A couple of years ago my daughter Anne and I went on a Grand Canyon backpack trip. I had not backpacked in twenty-five years and I struggled with dehydration and balance and stamina going up the unmaintained Grand View Trail—then to top it off I fell on an agave cactus and the spine went through my hand and had to be pulled out.
The guide on the trip kept telling us that what was important was the journey, not the destination. I understand that very well. It is important to value each day, every opportunity that comes to us, to live in the moment and not wish one’s life away. But I will say that I was very glad to reach the destination which was the canyon rim. In fact I was in some shock and my daughter who is a nurse took me to the Grand Canyon clinic and I was put on an IV. Going up that trail, my daughter was right in front of me, telling me I could make, it and Eden, the guide was right behind in case I could not. I was glad to reach that destination and it reminded me that as Christians our destination is very important—the journey, yes, but also the destination.
Now the Grand Canyon was the start of a time of backpacking for me. I went with the same guide to Yosemite. One of my life goals had been to hike up to the top of Half Dome. The hike is very strenuous at a forty-five degree angle which involves using not on the leg muscles but upper body muscles to hold on to the steel cables lining the route. I was in better shape for this trip but Eden still followed me up telling me, I could do it. About half of our group did not even try to go up; I was eight years older than the next oldest member. I was very proud to have achieved that goal and reminded how those who coach us and cheer us on help on our journey.
The book of Hebrews does not talk about backpacking or hiking but it does use the image of a race as a metaphor for life. It adds that we run with perseverance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus as the “author and perfecter of faith,” (Hebrews 12:2 WEB) cheered on by other believers so that we too might win the victor’s crown.
Paul uses images from athletic contests speaking of those who train hard to win. To the Philippians, he wrote, “Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus. ” (Philippians 3:12).
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Now, I was not thinking of Bible verses as I hiked up the Grand Canyon or climbed the rock face of Half Dome. I was not thinking of anything but just going up the trail, going from one to step, one handhold, to another. I had a charley horse half way up and got a bit panicky but that voice came from behind me, “Jim, you can do it. Just make it to the next two-by-four.” Every four or five feet on Half Dome there was another two-by-four as a goal. And making those little goals one by one was enough to get me to the top, my big goal.
As Christians we can say that our life’s goal is eternal life, the full and abundant life promised us by Christ. But we also need to make it through the day and the week, each two-by-four. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask for our daily bread—enough for each day. It is like the manna which came to the Hebrews each day, enough for that day but could not be stored up (except for the Sabbath). It is enough to be faithful day by day and let the long range take care of itself. It is enough to be like the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin but are arrayed more gloriously that Solomon. It is enough to worry about the troubles of each day and let the past go and the let the future take care of itself. If the destination is sure then each day of the journey is enough to be concerned about.
In our Gospel there is a strange interchange of Jesus with the crowd which had followed him across the lake. Jesus accused them of seeking him out because he had just fed them with loaves and fishes.“Most certainly I tell you,” Jesus said, “you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life.” (John 6:26-27 WEB).
In a Bible class we were asked how Jesus who came the first time to take away our sin and the sin of the world and will come a second again to judge and save, how this longing for the second coming affects our day-to-day living. What a difficult question! That one took some thought. It made me think that perhaps I am not longing very much for the second coming but it also made me realize what a joy to know that life has a goal and purpose, that there is a destination. It is clearly stated in 1 John 3:2 WEB: “Now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is.” We will see God. We will be like Christ. We will have the bread of life and never be hungry; the living water and never be thirsty. We will look back and wonder why we worried so much, why we trusted so little, why we were so concerned with material things when what really mattered was other people, our family, our friends, the people God put into our lives. We will look back and wonder why we did not enjoy the journey more and understand that the goal was life with God.
“Labor for the bread which will not perish,” St John Chrysostom, the Byzantine court preached, once proclaimed. People are nailed to the things of this life. We are nailed to crosses of things. It is hard to talk about the freedom of life’s journey, when my next paycheck is already spent, when mortgage payments and insurance payments and college loans for children and medical bills are the focus instead of enjoying the rocks and trees and skies and seas that make up the beautiful world around us or the people old and young, poor and rich, talented and struggling who are gifts to us if we would but recognize it. They are part of each day’s manna, daily bread. Luther said that more than just food and clothing, home and property, were daily bread but also devoted family, true friends and neighbors. The people in our lives are part of the bread for the journey which gives us life each day.
One morning I started early on a day’s hike in Yosemite. It was not going to be a difficult day and I was quite confident that if I started earlier than the rest, they were younger and would soon catch up with me. The trail just went down from Little Yosemite Valley where we had camped, down to Nevada Falls. It is well traveled and well-marked. But I got lot and pretty anxious. After packing a few miles I came to the sign that should have read, “Nevada Falls,” but instead it read, “Little Yosemite Valley.” I had walked in a circle and gone back to where I started. Now the group I was with was still drinking morning coffee and they had not passed me so I was able to start again with them. But I did realize that it is so easy to get off the right way. That morning could have been a metaphor for my whole life’s journey, so easily distracted from what is really important. I thought I was on the right path but I was not. I was somehow got turned around.
We may think we are on the right way to our destination, but we may not be. We may tell ourselves to live each day as it comes, but still get hijacked by worries and cares and regrets and remorse. We may think we are valuing other people but instead we may be so preoccupied with ourselves that we do not find the time for them. We may talk about loving people and liking things but too often it is the other way around, we love our things sometimes more than the people. We may be so busy that we forget about God. We may even come together and sing a hymn and say a prayer and kneel at the altar and yet live each day as if God did not really matter. We may be working so hard for the food that perishes that we forget about the food that endures to eternal life.
Is it the journey or the destination? Yes. Each day is important. We have been richly blessed and have been blessed to be a blessing. Give thanks for the people in your lives, the blessings you have each day. Give thanks for your daily bread. But rejoice and be glad for the destination is so important too. You have been given a goal, a finish line, a destination to be with God and like God. You are God’s child now and you will see God face-to-face. You have been promised eternal life. You are redeemed, so savor and enjoy your journey too. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, James D. Kegel. Used by permission