Having dropped my son Liam off at college a few weeks ago, I find myself thinking back to my own experiences of my first few weeks of college. My setting was very different in many ways to his: Sewanee, where I went, is in a town of less than 2000 people on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau in the mountains of Tennessee, while his college overlooks the Potomac River in the heart of Washington, D.C.

And so he has many, many opportunities that I did not in terms of access to major cultural events, the political and intellectual leaders of our day, and great restaurants when you needed to get away from the Dining Hall (while I enjoyed the “trucker’s special” at the local truck stop, we literally dreamed of the day when Sewanee might merit a Pizza Hut!).

But we did have something he doesn’t have: the Mountain. Sewanee is a paradise if you want to do anything outdoors. Within minutes of the campus proper are limestone cliffs with wonderful opportunities for rock climbing and rappelling, beautiful trails for hiking and mountain biking, lakes for canoeing, and caves for exploring. And, because of my friend Andrew, I had an opportunity that almost nobody else had: off-roading.

Andrew, you see, was the proud owner of an actual Korean War-era, Army surplus Jeep. So on Friday afternoons, after the last class of the week was behind us, sometimes Andrew would appear with a grin on his face and ask, “hey; wanna go driving?” And two or three of us would pile in the Jeep and we would drive off campus and onto dirt roads into the woods, and then when we were far enough, he would say, “this looks good,” and pull off the road and just drive through the woods.

That Jeep could handle ANYTHING: it cruised through rivers of mud like a boat, and traversed sheer rock like an ice skater. It could take a hill that rose at an almost 90 degree angle like it was going for a jog down Main Street, and swim across rivers like a duck. It even had a winch strong enough to pull fll-grown trees out of the way if they were too big to go over. Sometimes we would hit dead ends, and every now and then we’d get lost, but we were always able to find a new way to take us where we wanted to go in the end. 

As I think about where we are as a church, as a society, as individuals living in these strange and unpredictable times, it occurred to me that what we really need to figure out is what an “Off-Road Faith” is. For most of us, for most of our lives, we have followed well-marked and well-maintained roads through life, and the question has really been which road do we choose? What destination do we want, and what is the best way to get there? But, more and more, that is not the situation in which we find ourselves. We find what were once well-marked and well-traveled roads now tapering into dirt paths and finally into the wilderness, whether that is a metaphor for our family life or our careers or our society or what it means to be a faithful and vibrant church.

So, to begin the fall season together, we are going to spend the next five weeks exploring “An Off-Road Faith” as a sermon series: what it means to follow Jesus as “the Way” when there isn’t a paved road to follow as individuals and as a church; how to discern our direction and path when it is not clearly given to us; how we can claim the adventure of an off-road faith without pretending like there is not also some anxiety and grief in doing so, a longing for the clear roads we once counted on; and how while this feels like something very new and unfamiliar, it is actually how God has most reliably shown up for God’s people throughout the ages, and is doing so even now.

I’m excited about our off-road journey together, both the sermon series and the work that we will be continuing to do as a congregation to live into the future to which God is calling us. I hope that you will make a special effort to be in worship, whether in person or online, through this series.

As we move into two services, the Traditional Service at 11 a.m. will no longer have a “Sermon Response” opportunity within worship, but we are going to have an experiment during this sermon series with tables set up for sermon response conversations after worship in the North Link outside the Sanctuary.

So if you attend Traditional Worship and have enjoyed the Sermon Response time that we have had in Summer Worship, I encourage you to gather in the North Link and have those conversations for 15 minutes or so after worship!

Grace and Peace,