Texts: Deuteronomy 2:1-7; Acts 16:6-13
A few weeks ago, I was on my bicycle heading home. I was coasting downhill on a road that crosses through a wetlands area. Ahead I noticed a kid standing in the weeds on the right side of the road down at the bottom of the hill. It seemed odd for him to be just standing there, not doing anything. I got closer and noticed his skateboard. Then got even closer and saw that there was another kid behind him. The second kid was on the ground on one knee and leaning over.
I slowed to check on them. “Did you crash?” I asked. Then I saw the kid’s knee. It was pretty banged up. His arm had some road rash. His shirt was ripped on the shoulder. He wasn’t gushing blood. He could even smile. But he was hurting. The standing kid assured me they were going to be okay. They had called his mom and she was on her way. The kid on the ground winced at his pain and insisted he was going to be okay.
I could see the mix of pride—they were tough. And pain. It really did hurt.
They were lucky he wasn’t scraped up worse than he was. The hill is long and steep. In fact, the hill is fast enough that on my bicycle I quit peddling about a third of the way down and just focus on not crashing. I can not imagine riding a skateboard down that hill. The smallest pebble or irregularity in the pavement would be disastrous. But these boys could imagine trying. They went for it. And oops!
Someone landed in the weeds.
Mom got called. At least they didn’t have to call 911.
Falling. It’s the price of glory.
In our congregation we have serious bikers. One of the ways I know they are serious is their stories of trips to the hospital, the pictures I’ve seen of them wearing neck braces and casts. When you skate or ride a bicycle you don’t aim to crash. You aim at glory. But it is almost guaranteed that if you aim at glory frequently enough, some time you will crash.
So what do you after you crash? I guess that depends on how bad the crash was. You might call mom. You might have to call 911. If you’re lucky, you’ll collect a cool story of a miraculous, narrow escape and you’ll get back on your bike and ride on.
Like Alycia’s fantastic “dismount.” She and David were mountain biking. She hit something, flew over the handle bars and LANDED ON HER FEET!!!!!!! David wishes he had a video. I wish he had a video!
What do you do after such a fall? Get back on the bicycle.
What do you not do? Spend a lot of time thinking about the fall or crash. If you do, you’ll quit skating or riding. You’ll quit dreaming.
This principle applies with great force to spiritual life.
How shall we respond to our spiritual and moral falls? After the fall, get up and go at it again again. Aim again at glory.
Some of us deal with addictions of various sorts. Alcohol. Drugs. Anger. Sexual misconduct.
I am not minimizing the damage that addictive behavior does to ourselves and to our families and friends and even to larger society. When we get drunk we are setting ourselves up to cause harm, sometimes awful harm. When we fall again to the seductive call of a drug, it’s a terrible fall. It’s a dangerous fall. There’s no telling how much damage we might cause ourselves and others.
Still, the question stands: What shall we do afterward? When we have crashed, when we are hunched over on the ground bloody and hurting, what is the next step?
Let’s refuse to squander life and energy in remorse and regret and self-hatred. Let’s turn our lives again toward holiness, toward life.
Call someone. Get rid of our stash. (Don’t flush it down to toilet. Put it in the trash where it won’t pollute Puget Sound.) Make an appointment with a counselor. Go to an AA meeting. Take action toward wholeness—and know that God cheers every step you take in the right direction.
Let’s look at our two Scripture passages.
The story of Israel. God rescued them from Israel and directed them north toward Palestine, the Promised Land. But they were a mess. They kept screwing up. It finally got so bad that God suspended the journey north. They had to wander around in the desert for decades. Their story was the typical story of addiction. Repeated, weary failing. Two steps forward, three steps backward. It’s depressing to read.
After four decades, God tells Moses, “You’ve been wandering long enough. It’s time to resume your march toward the Promised Land. Head north.” So they did.
But like real life, their story continued to be up and down, backward and forward, failure and then, try again. The constants were the destination: Always the Promised Land was their destination. And turning again toward glory after they failed. Over and over and over again.
The New Testament reading adds adds an important element to this story.
In Acts 16, we read about the Apostle Paul on one of his missionary journeys.
Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.
The church celebrates Paul as the Great Missionary Apostle. He was called by God in a dramatic fashion. Under the call of God, he sets out to preach the gospel. But notice in this passage, his failures. He tries to go to different places and it doesn’t work out.
He doesn’t give up and go home. He tries again. And again. And again.
Finally, he has a vision that he interprets as a call to yet another place. He and his disciples follow this lead and the missionary trip continues.
Sometimes we imagine that if we are faithful to God, life will be smooth sailing. But here in the story of Paul we see that even the most famous missionary in the history of the church had abortive efforts, failed attempts. He dealt with these failures by simply trying again.
So let’s devote ourselves to the pursuit of holiness.
And when we fail. Get up and go again.
Knowing that just as God kept company with Israel through their great failures and kept company with Paul through his small failures, God will keep company with us.