The mystery of the other path

The mystery of the other path

This is the sermon the Rev. Paula Jefferson preached on the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 19, 2021, for the live streamed worship service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Keller.


The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Mystery of the Other path.

Welcoming Divine Mystery

After Harry Potter and Hagrid went to Diagon Alley to purchase his first-year books, uniforms, and a wand, Harry had to wait a whole month before classes would begin at Hogwartz.  He returned to Number 4 Privet Drive, where Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon begrudgingly offered shelter.

Alone in his room, he looked through school books and spent time with his owl, Hedwig. When it was finally time to leave, Harry needed a favor from Uncle Vernon.  He needed a ride to King’s Cross station in downtown London.  His train was scheduled to depart at 11:00am from Platform 9-3/4.

Uncle Vernon was not amused: “Don’t talk rubbish. There is no platform nine and three-quarters,” he said.  Uncle Vernon continued to mutter under his breath, “barking, howling mad, the lot of them.”[1]

Through the first 7 chapters of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been leaving a sort of breadcrumb trail for his disciples (and for us)…one miracle after another… Signs of his Divine nature.

In last week’s reading, Jesus wonders out loud whether the disciples have seen enough to understand.  He asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter answers, “you are the Messiah”.

After Peter’s confession of faith, three things happened:  First, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.  Second, the disciples give a human response to this divine revelation.   And, third, Jesus gives a rebuttal to the human response.

This same pattern repeats itself in today’s Gospel reading.

First, the prediction:

The reading begins with Jesus sounding like Agent 007:  he’s secretively passing through Galilee, his home turf, but he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s there.  He gathers the disciples and explains to them, again, that he will be killed, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.  The text says, “they did not understand what he was saying.”

We are Easter people.  We hear Jesus’ revelation having already read the whole story:  the manger, the cross, the empty tomb…we have knowledge the disciples do not yet have.  Jesus is inviting them into this Divine Mystery.

When Harry got to the train station, he saw for himself:  Platform 9 was adjacent to Platform 10.  There were no platforms between them.  Harry stopped a station attendant and asked for directions to the train departing for Hogwartz.  But Harry couldn’t tell the attendant whether Hogwartz was north-bound, south-bound, east-bound, or west-bound.  And, of course, the attendant had never heard of Hogwartz or Platform 9-3/4.

Second, the human response:

The second leg of Mark’s pattern is the human response to Jesus’ prediction.  They may be too afraid to ask what Jesus means, but they aren’t too afraid to imagine who will take the helm after his death.  The disciples spend their walking time bickering over who among them is the greatest.  Their friend has announced that he will die:   and the human response is to argue over who is next in line.  This is not humanity’s finest hour.  They are not yet prepared to welcome Divine Mystery,

Harry is making his way through King’s Cross Train Station—it’s a busy place.  150,000 passengers use this station every day.  Harry has a luggage cart filled with trunks…and perched above the trunks is a bird cage perfectly sized for Tweety Bird.  But, this cage doesn’t hold a charming song bird.  It contains a predator…Hedwig, an enormous owl.

An eleven-year-old boy, alone, with an overflowing luggage trolley topped with an owl, asks an adult for help finding a platform number that makes no sense, bound for a destination that makes no sense.  The humans walk away, disgruntled with the abuse of their time.

Third, Divine rebuttal:

Jesus asks the disciples what they were arguing about.  They are silent.

I wonder what they felt?

Jesus breaks the silence, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

It is not the last time he will teach this lesson.

“Excuse me,” Harry said to a woman with 4 boys, all with flaming red hair.  They, like Harry, had trolleys with trunks and an owl.  He asked how to get onto platform 9-3/4.  Mrs. Weasley provided the needed wisdom: “Not to worry, all you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten.  Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it…Best do it at a bit of a run if you’re nervous.”

Harry Potter could not see Platform 9-3/4.  What he saw was a brick wall.  As he moved toward it, passengers headed to Platforms 9 and 10 were bumping into him.  They did not see Platform 9-3/4, either.

A woman, whom Harry has never met, tells him to walk straight into a brick wall…and Harry goes.  Somehow, the child imagines the possibility that the brick wall is more than clay and mortar…It is also a portal to another world.


Jesus welcomed a child into the circle of his disciples.  Taking the child into his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus welcomes the outcasts of his culture into his inner circle….and asks, can see this child?  Can you see Christ in the child?  Do you have the faith, the prophetic imagination, to see the world differently?

All of us know people who see only the brick wall between platforms 9 and 10.  Much of the time, I am “those people”.  Our lives are busy, crowded, one-way thoroughfares.  And we are doing our best to do it all … and to do it well.

On those days when we bang our heads into the brick wall, there is a balm in Annie Lamott’s words of wisdom, “I do not at all understand the Mystery of Grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”[2]

Searching for Platform 9-3/4, Harry Potter encounters Mrs. Weasley.  She sees him: his aloneness, his uncertainty, his vulnerability.  She doesn’t brush by him hurriedly.  She meets him where he is.

Harry Potter crosses through Platform 9-3/4 into an imaginary world—one that is broken in ways similar to our world.

The disciples argue over who is greatest among them.  Jesus doesn’t cast them aside and look for 12 better humans.  He welcomes these broken, human vessels into his life.  He met them—and he meets us–where we are—over, and over again.  Each time, we are changed.

Spiritual disciplines, Christian formation, and regular Eucharistic worship: these are a bit like platform 9-3/4.  They are openings to another world—another way of being.  They do not lead us northbound, southbound, eastbound, or westbound.  They lead us more deeply into the life

[1] Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone J.K. Rowling 1997—passages quoted throughout sermon.

[2] Traveling Mercies; Anne Lamott