Which Path Are You On?

The Way of Jesus and Love

We Americans love a good road trip.  It’s a motif of course in many movies — from the crazy like “National Lampoon’s Vacation” to the more dramatic like “Rain Main” to the art flicks including “The Motorcycle Diaries.” The call of the journey that takes us from home to a new understanding of ourselves and our world, well, what’s not to love?  As we’ve begun thinking about a National Parks camping trip next summer as part of my sabbatical, we’ve been recommended to check out RoadTrippers.com.  This site makes suggestions for places to stay, natural wonders to explore and roadside attractions that you shouldn’t miss.  The latter includes a statue of the Jolly the Green Giant, he of vegetable fame, who stands 55 feet tall in Blue Earth, Minnesota and is on our way from Southborough to Badlands National Park.  Watch my blog in 14 months for a selfie with Jolly.

(c) Phil LaBelle, 2016

At the beginning of the book he simply titled Walking, Henry David Thoreau suggests that the word saunter is derived from those in the Middle Ages who chose to become pilgrims to the Holy Lands, la Sainte Terre in the French.  As they set about looking for funds to help them make their pilgrimage, Thoreau posits, the French children began exclaiming, “‘There goes a Sainte-Terrer,’ a Saunterer — a Holy-Lander.” He pushes back on those who might suggest it’s derived from sans terre, without land or having no home — a vagabond—claiming “the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more a vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while [deliberately] seeking the shortest course to the sea.” Mr. Thoreau may or may not be correct in his etymology; however, as a saunterer myself, I really like it.

The verses preceding our selection from John’s gospel are somewhat familiar.  Jesus has just told the disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, and that they knew the way to the place where he was going. Thomas pipes up, “We do not know where you are going and how can we know the way?”  “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he replies, “No on comes to the Father except through me.”  Which leads to this statement from Philip, “Lord, just show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”  “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

The word translated the way is hodos in the Greek.  It also means “road” or “path” or even “journey.”  When Jesus sent the disciples out on their mission to spread the good news, he told them to take nothing for their hodos, for their journey, because they were to rely on the hospitality of others.  Or the Magi, after they had visited with the child Jesus, were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so, writes Matthew, they went home by another hodos, another road, another way.  “I am the way, the road, the journey,” declares Jesus.  “You know the hodos to the place where I am going. Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.”

We’re celebrating the Day of Pentecost today with all of this spectacular red.  Besides Palm Sunday, it’s the only time we see red draped on our altar. It’s to remind us of the those tongues as of fire that rested on each of the 120 or so who were gathered together in that house following Jesus’ ascension.  They began speaking in the native languages of all those devout Jews who lived in Jerusalem but hailed from another country.  Those Parthians and Medes and Egyptians and Romans all heard the good news, the Gospel, in the languages of their homeland, in the language of their hearts.  Upon hearing the good news, some 3000 or so chose to follow Jesus, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.  And eventually, as their numbers continued to grow and grow and spread out, the disciples of Jesus became known as those “who belonged to the Way,” who belonged to the hodos, the  road, the journey.  It wasn’t until much later that they became known as Christians, “followers of Christ.”  They were first know as those of the Way.

In his fabulous book, The Way of Jesus, Eugene Peterson writes, “To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us.  To follow Jesus means picking up rhythms and ways of doing things that are often unsaid but always derivative from Jesus, formed by the influence of Jesus. To follow Jesus means that we cannot separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing, and the way he is doing it.  To follow Jesus is as much, or maybe even more, about feet as it is about ears and eyes.”

“Where your feet take you, that is who you are,” writes Frederick Buechner in the collected essays that make up his Alphabet of Grace.  “If you want to know who you are, watch your feet.”  Obviously your feet took you here this morning, but where do they take you during the week?  If you were to create one of those Family Circus cartoons where we follow Billy’s path as he pets the dog, and jumps over the fence and plays on the swings, what would your path look like for this past week?  If you plotted your course, your interactions and all the rest, what would it show?  Based on your sauntering, who are you?

Understanding Jesus as the hodos implies one thing, of course: we haven’t arrived yet.  If Jesus is the way, the road, the journey, then the working metaphor isn’t a destination, a goal or a stopping point.  It’s a pilgrimage, a sojourning, a ramble.  Likewise, attending church isn’t the final stop either; this hour together isn’t the culmination or the zenith but a rest stop along the path.  A place to refuel and get a better sense as to the direction we’re headed and the encouragement to keep on trucking.

That’s the job of the church established on that first Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago, to be a means to the way.  To be a community that points to the love and mercy of Jesus and tries desperately hard to walk in his path.  It’s in showing love to the foreigners—like Jairus, the Roman centurion whose daughter Jesus healed, or the Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke with.  It’s by touching the ones feeling unclean and unwanted–like those 10 men with leprosy living in a cave outside the town whom Jesus healed.  It’s in giving food to the hungry and pointing the path toward of forgiveness and wholeness to those who’ve lost their way.  It’s in reminding our children that they are beloved and that, if we adults want to discover the kingdom of God, we’ll need to become like them and be filled with wonder and unwavering belief.  It’s in making time for prayer to talk and be present with God, and having fun at parties.  It’s in giving of ourselves so that others might find hope.  The way that Jesus embodied is the way of love. 

For many in our culture the focus has been on hate, distrust and fear.  In looking at our neighbors, we’ve seen the enemy and not children of God.  We do so in the name of safety, perhaps, or in protecting what we believe is rightfully ours.  That path of fear is a dangerous one, and it leads away from God.  Yet the coming of the Holy Spirit allows us to know more fully the way of Jesus, to see his path more clearly, to learn how to navigate the way before us.  The Holy Spirit continues to guide us as the one who illumines that path.

Is the path you’re taking, the journey you’re on, leading you toward love?  Are you able to see in every person, regardless of their address or nationality or what’s on their birth certificate or how they dress or who they worship, are you able to see them as beloved children of God?  Are you going out as you are sent from this place as someone declaring the good news, the way of Jesus?  Is the road you’re traveling—the life you are living—bringing you closer to Christ?  Jesus is the way to God, and if we have seen him we have seen the one he calls the Father.  May we truly see in the Almighty One the love and compassion and mercy shown again and again by Jesus, and may we saunter faithfully on the way that leads to eternal life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!