detail of Van Gogh painting of old bell tower

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

What is the difference between a trip and a journey?

Our preacher of the day – one of our members, a former Lutheran pastor, who’s come over to the Reformed side, happily for us – asked this question this morning.

He answered it by suggesting that a journey is longer than a trip. It involves unexpected happenings – on a journey, unlike a trip, things don’t always go as planned. The unplanned elements might involve some adversity, too.

Because of all that, journeys might challenge or test our faith – but they can also give us opportunities to exercise and strengthen our faith. If we remember that God is with us, indeed, guiding us, and if we travel with that awareness, and with a commitment to be faithful to God’s guidance – then even though the environment changes, even though the circumstances change, even though we can’t do everything “the way we always have,” we can be faithful. Ideally, we can be more and more faithful.

This week we’re putting the finishing touches on the preparations for the week of church bicentennial celebration that will take place next week, October 20-27. [More on that here.] He pointed out that this church has definitely been involved in a journey, across time; a lot has changed in the last 200 years, and the congregation today doesn’t look like what anyone would have envisioned in 1819. But we believe those changes – like the ordination of women as deacons in 1923, and more recently the ordination of gay deacons and elders, and becoming a More Light congregation – have been faithful to the core instructions to love God and our neighbors.

I haven’t decided whether I agree that length and “going as planned” are the main differences between a trip and a journey. I would need to think about it some more, but my intuition is that a trip is something you envision returning from, substantially unchanged, to the same place you left. A journey, on the other hand, could take you away forever; even if it doesn’t, you can expect to return from a journey a different person, and most likely to a place that has become a different place in the meantime as well.

But if so, the point about faithfulness, and the challenge of a faithful journey, would still apply. Through all those changes, we could be becoming ever more faithful, or at least staying as faithful, or we could be drifting or falling away. The key to which of those befalls us, as our pastor this morning pointed out, seems to be whether or not we recognize God as our companion and guide on the journey, and try to follow God’s guidance.

Our anthem – “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” – managed to sum all that up. And judging by the “Amens” we heard, that sentiment was one people were willing to embrace.

“Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Isaiah 30:20-21

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