The Journey Begins

On Sunday, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY. Service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend.

And then on Sunday afternoon, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Newburgh, NY, to begin the Lenten School. I have served as the Lenten School Coordinator for the past six years and this will be my last year in the position. For myself, it has been an interesting journey but one that must end; hopefully, someone will answer the call and begin their own journey in this position.

The Lenten School will start each Sunday during Lent with “soup and sandwiches” at 4 and classes that run to 7:30. The meal will be provided by “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen”. If you are interested in taking the Basic Lay Servant Ministry course or courses in sermon planning, spiritual gifts, leading in prayer, leading small groups, or the history and polity of the United Methodist Church, this is a good place and a good time to do so. One can still register at the beginning of the course.

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 3.

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to travel across this country back in the mid 19th century, when the west was just opening up and people were moving from the east and mid-west to the new territories of California and Oregon? What must have it felt like to leave practically everything you owned behind as you gathered together the provisions for a four or five and possibly six month journey across the central plains of this country?

And what must have it felt like to be walking and walking as the wagon train you were a part of traveled westward with the terrain that you walked on looking the same day after day? And how would you have felt as you approached the Front Range of the Rockies and saw that there were even higher mountains behind them and you knew that you had all of that to cross before you could even think of arriving at your destination?

From my own experiences, I know that the plains of Kansas are not necessarily flat but you can literally see almost to the horizon and there is nothing in between.

Several years ago, I was in Billings, Montana, and my mother and I went out to see the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. And there on the high plains of the west, I got the impression that one could see almost all the way to New York. And then my cell phone rang and it was the lay speaker covering for me at my church asking a question about the service on Sunday.

Even Ann, my wife, will tell you that she couldn’t tell the difference between the corn fields of Iowa and Nebraska or the wheat fields of Nebraska and Kansas; it just seemed to go on and on and on. Even the home movies (ah, remember the good old days of Super 8 film) that her dad insisted on taking and showing made everyone car sick.

So you can begin to imagine how the Israelites must have felt when, after forty years of wandering in the trackless desert that we call the Sinai, they crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land.

Ours is a journey in life, sometimes in place and most definitely in time. We can take the attitude of the Preacher, the one who wrote Ecclesiastes and live each day for the moment, not worrying about the outcome. Or we can realize that in our journey, we are apt to encounter individuals and experience events that will change our lives and that individuals who encounter us will find their lives change as well.

What we have to realize, as we begin this 2013 season of Lent, is that part of our journey ends on Easter and that a new part of that journey begins.

There are two themes, I believe, in the Bible; themes that run throughout the pages of both the Old and New Testament. The first, and most definitely, the major theme is our relationship with God and the people we meet each day. To borrow an idea from Jim Wallis, if you took out the passages in the Bible that deal with the relationship between God and us and those passages that deal with our relationship with others, there would be virtually nothing left. It would be filled with holes and it would fall apart.

The second theme that is expressed throughout the Bible is one of a journey. Sometimes it is not the best of all journeys, as in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden or the Babylonian Captivity. Sometimes it is a journey of exploration, as Abram journeying to the land that God directed him.

There is the journey of Joseph to Egypt and the journey of his brothers a few years later. It was this journey that set the stage for today’s Old Testament Reading.

We have the journey of Jesus across and around the Galilee; in six weeks, we will begin the journey into Jerusalem.

The season of Lent is a season of preparation, of preparing not only for Easter but what comes after Easter. What we must understand, what we must realize is that we are preparing for the most wonderful change in our lives. We have the benefit of knowing that Easter brings the Resurrection and in the Resurrection, we gain the victory over sin and death. But the journey does not and never has ended on Easter.

There is the journey of Paul around the Mediterranean telling people about Christ and building churches. There is the journey of the disciples to places beyond their home country, to take the Word to far-off lands, to places beyond the hills of the Galilee and perhaps never imagined.

Many people began the journey with Christ some two thousand years ago but they fell to the wayside when the effort became too great. When you stop to think about it, those that began the journey but quit probably understood what the cost of the journey would be and how it would change them and they didn’t want to change. They liked their old life; they had adapted to the life of trouble and strife that so marked their daily lives.

I am afraid that happens even today. Too many people, I am afraid, will say that they have given up something for Lent, perhaps they will not watch so much television or they will quit eating chocolate or something similar, but when Easter comes, they return to the old ways, of watching their favorite television shows or eating chocolate.

It is easy to understand why that is the case. There are only two instances in the Bible where we know that Jesus is tempted. Of course, today’s Gospel reading is the first time that we know that Jesus was tempted. But as he was growing up, would he not have experienced the same sort of things that we have experienced? And on that night when He knew what was to come, would it have been just as easy to invoke the same powers that Satan tempted Him with and rebuke not only the Romans but the Pharisees and Sadducees as well? Temptations do not leave us just because we deliberately set them aside for a short period. Temptations come to us in many forms, some we often don’t recognize.

Ben Gosden, on his blog, wrote about an individual who was faced with a choice. This individual had an opportunity to take a job which would provide the financial security that he needed to take care of his family but it would take him away from his family for 4 – 5 days a week. What was this individual to do? (From “Journeying to the Cross: The Power of Temptation”)

As Pastor Gosden wrote, Lent is a time, a season that reminds us of our priorities and the temptations that inevitably follow. There must be a deliberate effort made to make sure that we don’t fall to the temptations that confront us and this we can only do when we change our lives.

The Israelites spent forty years wandering around before entering the Promised Land. They did so because they weren’t prepared to enter the Promised Land when they first arrived. But I wonder how prepared they were when they discovered what was now required of them once they entered the Promised Land.

Did they not understand that their lives had changed and one of the things that they had to do was recognize how it was that they had arrived at their destination? So too is it for us. If our lives do not change during these next few weeks, how can we even think to continue this journey?

Yes, it is going to be tough. Jesus told the twelve that only one would live to an old age but even that individual, John, was in prison when he died. Each of the other disciples would in fact die in the course of their mission work, far from their home land but never far from Christ.

John Wesley and the other early Methodist preachers could probably tell you about the struggles they endured with the beginning of the Methodist Revival. Francis Asbury made it very clear that the life of a circuit rider was not and was never going to be easy. I am not so sure that it is that much easier today.  The temptations that people face each day, sometimes without the support of the church, in its various forms, often make it easier not to think about Christ.

But we take the words of Paul to heart. Ours is a life not found in the strict interpretation of the word but in living in the faith and trusting in God. As Jesus hung in agony and pain on the Cross that fateful Friday afternoon some two thousand years ago, he trusted in God to comfort and guide him.

We will, I trust, never be asked to endure that type of torment but I also trust that we are able to trust in God to guide, direct, and support us in whatever we face as we undertake this journey. Paul would write to the Corinthians

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; Jesus will never let you be pushed past your limit; The Spirit will always be there to help you come through it. (1 Corinthians 10: 13)

Let us not worry about what lies around the bend or the next corner or even on the other side of the mountains that seemingly block our way. Let us take heed of all those who have gone before us; let us go to the Cross and let us go beyond.

Let the journey begin.

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