May 22, 2011

The ‘Journey’ as an Image of Our Faith

As summer nears we begin to think about going on vacation and perhaps some of us even look at this time away as an adventure or as a journey. Aldersgate Day comes on 24 May 2011 this year and to this end I want to write about journey to those who read this blog--whoever you are!

Sometimes as we listen to people talk about the Christian faith, it seems as if it might be a possession. Still, when Paul begins his fifth chapter of Romans, I read the faith as a bit like a journey. When Paul writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith” it seems as if he reminds us where we believers are in order to help us press on. In a sense, Paul writes about a process of discovery. Paul reminds us about the past facts of what God has done by his word “therefore.” Paul shows where we are—at peace with God, standing in God’s grace. Whatever now happens to us gives us reason to “boast in the Lord.”

We do not boast in our own merits or “works” as Paul might otherwise call human effort (see Paul’s use of works—Romans 3:27-28; 4:2, 4-5). Rather, because of what God does for us, we now can boast in God’s action. In a journey mode, we move from a status as enemies to those at peace with God. The direction of this positive movement, therefore, gives us hope, if we travel with God. We travel with God only by virtue of faith in Jesus Christ.

Clearly, when I speak of a journey I do not mean so much physical journey like the one Odysseus took. Homer, in his epic, The Odyssey, describes his hero trying to return home from the Trojan War. I do not mean a physical journey like the journey depicted by Luke in Acts. This journey tells of Paul and the other disciples planting churches. These journeys took them all over the ancient Mediterranean world. Rather, I mean that here in Romans 5 Paul engages us in a theological journey. This is a holy trip from head to heart. As a wise preacher once said, “The journey from the head to the heart is one of the longest and most important journeys that any human being can ever take.”

Even John Wesley made this journey from head to heart. As United Methodists we celebrate Aldersgate Sunday (or Day) as that day when Wesley finds assurance. That is Wesley finally feels the assurance of God’s love. In his head he knew this in a rational way, but at Aldersgate he finally feels that assurance. On Wednesday, May 24, 1738, John Wesley experienced his “heart strangely warmed.” This Aldersgate experience is crucial for Wesley’s own life and becomes a touchstone for the Wesleyan movement (The Book of Worship, United Methodist Publishing House, 1992, page 439). For Paul, this movement from head to heart is what God offers us all in Jesus Christ. Paul might even call it a journey of faith.

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