Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Journey to Hope...Traveling Companions

Choosing Your Traveling Companions

Mark 10:13-16; Ruth 1:14b-19 ; Matthew 18:6-7

I met an inspiring woman when we lived in Colorado. I got to know her as she helped teach in the children’s education program I oversaw at a neighborhood church. She was former catholic nun who met a man, married him, and grew a family together. Even though she was now a wife and a mother, her contemplative life was still important to her. Nothing stood between her and her relationship with Jesus Christ. She created in her home a special room for prayer and devotion with a nice chair, a lamp, and a side table with her favorite devotional books and Bibles. She taught her children to know that when she went into her special room, they were not to interrupt her. Only if the house was on fire were they to interrupt her. She taught her children to give her a full hour with Jesus. She knew she was a better Mom to the children when she grew her relationship with Jesus.

The things that can get in the way of our relationship with Jesus aren’t always negative things. Time with our children and spouse is beautiful and necessary. If we don’t do our job, we may not keep it. Entertainment and hobbies bring joy to our lives. But none of these need to block our relationship with Jesus.

That’s what the disciples were doing to the children that day. People were bringing their children to Jesus And why not? This Jesus was doing amazing things for people’s lives. And why wouldn’t people want that for their children? So they brought them to experience the love and power of Jesus. For some reason, though, the disciples stand in the way. I can almost see them standing there, arms crossed, blocking the way. I love The Message translation which says, “The disciples shooed them off.” They tried to send these children on their way. They stand as a gatekeeper between the children and Jesus, as if there are only some who are worthy to receive Jesus. And children certainly aren’t a part of that group of worthy ones, according to the disciples. Jesus gets mad! He’s irate that someone would stand between him and these children. And so the disciples hear about it.

In Matthew’s gospel, this section with the children is followed by a warning. Don’t be a stumbling block to other’s spiritual lives. Don’t get between someone and their relationship with Jesus. And when Jesus makes these warnings he warns those who would be stumbling blocks to others. It’s not going to go well for you. It would be better for you if you weren’t around. The language is strong: It would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Really, Jesus, how do you feel about this? Clearly being a stumbling-block is among the worst things we can do in another’s life. There are plenty of things that get in the way for people anyway. We should not be among the list.

One of the more tragic stumbling-blocks I see in my ministry is with children. When children are given access to the stories of God in the scriptures, they hear them with joy and wonder and imagination. They hear the wonder of Jonah swallowed by a whale. They hear the glorious promise of the rainbow after the flood. They hear of the saving work of God for Daniel in the lion’s den. They hear the beauty of the way Jesus gathered children up on his lap in welcoming love. They hear of the way Jesus invited the short tax man, Zaccheaus, to be his host. When they hear these stories, children receive them with wonder and joy and imagination. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is parents who rob their children of that wonder and joy and imagination by not bringing them to church until confirmation. This is the age of questioning and a search for facts and for what is real and tangible and believable. That’s a beautiful stage of life, too. But when we don’t bring our children until then, we rob them of wonder and joy and imagination as they encounter the stories of God with God’s people.

People and things in our lives can stand between folks and their relationship with Jesus.

Who or what gets in your way of your relationship with Jesus?
Busyness…always having something on your to-do list that you let be more important
Work…expectations of you in your career leave you little time to develop your relationship with Jesus
Relatives or friends…who have a negative view of faith and argue and fuss about your church-going
Priorities…setting so many things as more important than prayer, study, worship, etc.
Church work…we can be so busy doing things at church that it can act as a replacement with a deep relationship with Jesus
Addictions…living our lives for things that are destroying us, like alcohol, drugs, sex, overeating, and under-eating
Self-importance…believing in the uniquely American idea that the individual is of most importance, and that our individual desires trump everything else in life

This week I was reminded through a message on Facebook of three people who opened the way to Jesus for me …David, Rosanne and Tim. These were the sponsors of the youth ministry program. They spent every Sunday night with me and the other youth. They made the love of God tangible. They encouraged my relationship with Jesus Christ. They called me to be accountable in that relationship. They were just the opposite of a stumbling-block. They were what we are called to be for one another … spiritual traveling companions.

And that’s exactly what Naomi and Ruth are for one another. Naomi and her daughter-in-laws, Ruth and Orpah, have all become widows. Naomi has decided to head back home to where she is from, Bethlehem, and encourages her daughter-in-laws to stay in their home country. Orpah agrees to that, but Ruth will not have it. She will go wherever Naomi goes, she feels such a strong connection to her. “Where you go, I will you’re your God will be my God,” Ruth says to Naomi. Ruth and Naomi both need spiritual companions. They need people to encourage them in their walk with God. Naomi treats Ruth with such grace and respect that Ruth is willing to walk alongside Naomi as she recovers her home place and faith. Together they journey to support and encourage one another in the faith and in life. They are traveling companions on the journey of hope.

In our lives, whether we experience suffering or not, we need traveling companions who encourage our relationship with Jesus. Traveling companions help make the love of God tangible. Traveling companions encourage our relationship with Jesus Christ. Traveling companions call us to be accountable in that relationship. Traveling companions point us further down on our path toward the hope of Jesus. Traveling companions are God’s design for our lives.

Who are your traveling companions on this journey to hope?
And whose traveling companion are you?

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