When spirituality is viewed as a journey, however, the way to spiritual wholeness is seen to lie in an increasingly faithful response to the One whose purpose shapes our path, whose grace redeems our detours, whose power liberates us from crippling bondages of the prior journey and whose transforming presence meets us at each turn in the road.
Robert Mulholland Invitation to a Journey p12
Jesus Comes... To Those Who Are On A Journey
It had been a long day and Abraham was tired. He’d been out in the fields all day, came home long enough to grab a bite to eat, kiss Sarah good-by, and get to the town council meeting. The meeting was uneventful, but long. When Abraham got home he got a bowl of ice-cream, sat down in his Lazy-Boy, and turned on the TV to watch Monday Night football. There was some static on the TV. After a few minutes the picture went out, though Abraham could still hear a voice speaking. He flipped through the channels, wiggled the cable, but nothing seemed to work. Then he realized that the voice from the TV was speaking to him.
“Abraham, this is God.” “Yeah, well I want Comcast, not God.” “Abraham, I want you to pack up everything you’ve got, leave your family and your home and the land where you live. I want you to go to a new land which I will show you. I will bless you there and make you a great nation.”
Abraham didn’t get much sleep that night. The next morning he and Sarah packed as much of their stuff as they could fit into their SUV, and took off. They left, just like that. They started a journey that would take them all over the Middle East and even down to Egypt. As verse 9 says, “Abraham journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.”
Joseph and his family had lived in Nazareth for several generations. They were pillars of the community and had a well-established business. Joseph was engaged to Mary, who was pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. The emperor Augustus had ordered that a census be taken. Since Joseph’s ancestors were originally from Bethlehem he had to go back there to be registered. Joseph and Mary were forced to leave their home, their business, their friends, everything they knew, and journey back to Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is about 70 miles south of Nazareth. Remember, there were no cars or trains. They either had to walk or ride a donkey. Those of you who have been pregnant, which excludes at least half of us, imagine what it would be like being 7 or 8 months pregnant, and walking from here to Uniontown, or to Somerset. I don’t imagine that it was an easy trip. But it began a journey for Joseph and Mary.
The Bible is filled with stories of people who are on journeys. The Exodus is the story of Moses leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt and through the wilderness. The Israelites are sent into exile in Babylon and then they journey back to the Promised Land again. The Wise Men journey from the east to see the Messiah. We’ll look at their story in a couple of weeks. When Jesus calls people what does he say? “Follow me.” He leads them on the journey of faith. After the death and resurrection of Jesus the apostles journey throughout the world, spreading the good news of Jesus.
Journey is one of the best metaphors of what it means to be a Christian. God’s people are constantly on a journey. What I’d like to do this morning is show you three ways that the Christian life is like a journey. Then I want to share with you the wonderful promise that God gives us for our journey.
First of all, every journey takes preparation. If you want to go visit friends who live at 41 Cherry Lane in Memphis, TN, a map or a GPS would be very helpful. You might want to make sure your car is working well. There is nothing like having car trouble when you are on a trip. You’ll need to pack your suitcase; clothes, toothbrush and whatever else you need. You might need to go to the bank to get some money for the trip. There are details that go into preparing for a journey.
The Christian journey also needs preparation. What is the ultimate destiny of the Christian journey? What do you need to help you reach that goal? Is there any baggage that weighs you down, things you need to get rid of for the journey? Who will you travel with on the journey? What will it cost you? Do you remember the parable that Jesus told about the builders who didn’t have enough money to finish the tower they were working on. The were ridiculed because they hadn’t prepared well enough and counted the cost. Jesus tells us to count the cost of discipleship, to prepare, before we begin the journey of faith.
Now, the fact that you are here this morning suggests that you are probably already on the journey. Here is what I would like to suggest; at some point in time you might want to to pause, and evaluate your journey. How is your journey going? Are there changes you need to make? What do you need to do to prepare for the next part of your journey?
Second, on any journey there are likely to be detours and unexpected problems. Most of you know that I live in Plum, on the other side of the county. I know how to drive around the eastern suburbs fairly well. Since I started at Sharon I’ve been learning whole new areas. One time I was trying to head home and avoid the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. I crossed over the river and tried to make my way up to I279 and then to 28 heading north up to Oakmont. It was cloudy day and getting dark. I turned on one road started driving. After 5-10 minutes I hadn’t seen the next road I was supposed to turn on. I looked at the compass in my car and realized that I was going in the wrong direction! Western PA isn’t very helpful with street signs and even if you have the correct directions and are on the right street, there is always a good chance that you hit a detour around road construction. That is simply part of the experience of driving in this area.
The journey of the Christian life is very similar. We don’t always end up on the easiest or most direct route to our destination. Sometimes that is because we have made a mistake and taken a wrong turn. We follow directions we thought were God’s, but were actually our own desires. We sin and miss the road God wants us to follow. Other times God plans detours for us, and uses those detours and struggles to help us grow in our faith. God puts us on a lonely, two-lane highway rather than a busy Interstate, or tells us to take a gravel road filled with pot-holes. Sometimes the Christian journey is a beautiful paved road that takes us directly to our next stop. Other times the Christian journey is filled with detours, struggles and wrong turns.
There is a third way that the Christian life is like a journey – we have not yet arrived at our destination. Tomorrow Alli and I are planning to go see the last Hobbit movie. I really like Tolkien’s stories. They are wonderful adventure stories, filled with all sorts of struggles and mishaps. Part of what makes them so good is that they portray life as a journey that never ends. Even when the Hobbit finishes, there is unfinished business that needs to be resolved in The Lord of the Rings. Even when the Lord of the Rings ends there is still unfinished business. Tolkien never wrote more, but the journey continues. Life is a journey that never ends.
To be a Christian means that we have not yet arrived. We haven’t yet reached the ultimate goal which comes only after we die. Since we are still on a journey we need to keep growing in our faith. There is more to learn, about ourselves and about God, more to learn about our relationships to other people and how we should live.
One of the great problems in the church of our time, at least in the United States, is that too many Christians have gotten off the journey and stopped growing. People went to Sunday school as children, up through 6th grade or maybe up to 10th or 11th grade. Then they stop going to Sunday school. I’m not sure where we got the idea that Sunday school is for children and not for adults, but that is one of the great tragedies in the church. One of the phrases I hear often in this part of the country, and I think it comes out of a Roman Catholic background, is that students “make confirmation.” That terminology implies that when you finish confirmation, in 8th or 9th grade, you have made it. You are done. Whether you joined the church through confirmation or through a conversion that is just one step on a journey that continues as long as you are alive. We never get to the point where we can say “I’ve learned enough I don’t need anything more.” The Christian life involves constantly learning and growing.
The Christian journey is more than just what you know, the knowledge you gain from reading the Bible or other books and participating in Sunday school or small groups. It includes developing and using your gifts for ministry, maybe even learning new gifts. It includes growing in our love for other people and our ability to forgive those who hurt us. It involves trusting God more and more as we face the different struggles that come into our lives. It involves learning how to listen for God’s word in your life and developing your relationship with Jesus. We are all on a journey of moving toward the goal of a perfect relationship with God. We are on a journey that in this world never ends.
Finally, here is the promise we need as we journey through life – we are not alone. The promise is that Jesus comes to those who are on a journey. In Genesis, God appears to Abraham several times, not only to call him to follow but also to protect him and to guide him. When Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem God came to them, in the form of Jesus who is Emmanuel, God with us. It is an astounding, incomprehensible idea – this helpless little baby is the Lord of the universe, God with us.
Earl Palmer is a Presbyterian pastor. He tells the story of the time he went on a journey to the Philippines. He flew into a small town where someone was supposed to meet him and drive him to a village out in the middle of the jungle. The person who was supposed to meet him couldn’t be there but had left a 4-wheel-drive jeep and detailed instructions with another man. The instructions involved driving through the jungle on a dirt road, crossing a river at a point where it was low enough to cross and through all sorts of other hazards. It was a 6-8 hour trip. As Earl heard these directions he began to panic. Finally, the man who was giving him the instructions said, “What the heck. I know where it is. I’ll drive you there!” He dropped what he was doing and drove Earl all the way to the village where he was going.
Which would you rather have, detailed instructions how to get someplace or someone to go with you on your journey, to show you the way? God’s promise to us is that as we journey through life we are not alone. God is always with us. Jesus comes to those who are on a journey.
Let us pray: Jesus, you left behind your home in heaven, left your eternal glory, and came down to this earth. You lived among us, died for us, and returned to heaven. Thank you that as we journey through this life you are with us. Help us, as we journey, to follow you and trust in your abiding presence. Amen.