“Blessing the Journey”
When we bless something, we are affirming that we find a reflection of the Holy in it. We are marking it as a place, an activity, a person in which we see something of the Divine. When we bless our food, we’re marking mealtime as a place where we experience the generosity of God, we’re marking it as a time when we experience the community of God. At the end of each Sunday service, when we say a blessing over the all of us gathered together, we’re staying that in all of us, we experience the Holy. That we find God in community, in each other.
Some of the students and teachers in our congregation started back to school last week, many more will start back tomorrow, and a few the week following. Now back to school means lots of different things to different people. It’s that combination of excitement and anxiety that goes with meeting new people, learning the expectations of new teachers, the opportunity of a new start. For those of you without kids at home, this will likely change your routine some too. You’ll get a reminder tomorrow morning of the school zones that are part of your morning drive. Leave home a little early.
But today we’re making claims that go deeper than our routines. Later in this service and at all of our services today, we’re going to bless backpacks and the students and teachers who have them and new driver’s licenses and the new drivers who have earned them. In blessing students, and teachers, and new drivers, we’re affirming that in the journey of education, in the privilege of time apart for learning, in the search for truth, in these things we experience God. And in the freedom of driving, in the freedom that mobility gives us, we experience a little taste of the freedom that God wants for us.
Jesus describes himself as “the living bread”1 in our Gospel lesson today. In this language, Jesus describes himself using words that are a kind of living poetry. I am nourishment for your life, Jesus says. In following, me you’ll find what you need for the journey. You’ll have the energy, the ability, the openness, the encouragement that you’ll need to follow the Way of Jesus.
Part of the fuel for this journey is that our goal is always ahead of us. It is a question that fuels the next scientific discovery; it’s an unmet need that provides the energy for the next product; it’s the changing human landscape that provides the impetus for finding new ways of understanding each other, of understanding God. Or to put it differently – the goals of truth and freedom always lie ahead. 2
One theologian says that if you find a cult in California that promises perfect freedom, “run for the hills,” he says, because as soon as you think you’ve found it, you’ve certainly lost it.2 If you find a religious leader who claims to have a lock on all truth, you should get pretty skeptical. Because as soon as you think you’ve found truth, it escapes again. Even for Jesus, at the very moment of the completion of his life, as he hangs on the cross, he says “why have you forsaken me, God,” “why have you left me now.” Because the completion we seek…the truth and freedom we seek…they’re always one step ahead. This is true even for Jesus; following the Way of Christ means that Christ is always yet to come.
It’s our longing that provides fuel for the journey. Here’s how C.S. Lewis described it in a sermon he gave in the 1940s. In his words:
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – [these things] are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.3
That longing is what we bless today – the promise that always lies ahead – the scent of the flower we have not yet found, the echo of a tune we have not yet heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. That’s the promise of the journey, and it’s our call to stay on the scent of that flower, to keep listening for the echo of that tune, to keep listening for the news from that new country. That’s the promise of the Holy that is always both in our sights and at once miles away, it’s here and gone. For Lewis, it was idolatry to think that we could grasp it.
It’s the “passion for the impossible.”4 That’s what one philosopher calls it. And it’s the fuel we need to keep that passion alive, even when the impossible seems extra impossible. That was the case when Lewis wrote the words I just quoted in Britain during World War Two.
This longing doesn’t depend on us having everything figured out. It’s not a belief system that hands us the answers. Instead, it’s a passion. Philosopher Pete 3
Rollins says that “to be human is to be sensitive to a longing for the impossible, and religion at its best is not that which satisfies that longing but which actually fuels it….Religion is what sensitizes you to that hunger. It is the wound that heals, it’s is the hunger that satisfies, it’s the dryness that actually is refreshing.”5 My words again – all of that makes Jesus a Way and not an end point. A hunger for truth, for mercy, for justice, for compassion. And it means that we’re not just blessing a journey that leads to a future, but we’re blessing what is right now…the path itself. Lewis reminds us that God gives us daily bread; it’s the present that is the only moment we have to journey towards something beyond ourselves. If we make what we’re doing only about a future goal, then we’ll miss the main point. The present moment, Lewis writes, “is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”6
And this longing will lead us in different ways at different times. Thanks be to God. Turns out there are many branches mysteriously connected to one vine; someone said that once.
And today we’re blessing the search for truth and freedom wherever that search takes us. That’s the Way embodied in the human person of Jesus, the Way that transcends the human boundaries that we draw, the limits that we impose. This is a search for the truth about you, a search for the truth about the world around you, the people around you; and it comes from science, and from art, and it comes from theology and from our church tradition, and from literature, and it comes from your experience of life. And we’re blessing the freedom that lets you be yourself and lets you offer the best of yourself to the world around you. And our promise is that we’ll be with you on the journey towards truth and freedom, no matter where the journey takes you. And that’s really not just our promise, that is God’s promise. That’s what makes communities like this so valuable. It makes the church so valuable, and it’s what calls us to keep our longing alive.
May that search be undergirded for you by the God of human connection who binds us one to another. May that search for you be powered by the God who draws out the best in us and who calls us to see the best in each other. May that search for all of us be combined with the wisdom and openness that allows us to change when truth demands it. And may it always give us the scent of the flower we have yet to find, a little echo of the tune we have yet to hear, and may it always give us – even if it’s just partial and momentary – a glimpse of that Kingdom we have yet to discover.
1 John 6:51 (NRSV).
2 Peter Rollins on The Deconstructionists podcast, episode 64, November 29, 2017.
3 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, page 31.
4 Jacques Derrida, quoted by Peter Rollins on The Deconstructionists podcast, episode 64, November 29, 2017.
5 Peter Rollins on The Deconstructionists podcast, episode 64, November 29, 2017.
6 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, “Learning in Wartime,” page 61.