From January 6 to 17, I’ll join a number of clergy colleagues, classmates, and pilgrims on an 11 day class and experience to the Holy Lands in Israel and Palestine.
I hope you will pray for me as I undertake this pilgrimage.
This is not a vacation but a learning experience. I will be engaged in conversation and prayer, walking where Jesus walked, hearing the experiences of the people of the land, and trying to understand the beauty and conflict in that part of the world. It's going to be a life changing experience, and I'm thankful you give me the opporunity to keep growing through this Doctor of Ministry coursework.
We don’t always use terms like “pilgrimage” in our faith. Sometimes, we joke about going on pilgrimage to a famed sports stadium of a beloved team, but I usually don’t hear any of you talking about taking a “pilgrimage” out to Bethany Beach for a church retreat. And yet, we are each taking pilgrimages every day of our lives - especially when we venture into the unknown and learn something about who we are.
That’s the ancient meaning of this practice that goes back to the earliest Biblical witness.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” - Genesis 12:1
In my first Bible as a youngster, I remember thumbing through the maps at the back of it. One of them showed the routes that Paul might have taken on his own pilgrimages and journeys to support churches and share the startlingly good news of Jesus. I didn’t get it. Why couldn’t Paul just stay in one place and let the people come to him?
How easy church would be today if we could just sit back and let people come to us!
Rather, Paul’s journeys, I believe, aided his message. He had to be creative and fluid. He had to listen and learn and adapt. His journey placed him into communities and lives that were desperate to hear some good news. Paul’s journeys took him and the gospel into the unknown, and the church grew.
“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. “ - Ruth 1:15b
From my life experience, journeys to some place new almost always stretch us. We learn about different customs and cultures. We experience sacred space in different ways. Our lives are changed by encounters with neighbors and the opportunities to humanize distant communities and practices. We see that we are all the same and all so different. The world becomes both larger and smaller.
The Christian practice of a pilgrimage mirrors the journeys of Abram, Ruth, Elijah, and the early church. We go into a foreign place where we must learn new words and practices to get by. We recognize, even if we are coming from a culture of privilege, that we are outsiders now. In the process of feeling clumsy, of messing up, we rely on the hospitality and grace of others.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” - Matthew 28:19
What if 2020 became a pilgrimage year not just for me but for our entire church?
Some of you are beginning this year in new jobs, planning trips to take you into unfamiliar territory, or looking for experiences to stretch and grow. You are already on board with this, I bet. But sometimes, we get comfortable with status quo. Some of us would rather talk about church bulletins than evangelism. What if we took this risk together to embark into the unknown and discover something new about who we are and who God is calling us to be?
As a church, especially as we continue our Epiphany process, we are likewise being asked to stretch and grow. We know our future as a congregation does not mean doing what we used to do better. Being the church at the intersection asks us to be open, not just to those passing by, but invitations to go deeper into our community and rely on the hospitality of others. Faith and spirituality is changing. The needs of the world press in all around. What will University Christian Church look like in ten years? How do we get there?
Let’s put on our walking shoes together… and see.
Please join me in prayer for the journey ahead:
God of this New Year, you are calling us to be on the move. You are calling us to walk paths into places we have not been, to meet strangers who we need to hear, to create relationships that we never thought were possible. Challenge us to take risks. Stretch us. Use us. Shape us into something new. Trusting in your guiding, we ask your blessing on this journey ahead. Amen!