Pilgrimage and the Treasure We Bear
s summer I took my parents on a driving tour to the homes of relatives in Western PA and NY state. My mom arranged the visits, and my dad and I shared the driving for the week long trip. We visited the town where both my parents’ families settled when they emigrated from Germany I saw the building where the Reuning Bakery once sold its lebkuchen and pies I visited the cemetery where the three generations are buried
I walked the roads through the fields of my grandfather’s, now my cousin’s, dairy farm
I sifted through memories as I visited the houses my grandparents raised their children in,
And where I came at Christmastime and in the summer to work and play with my cousins.
It was an unexpected gift to revisit my family’s history in such a primary way.
It was if I had made a kind of pilgrimage without even knowing it.
I felt connected with a larger story, the story of my family’s life over the generations
I connected to the immigrant experience, and what it means to pick up and start over in a new place.
At the same it was very particular to me, an exploration of who I am and what I take with me from my heritage. A pilgrimage is like that—both deeply personal and universal at the same time. A pilgrimage is a sacred journey of discovery and connecting
It’s setting off to new places to find one’s place in an old story
It is setting your own individual life in the context a more comprehensive perspective.
The Magi, or Wise Men as they are called in our Gospel lesson, were traditionally seen as spiritual pilgrims.
They made a sacred journey to see the Christ child.
The Magi were learned people (not necessarily men, according to modern research)
who studied the stars, among other early sciences.
They were not Jews, but were likely Zoroastrians from Persia or Parthia.
The Zoroastrians, like the Jews, had a prophecy that one day a child would be born to be king over the world.
Their belief and their desire led them to search the stars for spiritual revelation and to seek out Jesus.
The Magi became the model of the sacred practice of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.
Thousands of people made spiritual journeys to holy sites, usually a Cathedral with relics,
in order to draw near Christ.
Like the first Magi, these pilgrims came for a spiritual revelation:
an answer to prayer, guidance for their lives.
The journey was as important as the destination itself
Pilgrims traveled together, shared meals and stories and offered protection to one another,
New challenges and scenery inspired reflection, prayer, and a need to trust God more fully.
Today thousands of people walk the medieval pilgrimage route the Camino de Santiago Compostela every year.
Has anyone walked it? (Kris J)
Many do it as a secular practice, like hiking the Appalachian Trail.
many do it out of a desire for time apart, pushing boundaries, and finding community and inner strength, just like people who make a pilgrimage for religious reasons.
Pilgrimage was and is a spiritual practice—sometimes done intentionally, as in people walking the Camino Sometimes recognized after the fact, like my trip with my parents.
In fact, we can look at all of life as a pilgrimage.
The fourth century church father Augustine of Hippo famously wrote in his Confessions:
“Thou [O Lord] hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”
He viewed life as a sacred journey where our deepest desires lead us to God.
Looking at our lives as a sacred journey to God gives us a larger perspective.
Parts of the journey that once seemed tedious or meaningless
Are dignified in becoming part of a larger narrative God’s work in the world.
Parts of the journey that seem dangerous or wrong headed
become opportunities to trust that God is working, and that we see only a portion of God’s whole plan.
If you view your life is a holy journey leading to God Then your job as a pilgrim on that journey is to open your eyes to see Christ, active and working in your life.
Like the Magi, we not only travel on our pilgrimage—as Christians we also bear special treasures. One of the treasures we carry is a rich heritage of sacred story.
The scriptures are the larger narrative in which we place our story,
making sense of a greater design of God and finding our place in it.
We bear the gift of intentional community, where we commit to journey together.
But most of all, we not only journey to see Christ, we also bear the treasure of Christ to others.
We become his hands and feet in the world, showing care and doing justice.
The Christian journey finds its purpose in helping others to know the love and companionship of Christ.
We live in an increasingly secular world—
churches of all stripes are struggling to hold steady in attendance and membership.
Are we Christians sharing the treasures of our faith?
It isn’t like it was in the past, when we simply raised our children in church and they did the same.
Now we need to reach out to people who have never heard about Jesus, have no connection with worship. I notice, however, that secular people, are drawn to faith practices like pilgrimage. Like yoga. Like chant and meditation. Like communal meals together. Like live story telling. Could these expressions of spiritual practice be a place to share the treasure of Christ? Could they already be sharing Christ in some disguised form?
My friend Bonnie and I meet for lunch once a quarter.
Bonnie was my secretary at my former church, but three months into the job, she had a double brain aneurysm.
She almost died, and was out of work for three months.
Upon her recovery, Bonnie has a heightened sense of spirituality.
She believes she is still here for a reason, and each day is an opportunity to seek that purpose. Bonnie was raised in the church, but she isn’t a member anywhere.
She used to read my sermons before posting them online, and often we’d talk about them.
We both appreciated those conversations—we got closer to each other, and learned from each other.
I think back on those conversations as a natural way to share the treasure of faith.
It’s something others have figured out a way to do—
A former parishioner named Woody took a manuscript of the sermon to a small group
who gathered for coffee at his retirement high rise
my friend Eric gave a Monday morning synopsis of the sermon at the office.
In both cases, it started with sharing just a little about scripture and its application to their lives. After that, they were asked to do it again until it became a regular thing.
I think The Magi and their pilgrimage show us a different way to share the gift of Christ than we have in the past.
Rather expecting folks to come to us, we journey along side them.
We don’t have to bang someone else over the head with the bible to share our faith with them We work from the place of care and service and share what comes naturally.
Who are the people you already share with over lunch or at the gym or on the soccer field?
Can you include something about your faith life?
It can be as simple as an offer of prayer or sharing an experience of gratitude.
Maybe you already have some friends with whom you share on topics of faith and its meaning in your life.
Can you invite someone new into this conversation?
I should mention that in neither of the cases I mentioned with Woody or Eric
did any of those people ever join their church.
My friend Bonnie still does not attend a church regularly.
But God’s work is not just limited to the church.
I have said already that the Magi were not Jews, not a part of the traditional vehicles of God’s grace.
But they saw the star, and they came.
They had their own authentic spiritual path—a different one that led to the same place.
And so we must also be prepared that walking with others on the spiritual journey
is not necessarily about building church statistics. It is about journeying with others to Christ.
The word, Epiphany, which is the name given to the story of the Magi,
comes from a Greek word that means ‘to reveal’
On our spiritual journey of life, we can pray that Christ be revealed to us
That we would connect our personal story to the cosmic story of God’s love in Christ for the universe. That we would be guided on our faith journey as the Magi were guided.
We can also pray God reveal to us the ways and methods to share Christ with others in this time and place.
Christ was revealed to the Magi, and has been revealed to us.
We are called to journey with others on their pilgrimage and share the treasures Scripture, community, and Christ with others.