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Just a Thought or Two: Finding Another Way

THIS SUNDAY, NOV 20th, 2016

(traditional worship with a more intimate atmosphere, includes special music and sermon)

(traditional worship with special music and preaching, including a children’s moment)

(contemporary, informal worship with preaching and children’s moment)


Finding Another Way


What do you do when you find the familiar is suddenly unfamiliar?

The Levee Trail

This past weekend I was walking a very familiar path. It’s a path I have taken, either alone or with the family, scores of times. The path has a small wooden footbridge over a small, fast-moving creek, and then the path winds through a small forest.

Eventually, after heading north for a bit the path turns east and then south, coming back to the stream. This dirt path leads the hiker to a wooden bridge that has been built along the top of a small levee. The wooden bridge crosses the stream and allows the hiker to move on towards a small set of falls just east of an old grist mill.   

Not now.

Not anymore.

I was walking along and suddenly the trail stopped. The stream had cut away the bridge and the earthen embankment.   

I stood there staring at the stream and the space where a small bridge once stood. “How will I get across this?” I thought to myself. “They must have built an alternate path over the stream so I can get back to the falls.”

The familiar path stopped right there.

The old way over the stream was no more.


Times When the Familiar is Suddenly Unfamiliar

This was a disconcerting moment that stopped me in my tracks. One of the reasons I love this particular path is it leads over the creek, through the woods, comes back to the stream a time or two, and then returns to a small set of man-made falls I have always loved.

I think life is like this, when the familiar becomes suddenly unfamiliar.   

As parents we have our 7-year old figured out, and then suddenly we are dealing with a 16-year old and the old answers don’t work anymore. The very parenting strategies we have always counted on get us nowhere.

This can also happen spiritually: the way we worked out our relationship with God doesn’t seem to work very well anymore. We saw God one way, we understood prayer one way, and then things happen and the old answers make no sense at all.

The familiar can suddenly become unfamiliar when it comes to our national life.  Many people, who were confident our nation was moving forward in areas like diversity, economic and racial justice, gender equality, and environmental policies, are now unsettled, fearful, and in despair. Whether on the right or left, many of us thought we were more united than divided. Now, even that assumption about our identity as “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” is in question.

The poet, Robert Frost, wrote “The Road Not Taken”: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”   He was talking about choosing one of two paths, but what do you do when the path you were on comes to a stop?


Strategies for Travelers on Unfamiliar Paths

  • First, recognize what is. Another way to say that is, step out of denial.  For a few moments on the trail, I looked at the fast moving stream and told myself, “There is supposed to be a bridge there.” Saying it over and over again didn’t make it so. 

After a few minutes, I came to terms with the way the path is, rather than wishing for the old path and bridge.  In John 8:32, Jesus says the truth will set us free. Several writers have said disillusionment is tremendously freeing, although often painful.   Now, we see the way things are and we can deal with that reality.

  • Second, adjust. Revise the plan. Come up with a new plan. Try a new way. I took a deep breath, realized the bridge was gone, and walked back another way which, eventually, led to the water falls.

Hagar, in Genesis, realizes her expectations of a life in the household of Abraham and Sarah have crashed into reality. She runs out into the wilderness, and then God helps her begin a new chapter…which isn’t anything like the chapter she expected to live out.

For those in our nation who are unsettled and fearful, coming to terms with the way things are may call for a different plan, renewed commitment, and courage. If you want to know what the way forward looks like, I encourage you to spend time in the books of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible.

For those in a relationship where old ways and answers don’t work, it is time to step back to see what is, and try on new ways of being, seeing, speaking, and loving. For those in a spiritually dark night of the soul, it will mean the courage of being open to new truth from God…being humble enough to learn new ways.

  • Third, keep your eyes open to the good—even in the midst of the unfamiliar. Saul, on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians, is brought to a halt on the road. It is a crisis of the first order! He can’t see a thing. Then, during three days of blindness, he begins to see with new eyes. The new life and faith he then lives turns out to be better than the old way. When you are in the middle of crisis, though, it is hard to see anything positive about the path that suddenly stops because the water has washed away the bridge.

As uncomfortable and painful as those moments are when the familiar path suddenly comes to a halt, I remind myself of the words of the prophet Isaiah 43:19:  “Behold, I will do something new. Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”


Another Way to the Falls

I looked for the path to continue. I walked several hundred yards further looking for an alternative way across the river, but there wasn’t a new way. It was time to turn back, time to realize I wasn’t going across the river.

As I walked the only way possible, I noticed the color in the trees. I smelled the fragrance of fallen leaves on the forest floor, and caught the scent of distant campfires. The sunlight was turning everything golden.   

Then, I came to the foot of the small falls and knelt down near the water.  I studied the water, the light, the red leaves of a nearby bush, and was thankful beyond words.

A few moments later, I walked to a picnic pavilion where we had long ago taken our boys. Although the sun was nearly down, and the air was turning colder, I stretched out on a picnic bench and balancing carefully, took a fifteen minute nap.

Maybe you find yourself —whether in a relationship, in your faith journey, or as a citizen—at a place where the old path just stops. You can’t go forward in the way you expected to go forward.

I know it’s scary.

I know it’s unnerving.

I know it is going to take prayer, courage, and a willingness to risk, but I believe the way forward can still be good for you…for us—even when life requires us to make a detour.

On the familiar or unfamiliar path, the bridge across the water or the bridge washed away by the stream, God is with us. We are not alone.

Grace and peace,







Christ the King Sunday –
The None-Sense of a Crucified King

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday and Rev. Judi Purvis will deliver the final message in our “None-Sense” series… a message titled “The None-Sense of a Crucified King.”

Judi Purvis is an ordained United Methodist clergy, retired. She was pastor of several churches in southern Indiana before becoming Superintendent of the West District of the Indiana Conference where she supervised churches and pastors located in 11 counties.

Judi is married to David Purvis, a retired English teacher, and they reside in Greencastle. They have four grown children and three grandchildren. In Bloomington, Judi is most often referenced as the mother of Jonathan Purvis, Grandmother of Sophie and Joshua, or mother-in-law of Brit. She attends The Open Door.


Note:  If you haven’t yet turned in your Pledge Form for 2017, please show your love for God by turning your financial promise in this week.   You can pick up a form at the doors of the Sanctuary or in the office, or simply go on-line to www.fumcb.org/pledge2017


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