Sermon 3-19-2017; ‘Setting Out’
Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage – Meriweather Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Pastor Ruthie Tippin, Indianapolis First Friends Meeting
A twenty-seven-year-old man, a neighbor and friend, was asked to serve as a Personal Secretary to his good friend in a high position. Flattered and affirmed, he took the position. It would change his life. Two years later, this Secretary wrote a letter to an acquaintance from their days in military service, asking him if he would be willing to join him in a task put forward by his boss. The acquaintance had retired from the military seven years earlier, and was now living in Indiana Territory, helping his older brother straighten out his ‘terribly tangled financial affairs.’ Could he get away? He could, and did. When Meriweather Lewis and William Clark shook hands October 15th, 1803, the Lewis and Clark Expedition under President Thomas Jefferson began. They set out from Camp Dubois near St. Louis, on the Missouri River in May of 1804.
The Corps of Discovery explored US lands obtained in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Northwest, fulfilling scientific and commercial goals; creating maps, documenting plants and animals, establishing trade, and identifying natural resources. They returned to St. Louis in September of 1806, having travelled 8,000 miles or more.
Before I ever heard about the Ohio or Missouri Rivers, I knew about the Columbia and the Snake. Growing up in Portland, I knew about Lewis and Clark’s Salt Camp at the beach in Seaside, Oregon. I knew Fort Clatsop where we’d imagine we were a part of their expedition, hunkering down for the winter. Our children went to Sacajawea Junior High, and Lewis and Clark High School. My dad designed the electrical circuitry for the Corps of Engineer dams along the Columbia where Lewis and Clark portaged the worst rapids and floated the better of them. I’ve always known more about the end of Lewis and Clark’s journey than the beginning.
Friends, we don’t usually get to know the ending of our stories – of anyone’s stories ahead of time. Instead, we are asked to step out, to move forward, to live in faith, not in fear. Lewis and Clark had no idea what they would encounter, and many times we don’t either. They had a commission, they had a strategy, they had a general idea of where they were going. They weren’t certain who they would meet, what they would see, what the weather or terrain would be like, what they would eat, what supplies they would need, and whether their essentials would last. Neither do we.
But we, like them, have a choice. Whether we choose to go, are asked to go, or are forced to go, we still have a choice about how we will move into the future. Whether President Jefferson, God the Lord, or King Nebuchadnezzar speaks into our lives, we have a choice about how we will move forward.
Our reading today was used so often a few years ago, that it became trite… you could find it in almost every graduation card. “I know the plans I have for you…” What people in the Hallmark stores didn’t understand was the context for God’s word to his people. They weren’t graduating from high school. They were being hauled off into exile. In fact, they were already living far from home in a city belonging to their enemies. And God gave them a map, a strategy, a way to live into their future, even in that place. “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters, take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.”
What is God saying? LIVE! Live wisely. Be fully who you are no matter where you are! Do what you do. Live the life you know – the life you’ve been given in God. The Hebrew people? Communal, farmers, shepherds, people of the land who knew how to make something out of nothing. Lewis and Clark? Frontiersmen; Clark was a draftsman – a map maker, each of them had many other gifts beside. You and me?
Just like Lewis and Clark, our supplies are packed and loaded. We may not realize it, but we are ready to move out into the future. God has gifted us all with a ‘backpack’ full of treasures that sustain us. Our personhood, our character, our preferences, our education or lack thereof, our sophistication or naivete, our strengths, our flaws. Our interests lead us to those places in our lives where we excel – sometimes without even recognizing it.
Listen with new ears to what God spoke through Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you. You don’t… but I do. Plans for wholeness, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me, and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you.”
Jefferson knew what Lewis and Clark could do. God knows what you and I can do. God sees what we cannot see. God sees what others don’t see. God sees us perfectly. God sees us with more faith in us than we have in ourselves. God sees us with confidence. And God asks us for the same thing. Faith and confidence in God. Call. Come. Pray. Seek. Don’t play at this, in a half-hearted effort to face what comes your way. This is your life. Give it, give God your whole heart.
God knows what we are capable of. God will use what we have. God can use what we have been given, what we have learned, what we have become, what we can become, if we will unzip those things we have and hold – even the things we’ve forgotten or ignored at the very bottom of the bag – and give them over with a whole heart. Things we thought had only one purpose, God can use in new ways for God’s purposes.
Moses was a murderer, who had escaped to the desert, and became a pretty lousy shepherd. He ended up freeing his people from an Egyptian Pharaoh who had held them in bondage for hundreds of years. Mary was an unknown, unwed mother who might have easily been stoned to death, but instead gave birth to Christ – who rescued us all. Saul was a Roman official who made it his business to persecute and kill anyone who followed Christ’s teachings, until he finally ‘saw the light’ and became one of the greatest proponents of the same. George Fox was a solitary, depressed, unsettled young man who discovered God speaking – not at him, but to him directly, and it changed the lives of thousands – it changed our lives.
Moving forward is not easy… it’s much easier to stay put. It’s much easier to stay in the circumstance you know than to strike out for new territory. It takes work to pack your belongings, and find another place to belong. But… Can you imagine the adventures that await? Can you guess at all you will see? Can you know just how much you will learn about the world? About God’s capacity to love you? About God’s capacity to love through you? About how much love awaits? Can you imagine how much more you will learn about yourself? Do you have the courage to open yourself up, and set off into wholeness, into hope, into possibility?