Alan Neale

Writer • Speaker

Sermon “Roads not Circles.” The Reverend Alan Neale. Sunday December 11, 2016. Trinity Church, Newport RI.

This sermon is about the commonly experienced trauma of living in circles whereas the Lord wants to break the circle and move us forward… always.
At the beginning of the sermon I speak of a scene from “European Vacation” – the challenge of ‘breaking the circle’ according to Chevy Chase. See below for the movie clip.


Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday December 11 2016
The Reverend Alan Neale
“Highways, not Circuits”

Isaiah 35:8 “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the rude and the rebellious shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.”


Long ago I came to accept that I am not a seasoned shopper, a confident consumer, a proficient purchaser – not even in grocery stores such as Shaw’s. On Friday I set out on a mission with verbal and written directions but all too soon I was calling, texting, sending pictures to seek guidance as to what I should buy. Then I became aware of yet another weakness; I observed that trolleys were pushed, baskets were carried in a path that was direct. Whereas I was continually making laps and circuits, finding myself back in familiar aisles – the seasoned shoppers were moving in definite paths that seemed never to be repeated.
Many are spiritually scammed into believing that life is somehow a journey that consists of circles and circuits; the season of Advent charges us to realize that our God is always calling us forward on a journey (with beginning and middle and ending). It is, as the prophet Isaiah declares in our text, a highway we travel, a Holy Way we journey.
As a spiritual chorus taught me years ago: “Walking, yes I’m walking, on the King’s Highway, walking on the King’s Highway. To the place of many mansions I will come at last… walking on the King’s Highway.”
This past Tuesday Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, preached a sermon at Lambeth Palace to parliamentarians and their staff. He commented, “The sense of the cycle that goes round and round is false. As Christians, we believe in a direction, a journey.  A journey that began with God and ends with God, and in which God accompanies us the whole way; in which there is a sense of being looked after. As we go, Christ draws near us and says, “Come with me. Walk this journey in my way.” It is not an endless cycle of going around: it is a direction. It will end. It will come to a finish.”
The addict who suffers a relapse, the recidivist who commits another crime, the family/the community that confronts the same problems – such as these, and more, are tempted to feel doom and despair; they sense they are entrapped in some vicious circle, some horrendous hamster wheel; such folk ache and long to be rid of the circle and to enjoy the highway.
Well this is the Advent word of the Lord “a highway, a holy way… shall be there.”
Isaiah reminds us that the rude and the rebellious find this belief difficult to entertain, challenging to accept. When we lose respect for the divine, for others, for themselves; when we refuse to surrender… then we sentence themselves to lives lived in circles seemingly without hope and purpose. God help us… and, ultimately and always, I believe He does.
Matthew 11:10 “‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” Before each of us there is a divine messenger preparing the way, the road, the highway. Without doubt, Jesus encountered situations that seemed similar; consider the endless painful times when the disciples seemed, yet again, almost stupid in their lack of understanding – times when we would understand if Jesus sighed and said, “Oh… here we are again.” But it was not so for each time the disciples had learned a little more, their awareness was more acute, their perception more intense.
Friends, it is a devilish lie that we are simply “back where we started”, in the hands and economy of God this is just simply impossible. Even the one who chronically relapses or the one who disappoints yet again or the one whose plans are blocked constantly – this one is not “back where they started”  but somehow, in the hands and economy of God, further on.
Consider the spiral staircase – from one perspective it will seem as if we have retraced a circle but from another it is true that progress has been made.
Consider the canal boat in a lock – it will seem to the passengers that they are locked, dammed (in every sense) and yet all the time there is an upward movement so that, when all is safe and ready and prepared, forward movement can take place.
James 5:8 “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” Wait in the Advent Community for the Lord to come into your personal lives, challenges and trials – to give purpose, to redress wrongs, to establish the Kingdom; this is happening all the time and yet our lack of expectancy blinds our eyes, deafens our ears and hardens our hearts… and then, as James writes, we grumble and lose perspective and allow ourselves to be blinded, deafened and hardened by the grumbling cries “well, here we are again.” Such cries disable, enfeeble even paralyze those who work for social justice and political integrity… we are moving on even though it may seem at times “inch by inch.”
Isaiah 35:8 “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the rude and the rebellious shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.”
On this highway there are no tolls, no barriers; it is for all travelers even, thank God, “for fools.” AMEN

Chevy Chase and the Roundabout/Rotary