The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Reverend Tom Baker, Guest Preacher

John 6:24-35

While having breakfast on Saturday morning three girls in their twenties sat at a table near me. Soon I could hear them talking about going to church on Sunday. I have to tell you, I didn’t know which was stranger; young people having breakfast at eight on a Saturday morning or young people going to church. That’s because less than 15 percent of people under 40 attend a religious service. Overall 45 percent of Americans define themselves as “nones.” Not the kind of nun who prays in a convent, but when asked, “What religion do you belong to,” they respond, none. In Columbia Maryland, where I once lived, all roads led to a large mall so instead of finding St. Mary’s at the towns’ center you found St. Macys.

Those who study religious trends in our country report that the age of Christendom is over. This does not mean the Christian faith is dead – it means that the days when Christianity effects our culture is over.

Before you panic, or become depressed, take a breath and remember, this is important, remember this is exactly how the Christian faith started. Our culture looks a lot like the one John wrote his Gospel to. A culture where the Christian faith did not dictate how everyone behaved and lived. You and I are too use to Christianity being at the center of culture but that is not where our faith started and our Gospel reading this morning wants to talk about that.

Last Sunday, Jesus feed the five thousand. Today, we hear that people loved the meal so much they came back for seconds. But upon arriving, with to go boxes in hand, Jesus is no where to be found. He moved on to the other side of the lake, far removed from the mountain and the people he fed. John tells us that the people couldn’t understand why Jesus did not want to stay on the mountaintop and provide bread and fish every day. It is an age-old problem. The people wanted to keep a good thing going. With compassion in his heart, and a challenge in his voice, Jesus tells the people he more than a free meal ticket.

The book “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger uses the travels of Lewis and Clark and relates it to how churches can grow in these changing times. Lewis and Clark’s had a mission to find a route to the pacific. Establishing this route would be like owning the internet today. The new country of the United States would have unimaginable wealth and power.

Every expert believed that there was a river which could carry Lewis and Clark straight to the Pacific Ocean. Which why the people hired to make the journey knew everything about canoes, navigating a river, and who could paddle all day long. When they finally reached the source of the Missouri river Lewis and Clark were certain the rest of their journey would be downhill and they’d float down all the way to the pacific. Instead, they were confronted with trying to climb the Rockies with only paddle.

Canoeing the mountains points out the biggest problem Lewis and Clark had was believing that everything in front of them would be just like everything that was behind them.

How often do churches try the same thing over and over. Believing that we just offered more programs we get more kids. If we use more contemporary music or did a better job collecting people’s names at the Christmas Eve service, we have more members. Like Lewis and Clark we can believe that everything about our faith and church in front of us will be like everything that was behind us.

We must remember that John wrote his Gospel to followers who never met Jesus. Their faith was not going to be like their grandmas synagogue. All their richly held traditions no longer held any meaning. Jesus was not a prophet like Moses, he was the messiah. The manna God provided to their ancestors was completely different from the bread of Life standing before them. Everything they knew, everything they did, everything they believed had changed. Jesus didn’t stand on the mountain top forever.

As people of faith we are no longer at the center of everything. Everything behind us is completely different from what is in front of us. All the ways we once had to attract people to our church, our faith, no longer work. It is time we did exactly what Lewis and Clark did – what the disciples of Jesus did – as they entered a completely new territory.

When the people asked Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus did not give them a set of rules or a new bible study to get more disciples. Instead, Jesus says, “Believe in me and the One who sent me.” Belief is not rooted in laws or programming. Lewis and Clark’s team survived because they trusted each other, they were willing to take chances, and they embrace the adventure. We too, no matter what happens, no matter how lost we may feel, must trust in Jesus and one another. And trust is not formed in buildings or programming but relationships. People want community not more rules. They want connection not simple answers to life’s problems, and most of all people want a place where they feel valued no matter their life style. My prayer for our church is that we always remain connected to Jesus. That we, as the old hymn says, are known by our love. As our presiding Bishop says, “if it’s not about love it’s not about God.” A love rooted not in the past but in our Lord, the giver of life. Who satisfies our deepest hunger and thirst. Amen.