Rev. Dr. Ed Goode, Fort Thomas Christ Church UCC
My family and I spent a week at Lake Memphremagog (great name!) in eastern Canada in late June into early July. It was a wonderful week of not doing much other than sitting back, doing some lake kayaking and paddle boarding, and a few excursions. Our last excursion was especially tasty as we drove down to Vermont to tour the Ben and Jerry’s factory! Anyway…back to bridges.
If you look at Lake Memphremagog on a map, you’ll see that it is a long narrow lake. From north (Magog, QC) to south (Newport, VT), it is just over 30 miles long and it is dotted with 21 islands. But there’s no bridge across the lake. So if you want to get to the other side (we were on the eastern side), you have a few options. One, you could swim (not ideal). Two, you can boat across (a possibility but depends on what you are planning to do). Three, you can drive around to the other side.
We did that hour-long drive around for one of our excursions to visit the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-lac. The monastery is a nearly 100 year old Benedictine center and was a beautiful stop on our trip (tasty too as the monks make some amazing cheeses!). As we heard about the process of becoming a monk, I had a simple thought that connected to our path to get there. You see, as we were driving, I mentioned to Amy how great it would be if there was a bridge across the lake to make the trip faster. To do so, however, would disturb the wildlife, hurt the environment, and ruin the beauty of the place.
But like there wasn’t a shortcut to the other side, there are no shortcuts in becoming a monk at this Abbey.
Even though the monks are few in number (only 25 of them) and aging (they currently only have only one novitiate under the age of 40), they are still following the same process they have always done for someone interested in becoming a monk. They haven’t watered it down to speed it up, make it less demanding, or make it more convenient. It is still a years-long process before a man can make the final commitment to become a monk.
Just as there are no shortcuts to becoming a monk and no shortcut across the lake, Jesus didn’t give us shortcuts to becoming a follower. and yet we keep looking for them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us a roadmap for the Way but as I have been reminded this year as I am studying about and teaching on this amazing section of Matthew 5-7, Jesus didn’t make the path simpler, but made it more challenging. Throughout this message, Jesus raises the bar of what it means to follow. It is tempting to say that the path is too hard but Jürgen Moltmann reminds us of a truth of this message when he writes:
Anyone who considers that the Sermon on the Mount is fulfillable only in the sentiments of the heart, but not in public action, says that Jesus is wrong; for he preached the sermon precisely in order that it might be put into practice. Anyone who considers that it is fulfillable only for himself personally, but not in the context of his responsibility for other people, does not know God the Creator.
There are no shortcuts. But there is grace – grace for when we fall short and hope as we try again.
Grace, Peace, Love, and Joy,