A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, May 25, 2014
1 Kings 19:1-8 ESV
This is the time of the year when many people start to think about journeys. Some of us have planned and are looking forward to vacation journeys. Family excursions, camping trips, travel to other parts of the country or world—many of us are anticipating heading out on the open road or taking to the air. I am anticipating a journey of my own in a few weeks. One of my mental “bucket list” items is to visit as many of our major National Parks as possible in the coming years. This year Mary Lou and I have plans (and keep your fingers crossed that our plans are not hindered) to visit Glacier National Park in Montana. And many of you, especially families with children or grandchildren, have your own journey plans that you are just as excited about.
A second reason to be thinking about the journey motif for us here at the United Church is we have chosen “Journeys” as this year’s Vacation Bible School theme. Our VBS week will be crafted around four different biblical journey stories, as well as spiritual journeys in general. It is going to be a fun and informative week for all our children and adults who participate.
There is a third form of journey that many are thinking about this time of the year, a type of journey that we are celebrating today. And that is the journey into the next phase of life following high school or college graduation. For those like Erik and Foster who are graduating, there is a sense of embarking on a journey to a different way of life where new skills will be required, new habits will be formed, new friendships and relationships will be established, and so on.
The concept of “journey” is one of the oldest, most universal, and most important archetypal concepts known to humankind. Biblically we think of the journey of Abraham and Sarah, who struck out on faith to an unknown world and unknown future; the journey of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land; the journey of Ruth and Naomi; the journey of Jonah to Nineveh; the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem; and the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul.
In world literature we think of the writings of Homer and the journeys of Odysseus. In American literature, there is no better illustration than that great American novel, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. I have spoken about Huckleberry Finn in other sermons. Often mistaken to be a children’s book, Huck Finn is on the one hand a powerful social commentary on the evils of slavery and class distinction. And on the other hand, Huck Finn is the story of a boy’s inward, spiritual journey and transformation and enlightenment that occurs during his journey down the Mississippi River on a raft with runaway slave Jim.
Well, for the scripture text this morning, I have read a portion of the account of the Hebrew prophet Elijah and his journey into the wilderness, which proved to be a transforming experience of sorts for him. This is one of the more interesting stories of the Bible. It occurs at a time when Elijah, one of the first great Hebrew prophets, was exhausted, frightened, and many think suffering deep depression and possibly was suicidal. He felt that he, alone, was the only faithful Hebrew prophet left in the land, and his life was threatened by the evil queen Jezebel. So Elijah journeys into the wilderness and sits down under a broom tree, wishing he could die. (Interestingly, there is a very similar story involving the prophet Jonah who journeyed to Nineveh, who also sat down under a plant in the throes of depression and wished he could die too [Jonah 4:8].) Well, as the story of Elijah goes, an angel or messenger appeared to him, providing him provisions he would need for the journey ahead.
Now, I do not want to get into the miraculous “hows” of the provisions that were provided for Elijah in the wilderness. My only concern at this point is that Elijah had a journey ahead of him, and for that journey provisions would be needed. Such can serve as a metaphor for all of us, but especially those like our graduates who are graduating and setting off on a journey into an unknown wilderness. All of us need “provisions” of sorts for the journey of life.
So, I would suggest the following six provisions that all of us need for the journey of life, and all of them just happen to start with the letter “P”:
Physical Care. As with Elijah and the journey that lay before him, all of us need the proper physical care: enough sleep and rest, eating healthy foods, and getting the proper amount of exercise. All of this is needed to help us deal with the pressures of life that all of us are faced with.
Personal knowledge. To be successful in the journey of life, we need a sense of self; self-knowledge. We need to know who we are and what we stand for. Such is much easier said than done. One of the most challenging aspects of life is self-discovery.
Principles to live by. What are the principles that we use as guides in living our lives? Or to put it another way, what are the spiritual tools that give shape to our lives and how we relate to others around us? Four principles that many recognize to be most important (and I tend to agree), and that also can lead to a happy life, are compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, and service to others. In my way of thinking, compassion is the heart and core of what it means to be Christian. If we are to get along in this world, we need to be willing to forgive others, just as we need others to forgive us. A sense of gratitude for life and the daily blessings of life is essential to a happy life. And service, or giving back, is just as important in fostering a well-balanced, happy life. As Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product.
Priorities. Each of us must set priorities with the time we are given. There has to be a balance in work, study, family and friend time, and play and rest.
Possibilities. It is important as we journey through life that we are open to the possibilities that open up before us. Coupled with this openness is a sense of curiosity and discovery.
A Place to come home to. All of us need to feel a sense of connection. All of us need to know we have a place to come home to. All of us need a place where everybody knows our name, and they are always glad we came. Sometimes that home is our nuclear family. But that connection and home can also be church. This United Church is such a place where our graduates, or any of us, can always come home to.
Every life journey is personal. And certainly this is especially true for all graduates. Our life journey is not about living up to other people’s dreams or expectations. But it is about finding ourselves and what is meaningful to us. As that clichéd quote says, it is important that “to thine own self be true.”
Wednesday before last, we watched the video of Jennifer and Sarah Grady and their five and one-half month journey hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. And we heard about some of the provisions they needed for the journey. They wore out backpacks and needed new hiking boots. But we also heard about many of their discoveries and their personal growth along the way. Such is a good illustration for life in general.
As we journey through life and into an unknown future, there are certain, important provisions that all of us need in our backpack of life. And just as important as these spiritual provisions are the attitude and spirit in which we approach the journey, as we open ourselves to a sense of discovery and personal growth along the way. Amen.