GPS: “Recalculating” Easter 7A (Sunday After Ascension), June 1, 2014

Acts 1:6-14 The Rev. Gillian R. Barr, Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI


Have you ever had a time in your life when there was suddenly a roadblock across the way you were going, and you didn’t know where you were supposed to go next?   Not only did you not know the route, but you no longer even had a destination?   Because the destination you’d been heading to suddenly had a big “CLOSED” sign on it? When that happens, there is a period of time of indecision, of confusion, of fog—we can’t set a new path because we don’t know our next destination. In this day of GPS, roadblocks are not that much of a problem—our GPS simply recalculates and directs you onwards. No more pulling over to the side of the road and fumbling with maps, or snapping at the person in the passenger seat, the designated “navigator,” in frustration. But what happens when you don’t even have a destination to enter into the GPS? I tried it with Siri. I asked Siri, “Where am I going?” She replied, “Sorry, we do not seem to be navigating anywhere. If you’d like directions, just say, ‘get directions to [wherever].’ ” [demonstrate with iPhone] IMG_1826 Wherever. That is just the problem, sometimes. There are times we don’t know where we are going. Sometimes that can be freeing, as you set out on a vacation or road trip, but most times not having any idea where we are going next is scary. Perhaps it is when you are graduating high school, or college, and the economy has tanked, and you’re not at all sure what, if any, job you are qualified for, and no one much wants to give you a chance to find out. Perhaps the marriage or relationship you were in has just come to an unexpected end, after months or years, with much pain and disappointment and grief. Maybe you’ve always seen yourself as athletic, but now you have an injury that means you can never go back to your regular routine. Or maybe you’re trying to come to terms with what it means to be a parent, or you’re a parent coming to terms with an empty nest. Whatever the particulars, for a long time you’ve been dedicated to one path, with a clear objective, and now circumstances have taken that objective and clarity away. What do you do? It can be a very confusing, disorienting place to be. Often our very identity is suddenly in question. If I’m not a student, or a husband, or a football player, or a manager in this company, who am I? When we find ourselves stuck in neutral, it is very easy to slip into anger, regret, or depression. We might browse the self-help books, or go through the standard steps recommended by a counselor: evaluate our abilities and skills and passions, seek out new training, align our finances or our living situation or our workout routine with the new reality. But sometimes a new destination, a new path, does not emerge quickly even when we follow all the “right steps.” We are stuck in an in-between time, a time of waiting. Think about the community of Jesus’s disciples and friends in today’s Gospel. They thought they had a destination. That Jesus was going to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth as a king-messiah. But they were wrong. Jesus says, “No.” And then he adds, “You have a new mission—be my witnesses to the ends of the earth,” But he gives no directions of what’s to happen next. They are basically told to cool their heels and wait. They have no new destination to add into their GPS. So they return to Jerusalem. Where they pray. In community. They didn’t just give up, as they might have earlier. As they did on several earlier occasions within the preceding weeks, in fact. They come together with expectancy and faith.   I am sure there are conversations not recorded in Acts, with the disciples scratching their heads, trying to figure out what it all means. Making their lists of possibilities and pros and cons. But underneath that, ultimately, they waited. They waited in community, with prayer, with hopeful expectation that whatever “the Holy Spirit coming upon you” might mean, it would happen and would make things clearer. When we find ourselves in times of waiting, of confusion, of not knowing what the next destination is, at least not w/ enough clarity to enter it into our GPS, as people of faith we are called to do the same thing.   The spiritual term for such a time is “a time of discernment.”  Often in the church we misunderstand “discernment” to mean simply the process of determining whether someone is called to be ordained or a monk or nun.  But really discernment is something we all need to be doing throughout our lives–it means seeking to perceive who and what God is calling you to be and do in a specific time in  your life. There are spiritual tools, disciplines you can learn and practice, to help in discernment. One of the reasons I was chosen as the Director of the Jonathan Daniels House, which focuses on young adults who are in a time of discernment, is because I have some training in these tools. At their core they are about methods we can learn and use to pray and reflect on our lives, our desires, our futures, in community. How we do so with patient hope and expectation. In closing I’d like to share with you a poem by the famous Jesuit priest and scientist, Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He writes to a young man wrestling with his future: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability— and that it may take a very long time.  And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.  Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” ― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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