Southern Californians of a certain age will appreciate one of my mother's many areas of
After dispatching cranes for three companies, two husbands, and countless years, Mom has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Thomas Guide.
For anyone who may be watching in other parts of the world – a warm welcome to you all! – the Thomas Guide was a thick, spiral bound book of detailed maps of Los Angeles and environs.
I will never learn the hymnal as thoroughly as Mom has mastered the Thomas Guide.
Give her an address and she will rattle off page number and grid square, chapter and
verse, and as you all know, this special day and every day, Mom is always right.
I should ask her sometime who the Thomas Guide is named for.
The internet, which is not always right, says it is named for cartographer George Coupland Thomas and his two brothers, with whom he went into business about a
I have a different theory.
I like to think it is named for the disciple who has no idea where Jesus is going.
Thomas needs a guide.
He needs a map printed in black and white, with red squares.
He wants to pinpoint the Father in a certain box on a certain page, and enjoy the confidence of knowing where to locate Jesus and exactly how to get there.
Much of religion tries to do this...to lay out the map so we can navigate life, finding the best
route through the maze of options to wherever we want to go—union with God, love, joy,
truth, peace, personal happiness, success, salvation, security, whatever we're looking for.
It's easy to get turned around and lost in Los Angeles, and also in life.
So we like concrete instructions, clear road maps, accurate answers for those times in life
when we're allowed to go somewhere.
Jesus isn't providing this, so Thomas vents his frustration.
How can we know the way when you won't show it to us?
But Jesus wants him to put down the book and study the lines on his face.
I am the way, he says.
I am not the atlas; I am the road.
This took on new poignancy this past week for me as I was logging a few thousand miles across America.
If you have been waiting for a phone or email response from me, or a better sermon today, this is why I owe you an apology.
I helped move my brother and nephew's things to upstate New York, then picked up his grade school friend in Texas and moved her home to Thomas Guide page 533.
Along the way I went through mountains, canyons, deserts, prairie, rolling hills, flat fields, lush green and barren brown landscapes.
I saw deer and alpaca and armadillo and cattle and horses and goats and flowers and creeks and lakes and dusty riverbeds.
I sang and drummed the wheel to a wide variety of music through a wide assortment of moods.
I drove through surprise and wonder and frustration and boredom and giddy delight.
And somewhere in Arizona, nearing the California line, I began to feel sadness.
I didn't want it to be over so soon.
Yes, I was coming home, and the sunset through the palm trees and the familiar sights of
Southern California would soon be a beacon of beautiful embrace.
But I also knew I would miss the road.
I would miss the long black ribbon that tied it all together and carried me all the way.
I am the way, Jesus said to Thomas.
I am the road, and the reality, and the air in your lungs and through your hair.
I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
Too often religion, like many drivers I know who tend to be male, becomes so obsessed with the destination and getting there the right way, that it misses the beauty and wonder and
wisdom of the road.
Preachers talk about Jesus like he's the destination, which is true, but he is also the journey.
He will lead us home, but what's the hurry?
If Tom Cochrane is right, and Life is a Highway, I want to ride it all night long.
Heaven can wait; don't rush death; appreciate the trip.
Some of it is boring and frustrating.
Some of it is a maddening traffic standstill, like spring of 2020.
Some of it is work zone, especially Illinois, and there will be detours from your plans.
You can curse them or embrace them.
I am the road, Jesus told Thomas, and if you want to get to the Father, stick with me.
Jesus, of course, winds through the wrong neighborhoods and leads precisely where we
do not want to go.
He heads to Jerusalem; he drives to the cross.
He carries us into death and through it and beyond it, not around it.
He is not often direct or efficient.
The journey is at least as important as the destination; he not only insists on making home
ready for us, he is determined to make us ready for home.
He steers us through loss and mystery and uncertainty and fear and confusion.
He stretches downhill.
He kneels and washes feet and bleeds and dies on a cross and says, I am the way.
No one comes to the Father except through me, he says, a line which many Christians seize upon to prove that their religion is the only way to heaven, the one escalator going
up, but that's not what Jesus who traveled so far down said.
He didn't say, the only way to God is by believing the right things about me.
He said, no one comes to the Father except through me.
This is at the heart of the insight that overpowered Luther and kindled the Reformation.
God is not an angry judge or a distant cosmic CEO but an adoring parent.
Jesus uniquely shows us that God's heart is self-giving, sacrificing, serving, saving love.
The way, the one black ribbon that winds through all the variations of the world and
holds us all the way, is death into resurrection, fall into winter into spring, loss into
rebirth, cross into Easter, grief into grace.
The way is love that is strong and courageous enough to let go.
The way is saving people, not money or face.
The journey who is Jesus takes us through landscapes lush and barren, through seasons that are fertile and dry, with wondrous faces and places along the way, many of which are
blessings we would have planned to avoid.
He moves our anxious, troubled hearts away from the idols of efficiency and Being Right to
being in relationship, from pinpointing God to finding the Father.
He moves our eyes from the atlas to the road to the world God so loves.
He moves our focus from reaching a place to reading a face.
Why did I decide to drive thousands of miles in a week and a half during a pandemic?
Because I love my brother, and I had a chance to go and help prepare a place for him.
We all have the chance to prepare places in this world for one another, and the journey is as
joyful as the arrival because all of it is love when the journey's name is Jesus.
I am the way, he said to the men whose feet he kneeled to wash and souls he died to save.
Kneel, serve, love, lead, help, heal, host and create home for those around you.
Do unto others and Jesus has done for us.
He is the way.
Keep your eyes on the road.