Last time we set out to explore the metaphor of discipleship being akin to the journey along the Underground Railroad. The journey from slavery to freedom is one that many attempted on their own to varying degrees of success, but was best accomplished within community, within a network of like-minded people (and by like-minded I mean they all have the same pursuit and goal).

The power and purpose of community is demonstrated in many ways. It helps combat the self-absorption that tends to shape us. For instance, while we can learn on our own, there are times when we need to come together in order to do so. No one has mastered theology. In its ideal, community allows checks, questions, and conversations as we try to muddle through life and pursue Christ together.

To make the journey one had to have a map, a lay of the land marking the terrain (hills and valleys; woods and water) in order to hide or move along in secret. Guides were as important, people who had made the journey ahead of the fugitives and knew the signposts and safe haven markers. Now don’t forget, reading was a luxury, more of a punishable offense, for a slave. Another valuable component to community is coming together to prayerfully read the Scripture. Scripture tells us the truth about life. It isn’t an end unto itself, but, rather, points to God. Guiding us in how to live and God’s teaching for our lives, it’s the food that nourishes us on our journey. Scripture acts as our map that keeps us on the path of the faithful. Through it we learn about and grow to know our faith, though more importantly, we need to live out what we know.

The importance of coming together also applies to worship. In communal worship we “do” the truth: we sing it, read it, preach it, live it. It takes the focus from us, moves it outside ourselves, and points (confesses) to God. In the context of the Underground Railroad, worship songs took on a more practical dimension as well. Songs like “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” for example, contained code words for an escape route from Alabama and Mississippi.

Another thing forgotten about following this path is the reality that there is an inherent danger to the journey. While the bounty/slave hunters, with their blood hounds, were fairly easy to spot, other dangers weren’t. Law-abiding citizens were obligated to turn in fugitives. It was hard to know who to trust. To say nothing of the extreme conditions the fugitives had to travel through. The weather, having to move at night through often freezing temperatures, proved its own obstacle.

Likewise, there is a danger to following Jesus. Faith is trust (in Jesus and his death and resurrection to do the will and mission of God) and belief (in certain truths about Him). From family members turning their backs on you, friends distancing themselves from you, and mocking by colleagues to true persecution for following your religion. There are all manner of traps can discourage or derail your journey.

We have continual struggles with sin. We often have it in our heads that our spiritual walks should be this steady climb in holiness. However, spirituality is often much more messy than this. We have ups and downs, occasionally following the odd rabbit trail. Though we’ve been freed from it and no longer have our identity in the system of slavery, it’s easy to be ensnared by those old values and ways. Sometimes you will fail and sometimes you will have setbacks.

While we journey through this more committed phase of our journey, we have to remember that we are walking with the Spirit. Journeying with someone implies a certain level of dialogue, friendship, sharing, and an overall deepening of relationship. Walking with God is no different. Though there may be times when you may still feel alone, when God seems distant or especially silent, He is there, guiding you. During this leg of our trip, we may undergo the rite of baptism, symbolizing your death to sin and being raised into a new life. Making a covenant of discipleship with Christ.

Eventually the fugitives reached Canada, assuming they didn’t choose to stop and settle along the way. Either way, they had made it, they were truly free. At the end of their journey. However, even when they had “made it,” they weren’t done. Yes, the fugitives, now free people, could breathe free, vote, and own land, but they still had to find a home, a job, and adjust to a new place. In other words, they had to begin to learn the disciplines of experiencing a free life – a lifelong calling.

Discipleship is not instant. In truth, the journey has just begun as you attempt to develop your new rule of life. See what gifts you bring to the community and figure out how to be a contributing member of the body. Finding a place is a critical part of your journey. How many times have you felt on the outside looking in on a group? It leads to feelings of aloneness, alienation, which eventually lead to anger and bitterness. You may even become resentful of the journey itself (what’s the point of following Christ if it only leads to a group you are excluded from or is itself exclusive?)

All the while knowing and learning how to serve God’s creation. Our life because service to God and each other. At the same time, we need to tell others about the need to make the journey. We don’t want to leave anyone behind, trapped in a system of slavery. As Robert Webber put it “discipleship is a long obedience in the same direction.”

Or as those on that long ago journey put it, we need to “Follow the North Star.”