Tag Archives: journey

Some thoughts for Proper 13 – Year C – 31 July 2016

Colossians 3 verses 1-11

Luke 12 verses 13-21

 

The Journey

When I was in Trindad (1979-83), I sometimes had to fly off to attend conferences, go on holiday, and (a couple of times) to provide ministerial cover in the neighbouring Island of Grenada.

Very often at Piarco Airport, there would be small groups – family members – who had  gathered to bid farewell to a loved one or loved ones who were going off on holiday or perhaps permanently to foreign shores.

Sometimes, as the departing party made their way toward the Gate, someone from those gathered to see them off would shout out…”journeying  mercies be upon you!”

Isn’t that a wonderful phrase?  More than a phrase; a hope, a wish.  More than that – virtually a blessing!

When I conduct a wedding ceremony, I often use that story to illustrate what we want for the newly-weds as they embark on their marriage journey – a prayer and blessing: “May God bless you as you travel down the years that lie ahead of you.  Journeying mercies be upon you!”

It’s not just appropriate for weddings; we could wish the same of the school-leaver or the Graduate as he or she sets off into the workplace or career.

I guess we could use it (though I haven’t – so far!) at a baptism, when the infant begins her or his life as a child of The Way.

I’m reminded of that familiar traditional Gaelic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

 

I’ve just heard of the death of a wonderful man, Jamie Stuart, at the age of 96

What an extraordinary journey his was.

His life story reveals he had to survive endemic poverty, endless disappointment and the death of those closest to him. Yet, whenever faced with a real uphill challenge, he’s raced up them. Literally. In this James Stuart’s wonderful life he’s been a champion runner, a blanket salesman, an actor, an aircraft wireless operator, a social worker, a paper boy (at the age of 68) and a best-selling writer……. and, if you didn’t recognise the name at first, then, if I mention “The Glasgow Bible” – the Scriptures written in the vernacular, you’ll know him as the author of that wonderfully accessible work, full of flair, wit, and the insight only a Glaswegian has.

{“Jamie Stuart’s Wonderful Life” – article in the Herald newspaper – can be read here:  http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts_ents/13194496.James_Stuart_s_Wonderful_Life/}

 

However, not all journeys go to plan.  There can be obstacles in the way; there may be detours which we would rather not have taken; we find ourselves in cul de sacs; we may end up feeling that we can’t travel another step.

Sometimes we try to make the best of it, often in our own strength. Although we may succeed after a fashion, only occasionally does it reach anything like a satisfactory conclusion.

There are many stories in the Bible of people and tribes who have made the wrong decision. Some have come to the Lord to seek wisdom and direction; others have muddled on, unrepentant and confused.

Jesus gave some sound advice to his followers in the parables recorded in the Gospel of Luke, including the story of the rich man who stored up his abundant crops (today’s RCL Gospel Reading)

 

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The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

There is, also, for example, the parable of the beggar, Lazarus, and the Rich Man (“Dives”) who wanted to enter heaven, and the one about the Ruler who wanted to inherit eternal life.

They all wanted the ultimate, but their decision was wrong, and they left it too late to make that “U-turn” as it were on their personal journey.

One of the most gifted  players ever to grace a football pitch was the great George Best. Sadly, we still remember how booze and birds eroded what was once a remarkable talent.

Doing the rounds of TV chat shows and the after-dinner speaking circuit, he woul tell a particular story against himself.

One evening he recalled, having won a large sum of money at a London casino, he and his then girlfriend, a former Miss World, booked into a luxury hotel.

He then explained how he spread the money – lots of it, in high denomination notes – on the king sized bed, before phoning room service for champagne to be sent up.

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The waiter duly arrived. Open-mouthed, he looked in disbelief at all the cash that was spread over the bed. And agog at Miss World draped seductively over a chaise-longue.

Nervously, in a voice that was barely above a whisper, he said: “Mr Best, I hope you don’t mind me asking – but where did it all go wrong?”

An amusing anecdote (but, by the way, I once recounted this tale to an audience largely made up of businessmen and high-flying professionals – and their reaction was….. zilch, zero)

However, there is a lot of truth in that story.  George Best’s journey began in humble but essentially decent circumstances, with a decent upbringing in a devout Northern Irish family home.  Blessed with a wonderful talent, he could have continued to travel a road accompanied, as it were, by thousands of youngsters inspired by someone who could have been an ideal role model….but….he chose another route that led ultimately to his own self-destruction.

{btw he was reduced to playing for Hibs as he reached the end of his playing days!  Said he who is a staunch Jambo}

How often have we seen glittering careers tarnished by self-orientation, self-seeking, self-indulgence. Ruined because of living for the moment.

“Take your ease” said the rich man in Christ’s parable; “Eat, drink, be merry”

Tomorrow never comes – well, actually, it does….and often when we least expect it.

The sad, but obvious, thing is that you can’t take it with you when tomorrow comes. I’ve yet to see a Securicor van as part of a funeral cortège.

The thrust of Christ’s parable should speak to those who want to shop till they drop, those who put getting to the top regardless of the means to climb there, those so involved in the rat race that family life takes a back seat, those who travel on a personal journey that may be temporarily satisfying but leaves no room for the needs of others.

Does it boil down to faith – this journey?

It depends on how we define “faith” – “Seek the things that are above…” writes Paul; “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”

It’s all a matter of direction and priorities – as both Jesus in his Parable and Paul in his Epistle indicate.

The choice is ours.

Sometimes, we may miss the obvious route to travel; but sometimes – just sometimes, the Spirit may lead us to a better destination.

A story to finish – it’s about a journey; in this case, a voyage that went “wrong”

In Southern Tasmania, there is a promontory of land on the shore of the Huon River.

On one side is Castle Forbes Bay, named after the Irish ship “The Castle Howard”

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In 1836, the Captain mistook the entrance of the Huon River for that of the Derwent River a few miles farther along the coast.

The Derwent led to Hobart Town, his destination, one of Australia’s finest deep water ports, and an important centre for the whaling trade.

From the census of the previous year (1835) Hobart Town contained 13,826 inhabitants, and the whole of Tasmania 36,505.

But they missed it; things got worse when sickness broke out on board, and fresh water was running out.

A terrible miscalculation on the ship’s journey.

They made landfall – miles from their original destination – and set up camp.

But there was no drinking water there, and the passengers were suffering.

However, after a while, desperately scouting the area, a fresh water rivulet was discovered.

They erected tents to hospitalise the sick passengers….. and to this day the area is known as Hospital Bay.

Although they settled this place by default, many of the female passengers remained and married the local timber workers.

And they prospered and many of their descendants still live in or around there.

 

Not all journeys may go to plan…..but God has plans for all our journeys.

May journeying mercies attend you all, wherever your life-travel takes you!

 

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A legend about the Magi (or Wise Men)

There is an ancient legend that tells how the Magi for a time lost sight of the star. They had started out with high resolve, holy purpose, and hopeful expectation.

Together, they rode for mile upon mile, excitedly, hopefully, eagerly awaiting the conclusion of their quest.

At first, as is the case with many journeys, conversation was light hearted and somewhat trivial.

Then it became more profound, more philosophical, more concentrated on the enormity of the implications of their vision.

Riding over the desert sands they began to speculate on what would happen when they arrived. Obviously, being men of considerable prominence, they began to take pride in the fact that they would be the first to discover and recognize the new king.
Soon, however, they began to quarrel among themselves. Who would present the first gift? Who would do the speaking? Whose gift had the most worth, would be the most useful, or symbolized the most devotion?

Without meaning to, and yet because they were only human, they became estranged from one another. So many petty thoughts filled their minds that they began to fight among themselves. The night of the first quarrel, the star was gone!

For a time they wandered aimlessly, arguing frequently, despairing alternately. The star had disappeared. So had their hope and enthusiasm. The noble adventure seemed doomed. They became lost and wandering nomads, far from home, with their journey uncompleted, their treasure unshared, their quest unfulfilled.

Then one night, these lost wanderers stumbled on an oasis in the wilderness. Other travellers had already arrived and were gathered about a shallow well that had gone dry. The first arrivals had already used up the little water that was to be found at the bottom of the well, and were now waiting for either help or death.

Then it was that the Magi, with no arguing, but in genuine humanitarianism, brought out their water bags and emptied them into the well that the others might drink.
Suddenly, the bleak camp of despair became a place of hope, hospitality, and happiness.

But the most miraculous thing of all was that, while together, they emptied their water bags into the well, looking down into the water, they saw the reflection of the star.

Once again they found their way. The star they lost in self-seeking, they found again in humility. That which had become obscured by petty pride became obvious again in sacrificial sharing.

A lesson for us all as we enter this New Year?  A true epiphany for us as we journey into 2016?

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With You Always

One evening, a father who lived in suburb of London, said to his 10-year-old son, “I want you to join me at my office next week. We’ll take the subway and you can spend some time seeing how I spend my day. Then you’ll come home by yourself so you can get acquainted with travelling by the Tube.”

The boy was a bit apprehensive about the prospect of coming home alone but his father assured him he would be fine.

On the morning they left, his father explained all the details of the trip to Town and gave him a written, detailed set of instructions for returning. After boarding the Tube train, his father showed him the maps posted in the carriages which identified all the stops and all the intersecting Underground lines.

Everything went smoothly and they arrived in the centre of London as planned. However, the young lad was still apprehensive as his father took him back to the station for the return trip home. He had the instructions, he had his father’s assurance he would do fine but he still worried.

As he waved goodbye to his father and boarded the train, he immediately checked out the map of the Tube line on the opposite wall of the carriage where he was sitting. Sure enough, all the stops were outlined.

He got off at the correct station and, just as his father had shown him, found his way to another platform where another Tube line passed through, and, as his Dad had promised a train soon pulled in.  He boarded and as he again studied the map he was relieved to see that his “home” station was just 6 stops away.

Now, he felt more confident. When the train approached his station, he got up, stood in from of the exit door and when it opened he breathed a sigh of relief … he had made it.

His mother was there to meet him.  She hugged him, and to his surprise, she then put her arms around a man who was immediately behind him in the exit queue.  It was his Dad! 

His father had been in the carriage behind his all the way.   His father had been with him all the time.

Those who are parents can relate very easily with the father of the young boy. Who would ever leave a child unprotected? If we feel that way, don’t you think Christ is even more committed to our well being?

The father in that story asked his son to take specific actions: check his directions, find the maps, change to the proper train, get off at the right stop. The little boy didn’t know it but there was no possibility of his making a mistake or getting lost. His father was with him during the entire trip.

So, Christ is with us.  

Our journey through life may at times seem hard and the road may seem rough and long and twisting and difficult – but he’s with us, and always will be with us, wherever we may travel: a comfort, a guide, a companion and friend: the one who says of himself I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

He travels with us, and he will never desert us….ever

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Lord of the Rings and Labyrinths

I tried to read “Lord of the Rings” and got to about the third chapter before I gave up.  We went to see the film when it cameout but left after one hour and twelve minutes.

It just doesn’t work for me…although Tolkein’s saga has literally millions of fans.

And I can see why: it’s a story, which stripped of all its pretensions, is a tale about life’s journey, life’s quest.

And on their journey, they are tested.  And in the testing they discover something about themselves, this Fellowship of the Ring.

In the danger and adversity that they experience, they find among themselves wisdom, loyalty, courage and strength.

And in facing fear, betrayal, jealousy, suffering and sorrow, they discover new qualities within them that they perhaps did not previously know they had.

As in true life, they discover themselves on this journey.

The story follows at least some of the pattern that we see in many spiritual journeys.  There is always a testing period.  The saga of the Exodus and the children of Israel’s journey through the desert to the Promise Land is an obvious example.

You could follow the stories of many heroes throughout history and how they went through a testing period before they could fulfil a significant mission in their lives.

Some cultures even have a testing time as part of the coming of age, when young people of the tribe move from childhood to adulthood.  Often they find their true self as they face adversity in dangerous places such as a forest, a desert or a wilderness.

Today, we have a passage about Jesus, led by the spirit into the desert for 40 days to discover his true self, to face the test and to discover the message that humankind really need to be free from the forces that enslave us.

There is a sense in which we all face these kind of tests, not just at one time but throughout our lives, as we search for out task in life and seek answers to life’s most perplexing questions.

Sometimes, some people talk about life as being a bit of a maze or a labyrinth – in other words, something that’s complex, confusing, meandering and not easily negotiable.

But labyrinths are found in many ancient cultures and almost always have spiritual significance.

Labyrinths carried over into mediaeval times, where they were often laid on the floors of cathedrals.  They were used as a sort of miniature pilgrimage. Often these “pilgrims” travelled the path on their knees while praying continuously.

Labyrinths today have seen a kind of revival – they are common today in both churches & neopagan sanctuaries.

Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has a labyrinth that is designed as a meditation place.

A person stands quietly in the beginning of the circle and proceeds to the first point where he or she is asked to present his concerns. Then they advance to the next turning point, and are asked to shed their resentments.

This labyrinth continues with a gradual shedding of fears, asking for courage; shedding of anger and asking for reconciliation…until at the end of the walk, the person is said to emerge more clear about his direction.

Because the labyrinth is devoted solely to meditation and reflection it is an “answering place”

We have to have these kinds of “answering places” throughout our lives where we struggle to find our true selves….where we connect with the Spirit of God.

Metaphorically speaking, we can create our own labyrinth – quiet times at various points in the day – to stop and be still and catch our breath and recover from weariness – and ask God how to proceed in our life.

In doing so, we may be rather surprised with what we can learn about ourselves.

 

 

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