Have you tried to buy a map recently? I mean, like an old school fold up map that never folds back the same way?
A few weeks ago when Rev. Laraine Waughtal, our new Missional Engagement Director, came for her first house-hunting trip, we put together the perfect welcome package for her. It was filled with all kinds of Louisiana stuff – an LSU cup, Mardi Gras beads, Tabasco, Screamin’ Hot salsa from the Children’s Home. The only thing missing was a map!
Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble, the gas station (where you could always find a map)--six stops later, still no map.
Of course Kathryn Moore, the problem solver extraordinaire, finally found an old school map at the Visitors Center.
I know what you are thinking – Bishop, there are all these great apps for that!
I know, but there are times when you just need an old school fold-up map. I still have memories of family vacations, with the map folded out on the dash board, flying all over the place because there was no air conditioning in our cars and the windows were rolled down. The map would fly into mom’s face. We tried not to laugh!
Sometimes you need to be able to not just see where you are with a blue dot that marks your spot--you need to be able to see where you are, relative to where you are going.
I read an article in the The Atlantic about a guy that makes maps.
Mapmaking, or cartography, is a lost art. He makes maps mostly for hikers.
I wish I’d had one a few months ago in Sedona when we got lost and our two-mile, three-hour hike turned into nine miles and five hours. I learned that a cool REI app does no good when you are lost and have no cell service!
I felt like I was on a bad episode of Gilligan’s Island – a three-hour tour. Now you have the song in your head! Sorry!
Tom Harrison has been making maps for 30 years. He says there is a lot of research that goes into gathering data to make a map. He determines what has already been done by someone else, so that he doesn’t have to do it all over again.
Once he has decided the location or trail he will map, it takes him about two years. “There are some places in this country where the maps are quite old, and some of them don’t have the trails on them that the parks have. They don’t have boundaries,” he said.
I learned this in Sedona, too. My first clue that we had a problem should have been when my brother-in-law said, “I don’t remember this the last time I was here!”
Harrison says it doesn’t help that the process of making a map changes about every six months.
Today, there is GPS, Google Earth—and now, even the park service has a computerized system for gathering data.
Finally, he said that a secret of a making a good, easy-to-read map is what you leave OFF the map. “A lot of maps have too much stuff,” he said. “And if you have too much stuff, your eyes go back and forth too much, and your brain cannot process everything it’s seeing.”
On Thursday, we talked about marching off the map and not having a map to help guide us through the complexities of leading the church today.
In his introduction to Missional Mapmaking, Alan Roxburgh says that we are living in a confusing, sometimes terrible time, when it feels as though the maps that once shaped our understanding and practices of how we lived together no longer seem to be reliable. He goes on to say that many of us feel like we’re suddenly in unfamiliar land, where our internal maps of how things should be no longer match what’s going on around us.
“I don’t remember this the last time I was here!”
Mapmakers and navigators of old found their latitude by measuring angles to the North Star; it was their constant.
The North Star or Polaris does not move.
According to EarthSky, the North Star is known to stay fixed in our sky. It marks the location of the sky’s North Pole, the point around which the whole sky turns. That’s why you can always use Polaris to find the north.
Earth spins under the sky once a day.
Earth’s spin causes the sun in the daytime – and the stars at night – to rise in the east and set in the west. But the North Star is a special case. Because it lies almost exactly above Earth’s northern axis, it’s like the hub of a wheel. It doesn’t rise or set. Instead, it appears to stay put in the northern sky.
Friends, we too in our lives of faith,
in our lives as a community of faith,
in our life as the church,
need to remember what our center is, what gives us our bearings, what is at our core.
We need to know what our North Star is.
Are we bold enough to say that our North Star is the mission?
Can we imagine leading a church by maintaining a constant gaze toward the mission?
I am not suggesting we ignore all that is around us. But, can we, like good mapmakers and navigators of old, orient our latitude, where we are, by its angle to the North Star?
In other words, could we constantly determine where we are relative to where we are going – toward the mission – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
Can you even begin to imagine what might happen if that was our constant?
Imagine if we always knew where we were relative to the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten, the throw-aways?
Or where the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten were relative to us?
I have a pretty vivid imagination, but even I cannot even begin to imagine how much our Conference, our state, our world would be transformed if we always knew where we were relative to the people on the margins.
Jesus tells us! That’s the question that John’s disciples were wondering about when he said, “Go and tell John what you’ve witnessed with your own eyes and ears—the blind are seeing again, the lame are walking again, the lepers are clean again, the deaf hear again, the dead live again, and Good News is preached to the poor.”
Our family is hooked on HGTV. I think we have watched every episode of Fixer Upper. Do we have a witness? We love Chip and JoAnna.
Now, they have imagination!
Do you remember the episode when their furniture-maker, Clint, and his wife bought a house for $10,000 that they described as The Pit, and thought it looked like a crime scene?
It was to be condemned but instead Chip and JoJo (love how I call her JoJo like I know her?) brought it back to life. They transformed it!
Can we make something out of what appears to be nothing?
That is, in fact, our call. As people of faith – laity and clergy alike.
Local pastors, elders, deacons – we are all called to make something out of what was thought to be condemned.
That is what transformation is all about.
God can do far beyond all that we could ask for, or imagine.
Especially, when we know where we are relative to our North Star - the mission.
When we engage, connect, listen, and see those on the margins – our North Star shines even brighter.
What if change began on the outer most parts and worked its way in?
It is from the edge that the real work of the church emerges.
“Those” people out ‘there’ might be gentle giants, who can teach us how to grow fruit that is ripe and plentiful.
The real work of the church emerges from some of the world’s least likely places and people.
The places where we are afraid to go because no one has been there,
The places that have changed from what we remember.
The places that are yet undiscovered, ignored, easily dismissed .
The places that seem to have it all together from the outside, yet are deeply broken, lost and in need of the Good News!
Places flowing with milk and honey that we have yet to discover.
Places waiting for us to carry the bounty of God’s grace!
We talked about Lewis and Clark this week and their adventure.
It was the indigenous people, the natives, that guided Lewis and Clark across the unexpected Rockies. When they thought they would be crossing water, and instead stood nose to nose with the Rockies, it was the natives that they bartered with to buy horses to help them cross the mountains.
It was the indigenous peoples that taught them to live off the land.
They didn’t know what was in front of them; they just knew it didn’t look like what was behind them. They had to rely on the people of the land to guide them. The very people they feared were the ones who saved their lives.
Who are the people that we fear? They might just be the ones that know the way. They might be the very people that can save our life!
They are who Craig Hill, Dean of Perkins School of Theology, calls the radically “other.”
We might just learn that the future is already being lived out. . . in the margins!
It is most likely that what is in front of us will not look like anything that is behind us.
Barbara Brown Taylor says that “sometimes you have to start telling a different story before a different kind of future can unfold.”
The church is likely to look different; the geo-political landscape will likely be different.
I wish I could tell you what it was going to look like – I do not know! What I do know is that we have to start telling a different story, with our eye on the North Star, so that we can remain faithful to our call to ordained ministry, licensed ministry and lay ministry; so that a different kind of future can unfold.
At the end of the day, the only thing any of us can control is who we are, and how we respond—especially to the least and the lost.
Boldly imagine a world where a different future unfolds. Where all are fed, where all of God’s children are loved, where we can take something that has been condemned and bring it back to life.
A world where we will have to learn to ask new questions, better questions because we quickly learn that the same old questions keep getting us more stuck and more lost.
Let me tell you the story of unknown territory, of unmapped and unchartered waters, of a group of people who wandered for 40 years –you heard some of this story on Thursday during the Episcopal Address, and again in Lily’s reading.
Here’s the rest of the story.
When Caleb and Joshua reported back, they reported of a land filled with milk and honey and lots of fruit – grapes, pomegranates and figs.
They also reported that there were powerful people who lived in the land - Anakites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites – mosquitobites . . .
When the crowds heard this, they grumbled. And it was Caleb who tried to calm the crowds by saying, “We must go up and take possession of this land, because we are more than able to do it.”
Friends, WE are more than able to do it!
We don’t know what is ahead, but I am convinced that we are more than able to do it because we have our eyes set on the North Star.
You who have been licensed, commissioned and ordained—and yes laity, you too have been called.
YOU can lead us because the Spirit of the Lord has been poured upon YOU to bring good news to the poor, to feed the hungry, give water to those who thirst, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and visit the prisoner.
As I quoted, in the Episcopal Address, the wise words from John Lewis--“If not us, who? If not now, when?”
I will also remind you that I said that I am not worried about God doing God’s work – but will we do ours?
WILL. WE. DO. OURS?
The only thing we can control in our crazy world today is who we are, how we respond.
It seems like we are living in a time when people have been freed to do and say things they would have never done or said.
But we know better; we are better than that! Our eyes are focused on our North Star.
We know that in God’s wildest and boldest imagination, God has called you and me to bring light to a dark world, to bring life to that which has been condemned.
WILL. WE. DO. OUR. WORK?
We don’t even know what our beloved United Methodist Church will look like in the future. Probably nothing like it looks today. And STILL, in God’s wildest and boldest imagination, God is calling us TODAY!
And while I will continue to fight for unity, my hunch is that whether we are the United or Un-United or Untied – there will still be hungry people to feed, there will still be thirsty people, sick people and people in prison that need to be visited.
There will be people who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ - that has been our call and will continue to be our call as the body of Christ.
Imagine us with all the tools we know of now, today, to lead the church. An old school map (the folding up type), an iPhone with apps – let’s go, let’s take a step, let’s keep this journey going.
We know that what is ahead looks like nothing in our rear view mirror. But our gaze is up – our North Star, our mission (the one God has set before us) – so that we might add to the map a land flowing with milk and honey, a land filled with ripe fruit. A land filled with people ready to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Richard Rohr says that the meaning of apostolic succession is probably not bishops laying their hands on the next generation of priests (remember that Rohr is Roman Catholic), but Christians rubbing off on one another. I know we need a process for passing leadership, he says, but right now we also need to pass on grace and healing.
Friends, God can do more than we can ask or imagine. Don’t box God in!
God has led us thus far. And as hard as it might be to imagine, we are exactly where we need to be.
Remember, NOTHING separates us from the love of God – the unchartered waters, the giants, looming Called Sessions of General Conference, NOTHING, NOT. A. THING.
You have been called for such a time as this to lead the church. To tell a different kind of story, with a different kind of future.
It is no accident that your licensing, commissioning and ordination is happening today.
You are the next Lewis and Clarks; you are the next mapmakers; you are the next ones that are being called to march off the map.
In God’s wildest and boldest imagination, God has called YOU!
Find that North Star, and don’t you take your eyes off of it for a millisecond!
It is that North Star, our mission, that God has set before us to reach the lost and the least, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the imprisoned.
Start telling a different story so that a different kind of future can unfold!
Let’s chart the unchartered. Grab a sharp pencil – because we have work to do!