This morning is Youth Sunday at Meridian Street. I’m not sure if that’s why I’m preaching here this morning or not. Maybe it’s because I’m the most youthful pastor in this congregation, don’t tell Anne I said that. The youth have really planned the theme for today’s time of worship. As our youth director, Dani Campbell, talked with our youth about choosing a theme for Youth Sunday, they brainstormed for a bit and decided to work with the theme of spiritual journeys. It’s an appropriate theme for our youth to reflect on and share with us, but it’s an appropriate theme for all of us to reflect on for a Sunday.
Too often we think of our journey of faith as one with an end, a destination. Many Christians will say the only goal is heaven in the life here after. What about our journey in this life? What is our path, our goal? As Christians, our goal is to follow Jesus in all we do, to walk closer to Jesus every day, every step, but as we pause today to reflect on where we have been in our faith journeys, I know that we’ll all see places where we grew, learned, struggled, questioned, along with those holy moments where experienced God’s presence so much that to think about them gives us a feeling of joy and peace, maybe at the birth of a child, a healing from injury or illness, a time of serving, prayer, or study. Again, there are also those times in our journeys where we were carried by Jesus himself.
There’s a poem that was written in 1936 by Mary Stevenson titled “Footprints in the Sand”. Maybe you have heard this poem before or even seen the pictures of actual footprints in the sand that often accompanies the poem. The poem reads:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
I’ve always liked this poem and imagery it invokes. In the challenges I face in my spiritual journey in life, Jesus is always there. I might be the one that turns away from God, yet God is always present, with grace, with love, with forgiveness. We know this because of Jesus. It’s the Good News of the Gospel, that no matter where our journeys take us, God is always there. We might not realize it at the time, but we look back and realize that the only way we made through an event or challenge or struggle was through God carrying us.
I must admit that one of the challenges in the Christian journey is that our steps are not the same. We can’t compare our journeys to someone else’s. We can be only who God created us to be. We can only do what God has called us to do. If we commit to following God’s path for our lives, then he will guide us.
That’s what the book of wisdom, the Proverbs remind us. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This is the Scripture lesson chosen by our youth group. It’s a great word of Scripture to live by. “In all your ways submit to God, and God will make your paths straight.” Even if our path has curves, bumps along the way, setbacks and challenges, God will guide us every step of the way. There will always be another set of footprints in the sand. It can be easy to give up in our walk with Christ, but God calls us time and again to move forward in our journey of faith.
“Do not forget God’s teachings” Proverbs reminds us. “Let love and faithfulness never leave you” every step of the journey. If we love God and submit our lives to God’s way for our lives, then we will experience true and abundant life. One of my favorite theologians was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, a place I have been many times. His journey of faith was one of ups and downs. He left the church for a time and found his way back to the point of being a monk, that’s a hardcore religious. He was an amazing thinker and writer too. The quote at the top of your order of worship this morning says, “Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.” What a powerful quote.
In our journeys of faith and life, we can look at our challenges, our sin, our shortcoming, but also our powerful experiences of God as lessons in life. Living is a constant adjustment, where we are always growing and experiencing new things. It’s true that there may be challenges along the way, but those are lessons for us to grow. It’s up to us to move forward, continually following Christ in our journeys of faith, trusting that God will guide us and lead us, just as God has done for the many saints who have gone before us.
I hope we can find inspiration in those who have walked the path before us along with our younger pilgrims who journey alongside us. Our youth has chosen this topic for us to be encouraged in our journeys of faith. Maybe our youth knew what was coming this week. On Wednesday, we observe Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of our Lenten journey. We journey with Jesus into the wilderness, just as he fasted and was tempted for 40 days after his baptism, we follow him into this season of wilderness called Lent.
Lent marks a season that calls us to introspection, where we repent, which literally means we turn away from sin and be intentional about following God in our journey. My prayer for you today, and as we enter into this season, is that you will take the time to truly reflect on your journey so far. Be thankful for every part of the journey, the ups and downs, learn from them, and grow. But for now, in this moment, today, wherever you on this journey of faith, I pray you will turn to God. If we turn to God in true faith, seeking God, with an open heart and spirit to God, then I know we will hear God whisper to each of us, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever during your trials and testing,” I would add your entire journey of faith. God is always there in our journeys. Let God carry you every step along the way. Amen.
Let us pray…..
Holy God, may we seek you and find you, may we knock and the door be opened. We are all pilgrims looking for your Kingdom. As we continue to move forward in our journeys of faith, turn our hearts, our ears, our eyes, and our souls toward Christ, who emptied himself, was tempted, suffered for us, and gave himself for us. As he went into the wilderness, prepare us to enter Lent with holy intention, making our commitment to this next part of our journey all about coming closer to you. We thank you for the journey so far and ask for your blessing in all that is to come. We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.