Rev. Stacy Swain
Matthew 22: 1-14
This summer, I did a lot of traveling. Perhaps some of you did so as well? It is wonderful isn’t it to be in a new place, to see new sites and learn new things. But I was reminded again this summer that getting to those new places can take a lot of effort. Traveling can be demanding. There is a lot to do. There is the ritual of emptying pockets, placing purse, sun glasses and passport in a plastic bin and removing shoes. You know the waiting with bare feet on cold floors for the TSA official to wave you through the door frame of the scanning device. There is always that forgotten half full bottle of soda or tube of sun screen buried in the carry-on that throws things off until they are found and thrown away. Yes, being in a new place and seeing new things are wonderful but getting there can take some time and effort.
As we set out into this new year together, the thought occurred to me that perhaps we too ought to place one of those scanning devices there just inside the doorway to the sanctuary. Maybe we too should be asked to empty our pockets and take off our shoes when we come in through those doors. Maybe instead of greeters, we ought to have TSA officials making sure that we too are prepared for the journey, making sure we are not carrying with us anything that would impede it.
After all look at the story from Exodus this morning, look at the example of the Hebrew people as they headed out into their journey A pillar of cloud was there to monitor their security. And I bet they took off their shoes before stepping off the bank into the sea bed. I am sure they were told to toss away the extras, to carry with them just the essentials. And we know the story well, this journey out of Egypt, across the wilderness of the Sinai and north to the land of Canaan is not going to be easy. But it will certainly be worth it, worth every moment of it for the day will come when the people will cross over the river Jordan into the Promised Land, but in the meantime there will be a lot of distance to cover. It will require time and effort.
Maybe TSA officials and body scanners at the back of the sanctuary would help remind us that when we come through those doors each Sunday we have not arrived at our destination but are instead embarking on the journey. For journeying and the change that journeying brings is at the very heart of what it is to live a spiritual life. To be a person of faith is to be on the move. Follow me, Jesus said. Don’t just sit where you are. Get up, and come with me.
But if being a person of faith is about being on a journey, being on the move we have to ask ourselves, “Where exactly are we headed? Where exactly do we hope we will be at the end of our journey this year? What is our promised land? What are the new insights that we are hoping to find? Why go through the effort of coming into this place every Sunday and engaging these practices that prepare us for our journey, these practices of speaking our confession; singing and praying; taking of communion. What is all this preparation for?”
Last spring, on the Saturday before Easter, many of us gathered in this Sanctuary in the quiet of sunset for a Holy Easter Vigil service. As we prepared ourselves for the resurrection that Easter’s dawn would bring, we gathered around this communion table. And I spoke of the opening days of Jesus’ ministry. I read the words from the gospel that speaks of Jesus baptism how when he emerged from the waters of the Jordan River, he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him and how he heard a voice from heaven said “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well please. These words “You are beloved” writes Henri Nouwen reveal the most intimate truth” not just about Jesus but about all humankind. Being the beloved expresses the core truth of our existence. And on that Holy Saturday Easter Vigil we reaffirmed the truth of our blessedness by reaffirming our baptismal vows. And then one by one I went around the circle. I made took the oil and making the sign of the cross on your forehead I spoke this truth to you, saying you are God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
It is into a deeper and fuller understanding and embodiment of this truth of our belovedness that is the purpose and source of our journeying. Henri Nouwen writes “as soon as we catch a glimpse of the truth that we are beloved by God, we are put on a journey in search of the fullness of that truth. From the moment we claim the truth of being Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. Becoming the Beloved is the greatest spiritual journey we have to make.”
The irony of the spiritual journey is that we travel not to go to places where we have never been before. The irony of the spiritual journey is that we travel not to find something new but instead to find what we know deep down within in us; buried perhaps by shame, fear or pride but there all the same. It is through our spiritual journeying that we come home to the truth of our belovedness. Our work as people of faith is not only to find God, but to find who God has already found us to be.
Hear again the texts from this morning. The parable of the wedding banquet tells us that our job is not to work ourselves to the bone, setting the table and preparing the banquet food, getting everything ready, hoping and praying that it all will be good enough for God. Just the opposite is true. Our job is to show up for the banquet that God has already prepared for us!
In the passage from Exodus, the whole reason the Israelites could even begin their journey to the promised land was because they were so beloved by God that God could not bear another moment of the hardship of their enslavement to Pharaoh. The journey through the wilderness was not a journey to find God as it was a journey led by God and shared with each other so that the people could grow into and become the beloved community that God knew them to be.
Being beloved does not mean that we are perfect. There is much for us to work on. There are pockets to be emptied, and things that no longer serve us to be thrown out. And we may even find ourselves needing to take off our shoes for this journey is holy ground. Over the next four weeks we will delve into the writings of Henri Nouwen and take a look at how he experiences this journey towards becoming the beloved.
But for this first week, I’d like to ask you to try something. Try looking at yourself full in the mirror each morning and say “I am beloved; in me God is well pleased.” Say it slowly and look yourself in the eye. Pay attention to how you feel when you say this. Can you really feel the truth of these words or does something else immediately get in their way. Can you hear you are beloved or does a voice start to condition that truth? “You’ll be beloved when you lose ten pounds; get a real job; get control over your anger; or whatever it may be. Listen to what rises in you when you say these words for what arises will tell you a lot about the landscape of the spiritual journey that I hope you will walk this year and that we will walk together.
Let us pray: Holy One, We are ready for this journey as we set out help us to see ourselves and those around us as you see us. Help us to know that the transformation and growth that we desire has its starting place in fully accepting we are your beloved in who we are, right now. AMEN
 Henri J.M. Nouwen. Life of t he Beloved; Spiritual Living in a Secular World. (Crossroad: New York 1993). P. 37