Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Travel Itineraries

For my family's history, I have traveled quite a bit. I was born and raised in a northeastern Indiana farm family. My entire family (all aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts and great-uncles, 2nd cousins, grandparents, etc.) live within 20 miles of each other (most still do to this day!) When I was young, a two-hour car drive to the huge city of Indianapolis was a HUGE trip and very special.

But, I was not content (or really able) to stay in my family's homeland. After getting married my new bride and I moved to St. Louis so I could attend seminary and she grad school. I never imagined living that far from home for so long! My vicarage year took us to central Texas and I was not blessed to see the flat lands of corn, soy beans and wheat for a whole year. Back to St. Louis and now in Western Michigan.

My wife and I have done a lot of traveling by car in our five years of marriage. One constant about any kind of travel or moving is having an itinerary. You need to plan a trip. Know your stops, plan how far you want to go in a day, where you want to eat, pack up everything that you could conceivably need (and now with a little one, that list of "conceivable" needs boggles the mind!)

One thing is certain: when you travel, you want to be prepared. Nothing, in my mind is worse than getting to your destination and finding you have left a key component at home. Or worse, not even getting to your destination because you didn't plan well enough! I guess given my family's history of putting down deep roots in a place, my sometimes obsessive trip planning is understandable.

Perhaps that is why the Gospel reading for the fifth Sunday in Pentecost (Matthew 9:35-10:20, Series A) causes me to worry just a bit.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying,'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Jesus sends His disciples out without any earthly travel itinerary! They have a very broad destination (the lost sheep of the house of Israel), they have a truly miraculous and earthly impossible goal (heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons), and Christ goes so far as to tell them NOT to prepare for their trip (Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff). They are sent out with Christ's word and promise as their only preparation! And this terrifies me!!
Could I be so faithful as to leave all the preparations and comforts I have set up for myself to follow Christ's word? Could I go someplace without making any plans other than to proclaim the kingdom of heaven? Is it possible that Christ is really able to do what He says? Even more amazing than that, is it possible that I could actually put my faith completely in His sufficiency?

As if all that weren't bad enough, the destination for Christ's disciples is not even that rosy. Check this out: "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."

What would we do if told to leave every thing we know and love, make no provision for our journey, and be persecuted severely as a reward for our faithful following? No doubt, our practical side would scream "GET OUT OF THERE!! THIS MAN IS CRAZY! HE'S TRYING TO GET YOU KILLED!!" And indeed, Christ is trying to get us killed. He desires to tear down the old, sin-filled, foul, diseased Adam in each of us so that He may build up a new creation that is perfected in His life, death and resurrection. He calls us to deny ourselves completely and rely fully on His guidance. He calls us to loose ourselves and find in Him a perfection of righteousness and holiness. He calls us to let Him do everything, to relinquish power and control, to be found in His loving-kindness and all sufficient grace.

This is the radical call of Christ: to throw away our perceived eternal travel itinerary and to trust in Him to get us to our heavenly home. Do not be anxious about how He will do it, do not be anxious about how He will use you, but trust in His guidance and His work, for in loosing ourselves we are found in His perfection.

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