Journeys without GPS (Second Sunday in Lent)

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When I travel, I love having GPS!  It’s so much better than the old paper maps we used to have when I was a kid.  Besides being constantly up to date, modern GPS services like Google Maps can also tell me:

  • Whether there are problems ahead on the road – slowdowns or crashes or even closed roads.  And if there are, it will suggest alternate routes around the problems;
  • How long it’s going to take to get to where I’m going, and how many miles I have left.  I enjoy knowing that so much that, even when I’m on a plane, I frequently keep watching the plane’s GPS to see where we are and how much longer it will take until we get there;
  • If there are storms or bad weather ahead – I noticed this feature last week, when I was hoping that all the snow would be in the mountains and not on the interstates!  But when you plot a course, Google maps will warn you if there’s a winter storm warning which might affect your trip…

And in general, I love all this stuff because I want my journeys to be safe; and comfortable; and predictable.  I even hope to have a little fun, even in the midst of what might otherwise be a boring journey.

But as today’s readings point out, many of the journeys God calls people in the Bible to take aren’t like that at all!  Indeed, the instructions not only lack GPS or even maps, but often come with warnings that the journeys are going to be long, hard and even dangerous.

I mean, I’m not sure I’d be excited about some of these journeys, because it was often the case that journeys of faith were:

  • Confusing and filled with obstacles that Google Maps would instantly invite us to avoid – Abraham is invited to start his journey at 99 years old! Really God, he must have wondered, “What are you thinking?!”  And then in the Gospel, Jesus invites his followers on a journey where they’re going to suffer and be rejected.  Shouldn’t there be an “alternate route” somewhere?
  • Hard and difficult … Not only didn’t Abraham have GPS to tell him how long he’d have to be on the road, God doesn’t clue him in on the timeline.  And besides having GPS, I travel with heat and A/C.  And the disciples of Jesus were heading into territory where not only didn’t they have Google maps to show them restaurants and hotels ahead, they were going to places where hostile people might not sell them food or rent them lodging, even if they could find it…
  • Full of real dangers … Not just ice storms – Jesus clearly tells them he’s going to be killed, and note that he does NOT promise them that they won’t be killed, too!; Abraham faced similar dangers on his journey, even though we don’t read them in today’s reading…

Now the ultimate destinations of these journeys are clear, and they’re great!  Abraham will be the father of a multitude of nations, and Jesus is going to rise from the dead!  But in the midst of the confusing, difficult and dangerous journey of faith to get there, the reaction of people on the journey often ended up, like Peter, being to rebuke God for this bizarre journey.

The season of Lent reminds us that faith is a journey.  And while that journey is sometimes fun, exciting and safe, often our journeys of faith, if we’re doing them right, become uncomfortable, confusing and require sacrifices we’d just as soon not make.

And sometimes, the biggest distraction of the journey is the idea that confusion, sacrifice and danger were part of the faith journey of people in Bible times, but that’s not the way it should be for us.  Now we have better GPS, so our journeys shouldn’t have to be like that.  And that idea, even in the back of our minds, can become the biggest distraction from the destination of life and wholeness that God is calling us to.

So I wonder if one of the most important disciplines of the journey of Lent is to practice keeping in mind that we’re often on the right track for our journey of faith when it feels like the journey is:

  • Confusing, long or even boring – after all, we never learn and grow when things are easy to figure out; and just as that first journey with Jesus required trudging along in boring places doing boring things, some of the most important work God calls us to do may be doing things that just don’t seem that exciting, or might even seem like distractions from the “fun stuff”…
  • Hard and difficult – we live in culture which still seems to be in love with the idea that faith should make your life happy and easy. And even though we know that’s not what Jesus says, sometimes when things get really tough, we’re tempted to wonder if the journey we’re on is the right one; Jesus did promise resurrection and new life, but the journey to get there often involves pain and even death…
  • Dangerous and requires sacrifice – it’s natural to want to protect ourselves and others; generally, that’s a good thing.  But when we’re unwilling to take any risks, or endure any sacrifice, we can’t really get to anywhere… (even our cross country trips with GPS involve costs…!)

Like those first disciples, Jesus calls us to be on a journey of faith with him.  And he promises us a destination of life, wholeness and resurrection.

And the journey doesn’t come with GPS.  But it does come with Jesus’ constant presence, guidance and help. So even when the journey isn’t fun, easy or safe, Jesus calls us, like his first disciples, to continue to follow him boldly into the future. Jesus calls us, like his first disciples, to journey together so that we can support and help one another in the midst of confusion and stress.  And Jesus promises us finally that the destination is a guaranteed gift of God that’s never in jeopardy, no matter how hard the journey may be.