by Patrick Nafziger
“In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people together will see it
I had a meeting this week at Martins Creek Mennonite Church, just east of town.
As many of you know, Martin’s Creek is the church that planted this church here in Millersburg. It’s kind of our mother church.
It’s pretty easy to get to. If you’ve never been there, it’s not too hard to find. And I know there are a couple of ways to get there from here, but I almost always take 39 east of town, and then turn left at the road that I call ‘Gary and Diane’s road’ since Gary and Diane live right at the end of it, right beside Martins Creek Mennonite church.
It’s the way I learned to go when we first moved here, and so now when I go there, it’s just the route I take.
I’ve been to Martin’s Creek a handful of times since we’ve lived here, so I know the way fairly well.
But even though I know the way fairly well and I’ve driven there more than a couple of times, I still never fail to miss that road.
I just did it again this week!
I was even looking for it because I know I always miss it. J
It’s become part of my routine when I drive to Martins Creek…I drive until I get to Troyers restaurant and then I turn around.
I have to repent from the path I’m taking, make a 180 degree turn, and find my way back to the road I missed. It never fails. J
In the same way, there are times in life when we completely miss where God is leading us, no matter how hard we’re looking for the turnoff. These are times we need to turn completely around—180 degrees and head back the way we came.
The Hebrew word that we translate ‘Repent’ is a word that can mean ‘to turn’ or ‘to return’. It means changing your course, altering the direction that your life is taking when you see you’re heading the wrong way. And it’s easy to think of this as a 180 degree turn that you need to take, like I do at Troyers every time I go to Martin’s Creek.
…But if that was all repentance was, we’d all end up dizzy and not going anywhere, isn’t that right? We’d just keep turning around, going in circles, never making any progress.
But this morning I’d like to get us to think of repentance in a little bit different way, or maybe a more expanded way.
Driving down even the straightest highway requires hundreds of minor course adjustments to stay on the road. We steer both towards and away from certain things as we journey down the road. We steer just a bit left or right every few yards just to keep our place in the lane.
There are times we may be so far off course that we need to pull off and turn completely around, but more often it’s just a matter of staying on the road, right?
We understand that a refusal to pay attention to our surroundings, and a refusal to steer towards our destination and away from other places will eventually result in disaster.
Your car wouldn’t stay on the road for very long at all if you refused to move the steering wheel, or if you took a ‘hands off’ approach to driving.
So it is with life, and with repentance.
It takes a willingness to steer our lives towards some things and aw3ay from others—not just now and then, but day in and day out as long as we’re going.
Otherwise we’re headed towards disaster and won’t stay on the road very long at all.
This passage from Isaiah talks about a highway in the wilderness. It’s a place where the mountains and hills are made low, where the rugged places become even. This is a place where the glory of the LORD is revealed to all people.
This prophetic vision unites people from all walks of life and across boundaries of all kinds. It’s a highway built through the wilderness—and the wilderness belongs to no one but God.
And so Isaiah paints this picture. The low places are lifted up, the high and mighty are brought low. The glory of God is revealed as the rocky crags are evened out…it makes me think oif the rails to trails project here in Holmes county…nice and even footing for about as long as you could want it. Finally some easy going for a tired and weary people.
Life with God is this uniting highway.
But too often it has served instead as a dividing line, a boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
And when that happens, repentance is about a lot more than making 180 degree turns.
Whenever we make a turn, whether in life or in a car, we turn away from hone thing but towards another. In an economics class I had in college, this was called an ‘opportunity cost’, and it referred to the reality that in every decision we make, we choose one thing at the expense of another.
For example, when I was driving to Martin’s Creek earlier in the week, as I missed my road and turned around, I made the decision to give up going to Berlin that afternoon. That was part of my opportunity cost for attending that meeting.
We turn towards some things and away from others.
And in church circles, we’ve gotten really good at talking about repenting FROM our sins, repenting FROM evil, repenting FROM this and that…
And that’s good, that’s part of it.
But I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to think about repenting TOWARDS our end goal.
It’s easy to think about the opportunity cost of repentance—that which we are trying to avoid—but that often leaves you feeling like you’re just trying to jump through a bunch of hoops, doesn’t it?
Can’t it be more helpful to think in terms of steering towards our end goal? Turning TOWARDS some things and away from others?
Part of the problem is that it’s easier to judge than it is to evaluate, right?
It’s easier to point fingers and tell others where they went wrong than it is to look at our own progress and make our own course corrections along this highway.
It’s too easy to focus on the specks in the eyes of others; and to neglect the planks in our own eyes.
And the tragic result is that this highway through the no-man’s land, this highway of God, instead of uniting the people and drawing them closer to God’s glory as Isaiah saw it, it has instead become a kind of borderland, not unifying but rather dividing the people of God from each other.
What was meant to be one church and one people of God has turned into this group verses that group who has killed or is killing this group who doesn’t like that group; and all claim to be seeking after the same Christ. All claim to be traveling the same highway through the wilderness.
And so I’d like to say this morning—that repentance begins at home.
Like running, like fasting, like spending time in silence and solitude, listening for the voice of God—like all of those things, nobody can do it for you. Unless you take the time to make it happen, it won’t.
There is a need for repentance in the church today. We’ve gotten off course and we’ve tried for too long to blaze our own trail through this wilderness, walking by our own power, calling others to come follow us rather than come to follow Christ.
We’ve gotten off course—we’ve confused God’s favorite projects and least favorite sins with Our own favorite projects and Our own least favorite sins.
And that’s a dangerous road to be on, for it goes nowhere but farther away from God’s highway in the wilderness.
God says through the prophet Joel—Yet even now, return to me with all your heart…return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
It’s never too late to get back on the road. It’s never too late to put the past behind you, learn from your mistakes, and seek the Lord your God with all your heart, all your minds, and all your strength.
God’s highway in the wilderness is always there; it’s just a choice of whether we’re willing to travel on it, making corrections to our course as necessary, or if we just keep going our own way.
That’s why I say there’s a need for repentance in the church today.
For tool ong we Christians have blocked the view of this highway by blazing our own trails. For too long we have been eager to baptize our agenda with no eye to the price we end up paying.
For tool long we have emphasized repenting away from so may things, that it’s hard to remember what we need to repent toward. And that it Christ.
What is it that takes you closer to Christ and closer to other people? Turn towards those things.
What is it that takes you further from Christ and further from other people? Turn away from those things.
It sounds like such a simple thing, but as we’ve said for the past couple of weeks, the simple things are sometimes the most difficult to do.
God is building a highway in the wilderness. A highway. Not a border.
Can we travel it?
As you think about your life and the road you might be on…where are you going? What are you turning from, but what also are you turning towards?
One thing’s for sure—repentance is a process and not a one-time decision.
And in keeping with that observation, I want to offer you something this morning. Repentance might start here, this morning. But it’s not going to end here.
I want to offer you a guided meditation to work through as we contemplate our own lives and where repentance might be needed.
I have a bunch of prayer guides up here, at the foot of the cross.
Daniel is going to play a song, and as that song is playing, I invite you to come up to the cross and take a prayer guide with you. If it’s hard for you to get around, raise your hadn and Christine or I will bring one to you.
Take it home and try to work through it at least once this week. It’s an exercise that might take 20 minutes or half an hour if you take it seriously.
It’s something—like repentance—that I can guarantee you’ll only get as much out of as you put into it.
So I invite you to come as the song is played….