May 1, 2016 – Navigating on the journey

Easter 6   May 1, 2016   Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:2, Acts 16:6-15, John 14:1-7, 25-29      Navigating on the journey

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Jesus is talking about traveling… Going to the Father… And Jesus also says he is the way – and the truth and the life… He’s going up the road to God the Father – going there to prepare a place for us, so we can go to be there with him…

And at the same time, Jesus is the way. The way in which we travel… And we’re talking about traveling to the kingdom of God… And earthly travel is our metaphor for the spiritual journey…

Our family recently drove down to Virginia Beach – Reah, Rohi, and I, and two of Reah’s sisters, together in one sister’s car, off to visit three aunts and a few other family friends. We used a GPS system loaded on a cell phone… Reah’s sister Nizzi told me you can choose either a male or female voice for your GPS; she picked the female voice. Which pretty much guaranteed I had to address the GPS as ‘Miss Direction.’ I spent a lot of time talking to the voice of the GPS – sometimes thanking her – sometimes arguing about directions.

Having grown up in the old fashioned world of maps and compasses and visible landmarks, I still have issues with a disembodied voice telling me where to go… (I’m used to backseat drivers telling me where to go… but having a voice I can’t even see telling me… is more problematic…)

And yet, though I hate to admit it – Ms GPS’s directions were better than the map… and my remembrances. The highways seem a bit different since I last drove I-95 south of here… The traffic’s only gotten worse…And Ms. GPS has an uncanny knack for seeing traffic jams ahead – jams she would routinely re-route us around by the best route available.

Still, we managed to make a few wrong turns – some as a result of our not hearing Ms. GPS’s directions in time. (When we’d be talking loudly we’d drown out her softer voice.) Other wrong turns were due to us giving a wrong address…And once, trying to get to their brother in New York City, we found ourselves going round and round in thick traffic due to a missed turn… And finding ourselves now heading the wrong way, not yet understanding the “re-calculating, re-calculating” redirecting from our mistake which the GPS had us undertaking, I began to feel lost, like in a scene from Alice in Wonderland, that rather adult children’s story, in which Alice, the traveler, asks the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. 

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added…. 

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

No disrespect to Alice – or the Cheshire Cat – but if we’re followers of Jesus, of course it matters where we’re going. Random direction won’t do.

As believers our ultimate destination goal is always heaven – the kingdom of God – life eternal with God. (How we say it depends mostly on which gospel language we’re in. Matthew’s gospel usually speaks of the kingdom of heaven,  Mark and Luke’s gospels speak of the kingdom of God, John’s gospel speaks of life eternal with God.) However we phrase it, our ultimate destination goal should of course always be kept in view… And we need to keep our heavenly on GPS all the while…with the volume up high as we can get it…. because…

Exactly how to get from here to Canaan’s shore is still debated – even by disciples of Jesus walking together on the same path, or driving together in the same car.

Getting to heaven is often described as a journey – as in Pilgrim’s Progress – as in all our hymns today… (Oh, who will come and go with me, I am bound for the promised land…)

Traveling to the promised land… Marching to Zion… Walking on the king’s highway up to heaven… All of these phrases are beloved metaphors… (Even though in our reading from Revelation it’s the new Jerusalem that descends down from heaven to earth….And it’s only the heavenly city, which does any geographic traveling…) But again  we remember – We’re on a spiritual journey…Journey is a metaphor.  And our road map is sacred scripture, our compass is God-give reason and holy dialogue, our visible landmarks are church traditions, our GPS is the voice of the Holy Spirit…and…

As followers of Jesus we could say we’ve been on this journey to God’s kingdom for about 2000 years…Actually though it’s been much longer, if we properly trace the start of our journey back to when Adam and Eve first left the garden…

Again, this is a spiritual journey – and a thousand years in human time is like a few moments in the night in God’s time (Ps 90)… We may be there any minute now… Or it could be a few thousand years more before we reach the heavenly fields and walk the golden streets… (Actually both may be true at the same time if we’re in John’s gospel, where again Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life…” Therefore, St Catherine of Sienna said, “All the way to heaven is heaven…” because Jesus said what he said… Though Catherine was also clear we’re not altogether all the way there yet… )

And however long it takes to get all the way there to our ultimate destination… It’s helpful to have some short term destination goals also. If we’re traveling across country by car, it helps to know where we’re going to be stopping each night for rest. How we pack and prepare depends on where we’re going and whether we’re staying in campgrounds or hotels… Some destinations require advance reservations. Even if we’re planning to stay with family or close friends, where we might be able to show up with only a little notice, even late at night – even then, it’s a good idea to call ahead and be sure someone will be home…and awake enough to hear when we knock…

And wherever we’re going, however we plan to get there – experienced travelers always know to have a Plan B (and usually a Plan C also). Just in case….

The apostle Paul and his companions know how to do Plans B and C… As we join them, they’re traveling on a mission trip, planting churches, and revisiting churches they’ve planted earlier…Now the Holy Spirit suddenly blocks the travelers from going where they had intended. They turn to go another direction. The Spirit blocks that way also. Then, in the middle of the night, God sends a vision of a man of Macedonia, pleading –  “come over to Macedonia and help us.” And the divine GPS now leads the travelers to Philippi, in Greece…Where they find no Macedonian men, but a number of women worshipers are there, the leader of whom appears to be Lydia, an immigrant from the province of Asia – who becomes the god-mother and co-founder of what is probably the first church in Europe…

We’re never told exactly why God leads the disciples in this round-about way. Perhaps there’s resonance here with the way God leads Israel in the Exodus through the wilderness, by a long way around, to avoid conflicts along the way that could scare  Israel into retreating back to slavery in Egypt (Exodus 13 tells that story).

Leading us by the longer way around is also a God-way of helping us become more spiritually alert – more responsive to God’s leading. Having to be led by God step-by-step – with many a pause to let our spiritual GPS re-calculate and redirect – reminds us of our need of God.

And as the song says – “Though by the path he leadeth, but one step I may seehis eye is on the sparrow – and I know he watches me…”

The point is only a little about God not letting us see the path… And the point is much more about – his eye is on the sparrow – I know he watches me.

And knowing his eye is always on the sparrow – his eye’s always on you and me – Where then, as Christ’s church here in this place do we feel God leading us? Where do we think God’s directing us to be six months or a year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now?

I’m not sure we can ever really know till we get there. But I’m sure God wants us to keep asking… And keep moving in the direction we think God is leading…

Because the Cheshire Cat gets it partly right – we do have to be going somewhere… in order to get anywhere… And it’s easier for God to correct us… if we’re moving, best we can…

So I pray we’ll be ever more closely looking and listening for direction from our most gracious God….Spending ever more time in prayer and study… in holy community, in loving service…

Because… whenever we’re listening well to God…

We’re already well on the way…

to where God wants us to be…

Thanks be to God.

Amen.