Pre-trip planning

given on March 6, 2011

This is the pre-Lent service so the concept is that we will take a spring break, so to speak, walking through the 3.5 years of Jesus’ ministry.

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Pre-Trip Planning


Okay, so a few of you have already flown the coop and taken off to warmer spots on the earth.  But most of us have stayed right here at home worn down by the snow, the cold, the mud, and now the rain.  We are ready to get out of town and have a spring break.

Oddly enough, spring break is almost non-existent this year because the difficult winter weather has robbed most of us the traditional spring break defined by school calendars.  Of course, there are some who no longer have to follow school calendars, and they have chosen to hang on for whatever winter delivers or they headed south.

Funny, but when I woke up on March 1 I think I really expected to look out and see green—green grass, green leaves, green little flowers poking up, and even a green tax refund.  I was disappointed.  It still was a decent day, but the green was not flooding the world around me—only the mud was flooding my world.

What better time, then, is there to look ahead toward spring and figure out a trip that can take you away from all the mud and gunk in and around our homes as well as in our own lives!  Therefore I am ready to get to work.  You do know that planning a journey is no easy task, and this journey is going to take 40 days.  Am I ever looking forward to it!

You can see the plans include covering, on foot, a large section of the Mediterranean region.  I have not been there before, so this will be something completely new.  I do have friends who have been there, so I may have to rely on what they can share.  The tour guides live there or they are authorities who will provide unique insight into the experiences and the locations along the way.

First, you must have a map.  The map from the Archeological Study Bible (ASB) provides a visual of the region and includes the various events of Jesus’ ministry—oh, did I forget to tell you—our trip is an abbreviated one following Jesus’ own footsteps during the three and a half years of his ministry.  Our trip is 40 days, but his was about 1, 643 day.

Back to the map:  The map provides an idea of what the regions’ land is like, but pictures will help too.  The area today is so different than it was during that first century AD (anno domini, loosely translated as the time after Christ’s birth).  Living conditions are sometimes very difficult because the region is arid, not very fertile like our farmlands.  The Jordan River, about 60 miles from the coast of the Great Sea—the Mediterranean Sea—provides some productive farming, but it is not the same fertile bottomland as we have around our rivers and creeks here in Missouri.

Technology as we know it does not exist during Jesus’ time, so word of mouth or a handwritten letter was the best way to share information.  Communication to outlying regions, other countries, much less other continents was not a priority.  What went on in Egypt may or may not affect someone living along the Jordan River, as compared to the recent revolution which was reported in real time to us half a globe away.  What happens in Egypt does have a direct affect on us today—check the gas prices!

Today, though, we are going to try and make this journey just as Jesus did.  We are going to walk a mile, each mile, in his shoes.  Today we begin by considering how to prepare for the 3.5-year ministry.  Since Jesus’ birth, his education came at the hands of his parents and the priests in the temples.  The only copy of the scriptures were in the hands of the priests, and most of the work had to be memorized, discussed, and shared from their point of view.

These earliest teachers did not know that Jesus was God here on earth.  Looking at the conditions of the temples, then I can only imagine the discomfort of sitting there, hour after hour; hearing the scriptures in those old priests’ voices and having them drill me about the laws and the scriptures’ meanings.  To be honest, I wouldn’t be a good student in that setting, especially since memorization is a tough skill for me.

Yet Jesus continued to grow.  He learned a basic trade—carpentry.  He learned the Psalms and worked with the priests.  But after John baptized him, he needed 40 days of preparation.  In 27 AD, he departed from his family and friends and went into the wilderness.  Those days, from my research this week, were probably during the warm summer months.  The region into which he walked was desert-like.  The map and the study notes describe the possible region (located northeast of Jericho) or regions:

. . . (1) in the desert region of the lower Jordan Valley, (2) on a high mountain (possibly one of the abrupt cliffs near Jericho that present an unsurpassed panorama), and (3) on the highest point of a temple, from which the priests sounded the trumpet to call the city’s attention to important events.  (ASB, p. 1563)

I understand the purpose of going into the desert, but the reality escapes me.  Imagine yourself trying to eat off the land, find the physical strength to exist without food and shelter.  Even if you walked into the desert with only the clothes on your back, I suspect after 40 days even they would need replacing.  The desert we typically think of would dry us out, bake us during the day and freeze us at night.

Forty days to prepare for the ministry seems a short time, but the living conditions then compared to today places an entirely different perspective on the timeframe.  The individuals I have heard who step away from their lives and go into a retreat to prepare for a life transition usually go on a vacation simply to relax.  The temptations are probably completely different, too,  Today’s temptations might be to drink, to overeat, to socialize.  The quiet reflection time, the study, the planning, and the prayers may be completely ignored.

Today we are trying to prepare for a journey.  We need to step away from daily life in some manner to refocus on our faith journey.  Think about what 40 days of preparation would be for you.  Would you fast?  Would you give everything away?  Would you spend hours praying?

During these next 40 days, commit yourself to some form of discipline.  You may not be leaving one lifestyle and going into a new one, especially one that ends as drastically as Jesus’, but commit yourself in order to intentionally develop your faith.  The next few days stop and think what you might do during Lent to test your faith, to refocus your spiritual life, and to share your faith.

Take the challenges.  Invite someone to join you in the journey.

Take the challenge.  Drop by Norris on Wednesday and join in devotion as you commit to faith development.

After Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, he returned to the Jordan communities and began his preaching.  The 3.5 years were not going to be easy, but he had met the Devil and did not give in to the temptations.  The Devil left, the angels came in and “tended” him, and he returns.

Think what it is like when you return from vacation.  You are eager to get home, but you also have a sense of apprehension wondering if everything is okay at home.  Jesus, now refreshed, returns home.  Everything may have been just fine, but he learns that his cousin, John the Baptist has been jailed.  His break is over.  His ministry begins.

Dear God,

Our spring break is just beginning, and we are filled with excitement and some fear.  We are going to walk in Jesus’ shoes as we learn what life in 27 AD was like and what Jesus did in those three and a half short years that has transformed the world.

Our spring break is also preparation for each of us to learn more about our faith.  We need renewal, we need new ideas, and we need to understand our mission as Christians in today’s world.  Guide us as we study the scriptures, as we share together, as we pray and worship together, and as we take the challenges.

Our spring break may end fairly soon, but let the journey give us the hope, the strength, and the tools to keep our faith journey moving forward.  Let us find our ministries.  Let us find ways to transform the world by making disciples of Christ along our way.            –Amen

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