Sermon for Sunday, June 19, 2022  Second Sunday after Pentecost “Courage on the Way”

Rev. Stacey Nealon-Carlson – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church    Decorah, Iowa

There are travels we choose, and there are travels laid upon us—journeys for which we could not prepare, paths we could not have predicted. It’s the difference between a named Peter and John freely going to the temple to pray and an unnamed man, defined by his disability, being carried by others, and laid at the gate to beg. It’s the difference between the illusion of independence and the reality of complete dependence, between thinking you’re fine and knowing your need for healing. It’s the difference between packing up and taking off with intention, never questioning your return, and waking up one day in a different place without ever taking a single step, uncertain you’ll ever return home.

As a student at Luther, it was the difference, for me, between a J-Term trip to England during my junior year and the news of my brother’s death my senior year. The travel to England was chosen. I wanted to learn. I wanted to grow and be stretched. The journey of grief was one I never would have chosen. Without packing my suitcase or stepping on an airplane, I woke up the morning after that devastating news in a different place—a landscape I did not choose, an altered universe where I couldn’t begin to fathom how the world just kept on turning. It was the difference between being an audience member—observing tragedy on the theater’s stage—and being an actor in a production for which the script was still being written. It began as a tragedy. Would it end that way too?

Maybe the journey you could not have predicted began in the doctor’s office with words now etched on your memory. It was a diagnosis that defined your itinerary. Or maybe it was a rupture in a relationship—a relationship you expected would endure—that set you on a path you never would have chosen. 

Today the COVID alert level is again Red, and again we are wearing masks in worship. Throughout this worldwide pandemic—when our opportunities for chosen travel have been so diminished—who among us hasn’t traveled to an entirely new place without taking a single step, this surreal world where deaths are numbered in the millions, but collective mourning has been detoured by deep divisions? How will this ongoing journey shape us? Who will we become as we continue on this path?

I want to ask these same questions of the characters—named and unnamed—in our reading from Acts this morning. Unnamed man, carried to the gate but denied entry to the place of prayer, who are you? How long were you heard, but never fully seen? And what will the journey look like for you after this encounter with the power of Jesus? 

Witnesses to this healing encounter, where will you go now? You, who averted your eyes for so long, who remained at a distance and threw charity from arm’s length, where will the risen Christ lead you? 

Peter and John, with the privilege of name and uncontested agency, who will you be- come as your travels continue, as the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead, continues to show you a world in need of healing?

People of God, pilgrims on the way, where will God draw our attention as we continue travels chosen and unchosen? Where will our baptismal journey lead us?

My first call as a pastor was to a two-point parish in Adams, North Dakota, population 200. Aidan and Keaton were both born and baptized there. For Keaton’s baptism, we sang what was to us a new song as a gathered community: I’m going on a journey and I’m starting today. My head is wet and I’m on my way … Wherever I go, God’s been there too. God’s love has touched me and will carry me through. 

Barely a year later, I accepted a new call in West Union, Iowa. The leaving was incredibly painful, even though I was choosing it. In both my letter of farewell to the people of Adams and my letter of acceptance to the people of West Union, I shared the song that was sustaining me on the journey: Wherever I go, God’s been there too. God’s love has touched me and will carry me through. 

When our family of four arrived in West Union, worshiping for the first time in this new community, feeling homesick for all that we had left behind to travel to a new life in a new place, we were surprised to hear “our song” sung in worship that day. The congregation had learned it as a way of welcoming us, of honoring our journey. What a healing moment it was to have a new community of faith sing for me the words I knew to be true but could not sing through my tears that day. Wherever we go, God’s been there too. 

As we sang just before the reading, Courage comes with Jesus by our side no matter whether our travels cross oceans between continents or cross divisions between people, take us physically far from home or spiritually far from all that home represents, land us in a new place on the map or in a new perspective on the maps of our complicated minds. Courage comes with Jesus by our side through the travels we choose and through the travels laid upon us.

 

Sometimes the healing afforded by a baptismal journey with Jesus by our side will be obvious. Like the man raised up at the Beautiful Gate that day, our healing will be a thing of beauty. Unburdened, set free to love wholeheartedly, we will use our freedom to work for the liberation of all creation. And sometimes we will wait, and pray, and wait, and weep all the way to the journey’s end, dependent on the gathered community to carry us, to see us, to sing of God’s faithfulness when we cannot sing for ourselves. 

This beautiful sanctuary, this table of grace, this community of travelers on the way are here for you. Jesus is here for you, in word and water, bread and wine. Wherever the journey takes you, whatever the healing you seek, you are not alone. God’s love carries us through. Courage comes from Jesus by our side. 

Amen.