I was riding my motorcycle home from the farmhouse early in the week, from Paoli to Danville, and got to thinking of all the times I had been on Highway 37, driving it several times a month for the past 33 years, well over a thousand times. It occurred to me, as I neared the city of Bedford, that there were many, many roads connecting Paoli and Danville besides Highway 37, and that if I kept using Highway 37, I would never experience them. So instead of whizzing past the outskirts of Bedford at 65 M.P.H., I went through its downtown at 30 M.P.H., wound my way to its north side and found a country road heading north out of Bedford.
While riding through Bedford, I decided I would make it to Danville following two rules. First, I would get there by dead reckoning, without using the compass or map on my smartphone, and secondly, that while it was permissible to cross state highways, I could not travel on them. I could only cross them at intersections. Before long, I found myself on the Harold Smith Road, named, presumably, for Harold Smith. If you’ve never been on the Harold Smith Road, you’re in for a treat, because it eventually connects, by way of Peerless Road, to the McFadden Ridge Road, which rises high above Salt Creek, so that for a mile or so I was riding my motorcycle high above the treetops. If you need to get your bearings, this is all just south of the towns of Judah and Guthrie. I’m sure you know where they are.
When I came down out of the treetops, I found myself at an intersection and had to stop to think for a moment about which way to go. There was not a single soul around, so I turned off my motorcycle, and sat there, listening to the sounds of summer. I had two thoughts while sitting there. My first thought was that for the first time in a long time, I felt fully alive. I had the entire day to myself, I was on my motorcycle, it was beautifully sunny, and I felt joyously alive. I was having what the psychologist Abraham Maslow called a “peak experience.” The second thought I had was that I was lost, or at least temporarily misplaced, but instead of being anxious, I found it thrilling. I understood, almost immediately, that my joy was connected to my “lostness.”
So this morning I want us to think about the joy in being lost. Being lost is something I have generally avoided, because when we’re lost, life is unpredictable. We’re in unfamiliar territory, which has always made me uneasy. I am a lover of maps, schedules, directions, instructions, guidelines, and calendars. They give shape and form to my life. I like knowing the weather a week before it happens. I know what my IRA will be worth when I retire based on the stock market cycles, returns, and averages since 1900. I mistrust chance, am skeptical of coincidence, and replace 90,000 mile tires at 60,000 miles, just in case.
So you can imagine my surprise at being happy in my lostness.
Now let us suppose that if our feelings about a situation or person or circumstance depart so radically from our past it might, just might, indicate that God is working in us. For instance, if we begin to love people we have always hated and feared, then maybe that is God working in us. If we have always liked order and discipline, but discover a new appreciation for whimsy and spontaneity, perhaps that is God working in us, helping to make us more flexible and responsive to the Spirit’s leadings. Maybe, just maybe, God was saying to me, “Life can’t be mapped out. Detours happen. Maps aren’t always up-to-date. Sometimes you’ll feel lost. Get used to the idea, and be happy anyway.”
What if that were the metaphorical point of Moses and the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness for two generations? Maybe it was God’s way of loosening them up. Maybe at the start of the forty years they were all statisticians and mathematicians and cartographers, passionate about order and predictability. Now God, who if the natural world is any indication, seems to appreciate order and stability, but also appears to values freedom, spontaneity, and originality. Maybe God kept the Hebrews in the wilderness for two generations so some of them would become poets and painters and singers and motorcycle riders.
This is all to say that if all we care about are rules and guidelines and facts, we have missed out. If we have always known precisely where we are, what we are worth, what we believe, and where we are headed, we have missed out. If we have spent our lives driving on Highway 37, from Point A to Point on the straightest possible path, we have missed some spectacular scenery. We need to wander in the wilderness. We need to get lost.
This is how I best understand Saul, who went from spiritual rigidity to soul freedom on a road trip of his own. (Soul freedom is a relative term. There are degrees of freedom and spontaneity, and some people are more capable of it than others.) But we all know people who are spiritually rigid, don’t we? Hard-nosed. Often wrong, but never in doubt. Sticklers for the rules. Never an ounce of grace. This was Saul. He visited the high priest in Jerusalem and asked for a letter which would give him the authority to attend the synagogue in Damascus and arrest anyone there sympathetic to Jesus, tie them up, and bring them to trial in Jerusalem. Because you know how some people are–if what they are doing lacks moral authority, they will arm themselves with legal authority. These folks who are determined to make the lives of gay and transgender folk a fresh and living hell are absent moral authority, so are determined to gain legal authority. We have seen them before. So Saul was granted his letter of authority and went to Damascus, and you better know he took the straightest road possible from Jerusalem to Damascus. Highway 37 all the way.
Just outside of Damascus a bright light knocked him to the ground and rendered him blind. I suppose that’s one way of getting lost, having the sight knocked out of you.
Saul was taken to Damascus, to the house of a man named Judas, and the Spirit said to a man named Ananias, “Go to the house of Judas in Damascus. You’ll find Saul there. Lay your hands on him so he might see.”
This was more spontaneity than Ananias wanted, who apparently had his own issues with tolerance and open-mindedness. Ananias said, “Oh, no, I’ve heard about him. He arrests people like me and has us killed. I’m not getting within a mile of that guy.”
“He’s going to be my ambassador to the Gentiles. Trust me on this.”
So Ananias went, laid his hands on Saul, Saul’s eyes were opened, he was baptized, sat down to lunch, then went to the synagogue and preached. His transformation was so radical, so complete, God said the man Saul didn’t even exist anymore so changed his name to Paul.
Pay attention to Paul’s story, friends. Sometimes we need to be lost in order to be found, be blind before we can see. The rules aren’t going to get us where we need to be. Orthodoxy and rigidity are poor saviors, for the road to God is seldom a straight and simple line. There are detours. Moments of blindness and fear. But, oh, such beauty along the way. Like riding among the treetops on a sunny summer’s day.