Wanderlust (Sixth Sunday of Easter)

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It occurs to me that when I preach, I hardly ever examine Paul and his intentions. I guess, if I’m honest, it’s because I’ve never really felt like Paul’s story was for me…. for a few reasons. First, Paul is so often touted as: doubter turned believer; persecutor turned champion; villain turned hero. That’s just not my story. I’m glad for his story. I marvel at the stories of those who have experienced undeniable miracles of conversion, but those aren’t my stories either.

Second, most stories seem to depict him having a devout, dedicated, and focused faith – which is also, not my story. I’d like to be able to liken myself to Paul, in the same way that I’d like to be able to see myself as Wonder Woman. However, I don’t have a super-hero kind of faith or extraordinary tenacity. I mean, all it takes is for the alternator to go bad in the car, the toddler to have a 20-minute meltdown, there be no chocolate within reach, and the air conditioner fan go out in a span of 24 hours for me to lose faith.  And yes, that all happened this past week.

Additionally, he’s a prolific writer with an insatiable desire to preach; he’s probably written more words in his letters to various churches than I have in my vocabulary. He makes the introvert in me scream. 

However, today’s story of Paul helped me view him in a new way, and thereby myself and the church. Many of us are familiar with the fact that Paul was an accomplished ‘missionary’ and traveled extensively starting churches in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. That’s the basic premise of today’s story: Paul sets sail to Macedonia at the prompting of a vision.

Can we just stop there for a minute?
At the prompting of a vision, this uptight, somewhat arrogant, Jesus-Freak up and takes off for Europe….
There’s a word often used for people who exhibit this type of behavior: Wanderlust. 
And wanderlust isn’t a characteristic I usually associate with the apostle Paul, probably because while wanderlust is defined as a strong impulse or yearning to travel, it also carries a connotation of carefree and adventurous and wild. All of which seem unlikely characteristics of Paul, religion, and the church…

But, I can personally relate to it. And as I thought about it I realized that many of the apostles were wanderers, and so was Jesus. The Bible even mentions that at times Jesus did not have a place to rest His head and he relied upon others to give him shelter. He wandered.

Maybe we could use some more ‘wanderlust’ in the church, in our faith, and in our lives?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like a well-thought out plan; I like to have clear direction; I like a defined purpose. Frankly, the idea of just taking off into the great beyond with a rudderless boat seems irresponsible and frightening.

But, I’ve also done enough wandering, soul-searching, exploring, and getting lost in my life to know how it feels to be in the wild.
It feels alive. I feel alive. God feels alive.

With Paul, yes, he wanders into Lydia’s life and it changes her life and the lives of others, but I believe it also enlivens and gives meaning to his life. The life of Paul reminds us that Jesus calls us beyond our carefully-made plans and safe assumptions into something daring, unpredictable… and possibly unprecedented. Perhaps God places wanderlust in our souls as a means of whetting our appetites for ‘more;’ as a way of keeping us unsatisfied.

Usually, we think of being unsatisfied as a bad thing.
We haven’t had enough to eat – unsatisfied.
Our haircut didn’t go as planned – unsatisfied.
Our job isn’t living up to our exceptions – unsatisfied.
We feel disconnected from our friends or family – unsatisfied.
The lawn job we hired out looks like it was done by a herd of goats – unsatisfied.

However, dissatisfaction, when redeemed by God, can create a type of emotional restlessness, which can compel us to seek connection and take some risks. I think dissatisfaction is an element of wanderlust that’s essential, because it cultivates curiosity and hope.

Before I go on, I want to ‘unpack’ something I just said, because it’s important. At least, it’s important in my mind. The phrase ‘redeemed by God’ in relation to wanderlust.

Sometimes when we think of wanderlust, or reasons why we wander, it’s because we’re lusting for a way out: a way out of pain, a way out of monotony, a way out of today. And that feeling of wanting a way out can heighten our feelings of desperation and dissatisfaction. Lust of anything in and of itself doesn’t lead to fruitful connection.

However, when God redeems our wandering – redeems is just a fancy way of saying, “uses our stuff for God’s purposes or for good” – we start to realize that what we really want is to find a way in.   

Isn’t that true?
Don’t we want ‘in’? Isn’t that what our restlessness and our dissatisfaction yearn for?
The good news of Jesus is that we are already ‘in.’ And by that, I mean:
Jesus already loves us; we are already found; we already matter.

And when we begin to trust that we truly do belong to God, we can wander with meaningful meandering towards the fullness of what God desires for our lives. And for the church.

When I think of all the places I have loved – places I have rode, run, hiked, and wandered through – I believe I have loved them, they have mattered to me, they have changed me and connected me…. because in some way they faintly resemble the New Heaven and New Earth that God is creating.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say wanderlove, instead of wanderlust

What do you suppose would happen if we followed Paul’s lead, listened to the restlessness in our hearts, and ‘set sail?’
What would it look like in your personal life?
And what would it look like as the church?
What sorts of surprises might be waiting for us?
Who might we meet?

In some ways there no way to know… there’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another; what leads to what; what cause something to flourish or something to die; why some relationships click and others don’t.
There is no way to for sure know.

The only thing that is for sure is: if we never wander, we will be just where we are….
Which can be ok sometimes.
But it can also be an indicator for ‘stuck.’

You know how Paul had that vision and it propelled him to take off on his next adventure?
I’m NOT saying we all start making rash decisions, but I do wonder what it would look like as we think about how wanderlove looks in our lives and in church, if part of the conversation might involve these words:
Guess what I dreamed about last night?
And then these words:
Oh, I don’t know, but I’m excited to hear!

I also am not positive about how to cultivate wanderlove, but I think it has something to do with trusting what we know to be true. Trusting that there is no place we can go where God is not; believing there is more in store for each of us and for this place; recognizing there is something sacred in each person who crosses our paths and being curious; not quieting the restlessness that makes us wonder ‘what if.’

I don’t think embracing wanderlove means things will always be pretty, like a breathtaking view from a top a high cliff. Nor will it always comfortable. Sometimes it’ll hurts, even breaks your heart. But that’s okay.

I think if we asked Paul, he would say that the journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your faith. But, hopefully in the wandering and wondering and dreaming, you leave something good behind.

So, what do you dream about for the church? What do you dream about for yourself?
Pay attention to those dreams, those visions, because this much I know…Paul was open to seeing the vision God offered him and it changed the world.

Maybe we won’t change the world, maybe that’s not our job. But maybe, by the grace of God, we will help usher in that New Heaven and New Earth that Jesus talked about. Amen.