A Sermon for the start of the University year preached at the Mint
Methodist Church, Exeter, by the Minister,
Left: Gathering the Manna
Right: Winnie the Pooh
Hymns: “Ye Servants of God” (278)
“Brother, Sister, let me serve you” (SOF 54)
“Jesus calls us” (141)
“God has called us to a Journey”
(Cantate Domino 25)
“Guide Me O thou great Jehovah” (437)
Anthem: “Geistliches Lied” - Brahms
Today we have read part of the story
of the Children of Israel following God into the desert –
into the unknown.
He gives them a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night –
and bids them go forward
trusting in God’s promise of the Promised Land.
I guess we may hear the story in different ways
according to our story and where we are coming from.
1. Some of you here today are also literally on
you are making a new beginning – starting a new course,
a new job, beginning life in a new city, or even a new country.
Those who made it to Church today through the
must have felt you made it through the Red Sea –
but I hope that your new beginning has been a little less fraught
than that of the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh -
and that Exeter is not too much like a desert wilderness.
But you too may be feeling unsure about the
and for all the excitement of the new,
you may be a little homesick for the fleshpots of Egypt, the home cooking,
and (for all its constraints and limitations)
the safety and the security left behind.
If that is you, hear the word of God – wherever
you go –
even when things look frightening and bleak,
even when the old securities have gone –
God is always with you, and has a new future awaiting you.
2. But whether or not we are on a physical
we are all called to a spiritual journey,
searching for truth and meaning,
looking for a goal in life and a route to find it.
And we may all read the Exodus story in those terms
Of course finding your way spiritually is not always easy –
Did you see the news this
week about the guy
sentenced in court for stealing 70 sign posts –
I don’t know why he did it – maybe he lacked direction in life!
But maybe we sometimes feel that we have lost
our way in life.
We get to a crossroads and it is as though
the signpost thief has been there before us -
there aren’t any easy directions forward.
The children of Israel may have had the cloud
and the fire,
but later Biblical figures knew how often
that certainty of direction could be lost.
Some people will tell you that the Bible and
will give you simple read off answers to what to do –
“Got a problem? Open the Bible and the answer comes pat”
I can only say that is not my experience –
my experience is that you have to wrestle with the Bible
to discern God’s word somewhere within it.
Those of you starting new courses,
you will expect to bring your intellectual gifts to bear on your studies –
don’t forget that God expects you to do the same when reading the Bible.
Sometimes you have no choice but to set off
down an unmarked road
and try it out and sometimes find it is a dead end
and have to retrace your steps. –
It may even be that on
occasion we feel a bit like
that other poor confused guy in the news this week
who did a U turn on the M4 and headed off back
down the fast lane the wrong way –
Sometimes we may be given mountain top clarity
about God and the direction he wants us to take.
But sometimes we lose our bearings altogether
and end up lost and confused.
when there are more questions than answers
and the desert seems most bleak,
never forget that even when God is lost to your view,
you are never out of his sight.
3. Let me add here a word
about the very pragmatic questions
facing this Church this week – which way to go
with the redevelopment of the buildings on this site.
We’ve had a tough week, and had to make some
We can give you the details over coffee.
Thank God, we still have plenty of options, & lots of enthusiasm,
but the particular scheme we were developing has to be rethought.
If that is top of your thoughts this morning,
it is good to hear a story which reminds us
about the people of God in the desert in tents –
The Children of Israel finally got to the promised Land
and built a great temple –
but they had to settle for a tent for 40 years.
I hope our building scheme may bear fruit a bit
quicker than that –
but it does put the last 4 years in context,
and remind us that what ultimately matters for the Church
is not the quality of our real estate,
but journeying with God, being faithful to God,
and having God at the heart of our community.
Better a tent with God than a palace without him.
4. Of course we are all
tempted to pause on the journey of life –
to cease searching for peace and love and justice
which is the treasure of the Kingdom
and settle instead for an easy life in an inn along the way –
for the comfortable lifestyle
padded by the good things of material wealth.
And if you are here in Exeter to study,
never let the government or anyone else con you into thinking that
the most important thing in life is to gain a good job and a salary
in order to boost the GDP of the nation in general and you in particular –
jobs and salaries can be useful and beneficial –
but what you need is wisdom and maturity, not a fat pay cheque.
Those seeking material security might recall
that great classic of spirituality, Winnie the Pooh.
You recall the occasion
when Pooh has gone down
the Rabbit hole to have tea with the Rabbit -
Rabbit asks Pooh whether he would like
honey or condensed milk with his bread.
To which Pooh – who is an exceedingly greedy bear –
replies "Both," and then, so as not to seem greedy, adds,
"But don't bother about the bread, please."
Finally, you may recall,
Pooh tries to leave
but because he has eaten so much condensed milk and honey,
he gets stuck in entrance to the rabbit hole.
Winnie the Pooh discovered one of the great truths of the world
· that if you eat too much honey you get stuck down a rabbit hole
Or – to put it another way –
If you try to hoard manna for your self it goes rotten
Or – to put it another way
If you try to return to the comfortable flesh pots of Egypt,
you find your imprisoned and enslaved
Or to put it yet another way
If you think you can win the game of life over the next 5 years
by obtaining a plasma TV , a degree & a mortgage ,
you are wrong –
Wrong as the man who built barns and then died
Wrong as the Israelites who hoarded manna & found it went mouldy
Wrong as a fat bear who consumed until he got stuck.
Because worldly success and materialism –
which isn’t always wrong in its place –
if given pride of place, traps you in a prison of your own making
whilst the cloud and the fire go on over the horizon.
I sometimes wonder if Winnie
would have made a loyal follower of Moses,
heading into the desert towards the promise
of a land flowing with condensed milk and honey?
I suspect not –
For Pooh tries to corner the market and keep the honey for himself
and this is the antithesis of the promised land –
Where all the food is like manna in the desert –
· Try to corner it, selfishly hang on to it, and you only get trouble.
But take it, enjoy it, give it and share it,
As it flows from God among the people and thru the land,
and there is bliss.
That is the Promised Land which Martin Luther
saw from the Mountain Top –
that is what the Kingdom of God is about –
That – if you are beginning a new phase of your life right now,
is the dream, the vision, to strive for.
5. And a
final word especially to those wrestling
with bereavement and loss,
but also for all of us as we travel from cradle to grave.
Never forget that the journey of the human race
is not merely through the wilderness of this life
but on to the verge of Jordan
and then over Jordan to the Promised Land of the world to come.
That is God’s ultimate promise,
that whatever this world brings –
whether our journey is rough or smooth,
whether we feel guided or lost,
whether our vision is clear or cloudy,
ultimately God will see us safe home.
So many different journeys and experiences – and yet I guess:
All of us, at times, seduced by false securities
All of us, at times, lost and despairing in what seems an alien land
All of us, if we did but know it, in God’s eternal presence
All of us offered a glimpse, a vision, of the Promised Land
Let us each look to the horizon,
and search for signs of the fire and the cloud.
Let us strive for the Kingdom
of peace and justice and love and truth
in this world, on this side of Jordan
Until in his good time God brings us safe over
and lands us in Heaven above.