One of the practices of this congregation over the years is the prayer for traveling mercies. These are prayers in which we ask for God's presence in the journeys of those we love . . . that they may arrive safely to their destination, and that they will return home safe in their journeys. It is a prayer of concern for those that we love . . . a prayer of hope. It is prayer that those who have been covered by it are appreciative.
Such is the prayer that the Apostle Paul offers for the congregation in Philippi. True, the congregation is not making a physical journey . . . they are not leaving to go some place else, but the reality is that they are on a journey . . . a spiritual journey. Like any journey, it is filled with the same sorts of concerns . . . concerns that those who are making the journey arrive safely and without harm . . . concerns that the journey is good to them and that they make it to their destination. In this journey . . . this spiritual journey . . . the destination is into the intimacy and presence of a loving relationship with God that, in turn, moves individuals beyond themselves into the realm of love for others.
One would think that the relationship that the Apostle Paul had with the congregation in Philippi was intimate and revealing. In this congregation the apostle encountered a group of individuals who fully embraced the presence of Jesus through his teachings and examples . . . fully embraced the concept of loving God whole-heartedly and allowing that love to seep out into their love for others. The congregation in Philippi made a powerful impression upon Paul . . . an impression he could not forget. Now, after he has left the congregation, he remembers them . . . remembers their faith . . . remembers their ministry . . . their love and grace. It is a fond memory that he carries within his memories and within his heart. He proclaims in his letter to them: "I thank God every time I remember you." Apparently these people were important to the Apostle Paul.
Since the time that he left them, they have been on their own. No longer is he there to teach them . . . to counsel them . . . to guide them. They are on their own. The time has come for them to step out into the world and to make their journey of faith on their own. As we all know, no journey is ever easy; thus, Paul offers to them a prayer . . . a sort of "traveling mercies" prayer for their journey. He cares about these people, and he is concerned for them as they make their journey. He wants it to be a safe and rewarding journey for them all. He offers a prayer . . . he writes: "My prayer for you . . . "
I think that it is good that we are a congregation that practices the prayer of "traveling mercies" . . . I think that it is good that we remember our brothers and sisters in their journeys . . . it is a good spiritual practice. But, I think that we all need to broaden our understanding of what it means to be on a journey . . . to get beyond on the outward physical journey where we go from location "A" to location "B". We need to broaden it to include the spiritual journey . . . that journey each of us is called to when we declare our love for Jesus . . . that journey we are called to to move beyond commitment to a live of love and grace demonstrated by Jesus himself . . . that journey into the constant presence of God in the world and in our lives. To dedicate one's life to God through Jesus is not the final destination . . . it is only the beginning of a longer and deeper journey into the presence of the "holy". We should remember and practice offering prayers of "traveling mercies" for all who are on this great spiritual journey.
That is Paul's prayer for those in the congregation in Philippi. In his prayer he prays for two things . . . a deeper understanding of love that over comes the fear that knowledge can produce in the lives of those making the journey . . . and, then, out of this deeper understanding, he prays for a love that knows no boundaries and reaches out to others to bring them the love and grace of God. His prayer is that those individuals grow deeper in their understanding of God's love . . . that they dive deeper and deeper into God's love as they grow closer and closer to God . . . and, then, out of that love, the same is offered to others through their actions and lives. If they can do this, then they will arrive safely to their spiritual destination . . . they will arrive in the kingdom of God.
Jesus put it simply: That we love the Lord, our God, with out whole being, and that we love one another.
It sounds so simple . . . yet, it is not as simple as it sounds. How are we to embrace such understanding and love in a world where there is so much going on around us that shakes our understanding and ability to love others? With the terrorist attack in Paris . . . our attention was grabbed . . . and, we reacted . . . we reacted with fear and hatred. We pulled the shutters, slammed the doors, and basically closed up shop . . . we do not want any of those Muslims in our country. Then, in the two weeks since that took place we have seen domestic terror in our own backyard . . . a gunman shooting up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs that killed several . . . gunmen in California who shot up and killed twenty individuals gathered for a holiday party. Our fear climbed to an even higher level . . . fingers are pointed . . . fear reeks of hatred. Love is difficult to nurture and grow in such fearful soil. How are we supposed to love those we have begun to hate for the acts of a few individuals?
Well, through understanding and knowledge of God's love . . . a love that was put on display for the world to see in the embodiment and life of Jesus. In understanding that God's love is not of this world, and yet, that is what we are called to live. God's love is to love all others . . . in particular those who are in need, those who are lost, those who are suffering, forgotten, persecuted, and homeless . . . those who are different from us. Was it not out of this group that Jesus called his disciples? That he walked among? That he pointed his ministry to? Paul calls the congregation in Philippi to this deeper understanding. Then he calls them to live their life with this understanding to allow them to reach out to the world's "others".
That is the apostle's prayer for the congregation in Philippi. And, that should be our prayer for those we love making the spiritual journey of faith. We live in a day where there is danger. We live in a day where there is terror. We live in a day in which injustice is displayed against others by those who are fueled by hatred. And, at the same time, we cannot allow our fear of such danger, terror, injustice, and hatred to overcome us with fear . . . fear that makes us forget the love of God. A love that reaches out to others . . . a love that tells us we are to love one another . . . to love all of God's children who have been created in God's own image.
As we continue this spiritual journey during the season of Advent . . . a journey to the presence of God in our world and lives . . . let us seek that deeper knowledge and understanding of God's love . . . and, let us live it instead fear.
It is with such knowledge we will change the world. It is with such knowledge that we will find God's Kingdom. In the words of Malala Yousafzai--the Afghanistan girl whose was beaten and nearly killed by religious extremists in that country for going to school, wise beyond her years, “With guns you can kill terrorists. With education you can kill terrorism.” Love can conquer all.
I share what biblical commentator, Amy Allen, writes: "My prayer, as I echo Paul’s prayer, is that with all knowledge and discernment—spurning the vitriol of selfishness, fear, and hate—we let our love overflow … for one another and for our neighbors. And that through us love be the sign of God’s Kingdom as it makes itself known here on earth."
So is the prayer I have for each of you . . . for all of us . . . as we journey through the season of Advent. May God's traveling mercies be with us all. Amen.