New Beginnings: Surviving the Journey
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, July 29, 2012.
14 This is why I kneel before the Father. 15 Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. 16 I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. 17 I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, 18 I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. 19 I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.
20 Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; 21 glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21, Common English Bible
6 After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberius Sea). 2 A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick.3 Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. 4 It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.
5 Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” 6 Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”
8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, 9 “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
John 6:1-13, Common English Bible
For the past two weeks we have considered new beginnings. The first week, my first Sunday as the new lead pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, I shared with you my call story and invited you to share with me and each other the ways in which God has claimed and called you. Last week, we stood at the trailhead and considered the things we might need as we embark, together, on a journey: going to the unexplored places where God leads us. I shared with you a bit about what I learned from my father-in-law about preparing for journeys; and, today, I’d like to tell you what I learned from him and my wife about surviving on the journey.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
August 22, 2008. It’s the crack of dawn. Chandra, my father-in-law and I eat breakfast, and hop in a truck to drive two-and-a-half hours to our trailhead in the Adirondack Mountains. We arrive at the trailhead at mid-morning (of course when you get up at 5am to be on the road by 6am, 8:30 is mid-morning). We put on our hiking boots, eat a snack, hoist our carefully packed backpacks, take a picture at the trailhead, and walk in the forest, down into a ravine. Growing up in the rolling hills and cornfields of Southern Indiana, this terrain was completely foreign to me. I was out of my element, following a trail that was easy for me to lose. Thank goodness for my competent guide.
I learned that surviving on the trail meant more than just being prepared for the journey. We had packed water, but not enough to last three days. We needed water not only to keep ourselves hydrated, but we also needed clean water to hydrate our freeze dried meals. While on the trail, Chandra and my father-in-law taught me how to identify trees, edible fruits, and even how to take algae and leach infested water and make it drinkable. I learned, while journeying through this unexplored country, that to survive on the journey, we were going to have to pay attention to our surroundings and be resourceful.
Jesus and his disciples were being followed by a large crowd. They had seen the miracles Jesus had done and they wanted to see more. Trying to find a quiet place, Jesus began walking up the side of a nearby mountain. After rising above the coast of the nearby Tiberius Sea, Jesus turned and sat down. He looked at the crowds who were following him up the mountain. It was nearly time to eat. Wanting to see how resourceful the disciples might be, Jesus asked Philip, “Look at all those people. They’re surely getting hungry having walked such a long way. Where are we going to find food for a crowd like this?”
Philip, overwhelmed by his surroundings said, “Heck if I know. Even if there was a place for us to buy food, it would take a half-year’s salary to buy enough food to give each person just a little.”
Then, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, looked out and surveyed the terrain. He noticed that there was a small boy near the front of the encroaching crowd. He was holding five loaves of bread and two fish. Andrew knew it wasn’t enough to feed everyone, but it was something. So he piped up and said, “Umm, Jesus. I was looking around and noticed this boy over there. He has some food. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. Maybe we can use it to feed the crowd?”
Jesus had everyone sit down on the mountainside. The boy graciously gave his five loaves of bread and two fish to Jesus. Jesus prayed over them and then handed it out, serving some 5,000 people. When everyone had their fill, Jesus asked the disciples to gather up the leftovers so that nothing would be wasted. The disciples were astonished to find that there were some 12 baskets full of leftover bread and some 5 baskets of leftover fish. And, in that moment, the disciples learned that where some people see scarcity other people see valuable resources. Where some people see desolation and defeat, others see opportunity and a chance at victory.
Surviving the journey with Christ means that we’ve got to pay attention to our surroundings and be resourceful. And, even if our resources seem small, we’ve got to trust that God will use our limited resources for his eternal purpose.
Last week, I asked those who were present in worship to survey the terrain. Everyone was asked to write what they thought was important for us to know or remember about this unexplored country: Wesley United Methodist Church and the surrounding community.
You can read everyone’s responses here.
Painting with broad strokes, I would say that the responses pointed toward two primary areas that we need to focus on as we begin our journey together: 1) we need to be intentional about creating programs for children, youth and families to grow in their faith; 2) we need to strengthen community and do a better job of looking after one another.
To be frank, Wesley United Methodist Church is operating on a strained budget. We’re paying our utility bills; but we’re not fully paying our apportionments (an outdated word for the mission’s tithe each church in Indiana is asked to give to support the mission and ministries of The United Methodist Church). Many could look at our present situation and have a perspective like Philip: looking around they’d see no opportunity for us to successfully do all the things we’re called to do. “Our resources are limited,” they would say, “we should just circle the wagons and do what we’ve always done. We can’t possibly do anything more or different.”
My friends, it is my prayer that we’d have the eyes of Andrew to point out the resources, however limited they might be, that can be used for God’s purposes. And, it’s my prayer that we’d have the faith of the boy who gave all that he had to Christ so that people might come to know God.
If we’re to be faithful on our journey with Christ, we’ve got to be mindful of our surroundings and be resourceful. We’ve got to trust that if we pay attention and give all that we have to Christ, in the words of Paul, God will be “able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to [God] in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.”
 Ephesians 4:20b-21, Common English Bible