“In times of need, it is good to know that God is waiting at the end of the road,” said the Rev. Isaac J. Canales at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “God Will Make a Way,” and the Scripture texts were Exodus 23:20 and Isaiah 40:4.
Both of these Scriptures speak about roads, byways and highways, he said. In Exodus, God told the people of Israel that he would send an angel in front of them to guard them and bring them to the place he had prepared for them. As an illustration, Canales shared the story of Jacob, who, after stealing Esau’s birthright, fled into the wilderness.
“He was full of fear, but he met God on a mountain and God told him, ‘Wherever you go, I will prepare the way if you trust in me,’ ” Canales said.
The passage from Isaiah is one Christians read through the lens of John the Baptist, who prepared the way in the wilderness for Jesus.
“John made a highway from heaven to Earth so God could come down to Earth,” Canales said. “From the throne of God to the hearts of men and women, through the cross, God builds a road of grace, joy and comfort.”
Canales talked about how he and his wife, Ritha, had come to Los Angeles after he graduated from Harvard University. Ritha was a young nurse who had grown up in Ohio and worked as a night nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“It took a while to convince this young white girl to come to a gang area,” Canales said.
He knew God would make a way, and that was confirmed by two incidents. The first happened when they got off the plane in California. Canales’ father and sisters were waiting at the gate.
“Remember when you could wait at the gate?” Canales said. “Now you have to wait in the parking lot.”
Canales could see immediately that his father had had a stroke, and no one had called to tell him. Why, he asked, didn’t you call me? His father said, “Because I knew you would come home and you needed to finish your education.”
“I knew then that God was calling me to a small church with five senior citizens and five kids who you would never trust to collect the offering,” Canales said.
He and Ritha moved into the family house, and the first night there was a gang fight. After the fight, he said, Ritha went out to tend to the young man who laid in street dying of gunshot wounds and having been run over by a car. Canales went out and held his head and prayed with him.
“This is the ministry that has gone on until this day,” he said. “I knew for sure that God was making a way. I had calls from other, larger churches, but the call of God is irrevocable, irrefutable. You will never be content until you do what God called you to do.
He and his wife bought a house in the neighborhood and raised their three sons there. Each has become an accomplished man of God, he said. Josh played baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros, and is now the executive pastor of Mission Ebenezer Family Church. David is a coach of wide receivers for the Seattle Seahawks, and Jacob is the associate campus minister for discipleship ministry at Azusa Pacific University and doing his doctoral studies.
Their small house had everything but a driveway; they had a dirt path that was full of potholes. Ritha was pregnant and working part-time as a nurse, while Isaac was preaching and working on his doctorate. She said she wished they had a driveway, and he told her to keep wishing but also to pray to God for one because they could not afford one.
One of the changes that Ritha made in his life was to get him to do house chores.
“I was the only son with four sisters and doing housework changed my machismo,” Canales said.
One day after Ritha left for work, Isaac took their oldest son to the next door neighbor and was about to finish his housework and begin his studies when he heard a truck door slam. Mrs. Lopez, the neighbor, had a gas leak in her driveway and the gas company had sent people to fix it.
They broke up Mrs. Lopez’s driveway, found the leak and then put in fill dirt before they laid down fast-drying cement. After they were finished, they huddled together and pointed at the Canales’ house. One of the men came over and knocked and said they had some extra fill dirt and asked if they could fix his driveway for him. Canales told them to go ahead, and they thanked him for letting them do it.
After lunch, he heard more activity in the street. The city had sent a crew to fix the curb for a house across the street. After they finished, in the middle of the afternoon, the lead man, “a large Mexican with a large stomach and a navel the size of a goblet,” came over.
“I knew the cosmic engineer was at the door step, bending the universe, making a way where there was no way,” Canales said.
He said he was almost hysterical, laughing and crying at the same time because he knew what the man was going to say. The crew paved his driveway for him.
“God is always there waiting for us,” Canales said. “God was letting us know we were called to ministry in that neighborhood. It was confirmation that God had a sense of humor and cared. I kept thinking about my wife coming home to a new driveway, and I had nothing to do with it.”
Why isn’t life always like that? There are times when God seems to be nowhere around, and then God shows up in God’s own way.
“I caught God in a miracle that day,” Canales said. “There was a porthole in reality and I could see what was about to happen; I was completely humbled. I saw God in that man and said yes.”
When Ritha got home she asked him who he had talked out of the materials for the driveway.
“As the good book says,” he told her, “God makes a way where there is no way.”
The Rev. John Morgan presided. Milca Ruiz, who comes to Chautauqua Institution from Mesa, Arizona, and completed her first year of college at Northern Arizona University with a double major in marketing and Spanish, read the Scripture. Milca will be the last of her siblings to be a Chautauqua Scholar through the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons. Her sister Jessica was in the Class of 2013 and brother Danny was in the 2015 class. She is the recipient of the Chautauqua Chapter Scholarship. The Motet Choir sang “The Lord is My Shepherd,” by Nicholas White. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy and the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund support this week’s services.