Now that, we see we hunger for God and we know that faith in Jesus as the son of God is required, we reach the third point of the sermon: How do we know when we are following God?. This is a very difficult question to answer, but Paul gave us some hints in today's epistle reading from the fourth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. Paul writes,
I therefore ... beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love [and] in ... peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (NRSV)
Martin Luther King, Jr., said it differently when he called for a time when ``all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality''[Kin81, page 22]. He led the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s which sought to win respect for the human dignity of Negro people. Closer to home, this church respects the human dignity of senior citizens by sponsoring the Senior Nutrition Program. Every weekday, over two hundred meals are served to senior citizens. Some participants are wealthy and some are desperately poor, but all, regardless of how much they can contribute, receive a warm, nutritious meal.
Jesus answers the question of knowing whether we are following God by commanding, ``Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another'' (John 13:34b, NRSV). In other words, to follow God is to love.
But, our love should not be stagnant; it must grow. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul continues, ``Speaking ... in love, we must grow up in every way ... into Christ'' (Eph 4:15, NRSV). Augustine, in his Confessions (I. 30) ``describes how most of us never grow up, but to the end of life keep strenuously playing the old nursery games, with slightly different toys and counters, ... gold and money [replacing] the earlier marbles.... ''[But52, exposition on John 6:24-27]. Today, we see the same mentality on car bumper stickers: ``He who dies with the most toys wins.'' As any parent knows, even the most popular toy eventually becomes uninteresting. Remember that first bicycle which you rode so much that Mom almost had to open a drive-through window to make sure you ate dinner? Is it collecting dust in the corner of your garage? Remember the Atari 2600 computer game system that used to be so exciting? Where is it now? We may outgrow these toys, but we never outgrow Jesus. Jesus calls us to continually improve our relationship with him. I illustrate this in my closing example.
I go hiking in Yosemite National Park several times each year. When I go on a hike, first I decide where I want to go. What do I want to see? Do I want to climb to the top of a waterfall? Do I want to walk up out of Yosemite Valley? Do I want to climb to the top of a mountain? The destination is almost always something new, something I've not previously seen. I just have to have faith that it really exists and that I can travel there.
After filling my water bottles, gathering my food, and lacing my hiking boots, I determine my route on the map. My map shows where other people have already travelled. They've constructed trails and bridges. They've published topographical maps showing the elevation and where water is located. To reach my destination, I rely on their work.
Then, I begin my walk. The trails are long and the sun is hot. Soon my sweaty shirt sticks to my body and I grow tired, but I keep walking. I tell myself, ``Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. That's all you need to do.'' Each step by itself is almost inconsequential. The trees look almost the same, the mountain top seems just as far away, but I keep walking. All these insignificant steps, combined together, move me to my destination.
A relationship with Jesus is like this hike. First, we decide to have a relationship with him. We also know our ultimate goal: complete love for him. Since we know we have a long journey ahead of us, we purchase a Bible and start asking other Christians how to seek God. The journey is long and requires many steps so we aim just to keep moving one foot in front of the other. Each prayer, each smile given to someone else, each handshake, each visit to a friend moves us one step closer to complete love for Jesus. Along this journey, we rely on the others who have gone before us. These include those sitting in this sanctuary today and those described in the Bible. One step at a time, we continue to seek God by following Jesus. He is our living map. Jesus is the bread of life.