Don't Take the Train to Mecca


Journey (a definition): something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another. “The journey from youth to maturity…” “A journey through time…”

When Latin developed into French, diurnus became a noun, jour, meaning simply “day”. The medieval French derivative journée meant either “day” or “something done during the day,” such as work or travel. Middle English borrowed journée as journey in both senses, but only the sense “a day’s travel” survived into modern usage.

In modern English, journey now refers to a trip without regard to the amount of time it takes. (Merriam-Webster)

I don’t think you need a dictionary to get the sense that a there is a difference between traveling and journeying.

During the summer between kindergarten and first grade, my mother and I took a train from Pontiac, Michigan to St. Joseph, Missouri to visit my maternal grandmother. Being so young, I had no sense of the nature or scale of the experience. I was just sitting on the train looking outside the window and quite literally, watching the telephone poles pass by at speeds from a crawl to a blur and back again.

When we left the station, I remember the familiar sights of Pontiac and the immediate area that lasted about a half an hour. The next thing I remember was walking around Union Station in Chicago. We took a walk around the block and absorbed a bit of the

energy of a big city. My mom “authorized” the purchase of two comic books— the only comics I have ever read. (Hence my cluelessness with the Marvel universe!)

The final stop was Union Station in Kansas City. To get to St. Joseph then required a ride on a bus which was a quite different experience. I distinctively remember sitting near the front and hearing my mother talk to the bus driver. Of course, it was summer, or I couldn’t have gone. So, the heat was in the 90s as was the humidity. My grandmother (Goldie) picked us up in her car. There were two distinctive things about it: 1) it had a plastic Jesus figure on the dashboard and 2) the automatic transmission was controlled by push buttons on the dash. (The car had to be a Plymouth Valiant because of the unique transmission.)

Her little two-bedroom bungalow did not have air conditioning. There was a hole in the floor with a grate to draw cool air from the basement and several fans. Never had I heard so many bugs in the night and never had I been so hot— it was impossible to sleep. I didn’t know it then, but my grandmother was born in Oklahoma, lived in Kansas and then retired to Missouri. She was used to brutal winter storms, spring tornadoes and oppressive summer heat and humidity.

The question then is this, was I engaged in a journey or merely traveling? You could say that I had travelled to see her. I don’t think you could call it a journey. I had no sense of where I was going other than a specific goal— to visit grandma. I actually cannot remember one bit of returning home. First grade came and that November President Kennedy would be killed. The fifties had lingered past their prime and would then be eaten whole by the sixties— only to be remembered nostalgically by Happy Days reruns many years later.

I propose that traveling focuses on a goal while journeying involves a processing or reflection of that travel in addition to an idea of destination. An enjoyment of the act of traveling that has a sense of weight to it. Like a jumbo jet, it can be substantive and heavy but it can also fly powerfully.

But I will add this thought as the entry to an analogy. The experience has remained in my memory and each time I tell the story I do “process” the experience and connect it to a greater journey of faith. Since my family did not go to church, the Jesus influence of my grandmother was an important beginning— seeds of faith were sown— and as I remember them, they inform my current understanding of faith and life.

The Apostle Paul describes this in First Corinthians,

Our knowledge is incomplete and our ability to speak what God has revealed is incomplete. But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will no longer be used. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways. Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me.

I think of the many followers of Jesus who travelled with him not having much of a clue of what was going on. Most left him when his sayings became too difficult. Those that remained would remember his words and write them down with new understanding and new perspective. The Gospel writers certainly expanded and interpreted the events of their traveling with new wisdom (and the power of the Holy Spirit!) In the terms of my argument, their Apostolic insight found new meaning in their remembrances and the travel narratives they fashioned had the depth and quality of a journey that could teach us how to journey with Christ as well.

In the Book of Acts, the early church is referred to six times as “this way” or “the way.” This is before the name “Christian” comes into common usage. It takes just a little context to amplify the meaning to “the way of Christ” or more simply “The Way.”

Although I may be guilty of importing more meaning into the expression than I should, I do like the easiest and more natural word for the apostles and first “saints” to be followers “of the Way.” It distinguishes them apart from their Jewish roots in obedience to the Torah and places them on a different path, or a different journey.

Each follower of Jesus got up for another day of work or Sabbath worship expecting the day to be just like any other. Then the next thing they knew they were traveling up and down the Jordan Valley not knowing what would happen next. Even when they are told of their future destinations they were unbelieving. It took the Ascension of their Jesus and the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost to give them their direction and purpose.

He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24)

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1)

It is clear from the first moment, the first call, that disciples of Jesus will need to invest in good walking shoes. Followers of Jesus have a direction and purpose, they have a journey “along the Way.” The destination is eternal life with Him in his home. The journey is a journey of faith that daily repents, resets, renews and moves guided by the Holy Spirit and powered by His love. The journey is aware, reflective and intentional in its movement. But, like my first train ride, the journey may be a bit of a surprise. Sometimes we just need to be trusting and patient and stay open to the experiences of the journey.

A couple of years later we drove our brand new yellow 1964 Mercury Comet to St. Joseph. It didn’t have air conditioning, only an AM radio and had vinyl seats. Needless to say, driving across Iowa on a scorching hot mid-summer day was both an adventure and a lesson in using imagination to overcome boredom. The drive still is basically corn fields separated by soy beans and truck stops. We stopped at a Holiday Inn near Des Moines that had a pool. To this day my favorite moment of vacation is climbing into a pool or wading into a lake at the end of a long day’s drive. I also remember my dad’s frustration at cleaning off all the bugs stuck to the grill of his brand new car. That would only get worse driving the old highway and past the farms that remained between Des Moines and St. Joe.

When we arrived, my grandmother still had the same car with the same plastic Jesus (and would until her death.) The brakes were going bad on it. The last time she had parked in her garage she had scraped the wheels against the curb to slow down and then hit a tree to stop. She quite confidently asserted to me that Jesus would take care of her. My dad got the brakes fixed anyway. We took a drive and had lunch at her favorite place, the lunch counter at the Kresge five and dime. We ate submarine sandwiches and drank fountain cokes. There is a reason Jesus is always eating with people. The food was worth a couple of dollars but the meal was priceless.

I wonder if Peter, administering the church in Rome, missed fishing in the morning in the Sea of Galilee— watching the sun rise over the Golan Heights and wading into the warm, slightly salty water. I wonder if Paul missed the smell of flat bread and the rhythmic cantering of verses from the Torah as he was surrounded by alien smells, foods and languages as he moved about the Greco-Roman world. I wonder if John complained about his isolation and exile on Patmos— having cared for Mary, mother of God faithfully and having lived in the metropolis of Ephesus. What was it like to suddenly have nothing to hear but waves and the sound of birds and silent nights filled with infinite and endless stars? Did he still mourn the death of his brother James? Had the journey been worth it?

The first day he met Jesus, should he have returned to his boat and led a normal life? Would all these children of Abraham mourn not being buried in Israel, the land of their fathers?

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. (Revelation 12)

The Way.

The Journey.

To follow Jesus.

If you travel this summer, please enjoy not just the traveling but also the journeying. If you don’t go anywhere, remember that you are still on a journey. Jesus invites you to accompany him in all that you do. He invites you to abide with him. It’s an exceptional Way that may include a few surprises. Relax and let Jesus lead you. You may be amazed at the destination. Your journey always has value in Him. I pray traveling mercies upon you.

In Christ’s love and service,

Pastor Sidwell

PS…

“The journey is part of the experience - an expression of the seriousness of one's intent. One doesn't take the A train to Mecca.”

Anthony Bourdain


Immanuel Lutheran Church

 

3000 West Main Street

Kalamazoo, MI 49006

(269) 345-8090

THE
LUTHERAN CHURCH
Missouri Synod