Reflecting on the Journey
The destination of faith is love!
By the time you watch this, Sherice and I should be back in Midland. But, for now, as the crow flies, we’re fifteen hundred miles away. The Rhododendron Garden, Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, Washington. Two days drive – two long days drive away. Half a dozen hours away by plane. We came up here for a little post-resurrection R&R! And to help Lanie celebrate – believe it or not – her twenty-first birthday! Some of you may remember … she was a year-and-a-half old when we came to Midland. So, I’ve had this trip percolating at the back of my mind for a month-or-so, now. This trip and this sermon with it!
You see, I knew today would be another thirdSunday. Our time to reflect on the journey we’ve been on for the last two-plus years. Ending one chapter, beginning another. And naturally, I knew all this would be the backdrop! Water! Mountains! Trees! But I, also, was thinking about how Sherice and I would get here. Two hour drive to Lubbock. Two-and-a-half hour flight to Las Vegas. A little over three-and-a-half hour layover. Then, two hours and forty-five minutes more to SeaTac. And somewhere along the way, I realized something … I’ve been thinking about our journey as church as if it were a vacation! A vacation just like this! More vacation than wandering! More excursion than exodus!
You see, coming up here, Sherice and I knew, exactly, how far we had to go! We knew, precisely, how long it would take to get here! We had a schedule! A timetable! An agenda! All plotted! All planned out! It was all in a binder! And we followed it until we got here! And we’ll follow it all the way home! One page … after another … after another … There’s a beginning and there’s an ending! There’s a starting point and there’s a destination! But this thing you’re on as church isn’t a vacation. It’s a wondering! A wandering in the wilderness!
Sure, there’s a beginning! It was the afternoon of January 11th, two years ago. When the papers were signed and what had, once, been the home of Midland Lutheran Church became the home of Midland Chin Immanuel Church. For a while, we continued worshiping in the fellowshipHall … as a visitor. At least, that is, until the pandemic. Since then, for the past fifty-eight Sundays, we’ve been here … in the wilderness! “Are we there, yet?” “How much farther?” Those aren’t questions you’re able to ask on journeys like this. They’re questions that can be asked only on vacations. But here on the journey, they’re out of place. We don’t know when we’ll get there! We don’t know how much farther. For us, it’s just one foot in front of the other. Over and over. Again and again.
You see, on a journey, there’s no going back. That’s one of the reasons we’re still doing this … online … on Facebook … Going back – to the fellowshipHall – is heading in the wrong direction! What we’re doing – what the church has always done – has no return ticket. It’s one way! There’s no return to believing. We’ve been church for two thousand years, give or take. We’ve been church for a hundred generations. And we haven’t gotten there, yet. And that ought to be a clue, for us. We’re on a journey – just like the hebrews, like israel, and it never ends. Like I said, last week. Even heaven isn’t our destiniation. It’s love! It’s charity! It’s grace! A journey isn’t about the miles. A journey isn’t the days or weeks, the months or years. It’s, simply, the going on … and on … and on …
The other thing I realized … we don’t take this journey for ourselves alone. It doesn’t work that way. We journey … we wander … for those who come after. For our children. For our grandchildren. For their children after them. Our travail is a gift to them, as much as it was to us! Always, forever, a gift! The ones who wallowed in the mud pits, who passed through the seas, weren’t the ones who crossed over the river. And the journey continued, even in the promisedLand. It’s not a vacation. There’s no roundtrip. It’s a journey! It’s a trek! Forward! Always forward! Going where no one’s gone before! A journey, a trek, we never chose to make! A journey, a trek, we’ve been called to! Chosen for! How’s our prayer described it? Ventures of which we cannot see the ending! By paths as yet untrodden! Through perils unknown! Very few begin. None end.
Truth is, it’s easier, safer, just to stay put. Remain in the mud pits, building cities for someone else. If worse comes to worst – when worse comes to worst – the last one can turn off the lights, lock the door, and walk away. Not everyone who is captive and bound is able to leave. Not everyone captive and bound wants to leave. Many, if not most, remain behind and watch the few walk away. One foot ahead of the other. One step at a time. Into the wilderness. They make their way through the wilderness, oasis by oasis. The journey … the journey never ends. And the destination – if there is one – never gets closer. There’s only the journey, only the wandering, for as far and as long as it takes.
There will be times when we get tired. Times when we’re discouraged, disoriented, lost. And more than a few when we’ll want to go back. Before the start. Before the beginning. But the funny thing about a journey? There’s no going back. Because once you take that first step, there’s only going forward. To where god’s hand is leading. To where god’s love is supporting. So, for now, Sherice and I are on vacation. The tickets we bought are for a round trip! Fifteen hundred miles, both ways! But believing … being church … isn’t the same. Because, as Dr. Luther reminds us, it’s not health, but healing. Not being, but becoming. Not the destination, but the journey. Always. Forever. The journey …