The Road Not Taken
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.
Frost says it well in this popular poem that the journey of life brings us to places where we must make choices…
I am not talking about all of the choices we face…not the mundane one such as
- What shall we have for supper tonight?
- What shall I wear today?
- Is my hair getting too long?…I should get it cut
- Should we let the kids up to watch that special show?
- What book might we choose for the next book club meeting?
No, Frost is not thinking about such choices when he talks about taking the road less traveled.
I believe he writes about the choices that shape the larger and deeper difference in our lives, the kind that shape the character of our lives that come about from the choices we make in our journey. Such as:
- Who I commit to as a life partner
- What kind of vocation will I pursue
- Maybe where I go to school or where I encourage my children to go
- Am I a parent present to my children and with other little ones I meet
- Do I take the path of honesty and truth regardless of the cost
- Where am I on the continuum of goal oriented or relationship oriented
- Do I make space for God in my life rather than fill it up with my own agenda
- Am I committed to see the face of God in all people regardless of race, class, gender, ability, or sexual orientation
- What is the priority of our life…friends or money?
We face so many choices in life both big and small. They do make a difference in our lives and we know that if we simply avoid making choices the world will make them for us. Choices choices choice…there will always be a fork in the road ahead.
When such serious and heavy choices come before us as Moses put to the people…I sometimes seek truth in humor. Yogi Barra was a famous catcher for the New York Yankees during the 50’s and home spun philosopher. One of his quotes is, “When you get to a fork in the road…take it”. I guess one could take from that line and also Yogi’s very successful 19 year baseball career that forks in the road are inevitable and that one can approach them fearlessly.
It was not all fearless for Moses as one day he was tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro and came upon a burning bush. When he stopped to investigate he ended up in conversation with God (That would be enough to scare anyone) and was called to deliver his people from slavery. Pharaoh was faced with a choice of letting the Hebrews go free. One choice by Moses leads to others needing to make a choice. Pharaoh did let the Hebrews go with Moses, but later changed his mind which turned out to be a bad choice as the Egyptian army met their waterloo at the Red Sea.
The passage from Deuteronomy today is at the end of their wilderness sojourn. They are across the Jordon from the Promised Land. Moses is old, ready to die, and turn the reins over to Joshua. However before he dies he needs to remind the people that there is still a fork in the road before they enter the Promised Land. This is his farewell sermon. He holds out two paths for them to choose from…either life and prosperity…or death and adversity.
When I first read this OT lectionary passage for today…my immediate thought was, “Oh come on is that really a choice do you want adversity and death?
While on the other hand…if death and adversity is not your preferred choice there is the other path of a long life and prosperity. It appears to be a no brainer of do you want to come to a wonderful feast that is laid out for you and do you want to be thrown under the bus.
Well, we obviously need to put this farewell sermon of Moses in context. He just finished 40 years of bumpy and rutty roads in the wilderness with this bunch of sojourners. That is a long pastorate…search committee you don’t need to have that be a goal. There was a lot of complaining and whining along the road. When food was short and the water was bitter they wanted to return to Egypt and the mud pits for the meager meals they had under their taskmasters. When their guide and leader was up the mountain and was absent for a time they went ahead and created their own god and replaced Moses and his God with a golden calf. They did not always make the right choices and thus Moses lays out the options once again for his last time. Moses was 120 years old and was probably a bit woozy from that 40 year wilderness trek.
The choices are not usually labeled “life” and “death”. Most our decisions do not seem that important, but life and death are before us every day…as one commentator stated.
We choose death when we ignore God and choose anything inferior. Death is a slow process of giving ourselves to what does not matter. Modern life is impoverished with a lack of purpose. We rush to meet deadlines that are insignificant and bow before ideas that are not worthy.
This past week Kay and I were invited to supper at a friends house in the Bluffton area and they also invited another man who recently retired. He was heading to Florida to join his wife already at a home they have there. I ask this man if he liked to fish, go boating, or the beach. He said no. I ask him what do you do there and he said there is a community building right by their place they have bingo on Mondays and Ucur on Tuesdays. Then they go to the other end of the island to another community building on Wednesday and they have bingo.
So the choice of what Moses puts before the people of either life or death are but metaphors for two ways of living one’s life. I think I was polite at the moment and hid my nauseas feeling for such a retirement life or death in Florida.
I thank this congregation again for calling me out of retirement to this ministry and saving me from a life or death of Sudoku in Bluffton.
We like choices. We shop around for the widest selection. One of the benefits of being here in Cincinnati for Kay and I is the variety of choices we find here as compared to Bluffton. Kay and I visit Fresh Market together since we don’t trust each other to going alone and running out of control. We resist having our choices cut, because it threatens the illusion of our autonomy—after all freedom is perhaps the central value of our culture.
Moving briefly to the I Cor text for today we find another conflicted situation due to the choices that this urban congregation was making. Different factions in the church are claiming different identities based on their ties to various church leaders. I belong to the Paul group…or no, not us we are with Apollos! Well we are hanging with Peter because he is a rock and that is what it is all about. I don’t think I heard anything like that last summer when I came here, you know, things like “We belong to the Joel & Abbie Miller circle…don’t mess with us”
Paul’s appeal to the church at Corinth…in short hand is something like, Come on folks grow up and start eating real food. We all belong to Christ and the human leaders, the teachers, the preachers are exactly that…human servants inviting you to make a good choice and choose life, choose Christ, the light and savior of the world.
The cover of the bulletin includes one verse from the Gospel reading for this day. It is about not swearing falsely, but nevertheless carrying out the vows you have made to the Lord. Or we might say simply following up on the choices we have made. We do not need to swear an oath, but simply let our yes be yes and our no be no. It comes down to a matter of integrity and authenticity. In the movie “Something’s Got to to Give” with Jack Nicolas and Diane Keaton there is a revealing line from Jack as he tries fumblingly to explain his two timing behavior to a disbelieving Diane…he finally admits with the line, “I’m telling you some version of the truth” We live in a world where much is gray with many versions of reality, but we are called to be beacons of truth and light.
The Anabaptists of the 16th century understood that well and made choices that were often costly. Schlietheim, the first convention of these radical reformers in 1527 included the rejection of oaths and called for a simple yes and no regarding their choices. Many paid with their very lives.
While we do face many choices as individuals, we are greatly aided in our journeys by the decisions we make as a church, a corporate body. Some things are beyond us as individuals and the spirit flows freely among us as we seek together what brings us life and the joy of the kingdom. We have the promise that if we seek we will find and if we knock on the door it will be opened for us. The choices we make will take us on the road less traveled, but it will make all the difference. It was so for Jesus and thus also for us.