Thursday, February 9, 2012
When the journey is more important than the destination...
George Weigel over at First Things wrote a column about the analogy often made between the Magi and modern day spiritual seekers. He insists that if we characterize the Magi as seekers, we have missed the point. They were not "seekers" but "finders." They did not leave for the sake of the journey but for the sake of the destination before the Christ child. They did not seek what was out there but followed the guiding and leading light of God to the place where He disclosed Himself in the flesh and blood of His one and only Son. Weigel is right. Our great temptation to focus upon the journey is more a reflection of our own self-absorption than true Biblical religion. I might only add that it is also symptomatic of our preoccupation with the present moment and the ease at which we forego eternity -- from situation ethics which sees everything from the narrowest of perspectives to the feelings which dominate our definitions of truth.
But the other side is equally as dangerous -- focusing only on the destination and ignoring the journey. When our kids were small and we were half a nation away from family, we would load them into the car at the end of the day and drive through the night to arrive sometime in mid-morning at our destination -- home. Our kids did not always cooperate and sleep through it all. They took particular delight in waking up about 2 am and so we got into a habit of stopping at a truck stop in Erie, PA, to fuel up and to eat a hamburger in the early morning hours. The place had a gazillion hats on the wall -- hats with the names of every business, sports team, and some less than pithy sayings as well. My kids reminded me that this trip was not just about the destination (as I had presumed) but there had to be room for the journey. They made it so.
Lutherans in particular seem prone to a destination focus. We talk with ease about justification and our salvation. We speak with relish about the death that gives us life and the righteousness given to us in our baptism. But we are often at a loss to know what to do with this new life we have been given and how to bear our righteousness before the world until the day comes when we dwell in heaven forevermore. Sanctification is not just a weak preaching point but a weak teaching moment as well. As much as we like to rail against the seekers and their journey focus, we must also be careful not to over react and forego the journey for a destination focus.
This life is not some disposable moment that is but a distraction from the eternal which God has prepared for us. This life and our journey of faith is itself the opportunity to show forth the fruits of His everlasting kingdom now by walking justly and showing mercy (to quote an old, reliable prophet). Sin stole the destination and now God has given us our salvation in Christ. But not only this. He has also given us back today and the opportunity to live out our mortal lives within His grace, favor, and leading.
To follow up on Weigel's imagery, the Magi returned but by another route -- as different people because of the encounter with the God who is incarnate in Christ Jesus. They did not merely carry a story back with them but the fruits of Christ's gift and grace for their daily lives. It is this that we need to preach and teach as well as the heavenly destination.
Once early on in my ministry a fellow shook my hand on Easter Sunday and told me, "Life's a bitch and then you die..." I had no retort. He surprised me so. Well, yes, life can be a bitch but it is also the domain in which God has placed us. We are in it but not of it, reborn in baptism to carry in us the death of Christ AND His resurrection. So there is more to it that what this life is not. It is also about what this life is. Christ is not just with me but in me. The Spirit is at work in me that I might work out my salvation with fear and trembling, yes, but also righteousness, peace, and joy. It would seem to me that this balance is the hallmark of faithfulness -- not one focus but two. We focus on the destination that makes possible the journey. Seekers want only the trip. We may be tempted to want only the destination. We cannot afford to short change ourselves; God has given us both.