“What Is This Thing For?”
There are times we encounter things that make us wonder: “What is this thing for?” For example, those small little triangular pockets in most jeans…what is that thing for? It was actually designed to hold pocket watches when they were more popular in the late 1800’s.
What about church? Do you suppose people ever look at, or think about church and ask: “What is this thing (church) for?” There are many ways we may answer that question; I suggest we find a hint as to one way we may answer in our scripture readings today.
After a very busy period of time (feeding thousands with a few loafs of bread and fish, learning of John the Baptist’s death, being rejected by his hometown) Jesus instructs the disciples to get into a boat to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee; he will meet them on the other side, but not before a bit of “alone time.” During the night, the disciples encounter a great storm. As Jesus walks on the water toward the boat, Peter leaves his fellow disciples behind in the boat as he attempts to walk on water. Failing, Jesus questioned Peter’s faith. I believe this short, dramatic account provides for us one answer to the question: “What is this thing (church) for?” As the disciples encountered the storm, they did it together. Sure, it was scary, but at least they were together in the experience. When did Peter start to sink? When he left his brothers in the boat; in leaving them behind, he left behind fellowship and his support system. I believe this is an important aspect of what “this thing” (church) is for; to provide fellowship and encouragement when we find ourselves enduring the storms of life. Our fellowship doesn’t make the storms go away, but we are able to endure them more readily because we are together in the storm, not independent of each other.
Our passage from Deuteronomy reminds us that gathering as a community of faith was instituted long before Jesus came on the scene. In this Old Testament passage, Moses, decades after leading the people from bondage in Egypt, through the Red Sea and toward the Promised Land, recognizes he is at the end of his life. After appointing Joshua as his successor, following instructions from God, he implores people to assemble so they can hear and learn the word of God. They are to gather regularly for fellowship to support each other as they near the end of their journey, and to learn how they were to live in relationship with God and each other. Rather than act individually, they were to gather together as a community of faith.
I have been thinking about a movie clip this week when writing this sermon that serves as a good illustrator, I believe. The 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade” features a scene when the main character (Indy) has to find a chalice Jesus used at the last supper in order to save his father. Following instructions in an ancient book, Indy finds himself facing a deep cavern with seemingly no bridge available. The book instructs him to take a step in faith, even though he cannot see a bridge, only a very long fall if he takes a step. Indy takes the step, and discovers the bridge is actually there; it was invisible because it blended into the scenery. Halfway across the bridge, Indy throws sand on the bridge to make it visible for others to see. Seems to me this scene illustrates one of our purposes as a church; to those who are in difficult situations, to those who need to take a step in faith even though there appears to be no way forward, we are the ones who throw sand on the bridge for those who can’t discern a future.
“What is this thing (church) for?” Again, there are a lot of ways to answer that question. But today I am reminded that church is for finding a family of faith while walking forward together as we journey through life’s joys and challenges. I’m thankful to be in this “boat” with this church family; I hope you are too!