The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2017
It’s a hot, Texas, summer afternoon. The drive from Dallas back to Houston is long and weary. You’re sweating through your the seat in your car, you’re getting a little irritable and hungry. The low fuel light just came on. It’s a hot, Texas, summer afternoon and you really don’t want to walk down I-45 with a gas can.
And then you see it. You see it above the shimmering waves of heat radiating from the cement. The place of rest, of refreshment, you see all that your heart desires. It’s Buc-ee’s. Oh, Buc-ee’s. You can get a breakfast taco, a BBQ sandwich, some Beaver Nuggets. You can enjoy immaculately clean restrooms. You can fill up the gas tank. Buc-ee’s has everything you might need for a long car trip. I call it, “Six Flags over Convenience.”
While Buc-ee’s is a modern innovation with all its goodies, it’s actually quite an old idea. On the old caravan routes in the Middle East, there were these large structures called, “caravanserai.” They had four walls with an open ceiling. And the large camel caravans trading spices and goods would stop at these caravanserai for rest and refreshment. They could water their camels. Get a bit to eat. Stretch their legs. I don’t think they had beaver nuggets, but the idea was the same. Travelers need places to stop along the way.
And spiritual travelers, we need places to stop along the way. When Jesus is gathered with his disciples at the Last Supper, this is the image he gives to them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Yes, part of this image is our idea of heaven, of dwelling with Jesus when we die; but you can’t just think about the destination. As much as we might like it, there is no way to travel instantly from Dallas to Houston. As much we might like it, we must live our lives here on earth before we see Jesus in the Father’s house.
And so Jesus has prepared rooms for us, caravanserai along the way. Spiritual Buc-ee’s for rest and refreshment. This, I think, is what Jesus is telling his disciples. In the spiritual journey, as you go through life, there will be places prepared for you. Way stations to get a bit to eat, to stretch your legs. Jesus prepares places for us in our lives that will be a safe harbor from the long and weary journeys of life.
Because the spiritual life is a journey. The spiritual life is a forward motion, there is dynamism and activity. A spiritual life with Jesus is never static, it is constantly moving. Constantly changing. Driving forward. Learning new things. Experiencing new things. Growing deeper and deeper into our knowledge and love of the Lord. A life with Jesus is often a weary endeavor, and we grow tired on our journeys.
And just when we think we can’t make it anymore, just when it seems that our spiritual gas tank is about to hit empty, Jesus prepares a place for us. To stop, and refresh ourselves. It might be a new spiritual insight. It might be a gift of peace from the Holy Spirit. It might be the church, on a weekly basis, that is a place to stop, to stretch your legs, to get a bite to eat, and to connect with Jesus. At least, that’s how I feel about the Church. Everything in my life seems to always be up in the air. Perhaps that’s just life with a three year old, but I don’t think so. It’s the Church, on a weekly basis that is stable. That is consistent. This is the place where I fill up my gas tank. When I’m driving from Dallas to Houston, I know that Buc-ee’s will have clean restrooms and hot coffee. When I’m making my way through life, I know that Jesus will be in the Church, and I’ll be given heavenly food. This place has been prepared for us by Jesus. A haven of rest and recovery in the midst of our lifelong journey to know Jesus.
Now, as much as I love Buc-ee’s, it’s only a place to stop, not a place to stay. You can only eat beaver nuggets for so long. You can only fill up the gas tank once. Think of it, you are only meant to be at Buc-ee’s for what, maybe fifteen minutes? Because the road is calling to you. You haven’t yet reached your journey’s end. And though you may not want to climb back into your car and the simmering pavement, that is what you must do.
The real temptation in our spiritual life is to stay put. When we find a place of rest and refreshment, the temptation is to stay there forever. Complacency is one of the greatest dangers in the spiritual life. But as Saint Paul says, we must press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Complacency is dangerous because it means that we’ll be satisfied with a rest stop, instead of longing for the Father’s house.
This is hard and difficult work. Girding ourselves for the next leg of the spiritual journey is intimidating. But the way forward, is the only way forward. This happens all the time in spiritual life. We reach some new spiritual insight, and we find great joy in it. But after a time, this glory seems to fade. It’s not that we’ve gone backwards, it’s that Jesus has gone ahead to prepare the next rest stop. Jesus is calling us to hit the road again. To learn, to grow. No matter how clean the restrooms may be, no matter how delicious the beef jerky is, you must press on. The caravanserai might be nice, but once the camels are watered, it’s time to move on. No matter how much you felt at peace with God now, there is still more to come.
And if this lesson applies to our individual spiritual lives, even more does it mean something for the life of the church. All too often, the Church becomes complacent. We find that the coffee is hot and the gas tank is full, and we stay put. We refuse to see that Jesus is calling us forward, calling us outward. And when we refuse to grow, we start to die. Because we’re meant to stop at the way station, not to stay there.
Think of this in the life of Holy Comforter. I remember last year when we did Church Has Left the Building, I felt close to Jesus. I felt the Holy Spirit alive and active in each one of us. I felt Jesus in a new and profound way. But we couldn’t stay there. We had to move on. Last October, during the capital campaign kickoff lunch, I wanted to stay out there under those tents. The weather was cool, the fellowship was great, but we had to move on. There was work yet to do. In less than a month, we will hold the ceremonial groundbreaking for our new church. It will be a moment we have been waiting for. For some of you, you have been waiting for this moment longer than I have been alive. But it will not be the final destination. We will press on, because there is work yet to do. And even when all is said and done, and we consecrate the new building, it’s not like we’re going to stop. We must press on. From glory to glory. For there is work yet to do.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus is going ahead of us to prepare a place. We must have the courage to leave the safety of what we know, and strike out to explore what we don’t know. And we must have the faith, that when the way becomes difficult, when our spiritual gas tanks are about to hit empty, when we are hungry for something new, there is a place prepared for us. Jesus is just around the corner.