On the Road Again: the Journey
by Rev. Joseph Connolly
“They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while Jesus was talking to us on the road, explaining the Scriptures to us?’” — Luke 24:32.
As you know, Bonnie and I arrived here in Norwich from the great State of Maine. And, as you know— I think— once or twice or sometimes three times a year, we point the car north and head out toward Maine.
Cars, fortunately or unfortunately, are not like horses. If you take a horse down a road often enough, once a horse knows that road, you simply give the horse its head, point the horse on the right trail. The horse will take you wherever it is you usually go without much urging or coaxing or guidance.
While Bonnie and I occasionally kid each other that our car knows the way to Brunswick, Bangor and Deer Isle— the places we hang out in Maine— it does not. There may be a lot of horses under the hood but we need to guide those horses pretty carefully to get where we’re going. We know the road; metal horses don’t. (Slight pause.)
My guess is we take a lot of trips on which we don’t actually know the destination, trips when we don’t really know where we’re going. These include the first day of school, a first date, a new job, a marriage. If you think you know where you’re going with any of those, don’t trust that knowledge.
When we travel, when we go to a country we’ve never visited before, France, India, New Zealand— wherever— we don’t really know where we’re going. We simply know the name of the destination. (Slight pause.)
Not to pull something slightly different in here— 2014, as you know, marks the 200th Anniversary year of this church. One of the things we are doing to take note of that milestone is most weeks the cover of the bulletin reflects some aspect of those 200 years.
Please do me a favor? Take a look at the cover of today’s bulletin. (Slight pause.) There you will find the picture of one Reverend Mr. Samuel Scoville. Sam was the longest serving pastor this church has ever known. Sam served from 1861 to 1879— a total of 6,675 days.
As it happens, I am now the second longest serving pastor. The date I was called to this pulpit was June 2nd, 1996. Therefore— God willing and the creeks don’t rise— in mid-September— the 12th to be precise— I will have served this pulpit 6,676 days, one day longer than Sam.
Now, when Bonnie and I pointed our car south and first traveled from Bangor to Norwich, we did know what our destination was: Norwich. But we did not know what the journey would entail, what the journey would be.
Indeed, a couple of weeks ago, when members of the laity disguised a laity Sunday and surprised me with a Pastor’s Appreciation Sunday I had a fairly strong emotional reaction as I looked around the nave. That happened because I saw people with whom I had interacted over the years on many levels and in many ways.
I officiated at weddings of some of the people in attendance that day. I officiated at Memorial services for relatives and friends of some of the people in attendance that day. There were people present who I had counseled, consoled, visited in the hospital, visited at their home.
There were people whose children I have seen born and whose children I have Baptized. There were people whose children I have seen grow to maturity.
Of equal importance, there were people with whom I had shared a joke, a dinner, a round of golf, people with whom I had chatted about baseball, football, music, art, television shows, movies, performances at the Arts Council. Additionally, as I looked around the nave, in my mind’s eye I could see those who had been here and had moved away. And I could see those been freed from the bonds of this frail life. (Slight pause.)
You see, the trip from Bangor to Norwich was not the journey. That was only a trip down a road. The journey— the real journey— was being involved with people, involved with their lives, striving to know them as deeply as I could and, yes— striving to love them as well as I could.
Part of the point I am trying to make is this was not just my journey. People are born, people die, people leave for other locations, people return. And that is— all of it— the journey. And it is not just my journey. It is our journey, all of us, together with one another. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the work commonly called Luke: “They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while Jesus was talking to us on the road, explaining the Scriptures to us?’” (Slight pause.)
I suspect Cleopas and a companion are walking down a road they have traveled often. I suspect they know their destination. That possibility can certainly be gleaned from the story.
But does that mean they know where they are going? Does that mean they know about the journey? I think not. And I think that’s what they find out from the traveler who joins them on the road.
I think what they really learn from that traveler is a lesson about being on the road, a lesson about the journey. Yes, Jesus explains the Scripture. Yes, Jesus explains the Messiah. But what is that explanation, really? (Slight pause.)
You have heard me say this on many occasions: the work known as Luke and the work known as Acts are two volumes of one work. We need to understand the stories in one resonate with the stories in the other. Taken as a whole, they inform us about both.
I think the reading we heard from Acts helps fill out the explanation of the Messiah. That passage is filled with illustrations explaining the Messiah, but let me concentrate on one verse (quote): “Even upon the most insignificant of my people, both women and men, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they will prophesy.” (Slight pause.)
As often as we take it this way, you see, the advent of the Messiah is not an end point, not a stopping point, not a goal, not a destination. It is especially not some promise about the “sweet by and by.”
Rather, the advent of the Messiah is an invitation for us to participate in the journey and a promise that, if we participate in the work of God, we will be empowered by God for that work. The advent of the Messiah is a sign and seal of a promise made to us by God that the covenant offered by God is real.
Jesus, you see, is not the destination. Jesus is not a goal. Jesus is the Messiah, a sign of the truth of the covenant.
Claiming Jesus is a destination and claiming Jesus as a destination is triumphalism, simply another way of saying ‘I win you lose.’ “I win, you lose” is not a Christian claim. The Christian claim is that with the advent of the Messiah we are and have been summoned by God to be a priesthood of believers, doing the will of God, doing the work of God.
Hence, the “Road to Emmaus” is not about a destination. The road to Emmaus is about the journey. And on that journey Jesus interpreted the Scriptures. Certainly therefore, some of this road is about learning. And some of this road is about learning from the journey. And some of this road is about learning on the journey. (Slight pause.)
If I know nothing else, I know this about the road, I know this about the journey: it does not matter how long the road is and it does not even matter if you fully know where you are going or where the road is going. Every journey starts with one given. Every journey starts with taking the first step.
Or perhaps even more to the point, every journey starts with being willing to take the first step. And that is, I think, the basic question posed to us by the story of the road to Emmaus: are we willing to be on the road, on the journey with God and with each other? Are we willing to learn? Are we willing to take that first step? Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York
ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Theologian Miroslav Volf of Yale University has said this (quote): ‘Trust in God is a leap into the invisible, a risk taken in conviction that what cannot be seen is more secure than that which we can see.’ And, indeed, a willingness to be on the journey is a leap into the invisible, a risk taken in conviction that what cannot be seen is more secure than that which we can see. Are we willing?”
BENEDICTION: Let us serve the world in the name of Christ. Let the love of Christ find expression in us. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.