February 17, 2013
Rev. John Watts
JOURNEY TO HOPE: RELATIONSHIPS
My family has become acquainted with a little girl named Journey. Back when I was growing up, there was a limited number of available names. Jim, John, Tim, Tom, Bob, Bill, or David if you were a boy. Mary, Linda, Debbie, Donna, Patty, Nancy, or Cindy if you were a girl. There may have been a few others, but not many. Today parents don’t feel nearly as constrained as ours did. Just check the Kids Stuff roster. Nobody had those names in my first grade class. But still there aren’t too many Journeys. She probably won’t be confused with anyone else in her first grade class.
It’s not a bad name. Because life is a journey. It’s a journey from birth to death. That’s one way to think of it. But I prefer to think of life as a journey from wherever you are right now to wherever it is that you want to be. It can be an aimless, wandering kind of a journey. Or it can be an intentional, mapped out kind of a journey. You can end up getting where you wanted to go and then wonder why you ever wanted to be there. Or you can end up not at all where you thought you were heading, but you find it’s a pretty good place to be nonetheless.
We are all on this journey called life. Today and through the season of Lent, we are going to be traveling on a journey together to a place called hope. We will be traveling with Jesus. We will be reading scriptures about the journey Jesus took while he walked this earth. We will be listening for what we can learn from Jesus that will help us on our journey. And we will also be traveling with each other. It’s not wise to travel alone. Nor is it much fun. We need each other and God has blessed us with each other. In fact, that’s what we’re going to be talking about today — about relationships.
But first I’d like you to take out your yellow “Connection Card”. Find the section that says, “My next step today is to . . . ” One of the little circles to fill in says, “Please assign me a traveling companion for the Journey of Faith.” I want you to know what we mean by that. For everyone today who fills in that circle, we will be asking someone in our congregation to be in touch with you. Same gender. This is not a “match.com” kind of a thing. And probably someone you don’t know or don’t know very well. They will not be pestering you or following you like a shadow. They will just be asked to meet you and connect with you periodically as we continue on this Lenten journey. Very simple. But very significant. At the very least, you’ll have a new friend. And I think it will be much more than that. We grow as Christians as Christians encourage other Christians. So just fill in that little circle and drop the card in the offering plate as soon as I get done talking. That’s when we’ll receive the offering.
You may have thought we read the wrong scripture today. That happens. Every so often we get our signals crossed and when that happens usually I just go right on preaching and pretend no mistake was made. But that didn’t happen this morning. We begin our journey to hope with this scripture about Jesus and the children.
It’s the scripture we often read when we baptize babies. Sometimes Christians argue about whether we should baptize babies or wait until they are old enough to decide for themselves. Jesus doesn’t settle that argument here, but Jesus certainly makes it very clear that children mattered to him. He had time for children.
Most people in his day didn’t. Just like many people in our day don’t. We don’t take you seriously until you reach a certain age. That’s the message a lot of people get even when they’re well past being children. But Jesus always had time for children. In fact, Jesus seemed to have extra time especially for those who other people ignored or looked down upon.
But what does this have to do with the subject of relationships?
We are all children. It doesn’t matter our age. We all are and always will be children of God. So when it tells us that Jesus had time for children, it is telling us that Jesus has time for us. Jesus wants to be in a close, deep, growing relationship with everyone of us here today. There is no other relationship in life more important than our relationship with Jesus, regardless of our age.
And the simple truth is it doesn’t matter how old you are, you still feel the same way you felt when you were a child. Has anyone else noticed that? I keep waiting to feel all mature and grown up and self-actualized. I’m still waiting. I’ve changed in many ways, but deep down I’m still a little child, sometimes scared, sometimes giddy, always needing others to make my life complete. And the one Other I need most of all is Jesus.
As we begin today on this journey to hope, we all need to ask ourselves the most basic of questions: Is Jesus part of our lives? Is Jesus more than just an incidental part of our lives? When Jesus invites children like us to come to him, do we come? Or do we run the other way? If Jesus is not with us on our journey, we can know one thing for sure. We are going the wrong way.
But there is more to it than a relationship with Jesus. What would you think of someone who did nothing but spend time with Jesus? This person is incapable of carrying on a conversation about any subject other than Jesus. In fact, this person is probably incapable of carrying on much of a conversation at all because he’s basically a hermit who has no communication with anyone else. Except Jesus. Is that a picture of spiritual health? It might be a description of someone on the list of people who shouldn’t be sold a firearm. That’s not the person we should aspire to be. Healthy, happy, whole human beings live lives that are connected to the lives of others. We were made for relationship. The primary relationship is with Jesus, but when that relationship is strong, it opens the door to a wonderful world of life lived with others.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them.” What hinders us in forming healthy relationships with Jesus and with others? Sometimes we have relationships with people who hinder us in the journey God has for us. You might be married to one. It’s very common for one marriage partner to be more interested in spiritual things than the other and for the less interested one to be a hindrance. “Why are you always going to church? Why are you playing that Christian music? Aren’t you getting a little fanatical about this Jesus business?” There are many marriages that survive and thrive in spite of this, and there is always hope that God will soften the heart of the skeptic, but for those of you still looking for a marriage partner, spiritual compatibility should be high on your checklist.
Of course there are many others who can hinder us in our faith journey. Parents, friends, co-workers. Sometimes the question is asked, “Should I spend time with people who are not believers?” My answer would be, “It depends.” If they are going to change you and be a hindrance to your faith, stay away. If you are going to change them and make them more receptive to faith, you go and allow God to bless them through you.
One of the main modern-day hindrances to the relationships we all need to thrive in life isn’t a person at all. It’s something that wasn’t around at all while I was growing up, but in recently years it has become more and more powerful and pervasive. I’m referring to social media. People today can connect with other people without actually connecting with other people. And if you don’t see anything dangerous about that, I have two words for you. Manti Te’o.
What a strange story that was! This Notre Dame football player who almost won the Heisman Trophy had a girlfriend whose love gave meaning to his life and whose death inspired him to lead his team to the national championship game. What a beautiful story! The only problem was, she didn’t exist. He had never met her. Their relationship of several years was conducted entirely through the internet. It was all a hoax. He fell for it hook, line, and sinker, apparently. I’m still not sure about the real story. What a strange, strange world we live in today!
I love the internet. It took me a while. I was a slow learner. Now I love being connected to the world in such an amazing way. But the internet is a dangerous place. Internet pornography and affairs and gambling ruin lives. We know that, but I’m not talking mainly about that. I’m talking about all the time people spend on their computers, at the expense of time they could have spent interacting with real, living, breathing human beings.
“Social media” and “social skills” do not belong in the same sentence. There is an inverse relationship between the two. You show me someone who can’t get away from the computer screen and I’ll show you someone who is incapable of carrying on a decent conversation. And it’s more than that. People need social skills not just to relate to other people. There aren’t too many jobs out there where you will survive for long if you can’t get along with people. Poor people skills are the number one reason by far that people get fired.
Jesus was irate. That’s the word used in today’s next. He was really, really mad. Why? Because children were being hindered from coming to him. Whatever hinders us from our relationship with Jesus and with each other makes Jesus mad. We’re going to need to address these hindrances if we’re going to get far on our journey to hope.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them.” Now we look at the first part of this. “Let the children come to me.” That’s the positive part. Jesus was pleased with those who let the children come, just as he was irate with those who hindered the children from coming. This leads us to our final question. Who is helping us to form healthy relationships with Jesus and with others?
We have this backpack here as a visual aid through our journey of the next few weeks. It is filled with what we are going to need on our journey. This week it’s an address book. This is not a new address book. You can probably tell that by its color. Many kitchens were decorated in this same lovely shade of olive green about the same time I was given this. I look through this book and I see names of people I haven’t thought of for decades. And I see names of people who are still very much a part of my life. People I could call right know if I needed them, and they would have time for me.
Who are the people in your life, whose friendship makes your life better and who are companions on your journey as you are on theirs? Tim Cahill is a travel writer. He was the founding editor of “Outside Magazine”. He knows something about taking trips. Here’s what he says: “A journey is best measured in friends rather than in miles.”
That’s true of any journey. That’s especially true of a faith journey. We’re talking today about faith friends. If we are serious about following Jesus, we won’t even think of following him alone. We need each other to encourage us when we get discouraged. We need each other to hold us accountable when we wander off the path. And it goes without saying, the road is never as long or lonely and the journey is always more fun with company.
Maybe you haven’t filled in that little circle yet requesting a faith companion. I hope you will. We need each other. And one of God’s greatest blessings is that we have each other. Friends we know and friends we haven’t met yet. Relationships. What would life be without these ties that bind us to one another?
I’d like you to think back to a time when your life was at a very low point. Things were pretty grim. And of course, when things get that low, things appear to be even grimmer than they really are. What got you through that difficult, difficult time? Was it trying real hard to be strong and to get back on your own two feet? I doubt it. Was it spending so much time on your knees in prayer that you wore out the knees in your pants? I doubt that, too. Prayer is always the right thing to do, but the simple truth is that we can get so low spiritually that praying feels like an exercise in futility. It feels like God isn’t even there. So what did get you through? I think I know the answer. At least it’s my answer when I’ve been there. It’s friends.
Someone who sees what you’re going through and who cares enough to be there for you. Just as you would be there for him or for her were the roles reversed. The Beatles were right. “We get by with a little help from our friends.”
I asked you to think back to a time. In a group this size, I’m sure there are several of you who don’t have to think back. You are there right now. Maybe you came to church this morning hoping that you might find something here to help you get through the week. And maybe no one else knows. You’ve done a real good job of keeping it inside.
If that’s you, I want you to know a couple of things. One is that you are a precious child of God. When Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” he was talking about you. When we sing, “Jesus loves the little children,” you are one of those children Jesus loves. We all are. And the other thing I want you to know is that we would be honored to walk with you through this rough patch in your journey. Please give us an opportunity to be there for you as we all can recall times when others were there for us.
The journey is underway. We are thankful for those who are traveling with us. We are thankful that Jesus is leading the way. And we are thankful that our destination on this Lenten journey is hope.
Lord Jesus, when we lose our way, when we get discouraged, when we lose hope, remind us that we are not traveling alone.
Strengthen our relationships, with you and with others. Alone it’s a lonely road. Together we can make it. We will make it, with a little help from our friends, and from you. Amen.