Easter 7a, June 1, 2014

June 2, 2014

Writing my thoughts each evening during my bicycle trip was such a nice experience. I had some good lessons on the road. I hope I learned something that I can carry over in to my standard routine. If nothing else, that trip helped me generate at least one sermon. Here it is:

Our Glorious Destination
John 17:1-11

1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

I’m really grateful to have been given the opportunity to spend two weeks on a bicycle ride. Although I guess it wasn’t as much of something I was given as it was something I just did. Sharla says I didn’t ask her if I could do it. And I don’t guess I asked for any kind of permission from the church to abandon my post for two weeks. I just sort of announced that I had this half-baked plan to ride my bicycle to the Atlantic Ocean and nobody stopped me. My Uncle Jack tried to veto the plan, but I only gave him voice – not vote on this deal. And honestly, I’m very lucky to have his voice in my life. Whether I follow his advice or not I cherish being in communication with him.

I’ll try not to beat this thing in to the ground, but this bicycle ride really was a profound experience for me. It was a trip that required a lot of physical effort and focus, but in some ways it was an easy undertaking. I spent very little time during my trip trying to figure out what I needed to be doing – I just did what I knew I needed to do. And having such a single-minded agenda was quite a luxury. I generally spend a lot of time and energy either trying to figure out what I need to be doing or second-guessing what I chose to do, and it was wonderful to have this simple agenda. Get-up, get-going, watch for cars, rest, eat, tweet, drink, repeat.

I moved at a relatively slow pace for two weeks and I had some very elemental experiences. I got wet. I got cold. I got hot. I got thirsty. I got hungry. I got tired. I got desperate. I received help. I cherished good water. I enjoyed eating. I was warmed by the sun. I was relieved by shade. I pushed myself. I was propelled by the prayers and encouragement of other people. I reconnected with some friends and family members. I prayed. I sang(nobody was there to listen, so I sang really loudly). I thought. I enjoyed listening to music. I met nice people. I noticed birds and animals – both dead and alive. I came to feel like an animal – a very privileged animal.

I haven’t used this word to describe my journey, but today’s scripture has brought the word, glory, to my attention, and I think I could use that word to describe my trip. It was a glorious experience. It was a relatively short trip in the grand scheme of things, but it was a very full-filling period of time. It’s not a trip I would recommend, but I’m so glad I took it. I don’t know how it will impact my work or my life, but I feel very blessed by it. It left me feeling grateful to be alive and on this planet, and it left me wanting to more fully understand what it means to go on this journey with Jesus to find the most glorious destination of all – this thing Jesus referred to as eternal life.

I think we often think of eternal life as an experience we will have at the end of this life, but that’s not the way in which Jesus speaks of eternal life in this passage. Jesus prayed that we might find eternal life in this life. Jesus prayed that we might experience eternal life prior to death. I’m not saying that eternal life doesn’t extend beyond our life as we know it on this planet, but eternal life is available to us during this life.

Jesus said we are in touch with eternal life whenever we come to know him and the One who sent him.

Connecting with Jesus is the way we come to experience eternal life, but coming to know Jesus is not so simple. This quest for eternal life is a mysterious undertaking. There are a lot of questions that come to mind when I think about the way we come to know Jesus and the One who sent him. What does this mean? How do we do that? Where does that journey begin? And do we ever really get there?

One of the nice things about my bicycle journey was that I had a really clear destination. There’s nothing particularly significant about riding a bicycle to the Atlantic Ocean – other than the fact that it’s a very well-defined boundary. It was a contrived destination, but it was a clear goal. If you are riding east it’s the end of the road. And as I mentioned earlier – it was nice to have such a clear agenda. It allowed me to be very single-minded in my pursuit. And there is a lot of freedom to be found in that level of single-mindedness. You don’t have to wonder what you need to do next.

And I’m trying to figure out how that translates in to this most glorious of all pursuits – the search for eternal life.

The search for eternal life is not a journey that any of us are just now beginning. I think we begin that journey before we even know that it’s something we want. I believe we are given an appetite for this more abundant form of life before we can even speak the words, and I believe we are nourished early on by the fruits of God’s mysterious presence in ways we don’t even recognize. In fact I believe the arrival of eternal life in to our lives is always a gift that comes to us. It isn’t something we control in any way, but I believe it is possible to become more receptive to this elevated form of living. I also believe we can become desensitized to those opportunities God provides for us to experience this eternal form of life.

Jesus spoke of having given to us the words that God spoke to him. It’s as if Jesus gave us words that provide us with the clues we need to help us become more sensitive to who God is and what God desires. And when I think of key words that Jesus spoke I think the most important word we have been given is this word, love.

If we want to know and experience God we’ve got to practice this thing we call love. And I’m telling you – it is not something we can do without practice. Because the kind of love Jesus talked about wasn’t the easy kind. Jesus didn’t just want us to love people who are like us – he told us to love people who don’t like us. He didn’t just want us to love people who are easy to love. Anybody can love loveable people – that doesn’t take much practice. But the kind of love Jesus wanted us to embrace has no boundaries. He didn’t just want us to love beautiful, kind, and nice people. When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves he was talking about everyone – including mean and nasty people.

Jesus wants us to love with a form of single-mindedness that we rarely have about anything. He prayed for us to be able to do that because he wants us to experience eternal life. And he knew that if we would learn to keep love as our primary agenda we would find a form of freedom and togetherness that we rarely experience here on earth, and it would enable us to become more receptive to this gift of eternal life.

We don’t exercise this kind of love with single-minded attention, and that’s why another one of his key words comes to mind – forgiveness. If we want to know who Jesus was and to better understand the One who sent him we need to make room for forgiveness in our hearts. I don’t think we can love Jesus if we don’t love the concept of forgiveness. It’s not that Jesus did anything wrong, but he certainly loved people who did wrong things. Jesus didn’t see anyone as being outside of the circle of redemption, and we shouldn’t either. This is not to say that we should simply be accommodating to any kind of behavior. It’s not unloving to resist bad behavior, but such resistance must always be accompanied by forgiveness.

The other key word that comes to mind when I think of what Jesus taught is compassion. If Jesus was anything he was compassionate. I don’t think you can understand why Jesus did the things he did if you don’t understand compassion. Jesus was moved by compassion. He responded to people with compassion. He exercised compassion. If we want to know Jesus and the One who sent him we have to be people of compassion as well.

I had a really great adventure on my bicycle ride to the Atlantic. I had a number of gratifying experiences along the way, and I’m hoping to learn something from the enterprise. I mean I could give you a pretty good list of practical things I learned. At the top of that list would be to study a topography map before you chart your course and determine your destinations. But I don’t just want to know how to plan a bicycle trip more effectively. There was something refreshing about life on the road that I like to think I can incorporate in to life in Little Rock.

I believe a part of what made my trip interesting was knowing that if I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing I wasn’t going to make it. I had to watch the road. I had to watch traffic. I had to pay attention to where I was going. I had to pace myself properly. I had to secure food and water and shelter. I had a type of hyper-vigilance that I don’t normally exercise over how I spent my time and energy.

But what I’m thinking is that Jesus prayed that we would embark on the most glorious adventures of all – the pursuit of eternal life. It is a far more challenging enterprise than riding a bicycle over the hills of northern Alabama and it will take longer than 12 days. It requires us to pay close attention to where we go, what we do, and how we treat people. We have to push ourselves every day if we want to put ourselves in the best position possible to experience eternal life. It is no small thing for any of us to practice love, forgiveness, and compassion. Failure is always a possibility.

But there is no better offer. And we can have no better advocate than the one who prayed for us to be successful in this adventure of faith. We have a great challenge before us. We aren’t ready for it – we have no idea what it will require, but who can resist this invitation to experience eternal life?

A glorious destination awaits – let’s go!



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