Sunday, May 31, 2015
My friend, LeAnn, is currently on pilgrimage in Spain, traveling the famous Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James. Rather than walking the well-traveled (and crowded) route that wends its way from southern France across the Pyrenees and northern Spain, she began her journey in southern Spain near Sevila. Following a route known as the Via Plata, her plan was to walk 500 miles from Merida to the great cathedral in Compostela, which is said to house the remains of Saint James. It is the proverbial road less traveled.
The journey started well enough, with beautiful scenery, hospitable way stations and welcomed fellow travelers. She has posted lovely images on Facebook and given a moving account of her journey. But somewhere along the road, the trip became more strenuous and difficult than she had anticipated. One report: “Tough, grueling day, complete with plague of flies…not the spiritual experience I had hoped for. We climbed to the highest point on this route and climbed back down, then walked a very long way in the heat with no stops for food. 28 km/18 miles. One of the reasons for my change of routes is that this is supposed to be fairly typical of the route through the mountains. Don’t think I have it in me.” So she is opting to take a bus to another, less taxing route on which to finish her pilgrimage. I trust that she knows what she is doing to ensure that the walk is the spiritual experience she desires. It is not the physical challenge per se that drives the pilgrimage, but the spiritual longing.
Clearly we are not on this very sort of spiritual journey this morning but, as I considered these texts, I began to wonder, what makes us go? What fuels our journey? What do we really need to find our way in this world? John says it is the presence of God, known in the companionship of the Christ and the empowering movement of the Holy Spirit. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” What do you make of that? It does not seem literally true that apart from Christ we can do nothing. There are plenty of people who make their way through this world without the slightest attention to Christ. I imagine there are already several things each of us has accomplished today without giving Christ a second thought. So what do you think Jesus is saying here?
First, according to John, he is in intimate conversation with his disciples. This passage is part of what are known as the “Farewell Discourses.” That is, this is Jesus trying to prepare his disciples for the hard road ahead. It is important to note that he is talking to disciples, individuals who have chosen to follow him as he walked his way through the world. Now on his final pilgrimage from Galilee to Jerusalem and the end of this phase of his journey is near. For those who have chosen to follow, who have cast their lot with him, there is something in the relationship that is both sacred and empowering. To be a disciple then, to move with him toward the Beloved Community of God, may indeed mean that we can do nothing – at least, not about that commitment, that journey, that community to which we have dedicated ourselves – without him.
If we trust that discipleship means that we are friends of Jesus as John writes or even adopted children of God, as Paul argues, then what moves in us and through us, what motivates us and fuels us, ought to flow from a common source. The life-giving power of God moves by the Spirit though the vine to the branches so that we might “bear fruit,” so that we might walk faithfully the Jesus way and live fully into the Beloved Community of God.
You see there is the literal life of our existence on the planet but there is also the promise of abundant life in Christ Jesus. We can simply accept the former or we can commit ourselves to embracing the latter. In the Words to Contemplate from this week’s Midweek Message, Brian McLaren writes, “The wind can be blowing, but if your sail isn’t raised, you won’t go far. You can be surrounded by oxygen, but if you don’t breathe, it won’t do you any good. The sap can be flowing, but if the branch isn’t connected to the vine, it will wither. If you don’t have kindling and wood in your hearth, a lit match won’t burn long. It’s the same with the Spirit. We are surrounded with the aliveness of the spirit. All that remains is for us to learn how to let the Spirit fill, flow, and glow within us” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 207).
“To to let the Spirit fill, flow, and glow within us.” What would that look like, feel like, be like for you and me? I was thinking it might be like an exercise in interior design. We look at what’s going on inside us. We take inventory of our inner chambers. We consider the condition of our hearts and we choose to make some changes. Maybe a little house cleaning is in order – some things to move out, to re-cycle, to let go of to make room for new furnishings, for new being. In John, Jesus suggests that we make room for the love of God, plenty of room because God’s love is likely to claim a lot space as well as our time and attention.
Then Paul suggests that we include closets for “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness.” These will enrich the environment greatly. Oh and don’t forget “gratitude” as well as “wisdom.” These ought to have prominent places. Finally, Paul comes to the same conclusion Jesus does, let love bind the it all together into a beautiful whole.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” Paul says. That is, let Christ abide in you as you abide in Christ. Let God’s Spirit move in you and through you to transform not only your interior but your relationships and the whole of creation. It may be that, in the end, what needs to be done in our lives and in the world can only be accomplished in and through Christ Jesus. It may be that we can do little or nothing by ourselves but we can do “all things through Christ who strengthens [us]” (Philippians 4:13).
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” I remember, in my youth, we used to sing, with gusto, around the campfire, “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.” Now I wonder if we had any idea what we were singing. It was a catchy tune and we sang it at the top of our lungs, but did we really have a clue as to what it all meant.” Now I think the peace of Christ, the peace that passes human understanding is a dangerous thing, risky business, decidedly counter-cultural and a threat to turn the world right side up. The peace of Christ, the peace that passes understanding is built on compassion for all, justice, equity and work for the well-being of the whole creation.
You have heard me say more than once that the love that binds everything together is not simple greeting card sentimentality nor is the peace that passes understanding the absence of conflict. Those words of Paul come into play when we consider the love of God and the peace of Christ – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, gratitude and wisdom.
Brian McLaren, again, says, “We start in the heart – the wellspring of our desires. That’s where our problems begin, and that’s where our healing begins, too. When we desire to be filled with the Spirit, the Spirit begins to transform our desires so that God’s desires become our own. Instead of doing the right thing because we have to, we do the right thing because we want to – because we are learning to truly desire goodness. Once our desires are being changed, a revolution is set in motion” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 207).
Later, LeAnn reports, “Lest it seem like all I do is talk about the challenges, today I am resting on a marvelous bed in a hotel in Salamanca…sharing the room with Andree, a woman from France, and Iris, my angel from Denmark. Today I am thankful for an incredibly beautiful sunrise, clouds that covered the sun for a spell when it was higher, for cooling breezes, for friends to walk with and for the frogs who were singing a glorious chorus of praise shortly after sunrise this morning. And every day I offer prayers of thanksgiving for my feet, my knees, my back, and the rest of me that all work together to enable me to have this amazing adventure…and for everyone supporting me and praying for me at home…and for my church family allowing me this time.”
I love her affirmation that the journey is not made alone. We need companions and we need community and we need Christ. I see the desire of Leann’s heart for a deep spiritual experience in line with God’s desire, with Christ’s way and with the Spirit’s lure. “Abide in me as I abide in you.” “Learn to let the Spirit fill, flow and glow within…” “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts [and] let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Then, watch the global uprising take shape and the revolution begin. For, friends, when our deepest desires align with those of God, nothing in or around us can hold us back. Through the love of God, the compassion of Christ, the power of the Spirit and the witness of the faithful, the whole wide world will never be the same again. Amen.