If the Bible is the Number One top bestseller of all time, it must also be – I’d guess – the Number One travel journal of all time.
So many of the stories contained in the Old and New Testaments are about a people on the move, and travelling.
The epic journey of Abraham and Sarah from Ur to Canaan…
The Hebrews escaping their enslavement in Egypt, and then trekking for 40 years across the Sinai peninsula on the way to the Promised Land…
Joseph and Mary making the week long difficult journey on foot and donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem…
Jesus, and later, the disciples journeying beyond Galilee and eventually throughout the whole Mediterranean basin establishing churches…
In Bible times, there’s a lot of ground covered in and around the Middle East by the people of God on the move.
Even in the background of the stories and teaching in today’s readings, we detect movement.
The Sower goes out to sow, travelling by foot over the land, scattering seed indiscriminately all over the place as he travels onward.
And in the epic story about the rivalling twins, Esau and Jacob in the book of Genesis, we later read that after Jacob deceives his brother, Jacob flees home, and travels far away by foot, all by himself.
And so it seems we have this epic “travelogue” in the scriptures.
It’s not hard to hook into this “travel motif” during these summer months, when many of us take to the road and journey sometimes far and wide.
There’s something innately compelling about just heading down an unknown road by car, or a winding pathway by foot, not knowing what exactly may lie around the next bend, but curious and eager to make new discoveries.
This is what feeds many of us in our love for hiking or biking.
And so, the people of God are always on the move.
But I think we make a mistake…
…if we understand “journeying” or “being on the move” to mean only a geographic, physical journey across land, sea or air…
…or if we believe we can please God, or get closer to God and godly-ness, only if we keep travelling and moving about geographically.
The real point about the geographic journeys of the people of God that we read about in the scriptures, is what happens to them while on their journey.
In other words, the real “journey” so to speak, is a journey of transformation, of inner change, of being shaped gradually into a people of God, of becoming more and more a people reflecting the Spirit of Jesus.
It’s a journey of transformation, from one state of being, to another.
And so the epic geographic treks that take place in the scriptures are really symbolic or reflective of the real journey of transformation of a people, the sense of change, from being a people who “walk according to the flesh,” to a people who “walk according to the Spirit [of God]” as the Apostle Paul puts it in today’s reading from Romans.
And that journey is no short jaunt. It can take a life time.
And, it can happen all in one place, by staying still, staying in one place.
One of the vows Benedictine monks make, is the Vow of Stability… of not moving around a lot, as the Gospel writer of Luke 10:7 writes: “Do not move about from house to house.”
The Vow of Stability goes against the grain of our culture, which is all about mobility, fed by the undercurrent of belief that says: “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
And so you always have to move to reach this elusive “better-ness.”
But staying put, loving where we are, and “blooming where we’ve been planted” enables us to be more fully present and attentive to those around us.
It helps us realize that God is closer to us than we think, in the most surprising, unexpected of places, sometimes right under our own noses.
Just recently, I heard someone say: The longest journey one might make is the journey from the head, to the heart.
Geographically and literally, the distance between the two points is only about 30 centimetres, but essentially this journey takes a life time…
…of beginning to see the world and others as God sees…
…with awe and wonder at the immense beauty and value of all living and things and people…
…a journey to greater trust in a good and generous God, abounding in steadfast love.
Novelist Bebe Moore Campbell wrote that many of us have “an empty-barrel faith.”
You know, “walking around expecting things to run out.
Expecting that there isn’t enough air, enough water.
Expecting constantly that someone is going to do you wrong.”
An empty barrel.
We ought instead to have “an abundantly overflowing barrel” faith, embracing instead the God as actually described in the scriptures:
God as the “Good Sower”, who is lavish and indiscriminate in scattering the seed of God’s good word and blessings everywhere, including even the difficult places of thorns, weeds, rocks and hard, packed earth.
And even while the seeds don’t end up growing there, the seeds that did take root and grow in the good soil yielded an abundant crop: “a hundredfold”! An amazing, abundant crop by any first century standards.
To trust and believe in a God of abundance, a God who is indiscriminately generous.
To expect the best, to believe that there will be enough, that the future will be good, that relationships will be restored and healed….
…and to work toward this reality.
To echo the prophet Jeremiah: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
As we shall see later in Genesis 33, Jacob and Esau – estranged, angry and bitter brothers — eventually each of them make that journey to the heart.
In one of the most touching scenes in all of scripture, after all the hurt and pain they’ve experienced with each other, they nevertheless approach each other, and embrace in forgiving love, finding it in their hearts to forgive and reconcile.
And Jacob, in that moment, looks at his brother Esau, and says: “Seeing you, is like looking at the face of God.” (33:10)
The epic journey from the head to the heart is a journey of growing awareness of an abundantly loving God residing in our hearts, right under our noses, in the very ordinary and even difficult places of suffering in our lives.
And even there, in these most thorny, painful places, we can catch a glimpse of the very face of God.