Trailblazer – Pursuit of Holiness
Becoming: The Path From Here to There
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
October 4, 2015
I have always loved being out of doors. Some of my earliest memories are halcyon days wandering the fields and forests of my maternal grandparents’ North Mississippi farmlands. I remember childhood family camping. My father used to take us in a Star Craft popup! Do you remember those? You turned a crank on a flattened trailer and a roof rose and canvas bedrooms were pulled out. I had a great experience in the Boy Scouts, camping and hiking. Then, in our family life, Lauralee and I have had three camping vehicles. Our first was an early ’60s model tent trailer. A tent folded over from the top and side of the trailer to meet the ground. It was so light we pulled it behind a two-door Subaru. Then, we had a 1967 Volkswagen Camp mobile. I think I bought it from a teenager in Germantown, Tennessee, for $1500. I’m heartbroken today to think that that trendy antique probably would fetch $25,000! Our last was a tiny trailer, a Scotty.
From then until now I love the mountains and the woods, camping and hiking. I still love it despite a few occasions when a relative honestly told me how easy a backpacking trip would be; and it was so, for him. Some of you know my brother in law and best friend, Hal Stoneking. Hal talks me into backpacking trips in about six-month intervals. They are rather like going to a bad Chinese buffet in this fashion: You go to those buffets, fill up and feel queasy, then after six months you forget and go back. Well, these trips are like that for me! I go on one and get so sore I swear I’ll not do it again. But after six months, the memories fades and off we go. The reason I get so sore is that if people were animals, Hal would be a gazelle and I’m more of say, a warthog! Truthfully though, these trips have been great. I love taking paths through the woods—following trails someone else has blazed, taking a rest stop, following a map or guidebook and enjoying trail food (for Hal and me always apples, Gorp, and smoked Gouda cheese) all while on the journey.
Today we begin a new sermon series entitled Becoming: The Path from Here to There. The here is where we are in our journey; the there is where Christ desires and equips us to be. Our overriding image is that of our journey on the path of growth as disciples. In weeks to come, we’ll explore together growth that our “guidebook” the Bible offers us. We’ll consider how time apart in prayer and meditation using the idea of a “rest-stop” is crucial. We’ll wrap up our time by considering the fuel for our journey, communion and worship. This morning we’re going to consider how Christ is the trailblazer and source of our growth in the journey.
The book we’ll be using for our time together is the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews, scholars contend, has the most sophisticated use of Greek in the entire Bible. While long ago a scribe attributed it to Paul, nearly all scholars agree someone else— maybe Apollos or even Barnabas—probably wrote it. It shows a deep understanding of temple life and practices, and has the highest level of theology about Christ in just about the entire Bible. Most think it was written to a house church in Rome composed of people who started life in Judaism but now were Christians. Reading between the lines, it becomes evident that some of the people in this church were wavering in their commitment to Christ and perhaps even considering a return to Judaism. The writer, who has been with them and hopes to return soon, wrote the book to encourage the folks at the church to hold fast to Christ. Then, taking imagery from Temple practices, he teaches that Christ is the great high priest, the bridge between humanity and God as well as the all-sufficient, perfect sacrifice for human sin. No longer, the book holds, are Temple sacrifices needed; Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross makes no other sacrifices necessary. And in our text today, a great image of Christ is given: he is our pioneer; he is the one who has blazed the trail to God. The word in Greek for pioneer is archegos. One commentator wrote of the richness of the word, archegos. “The word is rare in the New Testament but very important in Hebrews. While the word can be translated as “founder,” “author,” or “leader,” here Jesus is portrayed as the one who in himself creates the path for his followers.”* Barclay wrote: “An archegos is one who begins something in order that others may enter into it. He begins a family that some day others may be born into it; he founds a city in order that other may someday dwell in it. Jesus is the “ark hay gos” of our salvation. Jesus has blazed the trail to God for us to follow.”*
And what is the path or trail Jesus blazes for us? Philippians 2:5-9 states it clearly for us: “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”
Did you catch some of the marks, the guideposts, and blazes on the trail, if you will, of the way Jesus created for the salvation of humanity? Being a servant, being humble, being obedient and through following this path, being exalted.
I want to propose, however that just using our will power, practicing moralism, which is reducing our faith to behaviors we can achieve, is a false gospel. To create a checklist of serving somewhere, acting humble and being obedient to the best of one’s ability, is not following the trail blazed by Jesus. It may look to an observer as if it is, but it’s not. Our passage alludes to the fact that there is so much more available to us than human will. It states: “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” Sanctified is the process of God growing us. I love the way the United Methodist Book of Discipline puts it: We hold that the wonder of God's acceptance and pardon does not end God's saving work, which continues to nurture our growth in grace. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to increase in the knowledge and love of God and in love for our neighbor.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives brings about sanctification, growing in Christ’s image.
But is there any role for us? Yes, there is; practicing the spiritual disciplines or means of grace, as we term it in our tradition.
Our official website puts it like this: Our vital work is a spiritual adventure based in John Wesley’s means of grace. John Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we were not to be idle waiting to experience grace but we are to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening and confirming faith so that God's grace pervades in and through disciples. In this series, we’ll be looking at many of the “means of grace.” We’ll look next week how reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, our guidebook, helps us on the path. Then, we’ll consider the rest stops on our journey: meditating, contemplating, fasting, and listening for God and prayer. We’ll close out considering what feeds us: worship and the holy meal* of communion together with Christ and all other Christians.
And today, we join in that meal, with Christians of every nation, culture and denomination for World Communion Sunday. So as we embark on this path Christ has blazed, beginning with fuel for the journey, let me ask you to ask God to help you with something; ask God to help you look in your heart and your life and see how you’re doing. Ask what kind of progress you’re making? In your “searching the Scriptures”, prayer, meditation, contemplation, worship and communion life; and then, perhaps, invite the Spirit to help you in all these areas, this month as we journey from where we are to where Christ would like for us to be.
- Share with your group any experiences you’ve had camping and hiking.
- Share with your what it means to you to have Jesus as the pioneer or trailblazer between people and God.
- Share with your group the means of grace that helps you the most.
- Share with your group the means of grace that you would most like to grow stronger in practicing.
*New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 12, page 39.
*Barclay, William, The Letter to the Hebrews, page 26.