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Jesus is My Map and Compass

2A Easter

16 Apr 2023

Many years ago I was introduced to orienteering. It's an activity that can be adapted. For people of all ages and abilities. Classical orienteering, however, involves the use of a map. And a compass. No GPS, no cell phone, no electronics. I understand, orienteering began as military training so that soldiers would be able to navigate any terrain as long as they had a map and a compass. My father had learned orienteering when he was in the army in World War II. For me, orienteering was a fun activity. You took your map and your compass. You had a list of landmarks that you were to find using map, compass, your eyes, and common sense. Well, it sounds easy enough, doesn't it? To do it correctly, you had to get to the landmark and there find something you had to write down such as some words or some numbers so that the officials would know you had found the objective. While I'm sure they still exist, there were probably more orienteering courses back in the pre-GPS days. After we learned our orienteering skills, the group I was with participated in a contest to see who could be the first to successfully complete the course. I can proudly say I was the first one over the finish line. It may be the only time I ever won any sort of sporting contest. However, ultimately with orienteering, I don't think the object is to be the first one to get from point A to point B. It is to be able to get from point A to point B successfully. The skills I learned helped me when I was backpacking and when I was canoeing in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota about 20 years ago. I went with some of my cousins on a canoe trip. We had to paddle across a large lake and find our take-in point on the far side. I oversaw the navigation. Well, we got to the other side, courtesy of the map and compass which guided us by topography and landmarks to the take out point. But when we got to what I was sure was the takeout point, there was no sign. We ended up paddling up and down the shore for perhaps an hour before coming back to our original spot. And lo and behold, the sign was now quite visible. The orienteering and the navigation had been perfect; it was my eyesight and a slightly hidden sign that had failed us. Never again did I doubt my map, my compass, and my navigational skills.

It would be beyond corny to say that Jesus is my map and compass, so I won’t. But the idea of doubt and trust are intrinsic to both our faith and much of what happens in our day-to-day existence. He spent his earthly life, his short adult ministry, teaching us to find our way in the world in a fashion that would make the world and our relationship to God a complete and beautiful thing. Now he is dead, and we who are his followers are acting like the walking dead. We are afraid and bewildered. Then he comes to us in a locked room because there is no barrier that can keep him from us. In our mix of fear and joy, he gives us peace, the thing we need more than anything else. We see his scars and understand that there was and will be pain as well as rejoicing. It is still the way. We are given the Holy Spirit, that part of the Trinity that dwells within us. And what does he say to us? Practice forgiveness; that will be the foundation of our faith. No talk of belief, only of how we are to treat one another.

And what of Thomas? I don’t think he doubted Jesus, for he was the one who told the others that they all should go with Jesus to Bethany to where Lazarus lay dying, even though he thought they would all be killed. No, Thomas doesn’t trust what the others say. And when he sees Jesus, he becomes the first to call him God!

Eastertide is a time when we start to make sense of the whole story of Jesus. We come down from the high of Easter as we try to figure it all out. Peter addresses a community of gentile converts, working class folks, who were trying to make sense of it all. He knew they would have their own doubts, for doubt is necessary for our faith to grow, and he knew they were asked to love countercultural lives, lives that could be in danger, but by living in way that brought hope to each other by their love, they would find salvation.

How do we live an authentically Christian life in a world that is increasingly secular? While many small communities that are traditionally Christian may see it less now than in more urban areas, the world around us is becoming less overtly Christian. How do we continue to both live our and proclaim our faith?

Doubt is part of our faith, for without it we practice a hollow and rote faith. I believe Jesus, and Peter, expected people to question their beliefs and have their doubts. It is in doing so that we ultimately gain a deeper understanding of and more rooted faith. Living out our faith in word and deed, we grow and spread the Good News. So always question and have your doubts.

Orienteering depends on four things: a good map, a working compass, stable terrain, and someone who can put it all together. If an object has been moved, you have to figure out some other way to find it. If the terrain is dangerous you may need to choose a different route or be willing to take the risks. Sometimes the risks are minor: ticks and poison ivy, which can be recognized and avoided. Sometimes the risks are extraneous: a thunderstorm comes out of nowhere, or an alpha predator makes an appearance. Sometimes it is your doubt that is the issue.

Maybe part of what Jesus was saying to his followers was that doubt is ok, fear is ok, for we are humans. But he also says when I lived among you I showed you how to live with God and one another and I have given you the gift of the Spirit and I am sending you!

Go, therefore, with all of your humanness, all the things that make you both wonderful and crazy at the same time, and live lives that bring peace, shalom, to all.

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