Our passage in Acts for today stands at the end of Paul’s Journeys, his weaving from one island to another eventually brings him to Rome. The details we have are strange to say the least: viper bites, natives who bestow honors on Paul. It is difficult to say where the story is going or what is going to happen next. But we know one thing: Paul’s story ends at Rome.
Early in my days of understanding, I thought the whole point of this passage, and the whole point of Acts, was “getting to Rome”. Paul had made it to the heart of the Roman Empire, and rejoiced and took comfort in the fact that the message of Christ had made it all the way to Rome. Getting the news of Christ to Rome meant that it would easily reach the four corners of the earth. The Good News would spread to everywhere Roman life was. Nothing could contain God’s grace now!
But as my years dwelling with scripture passed, my vision and this passage shifted. The depth of this passage goes beyond Rome. I began to see the miracle of the journey itself. In focusing on the end of the journey, I had failed to notice God’s plan was unrolling itself ALL ALONG. Despite shipwrecks and bites of snakes, dangerous seas and storms, Paul continued on, and God’s word just couldn’t be stopped. Nothing could STOP God’s message of grace and hope.
I think back on my journey through Princeton Seminary. It was a journey tattered with problems – full of twists and turns – from medical problems to financial problems, from heartbreak to racial tensions on campus.
I am still surprised that I finished seminary altogether, not because of kidney stones or money, or because of the academic challenges, but because early on in my seminary journey I had interpreted the goal of seminary as I did our passage for today – forgetting God’s blessing in the journey itself, instead focusing too much on the end – getting that degree. Just like my initial reading of the passage, I had breezed over the journey itself and was focusing on the ultimate goal – the end of the road. I wanted to be wise and I thought an education at Princeton might help.
In focusing on the degree, rather than the education, I was missing the entire process of the journey and the ministry that was already at hand – here and now. I had boiled everything down to the equipping of my mind, forgetting that I was called to share the good news of the gospel, spreading Christ’s love for the world. I had forgotten that our identity as Christians has historically been that of a people on the move, from the Exodus to the Great Commission, we are called to GO and witness to what we have seen in Christ Jesus.
I invite you all on a journey to the unknown. I invite you to a search beyond the walls of our little lives to a world yearning for the good news found in Christ Jesus. Allow yourself to be bold and take a journey of proclamation – to preach the good news in your midst – at home, at work, at play. We have been thrust into God’s story and we are called to spread the message of Christ to all peoples, and that is not limited to Sunday morning.
I suppose this journey to today surprises me most of all. Who would have thought I would be celebrating my 29th year as a church professional? Who would have thought I would end up in Oklahoma? And yet, here I am, and having the time of my life ministering with you all.
Thank you for taking this journey of a lifetime with me. The depth of scripture never ceases to amaze me – always reminding us the end of our journey is quite a ways off.
We must always remember that the journey is just as important as the destination. I hope you will enjoy the ride with me!
[Today’s Morning Reflection was inspired by my Senior Sermon, preached at Princeton Seminary, based on Acts 28.]