We’ve been to many places. On many journeys. Our family enjoys hiking. And together, we’ve been on miles of trails. But two in particular stand out in my life.
We often visited Arizona while we lived in Mexico. We vacationed there. Regrouped there. And shopped at Target to remember what it was like to be American. We also hiked with our kids. Phoenix has a popular hill (which felt more like a mountain to me) that we always visited on our trips. Unlike the rough terrain of living in the Baja desert, the path up the mountain was manicured with precision. A perfect foot path with perfect boundaries. In fact, signs posted at exact intervals reminded the hikers to “stay on the path.” To keep everyone safe and the environment pristine for the next person. And when we strayed, when we let our kids taste for only a moment the freedom to hop up on one rock and return quickly, the signs would remind us. And the frowns would compel us to obey.
STAY ON THE PATH.
When we moved to Colorado, however, things changed. The paths were still pristine, much more fun to walk on than traipsing through the cactus underbrush of the desert. Groomed and manicured and free from garbage. But the terrain was wide open for exploration. No signs. No boundaries. Enjoy! Take a deep breath and explore everything!
My youngest was not sure what to do with this. He stepped off the path at my urging, saw a stranger, and returned to my side quickly. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’s allowed. You can climb that rock. You can swing on that branch.” He tentatively tried it, but when he saw someone else, he shot back to me and glued himself to my side on the path. It took several nudges and assurances for him to find the freedom to explore without the guilt or shame of stepping over the line.
The distinction is poignant in my life. And with it, I come to the church. The way of the “straight” path. The signs. The markers. The defined boundary. The pressure to hold onto what we love. What we cherish. Because it needs to be here for the next guy. It needs to stay perfect and unmarred from all the footprints that can muddy it up.
So, staying on the path looks like this:
Do not steal
Do not covet
Do not kill
Do not lie
Do not drink
Do not curse
Rules are often good, right? They are meant to keep us on the path. To keep us from marring the way for others. But what did Jesus say?
He said two things were most important. Not ten. Not twenty. Just two:
Love your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
And love your neighbor as yourself.
See, Jesus knew it was not about the boundary. But about the heart. If our heart was bent on loving Him with everything we are and loving those around us with the same passion for which we love ourselves, the rest would fall in line. We would seek the abundance of being with Him, not because someone told us to, but because there was no greater joy. The heart came first.
Why did the woman caught in adultery want to turn from her sin? Why did she want her life to change? Because of her guilt at being caught? Her shame at being dragged out in public? Because the stones hurt?
No. She wanted to be free from sin because she met JESUS.
Church, I fear we have cast the safety net. We have believed in the boundaries that offer the human ideal to preserve, to protect what we have. To treasure what we need by keeping it safe from the muddy footprints. Safe from the ones who might abuse it. Who might not appreciate all the work we put in to make it perfect.
HEY YOU! How did YOU get in here? Can’t you read the sign? No sin allowed. No footprints on the King.
But how can we horde God’s love. How can we put Him, the greatest joy of all, behind the signs… and too often behind the frowns… and keep people out? When it's Him we need most of all. Each and every one of us.
Did we miss something? Something big? Something that is a matter of the heart? Did we jump to the list, the boundary, and forget the King’s declaration? The declaration that He so loved the world in all its twisted mess that He gave, gave freely without bounds or limits, His ONE AND ONLY SON. And that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but live with HIM forever.
Did we forget that? Do we forfeit the greatest wonder by hording the treasure for those who already have it? We can't lose it. It is bigger than any of us and not here by our own merit. Open the gates and let them in.
I thank God, every day, that when I danced on the rock of the King the signs did not keep me out!