what the weather was like.  One way or another we are here because God has spoken to us and called us to be – because in our faith we have discovered something larger than ourselves that begs to be talked about, shared with others.  Because in our faith we have found joy and struggle, blessing and challenge, support and hope.

            For Saul the Road Less Traveled was a road where he would allow others to believe differently than him – or where he would share something new and different – diverging from his own ways.  He was, after all, on the Road to Damascus (a city roughly 125 miles away from Jerusalem as the crow flies) with something akin to arrest warrants in his hand.  He was not just out to champion the Jewish faith, he was out for blood – traveling days to get to Damascus where he would be able to hunt down those who were followers of the Way – the early name for the belief in what Jesus was teaching.  He was a devout Jew who believed that his way was the only way, and who was desperate to bring people into the right – or have them killed otherwise.  His conversion was not a conversion to a belief in another god.  It was a conversion to a belief that Jesus was the Messiah and that it was okay for others to believe differently.  It is not as if Saul, becoming Paul, then flip-flopped and went after his Jewish brothers and sisters following his dramatic, personal experience meeting Jesus on the Road to Damascus, in order to persecute them.  But, once he realized what had happened to him, he did answer God’s call to reach out to people, to share his story, to explore what it meant to have new life in Jesus Christ.  Despite the fact that others found it hard to believe in Paul, he gave all he had to create and guide communities of faith – through his missionary travels, his letters, even his own confession of who he was as a persecutor of the followers of Jesus.  Paul didn’t hold back anything from those whom he met, realizing that – take it or leave it – this was his experience of God, and others should be afforded the opportunity to experience God too. 

             Then there was Ananias – a believer in the Way.  And even for him, a new road was forged ahead.  He went out on a limb in his faith to help Saul, after all he was one of the people that Saul was after with one of those arrest warrants.  In today’s words Ananias probably said something to God that sounded like “Are you crazy!  Have you heard what this guy has been doing?  And you want me to help him?”  But as a man of belief, as a man who believed that God knew better than he did, Ananias helped Saul – even going so far as to call him Brother when no one else believed that he had really changed.  In that experience prejudices were broken down, courageous actions were taken, and Ananias came to realize that people really are capable of true and life-enhancing change.

             I don’t know about you, but when I look back on my personal experience, much of it seems pretty ordinary, average, every day.  But there are a few of those experiences with the road less traveled.  And they really have made a world of difference – breaking me out of my comfort zone, begging me to see beyond the blind-spots of prejudice and difference that could have kept me from meeting some amazing people, and even landing me in parish ministry despite my desperate attempts not to.  I have come to realize that God speaks to me the way that God speaks to me – which may or may not be the way that God speaks to you.  God speaks to each of us in the way that God at least hopes, if not knows, we will eventually listen.  As humans we tend to get caught up in the “what if I had taken that other road” bit of things.  But looking back should only be a way of figuring out how we landed where we are today and where we will be in the future – either because of the roads laid out before us or in spite of them. 

             No matter what roads we have taken – no matter whether our conversion experience looks like Saul’s or if it looks like one that has been forged in faith since before our birth – we are all called by the same Holy One who asks us to be courageous and risky in our faith – who challenges us to grow and change and toil and share in his name.  There is no need to think that someone else’s faith is better than mine or yours.  Our faith is what it is, and each day we are called by our God, who names us Beloved, to grow in it.  And God knows that Christianity, our faith, is not always the easiest way to go.  It is not always the most popular or the way that to the blind human eye would seem to have the most benefits.  So the fork in the road today brings us to the question about who we will be and how we will work for God?  Will we be people who look down on others for their differences, who persecute others because they look or sound or believe differently than us?  Or will we be people who go about sharing God’s love in what we say and what we do – who work to bring about God’s will and way – to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God?  

            We can perhaps picture Paul before he was put to death for the faith he came to love and champion, sitting in an upper room with companions or in a jail cell with complete strangers telling his story.  I was a persecutor of the followers of Jesus Christ.  I wanted nothing more than for them to follow the law of my faith, but then one day I was walking down the road – and blinded by a light so bright, I was asked to go a different way.  On a perfectly straight road on the way into Damascus I encountered a fork and was given a new opportunity.  The opportunity was to tell you about the love of God revealed in the crucified and risen Lord – to teach you that it is okay and even wonderful to find unity with others in faith and to depend on one another in community, to share that my faith has brought me to a new life of freedom and responsibility – the responsibility to treat and love others as I wish to be treated and loved.   So where are you in your faith story and at a fork in the road which way will you choose to go? 

            As Frost wrote long ago, “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 traveled by, and it has made all the difference.”  Amen.



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