It is good to know where you are headed, whether its on a big trip or your Lenten spiritual discipline that gets you ready for Easter. For centuries, people looked to the stars for guidance, or natural features like rivers and mountains around them to guide them. Then we began using maps. For the journey – a map is a good thing. It tells us how to get there, what roads to take, places we can stop; sights to see.
Ancient maps, road maps, and now GPS, help us reorient ourselves and get us to where we want to go. But we should also remember that although maps are there to help us, in the words of Alfred Korsybski, "The map is not the reality.” The reality is around us to experience.
So too the disciplines we take on of praying, fasting, giving alms, study are important, they help reorient us to Easter & to Jesus. They cannot become ends in themselves.
As I traveled through Israel some 17 years ago with a group from the diocese, we stopped to visit a Franciscan Church at the top of the Mount of Olives, on the other side of the valley from Jerusalem. As I wondered why we had stopped there on our way into Jerusalem, we entered the Church and the wall behind the altar was clear glass so you can take in all of Jerusalem, esp. the area of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. The view is stunning and I know why Jesus would come to the Mount of Olives. Such a beautiful view of the city!
There is a mosaic that is part of the altar, of a hen gathering her brood under her wings. As you look out at Jerusalem, over the altar & mosaic, we are reminded of the words of Jesus.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Many of these Churches throughout Israel stand as reminders of the places Jesus lived and walked, of the things he said and did. Places where Jesus challenged the crowd to do more than just follow him, but to live as he does, to imitate his ways and have them take root in their hearts.
The map took us there, but with our eyes we took in the beautiful view that Jesus saw and with our minds we understood the longing Jesus has for all of us. The real journey is how we live our faith, the map and the stops are there to aid us on our way.
Following the journey in our first reading, Abram wondered if he and Sarai would have children, heirs to what God has promised. He’s worried, they have traveled far as God had asked them.
And the Lord says to him, do not fear, look at the stars, if you can count them all, so shall be your descendants…and Abram believed the Lord and he was reckoned righteous. And God made a covenant with Abram, that his descendants would occupy the land that they had journeyed to.
To live in faith, is to trust the words of the Lord as Abram did, to trust in what God has given us. To trust the journey.
For Paul in his letter to the Philippians, the journey for the Christians in Philippi is important that they stand firm in the Lord, to imitate other Christians who are following Jesus example. He sheds tears for those who have fallen away or fail to live expecting our savior to come.
“Their god is their belly; and their glory is their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”
Such earthly living puts us at odds with the faithful journey we have before us. It becomes more about consummation and making us happy and sated and the center of everything rather than faithful to Jesus. Jesus said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings but you were not willing.”
We have to be willing to take the journey. Jesus is longing for all people to find life, to find that complete joy that God through Christ can give, if we accept it, trust in it, and live it. Abram and Paul are examples for us today, of those who in faith, followed where God called them.
Every day of our lives, we have the opportunity to follow Christ. Sometimes we get it and our day is filled with the glory of God, some days we forget it and things are not what they could be and often we muddle through, sort of getting it, getting a taste of what that love, hope and joy could be in our lives.
This Lent, right here and now, we can decide how today is going to be, to map out our journey ahead and use different disciplines to aid us on the way.
Maps by Holly Ordway
Antique maps, with curlicues of ink
As borders, framing what we know, like pages
From a book of travelers’ tales: look,
Here in the margin, tiny ships at sail.
No-nonsense maps from family trips: each state
Traced out in color-coded numbered highways,
A web of roads with labeled city-dots
Punctuating the route and its slow stories.
Now GPS puts me right at the centre,
A Ptolemaic shift in my perspective.
Pinned where I am, right now, somewhere, I turn
And turn to orient myself. I have
Directions calculated, maps at hand:
Hopelessly lost till I look up at last.
May we look up, to make sure we have not inadvertently gone off the path, and us Lent to reorient ourselves back, so that we put our face again on the way to Jerusalem, to face our true east and the glory of the rising sun. Amen.