(Prepared to go with a sermon on James 5:19-20)
A couple of weeks ago our family had a reunion in honor my father’s 93rd birthday. I think that all of were a little astonished to realize that out of the five of us children, three of us are planning to travel out of the country this October.
Though it may be a little unusual for so many of us to be on the road simultaneously, our family is no stranger to travel. In fact, there have been times when I’ve compared our family to tumbleweeds – blown all over the place by the winds of circumstances. My siblings and I seem to have inherited a touch of wanderlust.
Our family is not unique in this. We live in a very mobile society. It seems like members of this congregation are always traveling somewhere. And, I would be surprised if there is a family represented here that has lived in this area for more than three or four generations.
Travel to distant places and wandering is part of our cultural heritage. Immigration and the Western Migration have left a lasting imprint on us. Wandering is the theme of scores of our songs. For example, the song ‘Shenandoah’ contains the lyrics:
Away, I’m bound away, ‘cross the wide Missouri.
I’m sure you’ve heard the folk song, ‘500 Miles.’ It starts with the words,
If you miss the train I’m on you will know that I am gone.
Then there’s the song ‘City of New Orleans.’ One of the verses has these words:
And the sons of Pullman porters and the sons of engineers
Ride their fathers’ magic carpet made of steel
Mothers with their babes asleep, rockin’ to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel
One of my personal favorites is ‘Wayfarin’ Stranger.’
I’m just a poor, wayfarin’ stranger
Traveling through this world of woe.
But there’s no sickness, no toil nor danger
In that bright land to which I go.
That last song evokes the image from the book of Hebrews, that as people of faith we are strangers and aliens on earth, wandering until we find our home in an enduring city.
We like to romanticize the idea of wandering; we like to see what’s around the next bend or over the next hill. But the book of Hebrews tells about another type of wandering that is not so benign. All too often we wander from the truth we’ve been taught. We stray from the path of righteousness. We drift away from God. Just like choosing the wrong road can land us in trouble while we’re traveling, wandering from God traps us in spiritual trouble. We find ourselves in a situation that we can’t get out of by our own efforts. Hebrews chapter 2, verses 1 through 3 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (NIV)
Even though God is forced to let us reap the consequences of our wandering from Him, He is not content to let it remain that way. The problem is how to bring back someone who has wandered off? There isn’t a human solution to the problem. So God determined to provide the way out Himself. He said through the Prophet Ezekiel: “…this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.”” (Ezekiel 34:11-12 NIV)
And that is exactly what God did. He sent Christ to rescue us from the predicament we got ourselves into and to put us back on the right road. Isaiah writes, “…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIV)
Peter echoes the thought when he writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls,” (1 Peter 2:24-25 NIV)
Each week we gather to remember what Jesus did for us. The bread and juice that we eat remind us of the cost of our wandering. As we partake today, let’s remember the words of another old song,
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter,
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.
(Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson)