At the very heart of scripture is the image of the journey. Our Judeo-Christian heritage teaches us the story of the Exodus, how God called Moses to lead the children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and making the long, wilderness journey to the Promised Land. The New Testament introduces us to Saul, a devoted, zealous Jew, who experienced our Lord on the road to Damascus and was transformed. His new name: Paul, and he became the greatest Christian missionary of history. Paul made many, many journeys across the Roman Empire founding churches and writing letters to encourage the congregations under his care. And our Lord Jesus Christ left his home in Nazareth to go on an extraordinary journey, walking to the river to be baptized by John. Jesus went forth into the world to heal and preach and proclaim the Kingdom of God. His eyes were focused on Jerusalem, even though his disciples tried to persuade him not to go. There he was crucified and buried, and on the third day, rose from the dead.
Faith is a journey. The Risen Lord says to you and to me this very day, “Follow me.” He takes our hand and leads us forth on a journey of discovery, learning and experience. Christians throughout the centuries have referred to this process as “the way.” We walk on a road of faith with our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you and I explore the journeys described in scripture, we find that they are not a short, easy walk. The way – the road – is fraught with challenges. Moses leads the people through the wilderness as they complain about him. They cry, “…you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” They rebel against him. While Moses seeks God’s vision on Sinai, the people are busy making false idols in the valley down below. Paul suffers great adversities in travel. In his second letter to the Church at Corinth, he writes, “Three times the Romans beat me with a big stick and once my enemies stoned me. I have been shipwrecked three times, and I have even had to spend a night and a day in the sea.” Think of our Lord. While he prays in solitude, his enemies plot against him. His disciples are often in conflict with one another and confused by his teaching.
So let us step back from the biblical picture of the journey and wonder, “How did they do it?” How did Moses, Paul and our Lord keep going? How did they stay steady to their mission? First and foremost, I believe they tell us through scripture that it was the abiding presence of God that sustained them along the way. The presence and strength of God was with them in the journey. Think of Moses in conversation with God along the way. Recall the image of the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire leading the journey. Think of Paul writing to the Christians at Rome, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” Jesus repeatedly tells us that he and the Father are one.
The second component sustaining them and us in the journey is the strength of community. Jesus formed the community among the twelve disciples. Paul built community in his congregations. Moses turns to the elders on the long journey through the wilderness.
Today’s sermon is about a third element I believe sustained and strengthened Moses, Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ. It is vision. God’s vision was revealed to them along the way in the journey. God’s vision of the Promised Land kept Moses on track. God’s vision for spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles inspired Paul. And God’s vision of the unfolding Kingdom of God was ever-present with our Lord in his earthly journey.
In the first sermons I preached at Holy Trinity in 2013, I said God was calling us on a great adventure, and I used the image of climbing a mountain. Those who are highly skilled in mountain climbing tell us that on a clear day when you can see the summit there is always more progress in the journey. I think that analogy applies to our walk with our Lord. There is always more progress when we claim a vision for the future.
God provides the vision and calls us to bring it into reality. Listen again to the framework provided by today’s Old Testament lesson and Gospel. In the eighth century B.C.E., Isaiah has a vision in the temple in Jerusalem. He is cleansed – prepared for the journey – and knows that God needs someone to go on a journey. Isaiah says, “Here am I, send me.” These words need to echo in our souls. God is always calling us to go on a new journey. We are ready to say, “Here am I, send me.”
Now, listen with me to the Gospel from John as Nicodemus meets with Jesus in the darkness. Nicodemus is contemplating a journey. He comes under cover of darkness because he is afraid. He is cautious, questioning, and unsure. He wants to believe, but the idea of starting over again unnerves him. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You must be born from above.” It is difficult for Nicodemus to let go of all his attachments. As you and I hear God’s call to venture forth into the unknown, we too will wonder if we can let go of all that holds us back.
I believe God gives us vision in glimpses. As you and I are in conversation about the future of Holy Trinity, God will give us vision. Vision has the power to stir our hearts, souls and minds. Vision is the picture of the Kingdom unfolding in and through us. I am seeking the vision of God with all of you. I believe God will show us this vision over time. We must want to move beyond the present day, the present circumstances, and venture forth into the unknown. We must be ready to go on a journey, taking our Lord’s hand and walking with him.