Psalm 139:1-5, 12-18
This week a phrase from the Psalm was especially notable for me. The phrase is in verse two, "You trace my journeys and my resting places". Perhaps, it was because we have spent some weeks journeying this summer that this got my attention.
I started thinking about my personal journeys and the amount of preparation needed. Sometimes I am just going a short distance, minimum preparation. Othertimes, as this summer, I was going to be away for several weeks. Then much more preparation was needed. I had to consider how I was going to get there, what I needed to take and what I was going to do about the dogs and kids. The longer the journey the more preparation is needed. Yet always some preparation is needed.
In the passage in Luke Jesus is preparing the people for a journey. It is a journey into discipleship. Jesus is telling them to be prepared. In a number of different metaphors Jesus urges them to look at the journey and make sure they can make it. Quite a preparation is expected . . . give away possessions, consider the cost, might even lose family!
Then I turned my thoughts to resting places. Resting places are necessary if a journey is to be successful. Actually, most of our preparation this summer was focused around resting places. I chose motels and cities for coffee breaks. All carefully calculated with mileage and driving time taken into consideration. I wonder how did people plan journeys without “google”!
I thought of resting places in two ways . . . planned or unplanned.
Planned are those resting places which we choose to visit. We choose to make a stop. For example, we left Atlanta in the mornning, stopped for coffee in Birmingham, Alabama, stopped overnight in Memphis Tennessee. It helped to break the journey in this planned way. We even had an approximate idea of the times we would stop. Although not in today's readings, the scriptures give us several examples of Jesus choosing to rest. A time to regain energy, a time to consider the next leg of the journey. Paul also talks about times of rest.
On our long car journey our bodies told us when we need to find a resting place. We need fresh air and to stretch our legs. Happily, our careful planning was in sync with our bodies. Spiritually we need to be equally in tune with ourselves. We need to recognise when it is time to take a rest.
Then there are those resting places which I am calling unplanned. We didn't choose to rest it just happened through circumstances.
Perhaps the first example of this is the womb. Our psalm today talks about formation in the womb. The resting place of the womb, a time for growing and preparing for birth and life.
Yet, most of our iunplanned resting places can be frustrating. We didn't want to stop! We wanted to keep going, yet circumstances prevented it. Just how long is this traffic jam going to last!
Of course, some are much more serious than a traffic jam. Perhaps, sickness, or loss of a job or some other circumstances that cause us to halt the direction we were going in. These are the resting places that we need to learn to make the most of. We need to recognise them as a chance to recharge and to assess the direction we are going in rather than an irritation.
Paul had many experiences of unplanned resting places. He was often in prison or stuck on a boat. Yet he obviously used the time wisely, he wrote to the churches, he prayed and when direction was changed accepted that as God's choice for him.
Sometimes in our various areas of ministry we seem to reach a stop. We feel unproductive, things that were once fruitful suddenly seem to dry up. This can be a hard time. We need to change our thinking, not worrying about why things seem to have stopped, but seeing it as a resting place, a place and time to prepare for the next leg of the journey.
In Philemon we see the cyclical nature of this journeying and resting. We see how journeying and resting interact and weave in and out of each other. We see how we need each other in this dance of journeying and resting.
Paul was in an enforced resting place . . . prison
Onesimus was sent on a journey . . . to help Paul and tend his needs
Onesimus made another journey . . . into discipleship
Paul, in his resting place, prepared the way for Onesimus' next journey . . . the journey out of slavery and into freedom.
I think here we have a helpful pattern for each of our lives . . .
help others prepare to journey
. . . and like a circle we just keep going round and round this pattern.