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Going Forward in Reverse

Ever wonder where we are headed? Not only as a country but also as the whole lot of us human beings who populate history? Even in your own life... have you charted a course and stuck with it free of detours and altered directions? Have you or someone you know had a "Damascus Road" experience? If you have, you know what it's like to go forward in reverse.

Well over a decade ago I met someone whose life had been drastically altered by a mission trip to Mexico. He was a successful attorney in Virginia Beach. As a member of First Presbyterian Church he heard about the work being done in small villages in the jungle region of Chiapas. He decided to go not expecting much from the experience. He returned realizing the only way he could go forward was to reverse the trajectory of his life. He eased out of his law practice, hung his expensive suits in the back of his closet, pulled out his tie-dyed tee shirts and bandanas, and set about giving his time and energy to coordinating trips for work teams. He labored to assure his wife that the change had been instigated by God and that it was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Not many of us have such a dramatic story to tell. Saul went down the road to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus (also known as People of the Way) and found himself going forward in reverse. A new name. A completely different direction in life. Paul the preacher of the Way. Perhaps you've heard personal testimonies along the same lines. Someone traveling down a path of destruction. A life-changing experience. That someone going forward but now on the highway of health and wellbeing. That's at the heart of repentance. And it's at the core of what God is up to with us humans who populate history.

Repentance is a musty-sounding churchy word, isn't it? But it's essential for a faithful life. Again, I turn to Barbara Brown Taylor's gem of a volume Speaking of Sin. In it she writes powerfully about the people God calls to go forward in reverse, the church. Here are her words: "The church exists so that people have a place where they may repent of their fear, their hardness of heart, their isolation and loss of vision, and where - having repented - they may be restored to fullness of life. In a life of faith so conceived, God's grace is not simply the infinite supply of divine forgiveness upon which hopeless sinners depend. Grace is also the mysterious strength God lends human beings who commit themselves to the work of transformation. To repent is both to act from that grace and to ask for more of it, in order to follow Christ into the startling freedom of new life."

So where are we headed? If it's deeper into the rut of lifeless existence, God can lead us in a different direction by going forward in reverse! Isaiah the prophet says it loud and clear: a people once abandoned become connected. Jesus demonstrates it with vats of water that become the finest wine. What may become of us, Church?

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