Many would argue that paper maps are going the way of black and white TVs, VHS tapes, and dvds. Many would say we are at the point of simply not needing them anymore. But are we there yet? Will paper maps someday be something we only see in antique stores and museums?
“Not so fast,” says Joel Minster, chief cartographer for Rand McNally, the nation’s largest mapmaker. “I don’t think paper maps are going anywhere, but people are using them differently, more as a companion to the online or digital version. Despite the ease and convenience of technology, batteries go dead, spilled coffee can fry a GPS unit, or you may be in a place that has a weak signal or no signal at all. Not to mention, GPS is sometimes just wrong.”
I wonder if those first apostles ever thought they were being rerouted or detoured to places unknown and unexpected. I wonder if they ever thought their travels would leave us a map of sorts showing us not only where they went and how they got there, but where and how God was moving in the life of the early church and how it wasn’t always the course their GPS had planned out!
In Acts chapter 11:1-13, when Peter goes to Joppa and eats with the Gentile Roman Centurion Cornelius, the other apostles and believers in the group think he has walked off the map - he didn’t follow the intended or agreed upon route. Their voice of criticism sounded like that of a disgruntled GPS system calling for Peter to recalculate and get back on track with their original GPS coordinates, which was limited to and only about the way and law of God’s chosen people, the Jews. Anything outside of that Old Testament law was considered off the map.
Peter explains to them that God had shown him the context of a much larger map that revealed the new road God was building toward inclusion of the Gentiles, the outsiders, in the church. Peter took another road and found that the Holy Spirit was there all along. God‘s command to Peter was essentially to march off the long-held maps that Peter and his people walked for thousands of years - to trust the detour; learn from it, and recognize the value of the experience. God’s vision to Peter was carving out a new route that would bring Jews and Gentiles together.
Because Peter marched off the old route, he begins to see how God’s plan for the whole world is unfolding like a huge gas station map. Cornelius had also received a vision from God which altered his maps as a Roman centurion and a citizen who likely had seen a lot of the world. The Holy Spirit sent Peter, a Jew, and Cornelius, a Gentile, off their prescribed routes to meet each other as an example of the new route God was showing the church. No longer would Jews and Gentiles run separate paths but they would serve the same Lord as part of the same church.
Sometimes on our journey of faith, the detour is the road. So goes the lyrics of a song I recently heard. The detour is the road. It’s on the detour we are our most vulnerable individually and communally, and we discover that can be our strength. It’s on the detour we feel the most out of control, lost, or disoriented and discover that’s exactly where we need to be for God to teach us, use us, shape us and show us the truth. It’s on the detour we come to see a path forward or a passage through that was not visible any other way. It is the detour that teaches us more about ourselves, others, and more about God. It is the detour that often brings us back to center, transforms our perspective, broadens our understanding, shows us a better way, and opens the eyes of our mind and the ears of our heart to the fullness of God.
People of God, we have to be like Peter, and trust the movement of the Holy Spirit. We have to get out of our own way and trust God knows what to do and how to do it. We have to open the whole map, take the detours, and let go of those internal navigation systems that hold us back, block others out, or otherwise limit God’s Holy Spirit. We have to trust, the detour is the road.
May it be so, amen.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine