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Are we paying attention to the journey? Or focused too much on the destination?

Sermon by Pastor Joel Crouse

Sunday September3, 2023

In Nova Scotia, we have to boat, mostly on a small inflatable, to complete the labour of the day. We get groceries by boat and water. Every day this summer, Noah would travel the bay by boat to get to work. This isn’t easy. We don’t have a wharf to our camp, so depending on the tide, we often wade through water to make those final steps to shore. Or we have to make the crossing in the pouring rain.

And yet, if we pause, we are reminded that we do these tasks surrounded by beauty. On the boat ride across, if you are paying attention, you might see a porpoise or seal. If you take but a moment, you can look out toward the open ocean. Inhale mindfully, and you smell the sea air. In those moments, you can lose yourself in God’s creation. But only if you forget, for a moment, about the work waiting or left behind. Then you find it. The journey becomes more than the destination.

When I read the gospel this week, I thought about this profound statement from Jesus in the context of my short, often soggy, and yet beautiful journey. Jesus says: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” It is a timely lesson for us on Labour Day weekend Sunday, in these waning days of summer. A lesson in priorities. Are we paying attention to the journey? Or focused too much on the destination?

It happens easily. After all, we are constantly being reminded to set goals. And so we map out where we want to be 5 years from now, how much money will be enough to buy a house or retire, how we will achieve that promotion at work. It’s good advice: these are worthy goals, in principle. But they are also the “saving life” kind of goals. We start here, and we want to get there. Usually what we need to do to achieve them has little to do with the gospel.

What would be a “losing life” kind of goal? The ones that Jesus would endorse. We already know instinctively– we all likely invested in a form of them this summer by making time to be in nature, to spend days with visiting families, to do fun things with grandchildren not in school. During those times, if we are lucky, we lose ourselves in the presence of others, or in the presence of God’s bounty. We breathe in the world. Now this is the life, we say.

In a way, the difference between saving your life and losing it is the difference between the destination and the journey. A journey must have a destination – otherwise you are just wondering. But it does not exist solely for that destination. And Jesus speaks to us about this too in his conversation with Peter, who is having a hard time thinking about the destination to which Jesus is heading, and tries to talk him out of it.

Jesus is angry: “Get behind me, Satan!” he rages to his dear friend. That is a terrible insult; Satan is the big bad boy in the gospel, after all. But Jesus’s response is also indicative of the bond he feels to Peter: Who else, but his closest counsel could tempt him to take a different path? Jesus is naming that temptation, just as we must name ours. And the story reminds us that often it is our friends and family who tempt us the most – to aim for one destination or another, wanting only the best for us, just as Peter did for Jesus.

And then Jesus says to Peter that losing your life is the way to find it. And here we come to the journey, especially if we use Jesus as our guide. Jesus didn’t march straight to Jerusalem, to his destination. He stopped along the way. He fed the 5,000. He healed the sick. He chatted with the woman at the well. He noticed the outsiders and welcomed them. He preached to crowds. He ate dinner with friends. The gospel was not created in Jerusalem. That destination only meant something because of the journey. The gospel became a powerful, enduring message, because Jesus grew it out of nothing by serving other people, by being kind and open and generous. Jesus did not save his life to lose it on the cross: he lost his life to the gospel so that he might find his life in the end.

We are all on the same human journey. A different version of the same destination. Our lives on this earth eventually end. The living is our choice. Do we put the same energy into our relationships that we do into our work? Do we worry about our treasure, without equally spending our time where it can make a difference? Do we forget too quickly what was so valuable to us this summer, and let it lie fallow until next year’s summer sun?

Are we just saving our life to lose it in the end? Or losing our life to find it?

I don’t know about you, but I will think about this question mindfully, especially in the weeks ahead, as summer’s memory begins to fade.

And I will think, too, about Peter who loved Jesus so much that he didn’t want him to die; and Jesus who needed his friend to help him carry the burden, to temp him away from it. And how they both, in that difficult moment, chose to focus on hope and compassion on their journey. And that journey created the gospel.

May we all lose our lives to such a journey. Amen.

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