Where Are We Going?

2 Peter 3:18

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Back in April, Pastor Donald and I went to see the movie “Noah” more to satisfy our curiosity than anything else because we’d heard both glowing and not so glowing reviews about this highly promoted Hollywood film from both Christian and non-Christian circles.  For the record, we both agreed with the not so glowing reviews as it didn’t even come close to paralleling the Bible’s account of Noah and the Flood.  But one thing that I did enjoy that day was the trailer for a brand new movie coming out this summer about one of my childhood heroes.  And that would be Hercules.  As a young boy I always wanted to be strong, muscular, and fearless like this son of the Greek god Zeus.  And as an adult who now stands before you knocking on the door of 59, it’s pretty obvious that I never came close to achieving that goal.

But that trailer about Hercules got me to thinking about another one of my childhood heroes whose movie I watched anytime it was on TV when I was growing up.  His name?  Ulysses.  At least that was his Latin name.  Does anyone here today remember what his Greek name was?  It was Odysseus and he was the lead character in the well-known work of the Greek writer Homer entitled The Iliad and the Odyssey.  Actually The Odyssey was Homer’s sequel to The Iliad.  It told all about the exploits of Odysseus who left his home on the island of Ithaca as well as his beautiful wife Penelope and his newborn son Telemachus to go and fight in the Trojan War.  Time today simply will not permit me to delve into all the incredible adventures that Odysseus and his men had as they tried to make their way back home, but one that I especially remember from the movie was their encounter with a Cyclops – a one-eyed monster – named Polyphemus who holds Odysseus and his men captive until Odysseus gets him drunk and drives a wooden stake through his eye to blind him so that they can then escape.  Just what you wanted to hear about when you came to church today, right?

Well, the reason I bring up Odysseus is because today I am beginning a sermon series that I am entitling “Salem Lutheran Church: A Faith Odyssey.”  Obviously it doesn’t take a genius or an English teacher to notice that the name Odysseus and the word odyssey are closely related to one another.  So what exactly is an odyssey?  Well, Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “any extended wandering or journey.”  Perhaps another term we could use for it would be a quest, especially in the light of something that I remember Bill McCartney, the founder of Promise Keepers, saying at one of those gatherings we attended years ago.  He was explaining to us the difference between an adventure and a quest.  He said an adventure is a journey you take in which you return to your original starting point.  A quest is an adventure you take from which you may never return.  And that is my fervent hope and prayer, that this journey, this odyssey, that we are embarking upon today will be a genuine quest, an adventure that will take us to places we have never been to before in our spiritual walk with God and that will find us never returning again to where we are right now, but evermore improving and growing and maturing into the kinds of disciples that our Lord desires us to be.

Now my goal this morning is to give you kind of a roadmap of where we’re going to be going on this quest in the hopes that you will catch the vision, become excited about it, and come here week after week with a sense of anticipation and expectation.  And if, by chance, you miss a week, you can always go to our church’s web site, salemlc.org, where our very capable and much appreciated web master Dave Hudson posts our sermons each week in both printed and audio forms.

So where exactly are we going on this quest, this odyssey?  Well, we’re going to begin by going deeper in our understanding of the Bible, which ties right in with the Bible class that I’m doing right now on Sunday mornings entitled “The Story.”  I remember when my family and I first moved to Salem in 1992, one thing I made use of a lot during the early part of my ministry here was a map.  Now I know I’m making quite a confession here because most men don’t like to use maps.  Most men don’t like to ask for directions because we think we can find wherever we’re going on our own.  It’s a male thing, right, ladies?  And most of the time anymore I don’t need a map to find members’ homes because I know where most of you live.  But there is one town that confuses me and messes with my sense of direction more than any other and that is that little town to the north of us called Kinmundy.  Practically every time I go there, especially in the downtown section, I find myself getting lost because it feels like many of the streets don’t run north and south and east and west.  Instead, they run at odd angles that can prove to be very confusing to the average person who isn’t familiar with the town.  So whenever I go there, even though I have GPS, I still always take a map because as most of you have probably discovered, there are times when even a GPS can steer you the wrong way.  But I know that if I have a map, that will help me find where I need to go, provided I open it and use it.

Well, my friends, the same thing holds true with the Bible.  This holy book is God’s roadmap to heaven.  It helps us navigate the treacherous twists and turns that we all too frequently encounter in our journey through life.  And oh how often we need that map because by nature we sinful human beings are prone to making all kinds of wrong turns.  But in order for this roadmap to heaven to do us any good, what do we have to do with it?  We have to open it.  We have to read it.  We have to study it.  We have to tuck it away in our hearts.  Like David wrote in Ps. 119:11:  “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

So my goal in the first part of this sermon series is simple.  I want to get you excited about the Bible.  I want to instill in your heart a real hunger for God’s Word, the same kind of hunger David expressed in that same 119th Psalm when he said:  “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

Now it’s quite possible some of you are thinking:  “Pastor, you don’t understand.  I’ve tried to read the Bible, but it’s got all those big words and strange names in it like Deuteronomy and Ecclesiastes, Habakkuk and Nehemiah.  And I don’t understand the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, or the difference between an epistle and an apostle.”  If that describes you, my friends, I understand where you’re coming from because the Bible can be in some respects difficult to understand.  And that’s exactly why I want to start our quest by taking you deeper into Scripture.  I’ll tell you what.  Just consider me your guide on this journey and trust me to take you where our real Leader, the Holy Spirit, wants us to go, and I firmly believe that your understanding and especially your appreciation of the Bible will grow by leaps and bounds over the next few weeks.

And once we’re finished with that part of our journey, we’re going to move in another direction.  We’re going to go wider in our understanding of fellowship, in how we are to relate to our fellow believers.  In the New Testament there is a simple 2-word phrase that occurs over and over again and that is the phrase “one another.”  I believe it can be found no less than 24 times in different contexts, the point being that God wants us to look out for one another.

And isn’t that what you do on any journey you take?  I remember some years ago when my family and I took a trip out West and one day we were hiking in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming when all of a sudden this guy came running toward us, saying that he’d just been chased by a bear.  Now for a family from Illinois, that was quite a frightening and disconcerting thought, especially since we were heading in the direction he was coming from.  And we didn’t know whether to continue on our hike or turn back.  And while we contemplated what to do, a group of very experienced hikers came along and when we told them what that fellow had said about the bear, they informed us that bears normally won’t bother people who are in a group. They even graciously invited us to tag along with them for as long as we felt necessary, and that’s what we did.  In other words, they were looking out for us on our journey and we certainly appreciated that.

My friends, the Bible tells us over and over again that we need to look out for one another for we are a family on a journey.  Have you ever noticed what our signboard outside says?  It says that Salem Lutheran Church is a place “Where Friends Become Family.”  And if we’re a family, then we need to get a good grasp and understanding of what that means.  So in the 2ndpart of this faith odyssey that we are embarking upon today we’re going to spend some time elevating the importance of community in the church, reminding ourselves that one reason we belong to a church is not just to reach upwards to God but to also reach outward to one another.  Hence, we’ll be looking at some of those “one another” passages in the New Testament where we are encouraged to admonish one another, forgive one another, wash one another’s feet, and so on, in the hopes of adding a whole new dimension of “one-anotherness” to our church family.

All of which takes us to the final direction we’ll be traveling on this quest and that is higher in our understanding of worship.  Have you ever wondered what some of our worship words mean, words like hosanna or hallelujah or amen?  What does it mean to glorify God, to magnify him, to exalt him?  And what kind of God is this anyway who tells us over and over again in Scripture to worship him?  Does he have an ego problem or something?  I’ll go ahead and give you a little clue here.  The one who has the ego problem is not God.  Rather, it’s us. And the solution to our ego problem is worship because worship gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto him.

So we’ll be spending a number of weeks talking about why God places such a high premium on worship and why he would dedicate an entire book of the Bible, the book of Psalms, to teaching us about the importance, the benefit, the necessity, and the power of worship.

So deeper, wider, and higher.  We’ve got a great journey ahead of us, my friends, a quest that like I said before will hopefully take us to places we’ve never been before.  And I’m praying that all of you are already mentally packing your bags and getting excited about this odyssey.  Kind of like some children I recently read about.  Sometime ago Life Magazine ran a story about a modern day adventurer who’d spent most of his adult life exploring the untouched wilderness areas of Alaska.  When he was asked what was the most common question people ask him when they find out what he does, he said, “Well, adults ask me one question; children ask me another.”  He said, “When adults talk to me, their first question is why.  Why do you do that?  Why do you brave the long frigid winters?  Why do you risk getting swept away by an avalanche?  Why, why, why?”  But then he said, “When children talk to me, they ask the question how.  How could I do that?  How do you get those dogs to pull your sled?  How do you survive out there?”

My friends, let’s approach this journey with the heart of a child.  Let’s be asking, “How, Lord?  How can I go deeper in my understanding of your Word in which you’ve revealed to me all that I need to know about you and how I can have a relationship with the One who loved me enough to die on a cross for me, a relationship that will last not just for this life, but for all of eternity?  And how can I go wider in my fellowship with others?  How can I branch out and be Jesus to those you place within my reach?  And how can I go higher in my worship?  How can I get my eyes off of me and more onto you?”  Ah, it’s going to be a good journey, my friends, and next week we’ll be taking our first steps toward our first destination so I hope you’ll make every effort to be here.  Let’s pray:

Father, we admit that there is always room for improvement in our lives – that we don’t know the Bible as well as we should; we don’t always do for others what you’ve called us to do; we don’t always worship you with genuine heartfelt love and devotion.  Forgive us for our weaknesses, Lord, and help us to recognize them.  Help us to never be satisfied with where we are in our spiritual walk, but to instead hunger and yearn for more. Take us by the hand as we begin this odyssey of faith today.  Let it become a real quest for us, a journey from which we never return to where we are right now.  Walk with us every step of the way.  Lead us to places we’ve never been before until we reach our ultimate destination of heaven through the shed blood of your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.