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Instant Religion
May 22, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

JOHN 6:1-27

This is the day of the instant. No waiting. Now! Add water, stir and serve. Unfreeze. Put it in the microwave. Instant now. This is the day of instant relief. Tired, irritable, short with the kids, grumpy, your head aches, your stomach upset? Just pop, pop, fizz, fizz. Pop a pill or take a drink. Are you bored? You want a change of scenery? Just smoke a weed, grass. We want instant relief. 

This is the day of the instant new. Several years ago talking to an old family friend who has been a car mechanic all his life—a good one, I asked him what is the job market for mechanics these days. And he said, “What mechanics? There aren't any mechanics anymore. There's just parts replacers.” Instant new. We have two exceptions in our church, Lowell Conner and Ralph McChesney. They are building the speaker racks and the cloth that surrounds the speakers, all from scratch. But we want the instant new. We don't want to be bothered with the time that it takes, the effort that it takes to fix anything or repair anything—just throw it away. Our society is built on planned obsolescence. 

This is the day of the instant rich. We just want one lucky investment, that’s all we need to be rich. The history of California is so fascinating. Much of our population came to California 100 years ago in the Gold Rush with a dream of instant rich. Just walk around and pick it up. John Fremont wrote in 1865, “When I came to California, I was worth nothing. And now I owe $2 million!” Instant rich. Many of them didn't want to work. They just wanted to walk around and pick it up. How disillusioned they became when it wasn't that easy. Some of the miners named one town “Humbug” up in the Sierras—Humbug because they were promised that gold would be lying around waiting to be picked up and they got discouraged. But just a few years later, enterprising miners, those with a little ingenuity, a little creativity and a lot of good hard work discovered that underneath Humbug there was a layer a rich vein of gold. But we want the instant rich. 

This is the day of instant success. How easily we get discouraged when we don't have instant success. I've been in this church almost three years—one more month, and I'll have been here three years. Certainly it was my dream that about this time, the church would be full, the walls would be pushed out, Sunday School rooms would be packed with students, choir on both sides and financial success overflowing baskets like the feeding of the five thousand. Instant success. But reality! 

This is the day of the instant miracle. How we want instant miracle! Personally, I'm looking for the miracle of instant weight control. There must be an easier way than counting the calories or weighing the food, meal after meal. We begin diets with great endeavor and great enthusiasm. People talk to each other about the brand new diet they've just found and how excited they are— for two days. Like people who try to stop smoking. How excited they are but then when endurance comes and persistence is required, how they fall by the wayside. How I long for instant weight control. There must be somewhere a pill or something that I could take and wake up the next morning slim, trim and handsome. But… 

This is the day of instant religion. How people want instant religion! God now! Blessings, miracles, good warm feelings, success now! People shop around at churches until they can find some words that sound comfortable and easy for them, and how they can see their life working out miraculously. So many people are willing to lay aside their integrity, their intelligence, their reason and adopt some form of religion so they don't have to think anymore, so they don't have to work anymore, they don't have to struggle anymore. They like simplistic ideas of the Bible so they don't have to struggle with trying to relate that ancient culture to today’s. They're willing to take simplistic science views of another day, rather than going through the effort of working out one's religion in terms of 20th century America. They want instant religion. 

As I read the Bible, it rejects instant religion. The dominant message of the Bible seems to me to be, “Wait, wait, wait on the Lord.” In the 12th chapter of Hebrews, the author describes the heroes of the faith and their great faith. In every instance, beginning with Abraham, he lists heroes who had great faith, but who did not see the fulfillment of their dreams and the fulfillment of their work. Look at Moses. He spent his life leading his people out of Egypt to the promised land. He spent 40 years of his life, but he died before they got there. He was allowed one trek up the mountain, so that he could look off in the distance and see the land of Canaan. But that's as close as he ever came. 

The author of Hebrews tells us about these heroes. They were well tested by their faith, but they did not receive what was promised. They spent their lives working and waiting. They spent their lives in faith, not in instant religion. 

Notice how Jesus rejected this idea in the New Testament lesson about the feeding of the 5,000. He took five loaves and two fish and miraculously fed 5,000 people. They were astounded. They were stupefied. They said to one another, “Indeed, this must be the prophet who is to come into the world, this must be he”. And John tells us that Jesus, perceiving that they were so excited that they were were going to come by force to make him king, escaped. He went across the sea. The next day, the crowd found him. They came to him excited about about him and excited about what he could do. Wasn't this the fulfillment of his mission— to have people excited about his ministry? But Jesus turned them all away and said to them, “You seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. You seek me not because of who I am, you seek me because I gave you free bread. I pulled off a miracle. You seek me because of the novelty. You seek me because of the magic. You seek me because of what you see I could do for you. You seek me because of the security you can find in following someone who can give you food miraculously. You seek me for the wrong reasons. You seek me for what you can get out of it. You seek me for the miraculous. You don't seek me because of who I am.” 

Jesus knew that such followers, such loyalty is too superficial to stand and to withstand the trials and struggles of life. Such loyalty has no roots. He knew that at the first sign of persecution, the first sign of testing, they would fall by the wayside. Wasn't that true in his own life? He had a glorious baptism. The baptism was of such magnitude, it was such an impressive experience that the whole sky opened, and a voice from heaven announced the event. After this glorious experience, Jesus immediately went into the wilderness. For 40 days he struggled. He was tested. For 40 days he struggled with the devil who tried to undermine and undercut that glorious experience. That's the way it is in life. 

There are high moments in our religious journey. There are sudden conversions when people will suddenly turn to Christ. They will repent, turn right around and start a new life, go on a new road. It's a glorious experience. Joy is widespread, enthusiasm is high. And that's beautiful, but it doesn't last if the roots aren't deep. The first wind, the first temptation, the first testing will lose the person. Jesus knew that our religion has to grow, go deeper. The roots have to go deep so that when the struggles come, the religion persists. Paul urged us in the book of Philippians 2:12, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Work it out. Plant the roots deeply, learn the will of God, study, continue to learn, dig into the Bible, dig into theology, learn, grow. Sir Francis Bacon once wrote, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts. But if a man will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” Those who start off with all the answers, who are so certain and so sure, who have a simplistic, superficial view of life, view of God and view of the Bible, who are so sure of how things are, when the doubts come, they crumble. When the tests come, they weaken. 

Be open. Be honest with doubts, and be open to learn, to assess, to investigate, to struggle with working out your salvation. Plant the roots deep into prayer and in meditation so the Holy Spirit may deepen and enrich your life, that you may be well grounded in the very heart and spirit of God. How long can we last without being rooted and grounded in prayer? Plant the roots deep so that you may endure. Real religion, real faith leads us to persist and to endure in spite of the storms of life. 

Hebrews 12:3 says that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross;” Joy and the cross in the same sentence! True joy comes when we persist, when we endure, when we don't give up when the doubts come. And when the devil tempts us with boredom, when we lose our enthusiasm, and when we're content to go other places on Sunday, when we're too busy for Bible study, when we get too involved for prayer, when we get bored, which is a subtle way of testing us, then persist and endure for true joy comes by hanging in there, doing what we know is right, what is good and what is the will of God. True joy comes in persisting and doing what is right and good in spite of when we don't feel like it, in spite of evidence to the contrary, in spite of when we’re persecuted and laughed at. True joy comes in knowing the will of God and in doing it, regardless of the opposition. 

Enjoy the sudden glimpses of the Spirit, the burst of splendor, the joys that come through visions, but do not expect or seek instant religion. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris