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.

Always Room for Joy

When plans were underway to create a yearlong sermon series at Round Hill Community Church entitled, “A Life Worth Living,” it seemed perfect to conclude our adventure by celebrating joy as a key ingredient of a good life. After all, Jesus said to his followers: “I have come that you might have joy, and have it in abundance.”

But at home and overseas joy is having difficulty finding some breathing room. There has been international concern about whether the United States and North Korea might move from verbal sparring to military action.  And the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend are cause for lament. Those who belong to white nationalist groups continue to foster a spirit of hatred and discrimination in our country, persistent in their disparagement of people whose skin color, faith tradition, sexual orientation or ethnicity does not line up with their vision of what it means to be fully alive. When a violent confrontation took place in Charlottesville between “Unite the Right” marchers and counter protesters, the result was deadly. By the end of the weekend one woman and two men were dead, and nineteen people were wounded.

So how can we throw a party for joy at such a time as this? Aren’t anger and sorrow more fitting responses when damage is inflicted upon human life? Doesn’t talk about joy feel frivolous at best and unfaithful at worst?

I would argue that joy is just the companion we need when we dust ourselves off in disappointing days and begin the work of healing the common good.  Joy wants to be needed, wants to fill us with an unexpected surge of life in our down moments, wants to restore in us a sense of wonder when our spirit is diminished by discouragement.  Joy says to us, no wonder you’re filled with hate and frustration: your God is too small!

God’s love embraces with infinite tenderness all people, and welcomes all people to a vision of equality, reverence and inclusion. This does not prevent people from choosing to be hateful or violent. But God remains God: mercy within mercy within mercy. The same holds true for us: be compassionate as God is compassionate, said Jesus. It’s the only job description we’ll ever need in our quest for a life that’s truly good.

So once again, the journey to healing begins. To inspire you on your way, I invite you to click the following link and read a story about the human capacity for love and forgiveness. It just might fill you with joy.



Go Out in Joy, Ed Horstmann

Go Out in Joy, posted August 9, 2017

When I leave my home to walk over to the church building, or get in the car to drive to an appointment, I try to pause for a few moments in order to get my bearings. At times like these I’m not thinking so much of physical destination as spiritual orientation. Am I heading out alone, or do I believe that I will be accompanied by God? Am I anxious and, if so, am I willing to discard that fearfulness for an openness to the Spirit and wherever it may lead? Am I looking forward to greeting all people (strangers and friends alike) with grace and care? Do I see myself as part of a great global drama in which God seeks to create a world of peace and well being for all?

The prophet Isaiah, who lived six centuries before Jesus, was a voice of hope for the people of Israel, and gave them a visionary way to greet the day. “You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” I suspect these words may have seemed hopelessly idealistic at best, and utterly unrealistic at worst, to those who first heard them. Perhaps they strike us in the same way. But hidden in this promise is the message that joy is not only something that comes to us by way of surprise: it is an orientation of the heart. It is a way of seeing and opening ourselves up to the wild complexity of life, and of choosing hope and trust and decency over their opposites.

There is an old prayer that states Isaiah’s vision in slightly different language: “amid the passing changes of the world, let us set our hearts and minds where true joy is to be found.” By making room in our lives for the activities and passions that make us feel truly alive, we can orient ourselves to joy. By dreaming about how to bring hope and peace into the lives of people close to home and far away, we can orient ourselves to joy. And the good news is that when we receive each day in that spirit, we shall be led back in peace: a peace that is so deep and rare and satisfying that it passes all understanding.


Ambassador of the Heart Set Free, posted August 2, 2017

Over the summer I have joined with the other members of the staff at Round Hill Community Church to plan our worship services for the autumn. These discussions bring me a lot of joy, and spark directions I never would have conceived if I undertook this journey alone.

Our autumn series will focus on one of the most complicated and misunderstood figures in the history of Christianity: St. Paul. Although the growth of the Christian movement in its first century was largely a result of his leadership and influence, he has sometimes been referred to as the apostle we love to hate. As Garry Wills observes in his book, What Paul Meant: “Many people think that Judas was the supreme betrayer of Jesus. But others say Paul has a better right to that title. Judas gave Jesus’ body over to death. Paul, it is claimed, buried his spirit.”

Full disclosure: for most of my ministry I have given St. Paul much less attention than he deserves, and when opening myself to themes for preaching, have routinely searched the imaginative parables of Jesus rather than the carefully argued letters of St. Paul. But now I plan to rectify that imbalance.  I look forward to reading the love letters that he wrote to growing congregations nearly 2000 years ago. I hope to open myself to the wisdom, passion, and pastoral insights of this man who is still referred to as the apostle we love to hate, but has also been called the apostle of the heart set free. It was Paul who said, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” That vision has endured over the centuries, drawing people of Christian faith to live non-anxious lives, to struggle against injustice, and to enjoy a rich and evolving relationship with God. The freedom of faith makes possible a life of hope, love, and imagination.

From time to time I’ll offer reflections on St. Paul in this blog, but I hope that you’ll dip into his letters and discover in them rich resources for growth in a Spirit-led way of life. Of the thirteen letters in the New Testament that are attributed to St. Paul, at least seven seem likely to have flowed directly from him (the others were written by Christian leaders in the early church and attributed to him as a way of enhancing their authority). These seven letters are:

The First Letter to the Thessalonians
Letter to the Galatians
Letter to the Philippians
Letter to Philemon
First Letter to the Corinthians
Second Letter to the Corinthians
Letter to the Romans

Welcome aboard, and let the journey begin!