"Do We Really Want A Map?"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 1, 2002

Psalm 80:1-7; 17-19; Isaiah 64:1-9

     Recently one of the couples in our church retraced the route of Lewis and Clark, the team that explored the Northwest Territory.  Thomas Jefferson had chosen the two for this task.  They left St. Louis, ascended the Missouri River to its source, crossed the head-waters of the Snake River, and floated down the Columbia to the Pacific.  Their story is an amazing saga.  

     Try to imagine what it was like to have been a part of that expedition when there were no trails, aerial photographs, topographical maps, or even an idea of what their destination would be like. There were stories and lots of folk tales about this wilderness area, but little information was available.  They were explorers who were on a mission. They created maps and made journal entries that others could use if one day they decided to follow them. 

     Travel back even further to the days of Isaiah.  While Isaiah's adventure had nothing to do with uncovering the secrets of a vast parcel of real estate, he had a desire to explore and understand life and God when there were no maps for doing so. There were tales circulating among various tribal oral traditions, but were they factual?  He wanted to know what humankind could do if everyone had a map, a little more information, or a clearer insight into the nature of God. 

     Isaiah approached God with these words:  "Why don't you tear the sky open and come down?  There was a time when you did glorious things that people did not anticipate.  Come again and reveal your power!"   

     Isaiah wanted to know about God personally.  His only compass was the folklore of his ancestors.  He continued talking with God, "No one has ever seen or heard of a God like you, who does great deeds for those who put their hope in you.  You welcome those who find joy in doing what is right, and to those who remember how you want them to live."

     He reasoned that God had chosen to remain distant because of the sinful nature of people.  He wrote, "No one turns to you in prayer; no one goes to you for help. You have hidden yourself from us and have abandoned us because of the way we are. You are God," he said, "We are like clay and you are the potter.  You made us, so you know how we are.  Do not be angry with us. Teach us. Please have mercy on us."

     Have our thoughts and feelings changed since the time of Isaiah?  He was pleading for a map! He was requesting that God tear open the sky and come to be among us.  He thought that if God would only be very clear with instructions for life that humanity would understand. 

     It is strange that we ask the same questions today even though we have the map.  Jesus made very clear instructions for living creatively.  The path has been traveled by other explorers, like Lewis and Clark, who have provided written records of their findings. The "stop signs" are highly visible.  The dead end streets are well marked.  The "Do Not Park Here" directions are everywhere.  With today's rapid dissemination of information, we also have the well documented wreckage of human lives as testimony to what happens when people venture too far from the path.

      This Advent we are preparing ourselves for the time when God sent a very definitive road map for how to live creative, peaceful lives.  God understood the lament of Isaiah. God understands our frustrations today.  Our struggle, however, comes at the point of whether or not we want to use the map God gave us when events in our lives become extremely personal.  Let me give you some examples:  A young woman exclaims, "He says he loves me but he never calls.  One of my friends told me that she saw him with someone else!  I do not know what to think."  When we want and need a relationship to work so badly, are we really open to seeing a stop sign? 

     Someone tells us, "I've never seen such incredible sales as there are right now. Prices have not been this low in years. I am buying stuff that I have always wanted. It makes me cringe when I think about how I am going to pay for everything. We'll . . . I'll worry about that after Christmas."  Do we even want to see a map that directs us toward being more financially responsible?

     A frustrated wife says, "I am so furious with my husband right now!  He never listens to me.  I feel like I'm invisible.  He pulls something like this and thinks it will all go away because he brought me flowers!  I told him to get a life!"  Do we honestly care about forgiveness, compassion and patience when our feelings have been hurt?  When anger takes us down a well marked dead-end street, it becomes very clear that the map we possess was useless.

     Isaiah's frustration with God is misplaced and he knew it.  We need to look at ourselves as he suggested.  He told God, "No one turns to you in prayer; no one goes to you for help.  You have hidden yourself from us and have abandoned us because of the way we are."  In truth, God is never hidden. The problem is that the eyes of our heart cannot see clearly. 

     For life to be creative and filled with joy, we have to follow the map. Isaiah lived long before Jesus was born.  How ironic that we still face the same life-issues.  Isaiah had no path and we have one that has every step of the way under bright spotlights.  As we know all too well, directions and maps are often used as the last resort. Regardless of what others can do for us, the power of decision is ours and ours alone.             

     For example, we can design a fabulous wedding, but we cannot create two hearts that wish to remain entwined for the rest of their lives.  We can create miracle drugs, but we cannot give someone the will to live.  We can teach people how to memorize hundreds of helpful Scriptures, but we cannot give them the power to radiate their love courageously when they feel abandoned, hurt, misunderstood, or immobilized. The disconnect between God and people appears destined to continue forever. 

     Advent, however, is a time when we look forward with hope to God's coming. We need the map as badly as Isaiah did.  Learn to ask God for miracles. Are we open to them?  Do we ask God to guide us as we let go in trust?  Do we allow doors to shut  knowing confidently that others will be opening? Are we able to give our hurts to God or do we say, "How dare he say that?" thus allowing someone's indiscretion to take up residence inside of us poisoning our minds and hearts?   

     As we begin Advent -- Be hopeful!  Be honest!  Be open!  God is and has always been right in front of us. Miracles are possible not because of anything we do, but because of the nature of God's spirit who loves us always and in all ways.  It is we who must open our eyes and humbly take the hand of the one who guides us.  Yes, we do need the map.  Amen.


     We enter these moments of worship, O God, knowing how wonderful the Advent season is for us.  Our homes, churches, stores and offices all become transformed.  We long for love to change our hearts.  Yet, we confess that in our helping others, we often feel the sting of inconvenience.  We confess that in our giving, we often find it easier to refer people to a stable.  We confess that in our loving, we often attach unspoken requirements and expectations.  We confess that in serving others, we often want gratitude, appreciation and admiration in return.  Lead us, O God, to discover that which will fill our cups to overflowing.  May the coming of baby Jesus remind us always that you are with us now and forever.  Amen.


     We have traveled another year, O God, and this morning once again we begin our journey into Advent.  We begin our waiting process very much like the people many thousands of years ago.  Like the Jews of old, we assume we know the form your loving spirit will take.  Their hope was in a messiah who would restore earthly powers to your "chosen people," Israel.  Who would have understood a baby born in an obscure part of the world during the confusion of a population census being taken? 

     As we prepare ourselves with hope, help us learn with anticipation how much you like to surprise us with joy.  We look for a child to be born anew in our hearts.  In so doing we may miss the book given to us by a friend, or a sudden reversal in the way our lives were tracking.  We confess to having an allergy to change.  We fear uncertainty.  We are not as trusting that you are present in life's events as we claim with our words.   Faith often becomes thin, O God, when our spirits are in training. 

     Please help us sense your spirit moving among us as we worship together.  Move our hearts to be open to your word for us today and during this hour.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .