31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 4, 2020
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
By faith, Noah spent weeks and weeks building an ark – when there was no sign of rain.
By faith, Abraham set out on a journey, not knowing exactly where he was going, not knowing exactly how long it would take, trusting God’s promises.
By faith, Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John left their homes and jobs to follow Jesus, answering Jesus’ invitation to fish differently, live differently.
By faith, the English separatists, known as the Mayflower Pilgrims, left all that was familiar, traveled across the ‘vast and furious ocean’ to a new world, to a new life, to the hope of religious freedom.
By faith, millions of people in Medieval times walked weeks and months along the Camino de Santiago to receive a blessing.
By faith, each of these people figuratively and literally walked incredible journeys. Think of what they left behind. Think of what they endured. Think of what strength it must have taken to keep going. Noah, Abraham, the disciples, and the Mayflower and Camino de Santiago Pilgrims are all role models for us in how they courageously journeyed across deserts, mountains, oceans, and into the unknown.
It is easy to be inspired and intimidated by their stories. It is easy to think that we could never have faith like that, completely assured of what is only hoped for, confident of what is not seen. Goodness knows with what we are going through as a world, with what we are each going through personally, it would be wonderful to have such an unshakable faith – like our ancestors seemed to have.
And yet, faith isn’t about having it all figured out. Faith isn’t about having no doubts. It’s actually the opposite. Henri Nouwen, in his devotional Bread for the Journey, writes that faith isn’t about knowing what will happen five or ten years from now or even next year. Faith is trusting that God will give us enough light for the next step – for “what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day.” (Nouwen, Bread for Journey: Enough Light for the Next Step, January 8) The journey of faith is traveled one step at a time. The journey of faith is traveled by trusting God to provide enough light for the next step and the step after that.
When the Mayflower Pilgrims set out, they were not expecting to travel to America. They were looking for a place to be free from harassment as they worshipped God in the way they felt God calling them to worship. They did not expect to travel across the ocean; however as their pastor John Robinson said, they trusted that “the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth.” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Robinson-English-minister)
In other words, the Mayflower Pilgrims trusted that God is still speaking. Through each storm, through each loss, through each hardship, they looked for and listened for how God was guiding them forward into the hoped for and unseen.
The Mayflower Pilgrims, the Camino de Santiago Pilgrims, and all of our other ancestors in the faith trusted God to provide enough light for their next step. They trusted God and God’s plan. Step by step, they confidently traveled the journey of faith in faith because they talked to God, because they listened to God.
Talking to God and listening to God is what we call prayer. As we walk this journey of faith, as we walk this journey in faith, trusting God to guide our every step, we need to talk to God. We need to listen to God. We need to pray.
Building on words written by Oswald Chambers, the writer of one of the most popular devotionals of the 20th century, Sue Nilson Kibbey reminds us that just as our physical bodies need food to sustain them, our spiritual selves also need food and “the food of the Body of Christ is prayer.” And yet, Nilson Kibbey has found in her revitalization work with churches that many of them are snacking on prayer instead of feasting on prayer. (Leading Ideas Talks, Episode 48, “Congregational Renewal Begins with Breakthrough Prayer” by Sue Nilson Kibbey, January 22, 2020)
If we as the body of Christ, if we as followers of Christ are snacking on prayer instead of feasting, I don’t think it’s because we think prayer is unimportant. I think it’s because we tend to make prayer complicated. Thinking that there are right words, thinking that there are right times, right places, or even right people to ask God for guidance on this journey.
Every person, every day, in every place and moment has the right stuff to talk to God, to listen to God, to ask God to give us a little bit of assurance, a little bit of confidence that we are going in the right direction, doing the right thing.
I write prayers all the time. I pray often with groups, individuals, my family, or by myself – and some of my favorite prayers are the simplest. Almost daily, I say the modern Jesus prayer. On an in breath, you say to yourself “Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world”. As you breath out, you say to yourself “Fill my mind with your peace and my heart with your love.” I find that this prayer calms my heart and centers me in God, which almost always leads to clarity about which way to go, or in my case, which words to write.
Long ago, I had a colleague who said that a deep breath would also do the trick, and he’s right. Paul in his letter to the church in Rome writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). When we don’t know how to pray, when we are seeking light, direction for the next step, the Spirit helps us out by bringing that breath, that sigh, that unspoken, wordless, perhaps even unclear thought to God. And we are blessed with assurance and confidence.
A deep breath is probably about as simple as it gets however “Help” is also a good one. That’s it. Just “help”. Those pilgrims traveling the wild and vast Atlantic Ocean in a small boat had to have said “help” to God a lot. How about “please”? which I imagine every single pilgrim, medieval or modern day, says as they walk another day on the Camino de Santiago. Please let there be water soon. Please let the weather hold. Please, Lord, give me strength. Please, Lord, let me find You as I walk this way.
We, too, are pilgrims on a journey. We, too, walk this journey of faith in faith, turning to God for confidence, turning to God for hope and assurance; turning to God in prayer. We trust that even though we cannot see what is around the bend, even though what is going to happen next year, next week or frankly, tomorrow, is unknown and uncertain, still we travel this journey trusting that God will provide enough light for our next step, that God will guide us, that God will always be with us.