Strength for the Journey

John 6: 35, 41-51          Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

1 Kings 19: 4-8              August 9, 2015

He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food...

Prayer:  Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, feed us always, O Holy God.  Amen.

Just as mini recap, last Sunday I discussed with you my thoughts on what real strength is, how I believe it comes from God, and how I think it’s found within our inner lives, the core of our being, as individuals, and in the heart of who we are as people of God.

I also shared with you the idea that the inner strength we need is helpful as we strive to be Christ’s agents of love and  in our lives, especially in our relationships with each other, or in areas where there is conflict, or even when sometimes potential harm may come to us as we practice God’s love and grace.  It ain’t easy all the time, that’s for sure; that’s why we need real strength.

Today I’d like to pick up where I left off last Sunday, so to speak, and continue exploring this real strength that comes from God.  So, come with me for a moment… I want to take you to a time when you’re alone… maybe when you’re on a walk, or, by yourself, maybe you’re in your room just laying down to sleep, maybe you’re driving in the car by yourself.  Maybe you’re in a moment when tragedy has struck, and you find yourself at your wits end, and you are utterly alone with God.

Wherever or whenever it is, think of that moment alone as the moment that God can to reach you.  I’m planting a seed here for you: every time you’re by yourself, that is a spiritual opportunity for God to become known to you.  So, as soon as a thought about God crosses your mind in that moment, that likely is the nudge of the Holy Spirit, right then and there, urging you to be with God… maybe in prayer… maybe in your thoughts… maybe with simple companionship.  Maybe the Spirit is urging you to open that Bible of yours that’s sitting on the shelf way over there.

Whatever way you feel the Spirit’s nudge, in that moment, you can decide, like you would with any close personal friend, to BE with God.  Choose to fully be present.  Fully attentive. This is a decision you make.  God is not going to do this for you.

Think of Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Both of those words ‘come’ and ‘believe’ imply willful decisions on our part.  This decision will help strengthen your relationship with the Holy One, who promises to be with you as well, giving you the strength you need through this particular time in your life and also on your journey of life.

The irony here is that in our willfulness to come unto God, we have to be equally un-willful in order to experience the fullness of God’s strength.  What I mean is that we can’t come unto God looking for God’s strength when we think we have enough strength on our own.  Perhaps God’s strength is diminished in us if we are convinced of our own self-sufficiency?  As long as we don’t need God, it’s difficult for us to feel God’s strength.

But, when we come to our wits end, when realize our inadequacies, when we, like Elijah, get overwhelmed by all that pressures us, by all the schedules and deadlines, by all that pushes us and pulls at us, all that frustrates us, and we surrender and come to God empty and in need, not full of self-sufficiency, I believe God responds with the Holy Spirit’s insistence, “Get up.  Eat.  My living bread is for you.  Drink.  My living water is for you.  You’re gonna need it.  And you will find the spiritual sustenance you for your journey of life.  So, be empty before me, and be filled with my strength.”

This reminds me of the fable about the wise monk and the seeker who travels a great distance to see him.  The seeker’s head and heart are filled with the deep concerns and perplexities of life.  When the seeker asks the monk several of his questions, he is annoyed and frustrated when the monk refuses to answer.  Instead, the monk says, “Pour me a cup of tea, and I will tell you when to stop.”  The dutiful seeker starts slowly pouring the tea, and the monk kept saying, “Keep pouring.  Keep pouring.”  The bowl fills, and the seeker is dismayed, watching as the tea nears the top of the bowl… and it finally spills out of the cup and over everything.  Exasperated, the seeker says, “Can’t you see the cup is full?  It can hold no more!”  “And so it is with you,” the monk says.  “Your mind is full of too many things.  Only when you are empty will there be room for more knowledge to come in”  And so it is with us; when we come to God empty and in need, not relying on our own insights or power,  or self-sufficiency, our knowledge or opinions, that’s when we find God’s real strength for our journeys. Now, of course, we need some self-sufficiency in order to live in this world.  Remember, God is not going to do for us what we have to do for ourselves; but God is working with us.  God is a partner with us. God’s Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us strength. (http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/illustration_search.asp?keywords=%22empty%22+and+%22filled%22&imageField2.x=0&imageField2.y=0, retrieved August 8, 2015).

Obviously, as individuals, we can come to God at anytime, day or night, breathing in God’s Holy presence, and soaking in God’s word, which often can be meaningful and beautiful in its own right.  Daily devotional time give us time with God.  I encourage you to practice worshiping with daily prayers at home.  We have the “Upper Room” devotional booklets available for you to pick up in the library and also at the entrances to our sanctuary which can help you do this.

But, it’s when the community of faith gathers that we can feel God strengthening us for the journey throughout the week.  When we come and worship together on Sundays as families and as one faith family in this sanctuary, when we are in the company of God’s people learning together in our classrooms throughout the building, when we drink in God’s presence in this place, when we feast on the bread of God’s word, all this enables God to strengthen us and form deeper faith in us for our journeys during the week.  And we come back again to feel that strength renewed the following Sunday.

At Chapel Hill UCC, the church I served prior to coming here, there was a sweet, little old lady who had a beautiful, pure and simple faith and inner spirit.  Her name was Betty. 
Betty exuded a wonderful inner peace; she was naïve about biblical theology and didn’t care much about church doctrine or policy, but she went to Sunday School and worship all her life.  She taught us how to remember the names of Daniel’s friends who were tossed with Daniel into the fiery furnace.  You know… Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego.  Betty’s way to remember was: “Make the Bed, Shake the Bed, and To bed we Go!”

Betty was simply in love with God and God’s people.  Before she died, Betty used to say to us in our Mid-Week Adult education class, “I’m just like Jesus—I love everybody.”  How precious is that?  So dear.  Another one of Betty’s favorite sayings was, “I don’t like missing church.  I feel off the rest of the week, like something’s missing.”

Indeed.  Betty knew that strength for the journey during the week, during life, comes with worshiping God and being with God’s people.  It comes when we breathe in God’s presence.  It comes when we feed on God’s word as our daily bread.  This is our real strength for our journeys.

Let us be quiet and breathe in God’s presence for a few minutes.