Stephanie Haskins Maquoketa UCC
John 6:24-35 August 5, 2018
It was about seven years ago that I sat in the office of the senior minister at Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines, David Ruhe, fretting out loud to him about where I was going next. As a temporary associate pastor, my term there was coming to an end. And to me, the future wasn’t just hazy: it was one big blob (and it certainly didn’t feel like a blob of blessing). You see, to that point, most of the major decisions I had made seemed obvious. It was obvious where I wanted to attend college. It was obvious, once I accepted that God was calling me into ministry, where I should go to seminary. Even Plymouth was obvious, a step in-between seminary and solo ministry. But seven years ago, as I worried in front of David, nothing seemed obvious. The future was blobby. When I was finished, he sat back in his seat, quietly considering my words. And then he finally spoke. He said to me: “Well, I don’t know. Wouldn’t you like to have an adventure?” An adventure? I silently balked. I don’t want an adventure. I want to be safe! But it wasn’t longer after that that I called Jonna Jensen to check on a couple of churches in eastern Iowa. And what do you know? She encouraged me to consider a congregation in a town I had never heard of—a place called Maquoketa United Church of Christ.
Good people, it has been an adventure. It has been a wonderful adventure, one that I think we both didn’t see coming. I never pictured myself in a small town. You probably didn’t see yourselves with a young female pastor under 30. And yet God brought us together, for nearly the last seven years. To do ministry—an endless variety of ministry. To worship. To laugh and cry. To bury and baptize. To plan and dream. To raise rainbow flags and put to rest some parts of the painful past. I’m not the same person I was nearly seven years ago. And from my vantage point, you aren’t the same church you were seven years ago. God has done good things with us together, but there’s a new adventure on the horizon for both of us. I saw it coming. God brought me to Maquoketa, and now God is calling me to Connecticut. And maybe you saw this coming too, and maybe you didn’t. Either way, it hurts. It’s hard. I’ve had more time to grieve, and it’s still hard. But I also know—in my bones—that it’s time. It’s time for a new adventure. For you. And for me.
The crowd has just eaten their fill in a glorious feast. From five loaves of barley bread and two pieces of fish Jesus has fed five thousand people—and likely many more. When you get a taste of abundance like that, of a full stomach and a full heart—you want to know where you can get more. You want to make sure that you can get it again. So the crowd follows Jesus to the other side of the sea. And they have questions. Boy, do they have questions. They try to pin down exactly who Jesus is: “Rabbi, when did you come here?” They try to fit Jesus into a box, looking at him through the lens of what they already know: “What must we do to perform the works of God?” “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?” Their stomachs are still full; they have enough. More than enough. And instead of being satisfied, instead of resting in gratitude, they’re already thinking about the future. They’re already scared of what might be coming. Is Jesus the one they’ve been waiting for? Is he the new Moses, who will call down from heaven their daily bread? Or is the feeding of the five thousand a one-time event? How can the crowd be sure that God will provide again?
Now Jesus probably went to the other side of the sea to get some rest. I’ve never made a meal to serve a crowd from five loaves of barley and two fish, but it probably took some work. He wants to rest. But the people are anxious, maybe rightfully so. So he reminds them. Since they mentioned Moses and the time when the Israelites were starving in the desert until manna came down, just enough for every day, he has this to say. It wasn’t Moses who made that miracle happen. It was God. Moses may have been a great leader (not without his faults, but still, a great leader). But Moses didn’t cause the bread from heaven to feed the Israelites. That wasn’t Moses. That was God.
Beloved people, that is God. Now, I don’t compare myself to Moses. That would be silly. But I don’t want to be false, either, and say that my leadership hasn’t mattered, that it has made no difference, that it has been inconsequential. It hasn’t. I know that my presence here has made a difference. And that some people have come here to this community and stayed here in part because of my presence. That’s one reason why good pastoral leadership is important. But it’s not the whole story. Not even close. As we say goodbye to each other, we will feel and think many things. And there’s room for just about all of it. But I intend to use every minute I can to remind you that I did not make the manna happen. That was not Moses. That was not me. That was God. And God will not leave this building when I go. God is staying here. God is staying here to comfort you in grief and transition. God is staying here to take you through the next steps of this process. And ultimately, God is staying here because you still have things to do, Maquoketa United Church of Christ. You still have flags to fly and people to feed and the witness of Jesus to proclaim to a world starving of good news.
It is absolutely OK to be scared, to be worried, to be relieved, to be angry or happy or sad or all of those things at once. And right now, the future might look like one big blob. But it is still God in whom we live and move and have our being.
In fact, it is God who calls us out of our comfort zones for the sake of the one who says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry; and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
In fact, it is God at work even this morning, God who says to you as well as me when we bring our anxieties, our fears and doubts, when we are on the cusp of a new thing and we want to know what will happen next. It is in fact God who says to us: “I don’t know. But wouldn’t you like to have an adventure?”