Sermon “You Trace My Journeys” (January 18, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“You Trace My Journeys” (Psalm 139:2)
January 18, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When I lived in Charlottesville I would occasionally run into a celebrity. During the years I encountered John Grisham, Sissy Spacek, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Howie Long—I never knew who I would run into. One day in a bookstore I ran into Dave Matthews. I briefly chatted with him—he was very down to earth and kind. My favorite Dave Matthews song is “Where Are You Going,” and he sings:

Where are you going? Where do you go?
Are you looking for answers to questions under the stars?
Well, if along the way you are growing weary
You can rest with me until a brighter day you’re okay
I am no superman, I have no answers for you
I am no hero, aw that’s for sure
But I do know one thing
Where you are is where I belong
I do know, where you go, is where I wanna be
(from their 2002 album Busted Stuff).

Today’s psalm describes in detail how deeply God knows us and is with us wherever we are going:

“You trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways…Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also” (Psalm 139:2, 6-7, BCP 794).

Today I am preaching on just the opening phrase of this passage: “You trace my journeys.”

You trace my journeys.

I love road trips, long drives around the country, watching the terrain change, the sky change colors, entering and exiting different states, seeing places I have never seen, listening to the radio or album after album, cutting up with the other travelers or letting my mind wander—there’s nothing like a road trip.

My love for road trips started in the summer of 1976. My family lived in Virginia and we piled into my dad’s beige 1974 Chevy Malibu, and drove to Denver, where both my parents grew up. With the AM radio playing music by Elton John, Paul McCartney and Wings, Seals and Croft, and The Captain and Tennille we went from state to state. I remember how excited I was when we entered another state.

My sisters and I would beg to stop at Stuckey’s because they had great snacks and awesome souvenirs. At night we would eat out and then splash in the hotel pool as it grew dark—and then watch TV and start it all over again the next day–great memories for sure!

Road trips can evoke all kinds of emotions. Some road trips are simply for fun, others may involve going to a funeral, or helping a child move into college, or bonding with friends, or following a sports team, or perhaps taking someone who has a terminal illness to see something or someone one more time.

Have you ever been on a road trip and you were convinced that you knew where you were going, only to discover that you were wrong?

When Steph and I were in college in Oklahoma fall break rolled around and we decided to drive back east to see our families. “Do you need to look at a map first?” Steph asked me. “No, I got it,” I replied. We got on the interstate and headed east. We had been driving for quite some time when I became uneasy. “We should have gotten to Arkansas by now,” I commented. We came upon a green sign—“State Line 5 Miles.” I felt a surge of relief wash through me…but then a few minutes later it transformed into a surge of panic when I saw another sign—“Welcome to Missouri.”

We pulled over to the first gas station we could find and I ran in and opened a map. We had been taking I-44 East, not I-40. My error had cost us several hours, and we had to wind our way through the Ozark Mountains through the night to get to I-40. Oops…

Sometimes in our lives we are convinced that we know where we are going, only to realize one day that we were completely wrong. We find ourselves in a frenetic hurry, but unsure why—as a friend of mine once quipped, “I have no idea where I’m going, but I’m making excellent time!”

Other times we may find ourselves at a dead end. Back in the mid-nineties Steph and I lived in Wyoming for a while. I had a week off and we decided to drive to Seattle. We loaded up our three young daughters into our 1989 Honda Accord and off we went. After visiting some old friends in Montana I studied a map I was certain I had identified a shortcut. “This will save us a lot of time!” I told Steph excitedly. She did not say anything but I could tell by her expression that she was, well, less certain than I was.

We ended up winding up a mountain, and soon the road narrowed, then narrowed some more, and then turned to gravel. There was not enough room to turn around so we had no alternative but to keep winding our way up. When we reached the top of the mountain the road just stopped, an abrupt dead end, and we did the only thing we could do, we backtracked our way all the way back down. Oops…

On some road trips we may discover that we are on the wrong road or come to a dead end. On other road trips we may find ourselves at a crossroads, pausing and trying to figure out which way to go, which choice to make. In his 1916 poem The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost famously writes:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Another illustration…in the 2000 film Cast Away Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a Fed Ex employee who is involved in a plane crash in the South Pacific. After surviving for several years on a deserted island, he manages to build a raft out of a portable toilet that has washed up on the shore. He takes along a small Fed Ex package from the plane wreck that had also washed ashore, a package he had kept all those years and never opened. The package is stamped with a distinct emblem of a pair of wings. Chuck is eventually rescued.

Toward the end of the film Chuck is riding in his Jeep in rural Texas, and he personally delivers that package—the box is faded, beat up, the markings smeared. The same emblem of a pair of wings marks the sign of the ranch where he delivers the package. No one is home so he leaves the package on the door step with a simple note: “This package saved my life—thank you! Chuck Noland.”

In the next scene Chuck pulls his Jeep over at a deserted intersection. He gets out and is standing in the road looking over a map. An old faded red Ford pick-up truck pulls up, and a pretty lady with beautiful red hair smiles at him, “You look lost!” I do? Chuck responds.

She gets out of the truck, “Where are you headed?” Well, I was just about to figure that out. Seeing the puzzled look on Chuck’s face she nods one direction, “Well, that’s 83 south (and turning she continues) and this road here will hook you up with I-40 East. If you turn right, that’ll take you to Amarillo, Flagstaff, California (then she faces north) and if you head back that direction, a whole lot of nothing all the way to Canada.” I got it, Chuck nods. She smiles again, “All right. Good luck, cowboy!” Thank you. As she drives off Chuck is startled when he sees a certain familiar emblem on the back of the pick-up truck.

Then in a memorable scene Chuck walks to the middle of the intersection and slowly turns and squarely faces each direction—east, south, west, and then north, the direction the lady had driven. Having decided which way he would go, he squares his body north and smiles.

Where are you going?

Think about the road trip of your life for a moment. Have there been times when you were sure you knew where you were going only to discover you were completely wrong? Have some of the apparent short-cuts turned out to be dead ends or “a whole lot of nothing”? Are you at a crossroads of some kind in your life right now?

The good news of the gospel is that throughout the road trip of your life, Jesus has been with you, tracing your journey, tracing every wrong turn, tracing every dead end, tracing every crossroads, no matter what—because as Jesus himself said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

And Jesus chose the road “less traveled by,” a road some considered the wrong road and others deemed a dead end.

During Passion Week Jesus stood at the crossroads with your eternal destiny in the balance, and squared his body toward Jerusalem, toward the cross.

Jesus knew exactly where he was going, and he went there for you—to die in your place, to forgive you of all your sins, to give you eternal life.

Why?

Because where you go is where Jesus wants to be—because where Jesus is, is where you belong.

And “ages and ages hence,” when your earthly journey is over, you will see the face of the One who traced your journey all along…and a new journey will begin.

Amen.