Getting Off The Roundabout

It´s all in the eyesHave you ever been stuck on a roundabout?

I only know of one roundabout in the metro Richmond area, over near the White Oak Shopping Center, but there may be others.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, a roundabout is a type of circular junction in which road traffic must travel in one direction around a central island. The purpose is to help keep traffic flowing at a faster pace than the typical intersection with stop-signs or traffic lights.

When I was a teenager there was a roundabout was in Daytona Beach, Florida.  One lane of traffic came led to the Daytona Speedway; another led along the scenic Halifax River; still another led across a bridge that took you to what Floridians call “the world’s most famous beach”; while the final lane of traffic headed to the primary shopping district in downtown Daytona Beach.  Obviously, these were all central avenues of traffic throughout the city.

Now there is something you need to know about a roundabout.  In each one that I have ever seen, there are signs which direct traffic entering the circle to slow down.  The right of way is always given to those already in the circle.  Well, this was an opportunity to reek a bit of havoc that I, as a young teenage boy, simply could not let pass me by.

Gongeuptap Rotary.Now let me say to our youth that just because your pastor did some stupid things when he was a teenager, do not think you have cover when you do something stupid.  I don’t want any of you getting in trouble and then saying to your parents, “I thought it would be okay because Pastor Nieporte did it when he was a teenager!”

 Okay, where was I?  Oh yes, the issue of right of way.  Traffic signs give the right of way to cars already in the roundabout.  There I was, approaching the very small roundabout in Daytona Beach.  I was in my first car, a white, 1964 Plymouth Valiant, with push-button transmission.  Even in 1980, this was a classic car that was the envy of my guy friends while still not being the “chic magnet” I’d hoped it’d be – but I digress.

As I approached the circle and the though hit me:  “Once I get in the circle, I’ll have the right of way.  If I drive fast enough, very few cars (if any) would be able to enter the roundabout.”

When I entered the roundabout, I hatched my plan.  I circled that thing about 30 times.  Some brave souls entered the roundabout and made their way through my foolishness, but several drivers were a bit too timid.  Besides, several of them appreciated my stunt.  I could tell because they were holding up a single finger to show their appreciation.  Everything was going great till I hear and siren and saw flashing blue lights in the distance.  Fearing that there was a serious crime being committed, I decided it was time to slip out of the roundabout and head home.

Have you ever been stuck on a round about?

 _ roundabout _

Up till today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, it pretty much seemed like Jesus and his disciples were stuck on a roundabout.  Jesus had been preaching and teaching; performing miracles, healing the sick, and raising the dead.  The disciples were along for the journey, listening to their teacher and trying to mimic his lifestyle.  Yet in the Gospel narrative itself, there seems to be no real direction for their journey.  There was no sense of purpose; no inkling of a destination.

Then, in as little as six words, the entire course of Jesus ministry in the Gospel of Luke was completely transformed.  The text tells us that “…Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 TNIV).  No more meandering ways.  No more time set aside for the preparation and training of his disciples.  No more circling about Palestine, doing good deeds when an opportunity was presented.  It was time to get off the roundabout.  A direction was set.  A course was laid out.  A destination was established.  A future story was written.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that up till this point, Jesus didn’t know what he was doing or where he was going – that he was just wandering around, with no clear purpose or direction.  What I am saying is that from the perspective of the Gospel narrative – from the perspective of his disciples – it certainly must have seemed like they were stuck on a roundabout.

What they maybe didn’t realize is that up till this point they were on a journey of spiritual preparation with Jesus, a time of getting ready for what was next.  But there comes a time when you stop getting ready and start moving.  There comes a time when you have to pick up the backpack and heard out the door.  That time came on this journey of with and his disciples when Luke writes, “…Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

For the rest of Luke’s gospel, Jerusalem is out there.  It’s the goal, the destination, the mission, the vision.  This is the beginning in Luke of what biblical scholars call “the travel narrative” which cover nearly ten chapters leading up to Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  From here on out, as Jesus travels from one town to the next, from one village to another, Luke will preface each step of the journey by saying, “…as he (Jesus) made his was to Jerusalem.”

Along the way on this travel narrative, we have stories like the one were read today in which Jesus talks about the meaning of discipleship.  Jesus makes it clear on the journey what traveling to Jerusalem would involve.  In fact, one day he took his disciples aside and said, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man will be accomplished.” Then he told them what that meant.  He said he would be arrested, mistreated, mocked, and abused.  Traveling to Jerusalem for Jesus would mean giving himself over completely to the cause of the Kingdom of God.  Traveling to Jerusalem meant surrendering himself to the cross so that we might now just how powerful the love of God is.


He also wanted the disciples to know that one he resolutely set out for Jerusalem, following him meant they, too, would be walking the Jerusalem road. He was inviting them off the roundabout and on to a path of discipleship that aimed at changing the world.

How might that look in our lives?  For me it has meant a total makeover in my understanding of what it means to be in pastoral ministry.  In my early day of ministry, being a pastor meant managing and maintaining the institutional church.  It meant that I thought that being a pastor was something like being the “cruise director” on the Love Boat.  The pastor’s role is to provide entertaining activities and events aimed at making people feel happy, because happy people maintain building, uphold the institution, and meet budgets.

Over the years it has become increasingly clear to me that following Jesus has less to do with institutional maintenance and more to do with advancing the Kingdom of God.  A journey toward to Jerusalem is a pathway of discipleship aimed at bringing God’s hope of redemption to the world.

I previously asked you to imagine what our church might look like in ten years.  Actually, this is the wrong challenge to ask.  This is better:  What might this church look like in ten years IF WE FAITHFULLY LIVE INTO GOD’S CALL?  If we join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem – if we become what Jesus is calling us to be and do what Jesus is calling us to do – how might we be different in ten years.

If all we are about is maintaining the institution, we might as well pack it in and call it is day right now, because that is not the call of Christ.  Jesus didn’t come to erect buildings and establish institutions.  He came to show us how great the love of God is.  He came to bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.  He came that we might all be redeemed.  Here’s the question I am being forced to ask – one that I am asking you to consider as well:  “What might this church look like in ten years if the aim of Jesus ministry became the aim of our ministry?  What might our church look like if we traveled with Jesus toward Jerusalem?”


When I lived on the Eastern Shore, I saw an advertisement promoting a “cruise to nowhere.”  It was a 4-night/5-day trip aboard a luxury liner with no ports of call.  You’d board a ship, stay in a comfortable suite, sun-tan on the ship’s deck, eat in the it finest restaurants, and enjoy top-quality entertainment for the length of the cruise.  But you wouldn’t actually go anywhere.  The ship would move a bit off shore and they travel in circles with no destination in mind.  Now that might seem like a great vacation, but it would be a terrible way to live a life and engage in ministry.  It would be like living stuck on a roundabout.

For many years, that’s what I thought my job was as a pastor.  To make people happy in a cruise ship called the church with no particularly destination in mind.  Then Jesus began to give me a bit of divine discontent.  He made it clear that there was more he wanted to do through me and in the churches I served.  He called me off the roundabout and on a journey of discipleship aimed at the redemption of the world.

Can I tell you that for many years it was very tough?  Many churches like the “cruise director” model of pastoral leadership.  Many like living on a cruise to nowhere.  Many are very comfortable on the roundabout.  But then, three years ago this coming Thursday, I began my tenure as pastor at Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.  As I felt God calling me to become your pastor, I had a strong sense in my dealings with the Pastor Search Committee that this church had a passion to get off the church roundabout and get involved in the work of the Kingdom.

Over the last 18 months or so we’ve engaged in a spiritual journey of prayer and discernment.  It’s been clear to me that this church is ready to get on the road to with Jesus toward Jerusalem – toward a truly missional ministry, where everyone’s gifts and passions are turned loose for the work of ministry and evangelism in our community and culture.  In our next step in discernment a group of leaders will be imagining what that might look like.  The question being ask again is this:  IF this church faithfully lives into God’s call, what might this congregation look like in ten years.  The purpose of this vision is to PULL us toward the future.  It’s much easier to move forward when a VISION pulls us then to try and move with a sense of guilt and obligation pushing us.  So I invite you to join me over the next several months as we explore developing this vision – this future story.

But maybe we need to do more here than just pray for the congregation’s discernment of what God might be building up in us over the next ten years.  Maybe we ought to pray for ourselves and one another, because in today’s kind of world, I imagine that many of us go through a typical day feeling like we are stuck on a roundabout.


Maybe you feel stuck in a dead end job.  Maybe you feel caught up in the rat-race of typical western values to get ahead, climbing the social and/or corporate ladder.  Maybe you are tired of always striving to possess more stuff and have come to realize that having more does not give life meaning, purpose, or direction?  Maybe you are tired of striving to own bigger – a bigger screen TV, a bigger car, a bigger and better house.  It’s like a drug.  It causes an addiction that can never be fulfilled.  Maybe the solution is not more or bigger, but freedom and release.

If this sounds like you, then what’s happening is that you are realizing that the so-called American-Dream is a poor substitute for the Kingdom of God.  God is calling you off the roundabout and toward a Jerusalem style of life marked by ministry, mission, compassion, and generosity.  Let your deacon, your Sunday School class, your pastor, or some other people in this church know about this calling so you can be prayed for an encourage along the way.  One reason why the church exists is to be a reminder of the grace of God by which we have been set from to live with a higher sense of purpose and passion.

Now there are a couple of other things in today’s passage of scripture that I want to bring to your attention as we move off the roundabout and into a missional stance toward our community and culture.  The first thing we need to recognize is that sometimes this Jerusalem journey of discipleship and mission will not be well-received.  We will face opposition, just as Jesus faced opposition from a Samaritan village immediately after resolutely setting his direction toward Jerusalem.

This is really an interesting turn of events.  Do you remember the trouble Jesus got in at the start of his public ministry back in his hometown of Nazareth?  In this story, told in Luke 4, Jesus made it abundantly clear in his own hometown that God’s love and grace was offered to all people.  God’s grace is universally extended to all ready to receive it – even those traditionally hated and excluded by his own hometown heritage.  How did the people of Nazareth receive this news?  Well, they drove him out of Nazareth and try to throw him off a cliff.

Now Jesus faces a similar rejection as he sets his course toward Jerusalem. For years the Jews and Samaritans had a feud brewing about where to worship God.  The Jews said Jerusalem.  The Samaritans said that God should be worship on a mountain near Jacob’s well.  It was a long-standing theological battle that, like most theological wars, was largely meaningless in the great scheme of eternity.

Jesus had sent some disciples ahead to prepare for his arrival in the Samaritan village.  “Our Rabbi Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem,” they probably said.  “He’d like to stay here for the evening.”

The Wall

“Heading to Jerusalem, is he?  Well, he’ll have to stay someplace else, then.  We don’t want his kind in our community!”

The point is unmistakable.  Following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem – following him on the journey to bring hope and redemption to the world – will come at a price.  Sometimes the very people we are trying to love will reject us.

When that happens what should be do?  The disciples wanted to respond to the rejection with hatred.  “Lord, should we call fire down from heaven to consume their village.  That will teach them a lesson.”  The text says that Jesus rebuked them.  This is the same word that the text uses when Jesus deals with an “unclean spirit.”  Next, in some ancient manuscripts, Jesus declares that he “…did not come to destroy life, but to save it.”  Then they move on to another village.

If we follow Jesus on a path of discipleship aimed at bringing home and redemption to the world, some people will reject us.  When that happens our response should not be dictated by the way they act, but by the love of Christ that inhabits our hearts.

Next, Luke tells us of some other folks that wanted to join Jesus on the Jerusalem way, but they wanted to determine the terms of the journey.

One person said Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “The birds of the air have a nest, but I don’t have a home.  I have no place to lay my head.”

Another said, “Lord, I will follow you, but first I have to bury my father. I’ll catch up with you later!”

Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury the dead.  You come and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Still another said, “I coming with you – just let me say goodbye to my family.”

Jesus said, “No, one you start, you can’t look back.  I want you to be all in!”

What’s the bottom line with each of these encounters?  It’s simply this:  if you get off the roundabout and join Jesus on the journey to Jerusalem – know that there will be no room for delay, no room for managing one’s own calendar (or Blackberry), no room for looking out for your own own self-interest, no room for the running in the rat-race.  Once Jerusalem is our destination, there is no room for a casual commitment of convenience.

The passion we’ve expressed with our hearts and our lips must be turned loose in our lifestyle.  Jesus wants us to trust him completely, without reservation – holding nothing back.  That’s the call that I am hearing today on my life.  I ask you to pray for me and encourage me as I seek to follow Jesus without reservation.

Maybe that’s the call you are hearing today.  In fact, I know this is God’s call on many of your lives.  You’ve told me so.  You’ve expressed it in so many ways.  I want you to know that I will be praying for you and trying to encourage and equip you along the way.

Now there may be some of you here today thinking that this call is not for you.

“I’m not a bad person.  In fact, I’m a pretty good person.”

That may all be true.  Perhaps you have never abused your spouse, children, or anybody else. You’ve never been drunk or high.  You don’t have a criminal record.  You’ve never cheated on you taxes and you’ve often helped your neighbors in need.  You even make it to church most Sunday and offer your tithe when the offering plate is passed.

“”I’m not a bad person. In fact, I’m a pretty good person. And because I am, Jesus has the sense not to ask me to do anything different than what I’m doing.  After all, Jesus is plenty busy trying fix up and redeem all the really bad people in the world.  When it comes to me, Jesus is probably ready to send me a thank-you note for my good behavior.”

If you are thinking that – your thinking is stinking.  Jesus has a habit of calling all people.  Charles Hoffacke has pointed out that the Jesus of the Bible has a way of calling people whose lives are both “a moral disaster and a moral example.”  This is because Jesus is interested in something besides improving bad people’s behavior. What Jesus wants is to invite all people, regardless of their behavior, to accept his grace and become his disciples.

That’s the call – the invitation:  Jesus calls you to follow him off the roundabout and on a pathway of discipleship aimed at bringing hope and redemption to the world.


Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (The Gospel and Our Culture Series)
publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, published: 1998-02-09
ASIN: 0802843506
EAN: 9780802843500
sales rank: 220016
price: $13.74 (new), $2.12 (used)

What would a theology of the Church look like that took seriously the fact that North America is now itself a mission field? This question lies at the foundation of this volume written by an ecumenical team of six noted missiologists—Lois Barrett, Inagrace T. Dietterich, Darrell L. Guder, George R. Hunsberger, Alan J. Roxburgh, and Craig Van Gelder.

The result of a three-year research project undertaken by The Gospel and Our Culture Network, this book issues a firm challenge for the church to recover its missional call right here in North America, while also offering the tools to help it do so.

The authors examine North America?s secular culture and the church?s loss of dominance in today?s society. They then present a biblically based theology that takes seriously the church?s missional vocation and draw out the consequences of this theology for the structure and institutions of the church.

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