St Andrewís Croydon
16th March 2003
Signs of the Times II
No Through Road
For these first three Sundays of Lent we are taking as our text not from the Bible, but from well-known road signs which you and I see every day. Last weekís sign was the Height/Width-Restriction notice; this week it will be No Through Road; and next week, No Entry. Copies of each of these sermons will be available afterwards to help you remember what was said.
Road signs are there to advise, or warn, drivers that some sort of restriction lies ahead. No Through Road tells a motorist that if he continues the way heís going heíll sooner or later come up against a dead-end. The sign itself isnít the dead-end Ė should he choose to ignore it heís quite free to do so. Warning signs such as No Through Road donít, as it were, work by themselves. They need the attention and co-operation of the drivers for whose benefit they have been put there. They warn anyone who hopes to get any further than that street that heís in for a disappointment.
Such a disappointment once happened to me in Sussex. Two of us in his car were looking for Claydon Church to see the famous mediaeval wall-paintings inside. We followed the signs to Claydon, or so we thought, but the road became more and more like a grass track until it eventually petered out at a gate leading to a sewage farm!
Of course, weíd taken a wrong turning. Each of us wanted to blame someone else: for bad map-reading, or the local authorities for bad sign-posting, or our sheer bad luck. The truth is that whilst we were busy blaming we were getting no closer to Claydon. The only sensible thing was to turn round, go back the way weíd come to the point where weíd gone wrong. After that it was easy. We saw those wonderful paintings, we were satisfied, and whose fault it had been didnít matter.
Now think back to the No Through Road. Getting stuck in a cul-de-sac isnít so much a matter of taking a wrong turning; itís usually the result, not of turning, but going straight on down a road which leads nowhere.
This is a parable of what happens to many, many people in todayís world. They haven't really turned aside but gone straight ahead wherever their feelings have led them, and ignored all the signs that God has put there to precisely to prevent them going down a dead-end.
The results are predictable: disappointment, frustration, anger often leading to despair Ė as the depression, nervous breakdowns and suicides amongst young people today bear painful witness.
Of course, itís easy to see why people follow their feelings. Itís such a natural thing to do; and it looks so straightforward when all our friends and our family are following their feelings down the same road: "surely", we say to ourselves, "nine people out of ten canít be wrong!"
Unfortunately, they can be, and they often are, wrong. For the Way of Christ, the only Way that leads to Life Everlasting isn't just another way but a totally different sort of way. If, in the words of John Cennickís well-known hymn
"We are travelling home to God
In the way our fathers trod"
then itís hardly surprising if we attract ridicule and hostility from our contemporaries who feel that weíre criticising their life-style. For, of course, thatís what anyone who attends this or any other church is doing whether they like it or not. If we believe Jesus Christís claim in so many words that he is "The Way the Truth and the Life" and that "nobody can come to the Father except through me" we must be saying to those who are following their feelings "Look, mate, youíre going the wrong way. Youíre looking for pleasure, ambition, fun, wealth, happiness or power. All of them good things, gifts of God in fact, but not good as ends in themselves, They are cul-de-sacs, No Through Roads, culminating in a dead-end when our earthly lives are over.
Thatís how we look to our fellow men who are Feeling-followers. In fact, in their view, we are the people who are going down the No Through Road, the dead-end, the cul-de-sac. When we part company with them every Sunday on the Main Road of life and divert into a church it looks to them as though weíre going into something that looks itself suspiciously like a terminal.
There are two answers to this. First there are right terminals, and Claydon church was one of them. However we didnít go there just for the sake of it but to see the paintings inside. That meant not just getting there, but going in to gaze in wonder and amazement at paintings hundreds of years old.
Secondly a terminal isnít always a dead-end. More often itís the place where we change our way of travel between road and air or rail or water in order to get much further Ė to reach somewhere that we probably couldnít get to any other way.
To the un-churched a church-building does looks very much like a dead-end, with a blank wall facing them at the East End and, to their distorted view, with some "half-dead people" doing some "deadly boring things" inside it. But for you and me the Eucharist, like the Transfiguration of Jesus which we heard about in todayís Gospel, is Godís way of opening up that blank wall between us and him. Think of it as being like the front of an old-fashioned dolls-house which opens up to reveal an entirely new dimension, a Fourth Dimension if you like, called the Sacred, the Holy, the Numinous or the Supernatural.
In the Christian view you and I and our fellow-worshippers, so far from being half-dead, as outsiders think are the ones who are really alive. Weíre nothing less than a significant contingent, if only a small one, of the whole Church on earth and in heaven for whom God has opened that dolls-house wall which separates him from us, by the Way of his perfect revelation of himself in Jesus.
You and I are even now standing side by side on the Mountain of Transfiguration with angels and archangels and the whole Church of God in heaven and on earth. Presently God will draw the curtain aside, the front wall of the dolls-house of this world will open up, and we shall enter the Real World where Christ is present in glory and of which we are the fellow-heirs with him.
As we enter the cloud of Godís Presence, made available to us through the Eucharist, we may thank our lucky stars (or God, to be more precise) that we did decide to turn aside into the Terminal Building. Like St Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration we should say, "Master, it is wonderful for us to be here"; and the voice from heaven will answer "This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!"
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