When I began my college education in the mid 1960s, I didn’t realize that I was leaving home. My home was close enough to my university that I commuted for a semester before moving to the city where it was located. I suppose that I had a certain sense of location in my mind that led me to think I was still at home though I no longer lived there. Following undergraduate school, I moved to graduate school, then to my first church, and on and on. Without realizing it, I left home and began a lifelong journey.
The metaphor of journey also rightly describes the life of faith. Whether one is a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim, the life of faith moves along as a journey, not a quest for a destination. In antiquity, God called Abraham and Sarah, even in their advanced years, to leave all that was familiar and comfortable to pursue the intention God had for their lives. And they went; they began the journey. From Bethlehem Jesus began a journey that finally led him to Jerusalem and the cross. His execution on Golgotha did not mark the end, but became a springboard of faith and life that continues to this day as the spirit of Christ leads us down ever new avenues of insight, growing faith, and service to God.
Sometimes the Christian community emphasizes what is commonly called “being saved” as though it were a milestone that one finally achieves. A closer look at the salvation experience reveals that it is a spirit-nurtured connection with God that is not an end in itself, but a highly significant faith moment along an ongoing journey with God. Salvation may be thought of as a time of realizing that God claims us as His daughters and sons as well as the occasion of offering ourselves to God as trusting servants of the Divine. God’s spirit nudges us toward salvation and relentlessly pursues us in order to direct us on our adventure with Him.
Problems arise in the life of faith when we begin to regard the salvation experience as our destination. When this happens our personal experience with the Holy One can easily become the standard that we lay upon other persons. Unknowingly, the salvation moment evolves into a goal to be achieved. This is an enormous error of faith, because salvation is something God offers to all persons; it is not a personal achievement. As a gift of the Divine, our lives after the salvation experience should reflect our efforts to live faithfully to the way of love and peace that God intends for all people.
When we become galvanized in our religious experiences and our theological perspectives and seek to push them upon others, very unfortunate things happen: slavery, racism, sexism, the damning of others in favor of our own perspectives, forcing religion to serve our personal political positions, exploitation of the lives of other persons, and false patriotism that lifts the necessity of accountability in our national life.
Fortunately, we do not have to succumb to these divisive outcomes. God gives us the choice to serve the Divine rather than our own narrow perspectives. In the wilderness of temptation, Jesus was invited and encouraged to make choices that did not affirm his fundamental identity as the Son of God. He chose to remain loyal to the vision and purpose God had for him rather than to submit to the lure of evil, and thus he defeated the evil one.
When Abraham took his only son Isaac out into the wilderness to sacrifice him to God, he had a choice to make. Do I carry out God’s instruction to sacrifice my only son (and the future of my people), or do I deny God and spare my son? Abraham chose to obey God, and God rewarded his faithfulness by sparing Isaac and providing a fit sacrifice as a sign of God’s faithfulness to the covenant he had made with Abraham. Our choice to affirm that we are children of God may be played out in how we respond to the person who cuts in front of us in traffic or in our generosity before the opportunity to give money for the relief of the Haitian people or in how we take time for our own children or grandchildren who need to experience our love and care.
We never arrive at the destination of faith at which we “have it made” with God. Truly, the life of faith is an adventure and a journey with God. As one song puts it, “The journey is my home.” May the Sacred One bless us and guide us in our own journeys of faith.
Rev. Mike Nichols – Waples United Methodist Church
830 W. Main St., Denison TX 75020