On the Way

When I was in college I used to take one week of each summer to hike a section of the Long Trail in Vermont. This path is 273 miles long and runs in a north-south direction from the state’s border with Massachusetts to its border with Canada, and overlaps in part with the Appalachian Trail. It is the oldest long-distance trail in the United States, and was constructed between 1910 and 1930 by the Green Mountain Club.

In the southern section of the state the Long Trail meanders through mile after mile of woodlands. While there is a unique beauty to this terrain, I always looked forward to the occasional sign that points the way off the beaten path where hikers can find their way to rare scenic overlooks. Many times I debated whether these detours were worth the added effort. But I was always refreshed by every opportunity to encounter a wide-open vista of the Green Mountains before resuming my journey along the main trail.

I was reminded of my Long Trail experiences while reading through the New Testament this summer. Those who gathered in homes or workplaces to shape a Christian life two thousand years ago did not describe themselves with words like church or congregation. They were known as “people of the Way.” In one sense they were on a trail of faith that was well prepared, for their scriptures and faith practices were formed almost exclusively by the traditions of Judaism. But they were also willing to go off the beaten path, to seek new ways of love and service that brought them face to face with breathtaking views of possibility.

Our sermon series for the autumn will begin on September 3, and its purpose is to help us explore how a “people on the Way” for such a time as this can bring healing and hope to the world. Through messages that will draw mainly from the Letters of St. Paul for their inspiration, we hope to find fresh faith on well-traveled trails as well as on off-road adventures. And while this series will last for a season, we hope that the faith that it inspires will continue to evolve. For as the Brazilian theologian, Rubem Alves once said: “There is no there; there is only a way.”

Recommended reading:

Marcus Borg  Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written

Marcus Borg wrote this volume to present the books of the New Testament in chronological order, and added helpful introductions to each text. This book provides insight into the way that letters from early Christian missionaries (like St. Paul) provided the guidance that Christian gatherings needed in order to grow in their faith. Those “love letters” inspired faith long before the Gospels were written and made available.

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