Scripture reading: I Samuel 17:32-40
The Power of a New Quest
By Daniel Lee
When I was a teenager, one of my favorite bands was the 1970s rock group Kansas. One of their most popular songs was “Point of Know Return.” Does anyone remember it?
The opening lyrics tell of an alluring but dangerous ocean voyage…
I heard the men saying something
The captains tell they pay you well
And they say they need sailing men to
Show the way and leave today
Then the song’s chorus repeatedly asks:
How long, How long to the point of know return?
What’s really interesting is that the song title has a clever play on words – it reads “how long to the point of know return,” spelled K-N-O-W, not the expected N-O.
It seems that the point of know return (K-N-O-W) is very fitting when it comes to the idea of a quest – that you learn, experience or achieve something that fundamentally transforms you. After the quest, you can never go back to the prior version of yourself.
When I think about today’s scripture, I think about David going past that point of know return as he confronted Goliath.
From today’s scripture reading … Then David took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with the sling in his hand, approached the Philistine…
Imagine the scene. The Israelites were on one hill, the Philistines on the other. Every morning and evening for 40 days, the giant Goliath – described as a champion – came forward and mocked the Israelites, challenging someone to fight him. The Bible describes the Israelites as dismayed and terrified.
Then David, a shepherd with a slingshot, steps out from the mass, past the point of know return.
HERE I AM, David said to Goliath.
We all know how the story ends – David slays Goliath. As a boy in Sunday school, I was enthralled with King David.
Now, as a Quaker, I prefer to read the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, and tend to stay away from the more violent parts of the Bible. Perhaps you’re the same way.
But the New Testament cannot be read without the Old Testament. The opening words of the Gospel of Matthew refer to Jesus as the “Son of David.”
Jesus faced the cross much like David faced Goliath – brave and faithful. But Jesus – the Prince of Peace – turned everything on its head to be consistent with His mission of non-violence, forgiveness, and renewal.
David inflicted violence; Christ received it.
David rejected Saul’s armor for the chosen weapons of a shepherd, a sling and staff. Jesus rejected disciples Peter’s sword for the chosen spiritual weapons of a Savior; compassion and non-violence.
Resolute after his time of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus passed the point of know return in his earthy quest. Just as David willingly met Goliath, Jesus willingly met Judas and Roman guards sent to capture him.
“Friend, do what you came for,” Jesus said before Judas kissed Him.
Jesus boldly said: HERE I AM.
That is the power of a quest. A quest is more than just a mere goal. It’s a determined and careful search for something new or something hidden. A quest is a high-risk expedition to secure or achieve something significant.
I’ve come to realize that our faith journeys are more meaningful and adventurous when we think of our spiritual lives as a series of quests.
The quests I’m talking about share three characteristics:
First, Quests bring together our spiritual and physical worlds.
Second, Quests are dangerous because they expose us to the power of God.
Third, Quests teach us, transform, and expand our influence.
The artwork in our hallway here at First Friends tells the stories of Quakers who lived their lives embarking on one courageous quest after another.
George Fox felt called to climb Pendle Hill, where he had a vision of a Great People to be Gathered – that was the birth of a Quaker movement. We are here today because Fox went beyond the point of know return.
There’s also a portrait of Elizabeth Fry in our hallway. She grew up in the late 1700s a Quaker, though she loved dressing and bight colors and dancing. But as a teenager, she went on a quest. She became interested in helping the poor and prisoners after hearing American Quaker traveling minister William Savery speak.
Young Elizabeth seemed well aware she was headed toward the point of know return. She would never again be a frivolous young girl.
She wrote: “I am like one setting out on a journey; if I set out on the wrong road, and do not try to recover the right one before I have gone far, I shall most likely lose my way for ever….”
Elizabeth’s chosen road would lead to become a pioneering leader in prison reform.
She would spend her life helping prisoners living in a literal hell on earth.
HERE I AM, she said to the anguished prisoners.
Elizabeth Fry’s portrait is featured on the five-pound British note. I’ve carried this one in my wallet since I visited England last year because she has so inspired me.
But quests aren’t only for the heroes of the Bible or Quaker history.
Perhaps you’ve been on quests. I have.
I’m holding in my hand highly sensitive documents that have been hidden away for more than 30 years before I sorted through boxes in my basement. These are “Poor Progress Reports” that my high school sent to my parents midterm because I was getting either a D or F in a course.
I intercepted these from the mailbox before my parents saw them. Believe me, others got through!
Let me read a few of my teachers’ comments:
“Dan has done poorly on several major tests this quarter.”
“Dan often ‘drifts away’ during class.”
“Dan has failed to complete several major assignments.” This poor progress report also notes that I had a poor attitude.
One teacher simply wrote, “Dan can certainly do the work, but he is not making any effort.”
Let me ask, what worse could a teacher write about a student?
Looking back at my teenage self, I really don’t have any answers to why I was the way I was.
I remember the evening of my high school graduation feeling a sense of shame. Throughout that summer, for the first time in my life, I became determined to transform myself into something – into someone – different. In the fall of 1987, my parents dropped me off at Ball State. When they drove away, I knew no one on campus. I was alone.
That was what I wanted – to face my challenges alone. Looking back, I realize now I was beginning a quest that would change my life.
My freshman year, I truly lived a life of inquiry. I spend hours at the library. I voluntarily got a tutor to improve my English composition grade. I sat in the front row of classes and would wait after class to talk further with professors. Outside of class, I read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” took part in a candlelight march to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and attended a lecture by Dr. Maya Angelou.
Quaker Elton Trueblood said, “Deliberate mediocrity is a heresy and a sin.” By holding myself accountable for the first time in my life, I passed the point of know return. My quest created within me a spiritual and intellectual framework that still guides me today.
At their most basic level, quests are about being accountable to the Inner Voice of God. Have you ever experienced a point of know (K-N-O-W) return? Is God leading you on a new quest?
Maybe you want to explore Quaker writings in our meetinghouse library.
Or write your own spiritual autobiography.
Or serve the poor.
Where new in your life can you courageously declare, HERE I AM.
I opened today with a song lyric, and I’d like to close with a song lyric. This one is from a meaningful song for me during my freshman year at Ball State.
It’s U2’s “I Still Have Found What I’m Looking For.” There’s one verse that captures the beautiful paradox of faith—that we have found Gold yet still search for God. This makes quests necessary for us to expand God’s inclusive and loving Kingdom:
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
But yes I'm still running
You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for.
That is the power of a new quest.