Vacations... traveling... journeys... are part of life. We’re into the vacation season... it’s in full-swing, no doubt about it! Some have traveled overseas... to Europe. Some have taken a cruise or flown to the West Coast... and there’s always the beach!
Our travels are more than simply reaching the destination, or simply getting from point “a” to point “b.” Because the journey itself is the destination. Life is lived during the journey...
That’s one reason I love road trips... riding through small town and back roads. You get to see things you miss along the interstates, or flying at 28,000 feet!
Have you ever noticed how many stories from God's Word include a journey? The Bible is filled with such images and stories. Abraham & Sarah, making their way from Ur (modern Iraq) to the place God would show them... the Holy Land. Later, the Israelites were carried off on a journey to Egypt... held as slaves, captives of the Pharaoh... where eventually (after a series of plagues) Moses would lead them on a journey thru “the wilderness of Sinai” on their return to the Promised Land, a place most of them had ever seen.
And in the New Testament, Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, traveled from Nazareth in Galilee, to Bethlehem, because of a census. After Jesus was born they journeyed to Egypt, trying to escape a murderous King...
And then there’s Paul, the apostle, who traveled all over the Roman Empire, spreading the good news, and paying the price for his efforts.
It sometimes seems like the people of the Bible couldn’t sit still. They are always on the go! Of course, their journeys had nothing to do with sightseeing and holidays. There was purpose, a calling, a mission, a lesson... behind each journey recounted in scripture. Every step... every crossing... came with promise and proclamation.
God said (in our first lesson), “If you obey my voice and keep my covenant you shall be my treasured possession... a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” And the people said, “We’ll do everything the Lord has said!” Turned out to be easier said than done...
But the point is: The journey has a purpose. It’s worth the effort... the trial, the sacrifice.
Jesus was on a journey in our Gospel lesson, too. He was traveling “about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.”
There’s a sense of urgency in Jesus... as if He knew time was short. Jesus was aware of the condition... the lostness... the helplessness of the people. “The harvest is plentiful... but the laborers are few.” So Jesus commissioned his disciples to enter the harvest and to journey to the people with the message of the kingdom.
His instructions were simple and direct: “Go.” No ifs, ands, or buts. Just go! And, “as you go, proclaim the good news” - make a bee line to “the lost sheep!” Share the message: “the kingdom of heaven is near!” It’s not very far away or removed from God’s people... the kingdom of God has come to us... it’s here... in Christ... in us... and that’s good news.
Thanks to Christ, you and I have a share in the kingdom of heaven... and that share’s not ours to keep! As we have freely received; we’re called to freely give.
And if the crowds of Jesus’ day were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” the people of our day and age are surely no different!
The Barna Group just came out with a brand new 2017 poll of the most “post-Christian” cities in the United States. These are cities that have the greatest (largest) percentage of “un-affiliated” people... or “nones” has they’ve come to be known. People who don’t claim to be Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterian... or Christian... at all! They’re people who don’t claim any religious affiliation.
Portland, Maine topped the list... with 57% of Portlanders claiming to be “un-affiliated” with any religion. In fact, New England (which is the birthplace of American Religion and the Great Awakening), has 8 of the top 10 most “un-affiliated” cities in the nation... the other 2 are on the West Coast... San Francisco, California and Seattle, Washington.
Atlanta came in at #54 with a whopping 35% of the Atlantians claiming no affiliation with any faith.
Savannah was next in Georgia, at #85 nationally... 24% unaffiliated.
And Birmingham, Alabama... in heart of the “Bible Belt” came in at #94... with 19% (or almost 1 in 5 people) who are un-affiliated with any faith.
Two thousand years may have come and gone, but the human heart has not changed all that much.
The harvest is as full and ready as it’s ever been. And the laborers are still few. But the call... the commission... the directive... is still the same: “go, and proclaim!”
“Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” No small task... but the “silver-lining” is, we don’t have to travel far to find those in need of the Good News of the kingdom. They are as close to us as is the kingdom itself.
In fact, they are the kingdom. The kingdom of Heaven is always found in the places God is sending us... the kingdom of heaven is always found in the hearts, and lives... and faces... of the people Christ came to save. If we wanta see the kingdom of God, look into the faces of the lost, the lonely, the oppressed, the poor. You’ll find what you’re looking for.
For our part, since Christ has given us the kingdom... we only have to brave our fear, and in unison, with those who’ve gone before us... joyfully profess: “We’ll do everything the Lord has said!”
May we do no less...