Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 5, 2018
11th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; John 6:24-35
Occasionally a particular word in the English language will send me on a search for its meaning and history, its etymology. Just such a word caught my attention recently—the word “meander.” It’s a good word, don’t you think? To meander is to follow a winding course or to wander without definite aim or direction. You might be interested to know that the term comes from the Meander River of eastern Turkey, which, from ancient times, was a visual metaphor for how to take the longest path between two points. When I think of meandering, I think of long walks on the beach or spending hours in a bookstore seeking new treasures. Kinney meanders on his morning runs.
Certainly, meandering can take us to places of wonder and delight, but meandering can also get us in trouble—take the people in our lectionary readings, for example. David loses his way and meanders into sin—so much so that he is unable to see himself in Nathan’s moral tale.[i] David meanders into a trap that forces him to face a hard truth: he has committed a terrible sin against God. No doubt, he has sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, and their unborn child. And what about soldiers that might have been under Uriah’s command? Although Scripture does not tell us, it is likely that other innocent men lost their lives because of David’s dastardly deed. Yes, David meanders into sin.
The Bible records other stories of God’s meandering people like the Israelites who wander in the wilderness for 40 long years because they fail to trust in God after their great exodus from Egypt. Because of their sin, they do not enter the Promised Land. Nevertheless, while on their journey they experience God’s provision raining down from heaven as manna to fill their empty tummies.
In John’s Gospel when Jesus repeats this miracle of provision (by feeding the 5000 with a boy’s gift of 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish), there is no doubt the people are reminded of the story of long ago. We know so because they mention it! Listen to how the people react to what Jesus has done, but this time, I invite you to hear the story through Eugene Peterson’s The Message:
The next day the crowd that was left behind realized that there had been only one boat and that Jesus had not gotten into it with his disciples. They had seen them go off without him. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus. When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” To that, they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?” Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.” They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.” They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.”
The people are eager to find Jesus because they have gotten their tummies full and they want more. They are in the market for immediate gratification. But in the person of Jesus, they must face a hard truth. Living the life that Jesus requires will take more than aimless wandering. In the NRSV, verses 28 and 29 read as follows: “Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” It turns out that believing is, in fact, work! Believing and living as God would have us to live takes dedication. It takes discipline. At the end of the day, those who meander after Jesus need to find the way, the truth, and the life before they can even find themselves.[ii]
How many of us stay up night after night when the Olympics are on television? Even though I am not passionate about swimming, I still recall watching in awe as Michael Phelps took medal after medal—especially in the 2008 Olympics. How could we not be inspired by the discipline that it takes to get to the Olympics—no lounging in front of the TV, no fast food, no time for much of anything except practice, practice, practice (which, by the way, Scott Routsong knows a little something about since he is currently training to run a marathon).
When it comes to remarkable physical accomplishments, we expect nothing less than sold out commitment. However, when it comes to the things of God, “practice” and “discipline” seem foreign notions. How about a dollop of Jesus and we will be on our merry way! Our world spins on a diet of instant coffee, instant grits, and fast food. Immediate gratification are our watchwords—especially when it comes to our spiritual life. There was a time when spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, and Scripture reading were considered important to faith development. But times have changed and, unfortunately, such thinking has gone out of style. But can we really expect to grow in our faith without such practices?
To have the mind of Christ is not reached by meandering here and there. The hard truth is this: it takes work—it takes commitment—it takes discipline to grow day by day into the likeness of Jesus. As believers claimed by the waters of baptism and nourished at the Lord’s Table, we are called to participate in our own spiritual growth, our own wholeness. Christian maturity is not delivered to our doorstep wrapped in lovely paper and adorned with a fancy bow.
So, what must we do to perform the works of God? Well, if our goal is to be sold out committed Christians we will make worshiping with other Christians a priority in our lives. (Since you are here, I assume this is already important to you.) Gathering with our brothers and sisters, praying, singing, and partaking of God’s bounteous feast is a perfect way to allow God to reset our compasses, readjust our goals. Otherwise, we may become sidetracked like David, letting our desires become more important that God’s desires for us.
Other disciplines to enrich your spiritual development might include a renewed commitment to daily Bible reading, fasting, prayer, service to others, or meditating on God’s goodness through music, art, or nature. Perhaps, if you enjoy writing, it is time to begin a prayer journal—recording your thoughts and prayers each day. Hopefully, if you aren’t already participating in Sunday School, you will prayerfully consider joining the Generations of Faith class that starts next Sunday.
Oh, you may say, “All that stuff is for other people—radical folks like Pentecostals—not Presbyterians.” I beg to differ. The hard truth is that when we claim to be Christians, we are witnesses for Christ. And like Olympians who with each competition represent their country, we represent Christ to the world. Of course, we may choose to meander hither and yon, or we may decide to go for the gold!
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Cover Art “Gathering the Fragments” © Jan Richardson Images; Used by subscription.