One of the things I’m happy to discover as I’m exploring my new surroundings in and around Concord is that wherever you want to go, there are usually several ways to get there and a great many roads on which you can travel. What that means is not only is there less of a chance of getting totally lost (of course, I’ve also found that a good GPS in the car has made a lot of difference there!), but also the exploration has the potential of bringing you to places you never expected to see – which is part of the fun!
This is actually a pretty common thing here in New England, and one of the reasons I’m glad to be back here. It’s also the stuff of a lot of good memories – when our children were young, for instance, Lisa and I took them on a fair number of camping trips at State Parks throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, in which we traversed along miles of beautifully unimproved roads that wound through hill and valley, forest, field and village, just “to see what we could see.” I specifically remember one afternoon when we’d been driving through one very green and rich expanse of forest, and suddenly from the back of the car, one of the children asked the question, “Whose woods are these?”
Of course, when I heard that, the memory of high school English classes many years ago stirred within me, and I had an answer, courtesy of Robert Frost:
“Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
to watch his woods fill up with snow.”
Now, my ability to quote Frost from memory did not impress my children in the least (!), but for me the realization that I was on the very land that inspired Frost to write all that wonderful poetry was a powerful thing, indeed. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” I recited to myself,
“But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
I remember thinking at the time about how good it might be to live out there amidst the beauty and quiet of this forest – but then I was reminded of what Frost himself remembered “stopping by the woods on a snowy evening.” In the end, you see, these woods were not the place of my life’s calling, and I, too, had promises to keep – promises I have made freely, gladly, and joyfully in the midst of my life; promises to “love, honor and cherish” my spouse, promises to care for and nurture my children as they grow; promises to love and serve God as a Christian and as a pastor. It’s true: so much of who I am has a great deal to do with promises made – and I am responsible and accountable to myself, to others and to God for keeping those promises.
As men and women of faith, we are all people with ‘promises to keep.” Our very baptism is a promise made – in that regard, it’s important for us to remember that baptism is not as much an act of initiation, per se, as it is our own promise to submit to the movements of a righteous, loving God; it’s our commitment to be faithful members of Christ’s church, to celebrate Christ’s presence in our lives, to further Christ’s mission in the times and places of our lives. Baptism is the promise we make that we’ll let God’s will surpass and supplant our will, so that our very lives will show forth the righteousness of God!
I say all this because it’s also important for us to remember that living the promise of our baptism is not something reserved simply for the warmth and serenity of Sunday worship, or saved for fellowship only with those who surround us in the pews each week. As wonderful as it is to be a part of a church family, these promises of faith we make mean that we’re not called to stay forever where it’s warm and safe – we’re meant, as followers of Jesus Christ, to take our faith “out there,” out into the community and the world, bringing it to family, friends, co-workers and even strangers. We are meant to be a people called and led, directed and “discipled,” empowered and encouraged for the work of God’s kingdom – each one of us as ministers of the gospel, willing and joyous servants to God’s will and righteousness in Concord and beyond.
How this journey of faith unfolds is a mystery, but like my explorations around Concord, it has the potential of bringing us to places we never expected to see – and that is indeed part of the fun. And, friends, make no mistake about it: we do have miles to go before we sleep . . . miles to go before we sleep!