Do you read assembly instructions? Ever pull the owner’s manual from the glove compartment of your car? When was the last time you read the safety precautions on a bottle of Aspirin?
Truth be told, most folks don’t bother. Most folks would rather deal with leftover screws and washers than follow a set of directions.
With that in mind, take a good look at today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles.
Before ascending into Heaven, Jesus issues a set of instructions. But there is something unique about them. In place of a step-by-step guide, He hands them something exciting and adventurous: He gives them a map, not a manual: You will be my witnesses beginning in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even to the to the ends of the earth.
Why is this significant? It is significant because, as John Eldredge points out in his book, Moving Mountains, a map is not a formula. It offers freedom and opportunity. A map gives you the lay of the land, but it is up to you to decide how to cover the terrain.
I once rode the Continental Divide on horseback from Chama, New Mexico to Durango, Colorado. My friends and I navigated through snow, crossed screes of rock and coaxed our horses up knife-edge trails to reach 12,000 foot peaks. It was the adventure of a lifetime.
The topographical maps we carried were hard to read and trail markers were scarce. When we lost our bearings, we had no choice but to keep looking for subtle signs of an ancient trail.
After that experience, I concluded that any religion worth its salt needs more than preachers and Sunday School teachers. It needs trailblazers!
Have you ever heard of Juan Padilla?
In the year 1541, Fr. Padilla was part of an expedition of thousands of men crossing the plains of the American Southwest. At one point in their journey, with supplies dwindling, they happened upon the Palo Duro Canyon where they made camp.
On the first night, a hailstorm stampeded the horses and destroyed most of their equipment. The next morning, hunters went up on the plains to gather food, but they got lost. Night fell and the hunters had not returned. Those who remained in the canyon, built fires and blew trumpets to help their comrades find their way back to camp.
The next morning, Father Padilla, who would become the first Christian martyr in the New World, offered a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe return. It happened to be the Feast of the Ascension. At that Mass, Fr. Padilla would have read the same words that you and I ponder today: “You will be my witnesses,” says the Lord, “beginning in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.”
Friends, the life of faith is a map, not a manual.
Where has this map taken you?
How has the Holy Spirit guided you on your journey thus far?
How has the map of faith influenced
the roads that you’ve taken
the vocation you’ve chosen
the places you’ve lived
the people you’ve chosen as friends?
A writer named Judy Klein once shared the story of her 26-year-old son’s struggle to recover from drug addiction. His name is Christian and this is how he described the early phase of his journey:
My life has always been about failing, about suffering, about punishment. But when I finally came to God in stillness, in quiet, with an open heart and mind, I heard him whisper in my heart—"I love you.”
I finally allowed a little bit of His love to seep into the deepest places of my heart—into the darkest things I’ve ever known and done—I’ve seen that has always God loved me, that he only wanted to embrace me, and that he has always been there with me.
Christian’s words mirror of the words of Christ in today’s gospel: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
What an unusual map we pilgrims carry! What a strange GPS directs our trailblazing! Our destination is clear, yet the path to Heaven unfolds by twists and turns as we make our way. Despite hold-overs, delays and detours, we press on toward the New Jerusalem.
Our one compass: the voice of Love.
Our signal flare: the Glory of God!