All Saints Wimbledon
Sunday 23rd February 2003
No Through Road!
You’re no doubt used to preachers taking a text from the Bible as their starting point. Well, this morning we shall start from somewhere else – in fact from some words written on the tarmac in the street outside this church, All Saints Road, South Wimbledon. There, in the largest possible lettering are the three words NO THROUGH ROAD.
The words are there to tell motorists that if they continue driving straight ahead they will be faced with an impenetrable barrier. The words themselves are not the barrier, nor do they in any way prevent drivers from continuing straight on should they choose to do so. What they are there for is to inform, warn if you like, anyone who tries driving down there in the hope of coming out somewhere at the other end that they will be in for a disappointment.
Let me tell you about one such disappointment a few years back down in Sussex. A friend was taking me in his car to look for some very famous mediaeval wall-paintings in Claydon Church, near the London to Brighton railway line. We followed the signs, or so we thought, but found that the road we were on was getting more and more like a grass track until it eventually petered out at a wooden gate leading to a sewage farm.
Of course, we’d taken a wrong turning. It would have been natural for each of us to blame the other for bad map-reading, or the local authorities for bad signposting, or sheer bad luck. However, the truth was that during the time spent arguing we’d get no nearer where we really wanted to be. The sensible thing was to turn round, go back the way we came to where we’d gone wrong. After that it was plain sailing. The paintings were well worth seeing, we both felt satisfied, and the question of whose fault it had been didn’t matter.
Now think back to the road outside this church. In this case "the wrong turning" isn’t in fact a turning at all, but consists in going straight on regardless.
This is a parable for what happens to so many people in today’s world. Not that they have turned aside but that they have followed the way straight ahead wherever their feelings have led them. Instead of being guided by the signs that have been put there for that very purpose, they have pressed on regardless in the direction their feelings suggested to them.
The result is a foregone conclusion: disappointment, frustration, anger which lead to despair. If you doubt that this is a problem, just take a look at the figures for suicide and attempted suicide amongst young people today.
Of course it’s easy to see why they do so. It all looks so straightforward. If your friends, your contemporaries, your family are all following their feelings in one way, Surely, they say to themselves, nine people out of ten can’t be wrong!
Christians who have chosen to follow not just a different way but a totally different sort of way we are bound to invite their ridicule and hostility. Just the fact that we’re not following them makes them feel that we’re criticising their life-style.
Well, of course we are doing so, because anyone who attends All Saints (or any other church) is a living witness to the One who claimed himself to be "The Way", adding that "nobody can come to the Father except through me".
Which brings us on to another curious fact.
To those who are pursuing their course straight ahead we are the people who are going down the No Through Road, the dead-end, the cul-de-sac. To the careless observer we look like a small company who have left the Main Road and got diverted into what looks suspiciously like a terminus.
There are two things to say about a Terminus. First, it may be the very thing we’re looking for, just as Claydon was the terminus we were looking for which proved so difficult to find. Once we’d got there the sensible thing was to stop and go inside. It would have been just as futile to whisk past the place we were looking for as it was to have taken a wrong turning on the way there.
But remember also that there are plenty of examples both in literature and everyday life when an unpromising dark corridor, which looks depressingly terminal, proves to have a door at the end of it, which when we push it opens into an entirely different world. Writers as different as Lewis Carroll, John Bunyan and C.S. Lewis in their books like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Pilgrim’s Progress and Through the Looking Glass have all tried to help their readers to understand that their way forward life may actually involve going by a way which appears to lead nowhere. What appears at first sight to be pointless is in fact the Way In to something infinitely more interesting and rewarding than anything that this world has to offer.
Listen again to those words spoken by God to his prophet Isaiah:
Thus says the Lord: No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it? Yes, I am making a road in the wilderness, paths in the wilds. The people I have formed for myself will sing my praises.
The path is in the wilderness, the last place that the average person will feel like going into. But the people God has formed for himself will be the ones who by following it will find Him waiting for them at the end.
Coming to church can look very much like entering a terminus or dead-end, with a blank wall facing us at the east end. But the Eucharist is God’s way of opening up that blank wall rather like the front of a dolls-house to reveal an entirely new dimension, a Fourth Dimension if you like, called by such names as the Sacred, the Holy, the Numinous or the Supernatural. Or we can, if we prefer, see the Church not so much as a terminus as a terminal – like the airport or harbour where we change our mode of travel from road to air or water to enable us to get somewhere perhaps thousands of miles away that we couldn’t reach by any other means.
Your Church which looks like fifty or a hundred people shut up in a box with no way out of it, is in fact a small but unique contingent of the Church on earth and in heaven for whom God has opened the window upon himself so that for a few minutes every week we can truthfully say with Jacob "How awesome is this place; this is none other than the House of God, this is the Gate of Heaven.
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