Traveling Wisely3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Obviously, I have been away of late…traveling both within Canada and to visit family in Indiana and Ohio. Over these last 27 days, we have traveled over 4600 KM to reach our Montreal destination and over 4100 km to reach Indiana and Ohio. Our travel has been carried out by ferry, plane, bus, rental car and airport shuttle. During these days we have boarded on the 18th floor of a 19th story hotel and slept in a basement on an inflatable mattress. It is good to be home.
Travel is just as challenging as it ever was. Today I wanted to focus on “traveling wisely” thinking that it might be helpful to consider what we might learn from our “travels” and from the travels of those within our two scripture texts read earlier.
The Exodus passage describes the travel of the Hebrew people as they left captivity in Egypt for the land that God had promised them. They had journeyed from Rephidim which means “place of rest” and gathered with Moses their leader at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Here in this important place at this important time, Moses ascends the mountain when God speaks to him and says, “tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now, if you obey my voice and keep the agreement you made with me and I with you, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” What a remarkable promise made to a people whose travels from captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land in Canaan was a distance of less than 800 kilometers and should have taken no more than 11 days. If you remember anything about the worst trip of a lifetime when instead of 11 days it took them 40 years tripping over boulders and mumbling, groaning and complaining every step of the way because surely everything that was happening to them was someone else’s fault (key in Moses, as their fearless leader who in their minds never did enough soon enough). As Moses stood with the people at the “place of rest” and listened first to them and then to God.
Traveling wisely involves listening differently to your surroundings. While we were away, I uncharacteristically did not take my computer or my IPad because when I do, I work. I send and reply to emails. I consent to and conduct meetings that are better left to other times/locations. I prepare worship plans and write articles. I read emails that are not helpful to read when you are supposed to be on vacation. I still had my phone with email and text capabilities but instead of engaging as I normally do, I chose to listen to the surroundings of being with family, of trying to spend more time reading and praying. I don’t want to sound like a modern-day St. Peter. I am merely telling you what I learned about traveling wisely when you can escape from all the noise in your head and in your heart and from the crazy chaos of the world around you.
At the foot of Mt. Sinai this was a place where the Hebrews felt free to question God and Moses when they felt confused, alone and abandoned. It was there they could wonder and articulate their questions whether God indeed knew what God was doing. It was there when Moses listened and heard God say something he and the people needed to hear, “Remember the Egyptians. They were chasing you in their chariots. They were behind you and the Red Sea and death by drowning was in front of you.” God said, “Out of the clear blue, I opened a path and allowed you to pass on dry ground and then closed the path.” And then God reminded, “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” You have watched eagles fly – majestically, soaring and taking their roost to watch for the movement of the water and the forest.
As they heard that reminder, they received their instructions for the rest of their travels, “Obey my voice. Keep my covenant and you will be my treasured possession above all others.” Obey my voice! How is it possible to listen to God if we never stop talking long enough to listen? How is it conceivable that indeed we can listen to God without reading scripture and spending time in quiet meditation? God wants the Hebrew people to be conscientious of their response to being carried by God.
In our travels we need to be reminded of whose we are and what that means. Traveling wisely means that we return to the commitments we have made that are most significant. I found while away that I could survive without my computer. I found different things to listen to even without a daily paper. Perhaps the image of being carried on eagles’ wings might mean we become less dependent upon the things that we have convinced ourselves that we need most.
An even greater challenge met the first disciples who during their 3-year ministry never traveled more than approximately 1600 km. The Matthew passage details when the disciples were first named to become disciples. Jesus gave them traveling instructions on the heels of observing their surroundings. Jesus had compassion on the nameless, faceless crowds that Jesus saw everywhere because they were harassed and helpless. Walk outside these doors and you do not have to travel far before you encounter persons sleeping in doorways, panhandling from medians, and wondering where they will sleep tonight. Jesus sees each person and knows every name. Do we see them or merely rush from our safe space to the next safe space of our cars?
How in our travels do we learn to pay attention…to see more deeply…to long to do more so that we someway, somehow we find one thing, one viable way to show that we see you and you matter to us because you matter to God.
On the heels of Jesus travels in which he saw those harassed and helpless, he called together a band of misfits not trained in social graces, not equipped to confront what they would confront but merely a few who said, “I will travel with you.” In the 1600 kilometers they would travel together over the next 3 years, their job would be to proclaim the good news, to cure the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, to cast out demons, to work without payment; and to do all that without a belt or a suitcase and by the way without shoes. Are you kidding? If this is the trip we would be asked to take, who wants to sign up for that? The harvest is ready to cultivate but there just aren’t many willing to consider that journey.
But wait, before you check out, if you haven’t already stopped traveling with me already, consider The Why of the journey. Jesus had compassion for the people because they were harassed and helpless because they were like sheep who were sure to die a tragic death. Is the trip worth it because of that alone?
Jesus called just a few of the most unlikely characters for the job description that he could create… cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers. I failed to tell you what he told them first, “Go tell the good news.” That’s it. Don’t focus on all that you don’t have the capacity of doing or the stomach for in this desperate world. Travel wisely by sharing some good news. Do you know any? Is there ANY good news you might share today? Just that…without getting bogged down in the details…without getting overwhelmed by the scarcity of not having enough…just share some good news in your travels. And might you guess what can happen in the process? Health is restored (the sick are cured). New life begins to spark. (the dead are raised). The outcasts are welcomed into fellowship with others. (the lepers are cleansed). You get the point. Tell the good news and leave it at that. Not a one of us can cure the sick, raise the dead or cleanse lepers because those things are in God’s job description and not in ours. We need to stop languishing over our foibles, our incapability, and our scarcity. We need to stop blaming Moses for bringing us into this wilderness where we are sure to die and instead focus on God’s promise that we have been picked up and carried as if on an eagle’s wing and we are God’s treasured possessions. God has named us and knows us and that is good news.
Travel wisely for it is a dangerous world out there. While driving from one state to another last week, we were on a busy interstate with slowed traffic in all lanes. I was in the left lane passing a semi in the right when I saw him barreling up behind me. It was one of those super-sized pickups who was not happy with my place in the left lane. He slowed down enough to avoid rear-ending me but not enough to be more than 5 inches from my back bumper. I found out that his horn worked to perfection, and he was not shy in using it or in flashing me a raised fist and a middle finger from his open window. During this time my only goal was to pass the semi to my right and not get shot by the irritated man behind me. Obviously, I succeeded in each of those goals!
I had to remember the higher calling for my travels – to make it to Ohio so that we could read “Marvin K Mooney, will you please go now” to a sleepy 4-year-old and to rock a 1-year-old to sleep. That is the good news that I came today to share so that you can reflect upon your own good news that you have to share to a crowd out there that are harassed and helpless. I cannot cure the sick or raise the dead but if I can avoid getting distracted by those in my rear-view mirror honking their horn in frustration, and instead share some good news, then I will have for the sake of the gospel, indeed traveled wisely. May it be so in your travels as well. Thanks be to God.