Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A People on a Journey

"My feet hurt!" "We're hungry!" "Are we there yet?" Voices on a hiking trip with young children? Maybe. Or maybe voices of people on a journey through a wild place.

It is our story, after all. Consider the people of Israel back in the Old Testament. It's hard to believe that not long after being rescued miraculously through the parted Red Sea they were soon enough grumbling and murmuring and generally just misbehaving. "We had it better back there in Egypt," they said. "At least we knew where our food was coming from!"

When God leads a people into something new, it's not always an easy journey. Feet get tired. People get irritable. Some wrong turns are taken. Faith is tested. Lessons are learned.

Another image comes to mind. Fast forward a couple thousand years later. John the Baptizer, something of a new Moses, telling people to go ahead and get wet and go through the waters of the Jordan into something new. The kingdom of God is near! Prepare the way of the Lord! You would think the religious folk would be leading the way on that trip. Hardly so. The "religious" folk weren't sure what to make of that. It's a dangerous trip. The road appears uncertain. Everything familiar and safe is left behind.

Again, when God lead a people into something new, it's a strange, new journey.

The biblical stories of journeying people are powerful to me, because they speak the truth of our situation. Yes, right here in New Jersey 2008. Because we are God's people, saints all the way, called by name to embody God's life in the world. And (paradoxically) we're sinners all the way, too; stiff-necked and stubborn people who don't necessarily want to go where God might happen to lead. When God leads a people into something new...

Unfortunately, the Church (or at least the institution called the Church) is not always best set up to be led into something new. But newness is a dynamic that is woven throughout the scriptures. It's all about transformation, being led into something new: slavery into freedom; fishermen into apostles; brokenness into wholeness; death into life.

And us? Pity that we in the church often domesticate the Christian message into something merely about my spirituality, or my personal salvation, or my morality. The wild, untamed message of the scriptures is a message of radical transformation. Think of all the images. New life. Resurrection. A new heavens and a new earth. Freedom for the captive. Good news to the poor. Healing for the wounded.

Can we recapture that? Can we allow ourselves to be changed, to go through the water of repentance again, and open ourselves to be led into something new? Something new for our hearts? Something new for our families and our relationships? Something new for our community? Something new for our church? When God leads a people into something new...

Again, we find ourselves on the threshold of another Lent, another springtime. Will we go through the motions? Will we play it safe, journeying only over familiar territory? Or will we listen to the voice of the one who calls us into something new?