St. Luke, the Evangelist – Vicar Stoppenhagen
Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist
Text: Luke 10:1-9
October 18, 2020
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. Amen.
I would like to give you a little bit of bad advice: “Life is about the journey, not the destination.”
Yes, we’ve all taken this cute self-help saying to heart at one point or another. We’ve written it in our journals, posted it on our Facebook walls, and offered it as sage advice to that person who doesn’t quite have things figured out like we do. “It’s not about where you end up, it’s how you get there, and what you learn along the way.” Right?
I too once believed this phrase to be true—until last June, when I traveled to Spain and walked the medieval pilgrimage route called the Camino de Santiago—the Way of St. James. For three weeks, I and a dozen other people walked 12-15 miles a day, living only with what we could fit into our packs. Our final destination was Santiago de Compostela—some 200 miles from our starting point, and the city where tradition says the body of St. James is buried.
On day one of our journey, we naturally were carried along by excitement and nervousness and adrenaline. Day two, we were still walking on clouds. But on the third day came the blisters. And the aches. And the soreness. And they never went away. Every day, we would wake up, hoping the pain and the oozing would stop. But they did not. Our only relief were the bottles of Advil and wine that awaited us at the hostel at the end of the day. We always looked forward to the time after the journey was over, when we could put our feet up, eat, drink, and sleep—until that dreaded alarm went off at 4am the next morning so that we, not quite fully rested, could begin our journey again. As this pattern continued, our group concluded that life is not about the journey. The journey stinks. Life? Life is all about the destination.
St. Luke, whose feast day we observe today, wrote for us the Gospel of journeys. He records some pretty monumental trips, like the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the Savior’s birth; and Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross; and one of my favorites, the journey down the Road to Emmaus. Beyond the Gospel, he also gives us the journey the early Church in the Book of Acts. And in today’s Gospel lesson, Luke records the journey of the seventy-two—a journey that at first look doesn’t look too appealing.
Like the twelve of Jesus’ inner circle, these seventy-two have been following Jesus, witnessing his miracles, and learning his teachings. So Jesus sends them, two by two, to prepare the way in the towns he is about to go. To accomplish this, he gives them the authority to preach, heal, and cast out demons. But he makes it clear that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Jesus tells them, “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Not everyone is going to be rolling out the welcome mat for workers of the kingdom.
Just imagine how this conversation must have gone: No worries, Jesus. We’ll just load up the ass with all the supplies we need for camping out; we’ll arm ourselves for protection, too. Those wolves won’t stand a chance, and we won’t go hungry either. Not so fast, Jesus says. “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and don’t greet anyone on the road. No donkeys, either. You have to walk.”
Wait. Forget that you’re sending us like lambs to the slaughter; we can’t even take our wallets? Well at least we can book a hotel roo—“Nope, can’t have you do that. You’ll have to depend on the hospitality of strangers. Stay with one family the whole time, and eat their food, too. After all, the laborer deserves his wages.” Really? One night of hospitality is a given, but beyond that is simply overstaying your welcome. Some trip this will be… If the wolves don’t kills us on the way, our host will probably drive us off after the first day or two. This journey is going to stink.
It seems Jesus wouldn’t have made a very good travel partner. The path that he’s sending these disciples on isn’t a journey anyone would want to take. We all know better. To take off without supplies and without protection isn’t just unwise. It’s downright dangerous. But the disciples trusted that their Lord would provide for them, especially as they were doing his work. Besides, it was a journey that Jesus himself knew all too well. Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. He packed no bread and carried no sword. He simply went his way, knowing that his needs would be supplied so that he could proclaim his message: “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”
That’s such an odd message, isn’t it? Aren’t kingdoms supposed to be the destination? Our fairy tale kingdoms are always “once upon a time” and “in galaxies far, far away.” But Jesus turns that concept on its head. His kingdom is right here and right now, wherever the King is present. And that kingdom means life restored for all who will receive him. He opened the eyes of the blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf. He caused the lame to leap like a deer and made the mute tongue sing for joy. Wherever Jesus went on his journey, there in that place was the kingdom of God. In the same way, wherever the disciples went, they did the same thing. They brought Jesus and the kingdom with them. Maybe Jesus isn’t such a bad travel partner after all…
In the end, the journey of the seventy-two is no different than the journey of Jesus. But there is one important distinction. The disciples’ journey ended back where they started—back at the feet of Jesus, rejoicing at the works they did in his name. Jesus’ journey, on the other hand, came to a much deadlier end at the foot of the cross, where he paid the price for your sin and mine. Of course, we know that the cross was not Jesus’ final destination. Three days later he had arisen and on the road to Emmaus, and he couldn’t help but reveal his kingdom to those two glum disciples. He opened the scriptures to them, set their hearts ablaze, and opened their eyes in the breaking of bread, which he even does for you today.
Unfortunately, our own journeys here below usually aren’t as miracle-filled as the seventy-two or as exhilarating as the two on the road to Emmaus. Sometimes the journey God has laid out for you stinks. Maybe your pack is overfilled guilt and shame. Maybe the soreness of sin wracks your body. Perhaps darkness is falling, there’s no destination in sight, and you see the ravaging wolves and prowling lions lying in wait for your one misstep.
When all hope seems lost and the journey is about to overwhelm you, suddenly Jesus brings the destination to you in a miraculous way. He brings his kingdom near to you, welcomes you in, and gives you rest. Here the wolves of the world can’t touch you. Here he lifts that burden of guilt and shame and relieves that ache of sin with his balm of forgiveness. Here he nourishes you with his very body and blood so that, bright and early tomorrow morning, you can begin the next leg of your pilgrimage. And Jesus is there alongside bearing the yoke with you, even if you can’t see him.
Who knows? Maybe our journeys will start to look more like his. Perhaps we’ll start to empty our wallets and knapsacks and give away all those shoes that fill our closets. The Camino made it look like a possibility. We met one man from who had been thriving on the pilgrimage for over two years. He had no home; his wallet was empty; and he carried his whole life on his back. But unfortunately, he had no destination. He and his dog simply wandered along the way. We, on the other hand, have an eternal destination, the City of God, which is worth anything the journey might throw at us.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.