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No More to Roam
A Sermon in Print



By Ronald L. Dart

I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
While traveling through this world of woe.
Yet theres no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright world to which I go.
Im going there to see my Father;
Im only going over Jordan,
Im only going over home.


The first time I heard Poor Wayfaring Stranger was a recording by Burl Ives, sometime in the late 40s I think. The haunting quality of the song got into my head and stayed there. One source called it an Appalachian folk song, and that is probably true since so much of what we call folk music originated there. It was fascinating looking for information on the song, because the search results wove in and out of a much broader genre of music that included the Negro spiritual.

You may have noticed that a lot of the old hymns are mixed and matched to a set of old tunes, many of them Welsh. It is no coincidence that a lot of the folks in Appalachia were originally from Wales. We often know the stories behind the lyrics, but it isnt so easy to find the story behind the tunes.

But it is striking that those songs that rise out of great pain or terrible loss, seem to match the greatest tunes. There may be a reason for that. As we pass along our way in this life, we become increasingly invested in this world and we forget for a time that nothing in this world can possibly last. It is all vanity and a striving after wind. And it is only when we become dis-invested, often by some catastrophic loss, that we really come home.

I know dark clouds will gather round me;
I know my way is rough and steep.
But golden fields lie out before me
Where Gods redeemed shall ever sleep.
Im going there to see my mother,
She said shed meet me when I come.


Being a Christian is, for those of us living here and now, an easy course. It has not always been so, and in fact even now is not so in other places. In the first days of the Christian church, it was hard, and all but impossible to invest much of yourself in this world. Life was hard and dangerous for the first Christians, and Paul wrote to the Corinthians, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

I suspect that the first heresies of the Christian church began to arise as the eleven walked back from the mount of Olives and the ascension of Jesus. Well, maybe not quite so soon, but certainly by sundown on the first Pentecost. And the various corruptions of the gospel tended to destroy the hope of those who trusted in Jesus. They were like infestations of termites that ate away at the walls and foundations.

It was just such an infestation that prompted the great 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul opens the chapter with a statement of the Gospel: Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel.

"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:"

This is the center point of the Gospel, for if Christ is not risen, then the whole thing is a sham. Those who call Jesus a great teacher or philosopher simply do not believe in their heart that this man was dead and rose again. And it was not just Paul who saw him.

"And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

There was at that time ample testimony of the resurrection of Jesus, but some, even some who characterized themselves as assenting believers in Jesus who did not believe he rose from the dead.

"Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?"

Some among you say, is the indelible mark of termites in the house. And if you read Paul carefully, the signs crop up again and again.

"But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not."

Lets not play games, said Paul, If these heretics are right, we are not well intentioned but mistaken. We are a pack of liars." There is no middle ground here. Then follows a set of propositions:

"For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiful."

Take away from the poor wayfaring stranger any hope of a better world, and there is no song left. We have so much of ourselves invested in this world. We are still singing our song. We hope for better things in our lives here and now, and they come for a while, but all the living know that they will die. Only when that idea penetrates our consciousness are we ready to sing a different song.

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. {16} For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. "(1 John 2:15-17 KJV)

I recall somewhere back along my trail a discussion about the Greek expression for pride of life, and attempts to make sense of it. There is no hidden meaning here. Only meaning that we dont think about very often. And the meaning is contained in the song, I am a poor wayfaring stranger.

In the song, there is no pride of life. I am poor. I am a vagabond, a stranger. I deal with sickness, toil and danger. My way is rough and steep and dark. I carry the cross of self denial. And then there are Johns words again.

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. {16} For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."

From time to time in this world, God allows his people to suffer, in ways great and small. All these are trials of faith. They are times of dis-investment in one world, and investment in another. God has given us this great gift which he has not given to his other creatures. We know that we will die, and in our better moments, we know what Solomon learned and wrote for us: It is all vanity and a striving after wind.

One of the more difficult books in the Bible is the book of Job. It is hard, partly because the players are so long winded. But the really hard part is that Job seems to be a pawn in a dispute between the devil and God. Job was a wealthy man with a big family. He had ten kids. He was the Bill Gates of his day, but in agriculture, not computers. He was the greatest of the men of the east. He was fully invested in Agriculture.

And there was nothing wrong with any of this. He was a good man, a good father. He cared about his family and his servants. He would have been a good man to work for. He was honest and clean living.

Then there is this incredible scene where the devil comes to appear before God and they sound like the best of adversaries chatting about the world at large. God to Satan: Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."

Phooey, replies Satan, It pays him well to serve you. Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."

It was a challenge that could not be ignored. Job lost his family (except for his wife whom he might have done without), his flocks and his herds, and finally his health. He had nothing left except a set of acquaintances we have dubbed Jobs friends and that is not a compliment.

And so, covered with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head, he took him a shard of pottery to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes. He is altogether a pitiful sight. The epitome of Pauls of all men most miserable. I will spare you the long dialogue between Job and his friends, and cut to the moment of awareness for Job.

Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. "You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:1-6 NIV)

These are hard words in the age of self esteem. Self hatred is something modern psychology tries to avoid at all costs. In a way, though, what Job is doing here is despising his life. He is abandoning the pride of life.

Solomon came to a similar pass.

"Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all." (Ecclesiastes 2:13 ff.)

Yes, wisdom is better. Yes, knowledge is good. Yes, the wise man sees while the fool stumbles in the dark. But there is a problem here. The end is the same for both of them.

Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.

Then, Solomon came to the "Job point" in his life. He came to hate it.

"Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity."

So, it was now time for a little self pity, and those of us who have not been to this place will yet go there.

"Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

"For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity. There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God."


Just live, my friends, he says. Live day to day. Enjoy your work, enjoy your food and wine, for in this world, that is all there is. If you want to go further, faith is required.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. . . . But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:1,6)

But how can we know that we have come to this when we are young, surrounded by so much wealth, in good health and strength, when we have so much invested in this world? It isnt easy, so sometimes it is necessary for God to help us.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (V.7)

And then there is Abraham, the archetype of the wayfaring stranger.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Vv. 8-10)

Abraham, Noah, Sarah and others would recognize this song:

I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
While traveling through this world of woe.
Yet theres no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright world to which I go.
Im going there to see my Father;
Im going there no more to roam.
Im only going over Jordan,
Im only going over home.

For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

All these men and women became dis-invested in this world, and invested in another.

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ Jesus, we are of all men most to be pitied. All these people were completely dis-invested in this world and, unless there was something more, it was all pointless. Because they all died in faith without receiving the promises. (Hebrews 11:38)


This is what we have to understand when we wrestle with questions of divine chastisement. In many cases, it is to liberate us from the distractions that take us away from God.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. (Hebrews 12:1-3 KJV)

Times of sore trials, times of pain, times of loss, are times of dis-investment in the things that dont really matter. They are opportunities for re-investment in what really counts.

Ill soon be free from every trial,
My body asleep in the old churchyard;
Ill drop the cross of self denial
And enter on my great reward.
Im going there to see my Savior,
Im going there no more to roam.

Im only going over Jordan,
Im only going over home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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