Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:2. Sermon: Detours
(Video segue- “Sometimes when life gives you an obstacle, you have to take a detour. Sometimes you can be smooth like that cat, and sometimes these detours are as clumsy as a baby trying to climb out of her crib...”)
Last Saturday felt like one giant clumsy detour in the Moore household. Our family was having one of those days- maybe you know what I’m talking about. The kids were wild, it was so hot outside, the house was filled with cries for “More Daniel Tiger!” and “I need a snack!” And I’ll tell you- my patience wasn’t going to survive the afternoon. We made it to naptime and decided that despite the fact that it was 90 degrees out, we would go to the zoo once everyone was up just to get out of the house and have a CHANCE at salvaging this Saturday.
Now you should know that our son, Rhys, LOVES the zoo. He once spent 35 minutes sitting in front of the walrus- and this child does not stop moving. He loves to roar at the tigers, and make faces at the monkeys. And so on this particular Saturday, when everyone was wild and no one was listening, I knew this post-nap zoo trip my most valuable asset. Can we just be honest in church today? I absolutely bribed my son to take his nap with a promise of going to the zoo after. My best parenting moment? That’s questionable. But did it work? Yes. It. Did.
And so our bribery got us a two hour nap, and when Rhys woke up he was JUMPING up and down in his bed, yelling, “ZOOOOOOOO!! ZOOOOOO!!! I GO ZOOOOOOOOO!”
So we got the kids loaded up in the car, filled the water bottles, packed the snacks, made sure everyone had gone to the bathroom, and started driving to downtown to the zoo from our house in Carmel. Everything was going well, and then we turned onto 465. And as the car journeyed up the ramp and the interstate came into view, suddenly the trip was going less well. Because, in front of us, instead of a busy and fast moving interstate, we saw...a parking lot.
Now, we lived in LA for four years, so we are not strangers to heavy traffic. And at first, no one was too worried about this situation we found ourselves in- and a quick check of Google Maps told us it would only be 20 extra minutes on our trip. Not a big deal.
The problem was Google Maps lies...and we just...weren’t...moving. That 20 extra minutes soon disappeared and we had not even gone 100 yards. We started looking up alternate routes and there was red EVERYWHERE. The next exit was 1 mile away, and after an HOUR we were finally sitting underneath the sign that said “Allisonville Road- ¾ a mile”.
Now, the fun thing about sitting in traffic with small kids is that they tend to be incredibly aware when the car is not moving- it’s a very special skill that they have. And they find it very important to communicate this awareness to the adults in the car by screaming, “Why is the car not moving? When are we going to be at the zoo?! I’m bored!”
And after some time of sitting and screaming, it became clear that we were going to have to take a detour. We ended up sitting on that one mile stretch of 465 for nearly 2 hours before finally reaching the exit.
And while it was sweet relief to be off the interstate parking lot, let’s remember back, 4 hours earlier when bribery had served me so well, and I had lulled my son to sleep with promises of visiting his favorite place on the planet. Even while we were sitting in our traffic nightmare, I could hear his little voice every so often singing “zooo” under his breath.
And now we were going to crush his dreams.
And so Zack and I turned to the only reasonable solution in a situation like this- we bribed our kids again, but this time with ice cream.
And, not that I’m going to be writing a parenting book anytime soon, but all I’m saying is we were two for two with this strategy that day. Rhys’ cries of ZOOO quickly turned into I WANT ICE CREAM! And all was well. The zoo was forgotten, replaced by sugar and dairy.
Watching my son pivot to plan B and take the detour presented to him so easily and with so much enthusiasm made me think about my own response to the detours I encounter in my life. And spoiler alert- it’s pretty much nothing like that! Now, to be fair, most of the time when you and I encounter a detour, we’re not usually being redirected from zoo to dessert. For most of us, detours are something we’d prefer to avoid. Whether we’re being rerouted on our way to work or watching important plans fall apart, no matter what our diversion is, it can be really difficult to navigate away from the original course and take the detour.
Because we know that detours are by nature inconvenient- they slow us down, and they take the plans we’ve made and mess everything up. After all, we didn’t set out from our house last Saturday hoping to sit on the interstate for 2 hours and not get more than 5 miles from home. But as we saw in our trip, and we’ll see in our Scripture today, detours are an unavoidable part of the journey. We can be careful planners, we can set out with all the best intentions, but at the end of the day, a detour is going to show up for each and every one of us at SOME POINT.
Now, looking at our text today, we have Paul writing about his frustrations with the detour that was happening in his own life. Paul was no stranger to detours, but even as many times as he has had to deal with setbacks and redirection, it’s still not easy for him. Here we see that he’s been majorly invested in the Thessalonian church, he’s walked with them as they’ve come up against persecution and struggle, and all he wants to do is go visit them- but SOMETHING is stopping him and sending him in a different direction.
We’re not told exactly what is keeping him away but we do know that Paul feels like it’s totally out of his control. And whatever it is that’s keeping him away, the point is that Paul can’t seem to figure out a way to stick to the original plan and get the results he’s hoping for.
And this detour isn’t a reflection on Paul’s lack of anything- he’s got all the skills he needs, he knows how to build and support a church. It’s not about making and executing his plans the right or wrong way- the truth about life for Paul and for us is that sooner or later, no matter who we are or what we do, we’re all going to get rerouted. Sometimes we see it coming miles ahead and sometimes we find ourselves quickly making an unexpected left turn.
And it’s frustrating because most of us are wired to want to get from point A to point B in the fastest, easiest, most efficient way possible. Even when we hop in the car, we can turn on our Maps app and be in control of the route- we can select the Fastest Route, we can avoid tolls, we can even stay off the highway if that’s your thing- but when a detour comes along, all of our preferences and planning go out the window.
And even though most of us prefer life and faith to be WITHOUT detours, but that’s just not the way God seems to work- ever. When Pastor Jevon and I were planning this message, we could not think of a SINGLE Biblical figure who didn’t encounter a detour in his or her journey. Not one! And I think that’s because the places where we are shaped, the times that we grow the most in our faith- those times come in the detours. In the twists and turns and the unexpected. And there are so many times where I really wish God would just let me chart out the course of how my life is going to go, but God NEVER seems to work like that.
And because God tends to lead us in different ways than we would personally plan out on our own, that means that detours demand trust. Trust that means letting go of control and believing that there might be a way that we haven’t considered yet- and that this new way might be just as good, if not better, than what we’ve already planned out for ourselves.
Now you might have already picked this up by this point, but when I am on a road trip, I really like to be the one in control. And anyone who has ever ridden in a car with me, as a driver or navigator can tell you that I have some major trust issues when it comes to Google Maps. (I already told you Google lies, so I have my reasons).
But see I have this habit when I’m navigating using Google maps, and I’m sure that this habit does not annoy my fellow passengers AT ALL, but, see, anytime we’re going somewhere that’s vaguely familiar, say I’ve been there once or twice, and I punch it in on Google Maps, my default response is to the directions that pop up is usually something along the lines of, “Wait- WHY are they taking us THAT way? That doesn’t make any sense. I know a better route. I’ll just hold the phone and I can manually navigate us.” And it’s weird because every time I do that, the drive DOES seems to always take MORE time than the proposed route. It is POSSIBLE that trusting someone else’s route might be the better way...but it’s really hard because I’m just so confident I know better!
So if it’s hard for some of us to trust something as simple as a maps app on our phones, think about when we run into a major life detour- it can be downright paralyzing. Because these detours take us away from our original plan- maybe it’s for a season, or maybe it’s forever. When we have a life that we know, that seems to work, that’s familiar and makes sense how DO we trust the detour? How do we keep moving forward and believe that God is in this thing, and we’re not just totally off course by ourselves? And how do we resist the temptation to say “You know, this detour is scary and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’m just going to put the car and park and be done now.”
Because I have to wonder, as I read this letter of Paul’s, just how close he was to giving up. Because to Paul, this mission of investing in this particular church and place and people was so critical. It meant SO MUCH to him!
And as the reality that the plan he had wasn’t going to work out began to weigh him down, Paul starts to run right into discouragement- discouragement that we so often feel when we find ourselves on a detour. Paul says he is pushed to the point where he feels like he just can’t take it anymore. Have you been there?
And he starts to realize something that can be so hard for all of us- this dream that Paul has- the way he was so sure things were going to go- it isn’t going to work out how he thought.
And as Paul digests that truth, he has a choice, a choice that we all have when we find ourselves in this very place- we can give up… OR we can take the detour and trust that someone else’s direction might actually be ok.
To trust that the story isn’t over even if we can’t see the next chapter and none of this looks like anything that we would have cooked up ourselves. Because even when we can’t see what’s coming next, the hope that we have is this: no matter where detours take us, our God doesn’t leave us to navigate it on our own. God isn’t a faulty GPS. God never gets the ETA wrong, God doesn’t forget to put out the next road sign and leave us stranded in the middle of nowhere. Even when the journey feels all over the place and nothing is going according to plan, God doesn’t go away. Whether we’ve done everything right or everything wrong, God isn’t in the business of giving up on us, and because of that, we don’t have to give up on God and the journey that we’re on.
I saw firsthand how God is faithful on the detour when I was working at a church in Chicago after college. Part of my job at this church was working in a cafe alongside women who were in an incredibly intensive recovery program. For many of these women, the cafe felt like the last chance to get their lives back on track. These were women whose lives had been torn up by addiction, incarceration, abuse, and so many other unspeakable things. And while every single story was different, they all had one big thing in common- they were there on their own choice and they were willing to trust God in this total redirection of how they thought life was going to go. And for these women I worked alongside, being in the program, working in the cafe, being there was a result of having reached the point when each of them had said, “I’ve taken as much as I can. It’s either give up or trust that there just might be another way.”
Being with these women day in and day out helped me understand just how big of a risk they were taking by saying yes to this new way. See, even though their lives were filled with trauma and addiction, saying goodbye to those things almost always meant losing community, family, the neighborhoods they had spent their lives in, their sense of identity and everything that was foundational to who they were. They had to learn new skills and try to get jobs and pay rent and trust that the challenges they would face in recovery would be worth it. The detour they were taking claimed it would lead somewhere better but there’s a big difference in seeing those words written in a brochure and taking the actual first step in a direction that is completely opposite of where your life has been heading up until this point.
But as my coworkers in the cafe can attest, the risk of trusting God in the detour can bring incredible reward. Because here’s the best thing about detours- even when they alter our course, detours aren’t dead ends. Hear that again- DETOURS AREN’T DEAD ENDS. Detours simply show us a different way, and if we’re willing to follow, Detours can lead us to something new.
Getting to that new place often isn’t easy. And even though our stories are filled with missed connections and altered plans, just like we see in Paul’s story, just like the stories of the women in Chicago, the challenges don’t have to be the defining characteristic of our detours. Because instead of giving up, instead of deciding there’s nowhere else to go and we should just turn around and forget the whole thing, detours give us opportunity! They give us the chance to find out what COULD be that we haven’t experienced yet.
After all, Paul, as stuck and frustrated as he is, doesn’t decide to give up on his ministry to the Thessalonian church. Instead, he keeps following the detour and tries something else- he sends Timothy in his place. This wasn’t the decided upon route when setting out- but the possibility of what could be couldn’t be contained by one person’s plans. And as he bravely follows the detour and releases control, now, not only has Paul found a way to reach the people he cares about but he’s created something new- a new connection, new chances for ministry, and the story becomes bigger than just Paul- it becomes a story about raising up a young person in leadership, of a community impacted, and a faith that outlasts one person’s influence.
I know that when we’re in the middle of our journey, when we’re just trying to follow the map that has unexpectedly redirected us, right turn, left turn, where do we go??- it can be hard to see anything bigger than just ourselves, the car, and the destination we have mapped out in our heads. But sometimes the detour has to come before the new thing- we can’t get to it WITHOUT the detour- and the new thing might be so much better than where we think we’re going.
When I was in London the other week, I had the opportunity to see the musical Come From Away. It tells the story about the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland and how this town of only about 9000 people became a refuge for nearly 7000 stranded travelers on September 11, 2001. In the past, Gander had been a major refueling hub for jets making transatlantic flights, but as planes and fuel tanks got bigger, it became just another sleepy town- until September 11. As news of the terror attacks got out and American airspace was closed, flight after flight was diverted to land in Gander. 38 planes in total were sent to Gander and once they arrived, the passengers waited...and waited...and waited. Not knowing why they were there or when they would be leaving or if everything was ok, they waited.
And as the musical tells the story of some of the passengers and locals whose stories unexpectedly become intertwined, one story that emerges is that of Nick and Diane. Nick and Diane were on the same flight from London to Dallas- Nick was native to London and was heading to Texas for a conference and Diane was returning home to Texas from a trip. They first met while being held on their plane as the town scrambled to find space for all their new guests. And when they were able to deplane, the passengers were divided up, and Nick and Diane were sent to different shelters- but when she arrived, Diane was informed that this particular shelter was actually full and she would have to move to a different one 25 miles away.
Now, at this point, she had been sitting on a plane for almost a day, didn’t have access to any of her belongings because they were considered a security risk, and was now being detoured to a DIFFERENT place. But, back on the bus she went, 25 miles away, to a shelter with space and a cot...a cot that happened to be set up right next to that man Nick from her flight.
Their plane was grounded in Gander for 5 days, and during that time, Nick and Diane spent time exploring the scenery with local guides, and getting to know one another. And, despite the fact that they were sleeping on cots, wearing other people’s clothes, and were in the middle of a major detour in a place that was certainly NOT on the trip itinerary, despite the fact that the world seemed to be falling apart around them...these two strangers who were passengers on the same plane and staying at the same shelter soon found that spending time together was making this major detour a lot more pleasant.
And now, 18 years later, Nick and Diane are happily married, living in Texas, and seeing firsthand what it can mean to be detoured to something unexpectedly better than the planned for journey. The detour they found themselves on wasn’t easy- being personally displaced and in the midst of a global tragedy- but the challenges didn’t stop joy from finding its way in. Because that’s the reality of our lives: joy and sorrow, love and loss, failure and redemption- it’s all a part of it.
The ride is never going to go exactly as planned. We might not get to choose the route, but we do get to choose our reaction- we can look at the detour in front of us and say, “Why would God take us this way?” and we can fight it...or we can be like an enthusiastic two year old and embrace the next adventure. We can cling to disappointment when our plans don’t work out, or we can make room for a life where every single turn matters and has the possibility to lead us to joy. And when we decide to chase joy, that’s when we see that God has been at work in our detours. That we were never alone to just figure it out- and that God is working still wherever we are right now.
And when we know that, that’s when we can truly begin to enjoy the ride.
(Communion Transition: As we move into our time of Communion this morning, I think about how this meal with Jesus and his friends must have felt like the beginning of something new, a detour from how they imagined this life with Jesus to be. In this meal, Jesus reminds his disciples that even his upcoming death can’t stop his love and grace from making themselves known. And through sharing in bread and cup today, we remember that Jesus is indeed present with us at all times- and that this grace is available to each and every one of us who wants to receive it...)