Turns on the Journey

Scripture | Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (NLT) | Philippians 3:3-14

Philippians 3:3-14

The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. 

We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it – even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. 

You know my pedigree: circumcised when I was eight days old, according to the faith; a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the elite tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one; a member of the Pharisees, so a strict and devout adherent to Jewish law. I was so zealous that I persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law meticulously.

But what I once counted as my assets, I now regard as loss because of Christ.  

Everything else is worthless compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as trash to be rid of, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. 

In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that doesn’t come from the Law but from the faithfulness of Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself is based on faith. I want to know Christ  - and know the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 

so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I don’t mean to say that I have already reached this goal or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to grab hold of it because Christ Jesus first grabbed hold of me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on for the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Today is “Senior Sunday,” the day in the life of the church that we offer a special blessing to the High School seniors who are graduating. It’s one of the stages in a person’s life journey that we exalt and celebrate as particularly special – leaving school, maybe leaving childhood friends, maybe leaving family, maybe leaving home. 

It’s not the same for everyone, of course, 

But one constant for everyone, is that it is a turning point. A time of significant change - for the these new young adults, 

and for their parents, for their siblings, and for the community. 

It’s a turning point. 

Like with a labyrinth, the turns keep coming on the journey we walk… whether we’re ready for them or not. Our life goes on, and hundred turning points like these mark our path. 

Some are monumental – a birth, a death, marriage, divorce. Some are much, much smaller – moving up into a new grade, starting a new sport, gaining a new friend, or even losing one. As time goes on, the turns get bigger: maybe a new job, or moving to a new community.  Maybe being laid off and changing careers. Maybe a health crisis or a challenge your child faces. At every turn along the way, there is a new reality you have to navigate. 

We’re the same person from birth until death, but so much changes! I watch with wonder my granddaughter Asa as new parts of her develop and her personality starts to shine. I remember when my own kids were little, being so curious about each new stage. 

When they found language, what would they say? 

When they made friends, how would they play? 

When they learned in school, what would capture their imaginations? 

When they became parents, what would they be like?

You arrive at each turn, and you never know exactly where you’re going to end up. You’re heading in a new direction, but you don’t know what’s up ahead. Sometimes that can be frightening, and sometimes it’s exciting.  Let’s just say it’s never boring. 

Along the journey, you make another turn, and you’re living in a whole new place. 

And maybe it feels like you’re living a whole new life. 

What we don’t always anticipate is that where you are means you have to figure out who you are. I mean, it’s still you on that path, but it’s a different you somehow. 

You are essentially – existentially – the same – but your life is profoundly different. What was once important isn’t any more. You have to figure it out all over again: what really matters. 

We have to navigate that every time we make those turns. And to do it well requires thoughtfulness. Intention, if you will. 

Approaching the turns of life well, means deciding about how you’ll live on the other side of that turn. What your core values are, what’s non-negotiable. And what you can leave behind. 

I think that’s what our scripture for this morning is trying to tell us. 

How to hold on to what it is that really matters…  

The passage from Deuteronomy was written as instructions for a people in transition. As the people of God moved from one identity to another – from being slaves in Egypt, to wandering in the wilderness, to becoming residents in a new land – they had to be intentional about who they were. They had a lot of options about how they would live and what God they would serve. They had to decide who they would be. It was a critical time. 

“Listen,” scripture says. “You need to hear this! Keep God at the center of all things! Not just with obedience, but with love! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength. Commit yourselves body, mind, and soul to what God is telling you. 

Tell this again and again to your children. When you’re at home and when you’re on the road, when you’re going to bed and when you get up in the morning. Wear God’s word close to your heart! This command to love? Write it on the doorpost of your house, so every time you go in and every time you go out, you’ll remember. 

You need to remember who you are, and whose you are!” 

Wherever we are, in all the twists and turns, in the different places we find ourselves, it’s God who’s at the core, at the center, at the heart of who we are. If only we can remember that! That’s what we need to hold onto. That is our essence, and our identity, no matter where we are on the journey. 

Centuries after Deuteronomy was written, the Apostle Paul was wrestling with exactly these same questions. As he writes to the Philippians, he followed the letter of the law meticulously – he was obedient to a fault. But he had missed what was most important. Looking back at his life, all his honors, all the things that made him ‘somebody,’ all the impressive credentials – even being ‘good’ – at the end of the day, none of that really mattered.

What he discovered was that there was only one thing that mattered, one thing that was core to who he was – and that was living in Christ, being filled by the Spirit of God. That was the one thing that was absolutely essential, whatever else happened. God living in him, giving him life. That he would carry with him everywhere. 

I’ve been thinking about all this as I look back at my own father’s life. A week ago Friday, when my dad entered Hospice care, I found myself remembering the twists and turns in his life, and how he navigated them. Some of the turns were choices he had made – to become a dentist, to marry my mom, to live in Chicago near family. But many things he didn’t choose –his father dying unexpectedly, having to take over his father’s dental practice, how many kids to have (no one plans for twins). There were challenges he could never have seen coming, like my mother developing dementia. 

Every step along the way, there was something that he kept at his core. It was his faith. His conviction that every stage along the journey, God was holding him, Christ was leading him, and the Spirit would be with him. He was angry at God sometimes, and bewildered, but I don’t think he ever wavered from believing that God would be there with him. Or that one day, he would be with God. 

That was his walk, his journey. 

And so it was last Friday, when my dad and I sat together in the waiting room of hospice and he shared with us that he decided to accept Hospice care. the thought occurred to me, “He’s made the final turn of the labyrinth. He’s on his way home.”

One final word I want to leave you with. Many, many years ago, I heard a poem at a Hospice workshop, and I have kept it ever since. It’s called, “The Journey.” 

Birth is a beginning and death a destination,
 and life is a journey.
From childhood to maturity 
and youth to age; 
from innocence to awareness 
and ignorance to knowing; 
from foolishness to discretion 
and then perhaps to wisdom; 
from weakness to strength 
or strength to weakness and often back again; 
from offense to forgiveness, 
from loneliness to love 
from joy to gratitude, 
from pain to compassion, 
through health and sickness 
and grief to understanding – 
from fear to faith; 
from defeat, to defeat, to defeat – 
until, looking backward or ahead, wiser, 
that victory lies not at some high place along the way, 
but having made the journey 
stage by stage,
a sacred pilgrimage. 
Birth is a beginning, and death a destination, 
and life is a journey, 
a sacred pilgrimage to life everlasting.