This was the message I gave at my mother’s church in Memphis (actually Bartlett), TN, for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A), August 25, 1996. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 17: 1 – 7, Romans 11: 33 – 36, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20,
We have all heard the lines “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise” and its closing refrain “to boldly go when no one has gone before.” We know these lines because they touch a part of us which likes to explore, to out there. It is the same spirit which lets mountain climbers to climb mountains “because it is there”. It is the same spirit which let President Kennedy to make the decision to go to the moon and land before the end of the 60’s.
Exploration is exciting; there can be no doubt about that. It offers challenges we do not encounter in everyday life and it takes us into areas where we have never ventured. With new knowledge, new horizons open, our abilities to do things expand. In research, we are often reminded that “the answer to one question often poses two more questions”. The announcement the other week that there may have been life on Mars is an example of what exploration offers. What this discovery mean; what effect it will have on our view of the universe, both physically and spiritually; these are questions only further exploration can answer.
But exploration is a two-edge sword. Even as we celebrate the prospect of exploration, we also sense a certain degree of uncertainty and possibly fear. Do we really want to know if there was life on Mars or if there is life somewhere else in the universe. What if the movie “Independence Day” is not just a science fiction thriller but a prelude of things to come?
Venturing into the unknown frighten us because it requires that we go beyond the comfort of what we know and into areas we have never been. It is very easy to see why people in the past feared the unknown.
Columbus chose to find India by a path never before tried, a bold move in light of the capabilities of the ships of the day. But because it was a different approach, we know that he had to “fudge the data” in the journal his sailors read so that they would not be afraid of this venture into the unknown.
Our own country’s growth was accomplished by bold strokes. Thomas Jefferson took a bold move, both in political and geographical terms, when he made the Louisiana Purchase. No one knew if the Constitution allowed the President to make such a purchase and no one knew what exactly was being bought. And while many looked at this opportunity as a wonderful time for exploration, there were those who questioned such a venture into the unknown.
Exploration can take place in our daily lives as well. We do not need to go to new places to venture into the unknown. The way we conduct our lives, the things we do every day, these are products of our own exploration.
What were the disciples thinking that day outside Caesarea Philippi. How did they view what they had been doing, following Jesus? It is hard to tell from the nature of the text if the disciples knew Jesus would ask them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 15: 13 – 14)
These were answers based on familiarity, based on the world the people knew. People were not willing to take the bold step, to look at what might be and say that Jesus was the Christ. No one was willing to be the first and say that Jesus was who they knew him to be. Better to take the easy route than try something new.
Knowing how the first question was answered, we also have to wonder if the disciples were ready for the next question, “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 15: 15). Here Jesus was asking the disciples to take a step into the unknown. What would you say, what will you say when Jesus comes to you and asks you that same question? It should not be surprising then that the disciples hesitated answer the question which Jesus put to them.
Peter’s response , “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16: 16) to Jesus’ question changed the way we view the world. No longer was the word “church” used to describe an assembly of people. Now, it would describe a gathering of believers.
In giving Peter the keys to this new church, Jesus gave us the keys as well. All we have to do, all Jesus asks of us today, is to make the same bold commitment to a life in Him that Peter made.
Yes, accepting Christ as one’s Savior is a bold thing to do. It seems that everywhere we look in today’s society we see a world and environment that works against the very idea of Christ. There can be no tougher task than accepting Jesus Christ in your heart.
It would even seem that the world is going to get worse in the coming years. There are those today who paint the future in bleak and dark tones. What good will it do us if the future is not worth.
Exploration, taking that bold step into the unknown, requires trust. As we read from the Old Testament, every time the Israelites faced a crisis, they questioned Moses and they questioned God. First, it was the Egyptian army chasing them down; then it was the lack of food; then it was, as we read in today’s reading, the lack of water. With each crisis, God showed them that they had nothing to fear. Yet, they seemingly could not trust God. It is no wonder that Moses seemed frustrated by his efforts to lead the children of God to their Promised Land.
As the time came closer for Jesus to go to the cross, his disciples began to fear the future. But Jesus said,
Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling-places in my Father’s house; if it were not so, I should have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also; and you know the way I am taking.”
Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14: 1 – 6)
Is it possible that it is that simple? Should we be afraid to take such a bold step?
“One thing we owe to Our Lord is never to be afraid. To be afraid is doubly an injury to him. Firstly, it means that we forget him; we forget he is with us and is all powerful; secondly, it means that we are not conformed to his will; for since all that happens is willed or permitted by him, we ought to rejoice in all that happens to us and feel neither anxiety nor fear. Let us then have the faith that banishes fear. Our Lord is at our side, with us, upholding us.” From Meditations of a Hermit by Charles de Foucauld
When John and Charles Wesley returned to England in 1738 after their missionary service in Georgia, they both did so feeling as if they were failures. Prepared as he and his brother were with the understanding that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither man felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their background, neither Wesley was willing to say they trusted the Lord. Only after that moment in his life, which we have come to call the Aldersgate moment, could Wesley write with assurance,
“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation. And an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Only by accepting Christ as his personal Savior was John Wesley able to understand what direction his life was to take. Only by trusting Christ was Wesley able to gain the confidence necessary to insure the success of the Methodist revival.
Paul’s words of thanksgiving and praise now take on a deeper meaning. Through Jesus Christ, God grants us the necessary wisdom to see into the future and know that we need not fear it. It is not a guarantee that we will know every thing. No exploration ever answers all the questions. Even the Israelites still had to make the journey to the Promised Land.
The keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, given first to Peter so many years ago, have now been handed to us. All we need is accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. It seems surprisingly simple that such a simple step can be so bold. But, when we accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior, we can then go boldly where few have gone before.