Psalm 72
1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor…11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight…
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field…
18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name for ever; may his glory fill the whole earth .Amen and Amen.
20 The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

Mark 7
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,
2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.
3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,
thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market
unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe,
the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him,
‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’
6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’…
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand:
15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile,
but the things that come out are what defile.’…21For it is from within, from the human heart,
that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.
23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’

“Meriwether Lewis dipped his hands into the icy water and took a long cool drink.
Fifteen months of hard travel, a seemingly endless string of days of back-breaking upstream slogging
had led to this (defining) moment. Meriwether Lewis recalled all that he had endured:
Nervous nights in a strange land. Mosquitos galore. A dark, cold winter. Grizzly bears.
A month-long portage around an immense waterfall. The death of a companion.
(By appendicitis, by the way; the only member of the Corps to die on that long and grueling adventure.)
But he was here. Lewis and a small scouting party had gone ahead of the rest of the Corps of Discovery
to try to make contact with the Shoshone tribe. They had followed a small trail up a creek
and now were at the spring itself. This little trickle (that they could straddle with their feet)
was the source of the mighty Missouri River.
This water (behind them) would flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico….
Lewis believed that he would walk up the hill (in front of him, then) down a gentle slope on the other side
and (find another creek which would eventually lead them to) the Columbia River…
a broad river which would swiftly whisk them all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
What Lewis actually discovered…(when he crested the hill)
was not some gentle slope down to a navigable river,
but the (massive, awe-inspiring sight) of the Rocky Mountain range.
Stretching for mile and miles, as far as the eyes could see,
was one set of (snow-covered) peaks after another.” (Bolsinger, p. 24)

We cannot imagine the shock of that moment, the disappointment, the fear…
The mountains were as one of the explorers put it: “the most terrible mountains I ever beheld.”
They must have stood in awe at such a wonder, the likes of which none of them had ever seen.

Soon, Lewis and Clark would have to ditch their canoes and head uphill.
There, they would search desperately for a mountain pass to cross before the winter set in.
Unfamiliar Indian tribes would assist them on their way and ultimately save their lives.
The Corps of Discovery thought that they would be exploring this new world by boat.
They were river explorers. They were adept at rowing.
They had planned and prepared for their journey to be accomplished on boats.
Now, they were heading off the map into uncharted territory, not in boats but on foot,
following humans from tribes that they had never met, and through the Rocky Mountains to boot.
Everything that they had assumed about their journey had suddenly changed. (Bolsinger, p. 25)

Tod Bolsinger, a former California pastor, now teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Bolsinger claims that our whole modern world is now experiencing
something akin to Meriwether Lewis’ experience near the Lemhi Pass
at the headwaters of the Missouri River.
In Bolsinger’s book, Canoeing the Mountains, he claims that a shocking reality
faces every 21st century institution. Every business, every educational institution,
every non-profit, and certainly every congregation faces the reality of a massively changing society.
We have “marched off the map” and have found ourselves in uncharted territory.
Everything that most workers have been trained to do is out of date.
Familiar practices that were so successful in the past in the church no longer inspire the same results.
Assumptions we have long held about how societies and families are structured no longer seem relevant.
Futurist Bob Johansen claims that after centuries and centuries of slow, incremental change,
in less than a generation our world has become volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
(Bolsinger, p. 27)
You have heard me make these claims before.
This Lewis and Clark narrative has been circling around for at least a decade,
ever since we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery.
But it may be helpful from time to time,
especially when any fearfulness or anxiety arises about the future, to remember “when we are.”

Two weeks ago, I reminded you Whose we are. We belong to God and one another.
Last week, we affirmed the strengthening power of worship as we talked about Where we are.
This week, with eyes wide open, we consider the unavoidable impact of When we are.
Not unlike the Corps of Discovery facing the daunting challenge of the Rocky Mountains,
we too live in a time of historic change.
One of the books I read this summer identifies the decade from 2000-2010 as the turning point,
as a hinge in history, in which a palpable difference could be felt, seen and even surveyed
from the beginning of that decade to the end.

Phyllis Tickle, author of “The Great Emergence”,
asserts that “this sort of change that happens only once every five hundred years or so.”
Harvey Cox, from Harvard Divinity School,
claims that Christianity is currently making a break from the “Age of Belief”,
a fifteen-hundred-year period of Western Christianity dominance.
Others say only that Christianity is moving out of a three-hundred-year cycle
that began in the Enlightenment. Whatever the chronological schema, the message is mostly the same:
We live in a time of momentous historical change that”, as Diana Butler Bass puts it,
“is both exhilarating and frightening.
Christianity itself is becoming something different from what it was.” (Bass, p. 30)

Diana Butler Bass, who spoke in this sanctuary yesterday morning,
calls what is happening a Great Awakening, in line perhaps with other awakenings in religious history.
This is a time of cultural revitalization and reorientation,
a time of endings and new beginnings, an important time to gain some awareness,
discover a renewed sense of purpose in what can feel like chaos,
cling to hope in what can often feel like despair,
and create new possibilities when we feel like we are hitting dead ends. (Bass, p. 31)
Massive social change will elicit anxious fearfulness,
but can also open up tremendous opportunity for those willing to explore.

I love to explore!
I am thrilled by discovering new places, whether a new trail through unknown woods
or driving through city streets that I’ve never seen. I love to explore…
but, I have to be honest. I do appreciate the security of a map.
My ancestor, John Speed, was a map-maker in the early 1600’s.
We visited his gravesite in London this summer.
More recent ancestors, Wages Speed and his younger brother Ben,
left the Carolinas in the early 1800’s, and followed a map west with their recently widowed mother.
They circled below Cherokee country, near Macon, and headed all the way to west Alabama,
where they became the first deed holders on southern dirt that held the promise to be fertile.
My ancestors and I don’t mind exploring, but we do like to know where we are going.
We don’t mind following a fresh trail, as long as someone else has already cut its swath before us.
We are not so comfortable heading off into an untested, uncharted, unknown wilderness…

Many young parents find themselves raising their children in a cultural context very different
than when they were young – untested, it seems, uncharted.
Business persons face challenges that they could not even have imagined 20 years ago.
The church of today clearly is not, for better or worse, our grandparents’ church.
We are moving off the map and sometimes it feels as though the ground is shifting under our feet.

Here’s some helpful news.
In the last ten years or so, we have had some wilderness explorers test the waters before us.
We have had some emergent pastors strike off into the mountains of the 21st century church.
Yesterday, one of these explorers, John Pavlovitz, spoke at the AJC Book Festival.
Some of you have read his book, A Bigger Table.
He outlines a tentative path before us to explore. This path is not well-trod.
There are only a limited number who have gone there before us,
and yet, we are learning from their experience.
Over the past two decades or so, a number of brave souls have entered the mission field
which is the United States of America, and they have returned to the Church
to report what they have found.

I shared with our elders on Tuesday evening and with the folks at the Wednesday night program
a brief summary of what I am learning from these explorers.
I have discovered five habits that will be critical for the future of this congregation,
for any congregation navigating wilderness territory and scaling mountains they had not anticipated:
EMBRACE CHANGE………Change is inevitable. The only constant is change.
The question is not whether change will continue to happen,
but whether we will be willing to adapt to change.
One thing has always been true for Christian community, from the first days of Jesus’ ministry –
authentic relationships of integrity, caring compassion of one human being for another,
loving neighbor as we love ourselves.
Honest, authentic relationships will not just happen in our modern world; they need to be nurtured.
Explorers of today have discovered a renewed emphasis on the person and ministry of Jesus.
Emergent churches discuss less the doctrines that divide and talk more about the practices that unite,
about seeking to live faithful, daily lives as disciples of Jesus.
Everywhere, we are hearing more these days about the power and efficacy of stories.
Spanish classes at the 4/5 Academy learn a second language through telling stories, because it works.
The students remember the stories and learn the vocabulary and the grammar.
Jesus taught timeless truths through his stories and parables.
We live in a global world. We are more connected to other parts of the planet than ever before.
The clothes you are wearing probably come from at least three different regions of the earth.
The car you drove this morning likely has parts from at least four different countries.
As I took pictures this summer on our travels,
from the Isle of Iona in Scotland to Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine,
I was reminded of the myriad of unique and beautiful and colorful flowers.
God created a wonderfully diverse landscape of wildflowers, throughout the world,
and, if we see with God’s eyes, we will notice a similar beautiful diversity of human beings.
Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery survived and were able to cross the mountains
because they welcomed the assistance of beautiful, helpful peoples they had never met.

The world is changing. The Church is changing.
And while the forms will inevitably change, some things will remain.
We will continue to worship God. We will continue to study the Bible.
We will join in fellowship, serve in mission, and, of course, gather at this Table.

In 1804, there were only 450 residents in St. Charles, Missouri.
Most of them lived in small cabins clustered around the village’s Catholic church.
St. Charles wasn’t much of a town , but it was the final outpost of civilization
that Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their men would experience for quite some time.
The captains had planned to shove off from St. Charles on May 21,
but early that morning 20 of their men approached William Clark with a request:
Would he delay their departure so they could attend Mass, so they could receive the Lord’s Supper?
Clark gave his consent, and the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase was put on hold
so the intrepid men could strengthen themselves with holy Communion
before entering the vast and unknown wilderness. (Thomas J. Craughwell, OSV Newsweekly, 7/23/2006)

As we go forth in our exploration, let us hold fast to the core practices of the Church,
but may we not live blindly according to the traditions of those who have gone before us.
Let us continue to seek to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves,
and may we not simply follow human precepts we may take for granted,
but instead open ourselves to new movements of the Holy Spirit.
May God bless and guide all of us – our families, our businesses, our governments and our schools –
and may God strengthen us at the Table for the exhilarating journey ahead.


Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
September 2, 2018