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Summary: Faith sees Jesus and all that Jesus is. Religion sees what is comfortable and common

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In Wyoming’s Fitzpatrick Wilderness at 11400 feet above sea level is the pristine shore of a nameless lake. This is where we join Mike Turner, a Presbyterian minister completing his sabbatical leave with a solo adventure with God. This adventure Mike called a “Wander in Wonder” was a 60 mile hike through the Wind Rivers in Wyoming. Four days earlier he had left his wife of 20 years with a bouquet of flowers and a note thanking her for this time she was giving him to do this solo hike and retreat with God. As he and his dog Andy slowly and cautiously picked their way through a sea of boulders Mike’s feet slipped on an unsteady boulder. He leaped to another hoping for balance. Mike had set a rock slide in motion and when the dust cleared and the noise subsided, Mike found himself pinned between two boulders right above his knees. He writes in his journal, “About 2 hours ago a large rock rolled upon me and trapped my legs, I was very careful be sure of that, but I hurt. . . I am in your hands Lord. . . I don’t know what I face.”

The sixth chapter of John begins with the familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with 5 loaves of bread and two fish. John is sure to tell us that the crowd recognized their dinner as a miracle and they are ready to make Jesus their king based upon their full tummies. As evening approached the 12 disciples left in a boat to cross over the lake to Capernaum. Jesus stays behind for some quiet time and joins the disciples later in the night as he walked out to them on the water. While the other Gospels focus on the miracle of walking on water John is more interested in the reaction of the crowd when they discover Jesus is not among them in the morning and all the boats are still there. They begin to search for him and catch up to him in Capernaum. When the crowd catches up to him they are foremost concerned about how he got there, but Jesus does not answer this concern. Jesus addresses their reasons for searching for him, which was related to the stomachs and not their hearts. The crowd who filled their stomachs on the bread and fish cannot see beyond the miracle to the Miracle Maker. Their desire to have their bellies filled again and again blinds from seeing Jesus as Lord of all. Jesus pushes them to see the spiritual “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”

The crowd again is more interested in their physical hunger condition rather than their spiritual condition. “What sign will you give us? Will you provide food for us like Moses did for the Israelites in the wilderness?” Jesus responds, don’t you see, don’t you get it, “I am the bread of life!” This is a picture of religion verses faith.

Religion is humanity’s creation, faith is God’s gift.

Religion comes to church to receive satisfaction and to check off on a Sunday.

Faith comes to church to see Jesus.

Religion sees Jesus as a meal ticket. Faith sees Jesus as God.

Religion searches for physical needs to be met by performing rituals.

Faith sees rituals as touchstones to commune with God.

Religion sees the signs but not what the signs point to. Faith sees Jesus.

After the initial shock of the rock slide and entrapment, Mike turned to survival when he realized he could not free himself. Mike carefully unpacked his pack and inventoried his gear looking for stuff to free himself and the things he would need to survive. His greatest concerns were water and the onset of dark which would bring cold temperatures. He used the snow around him to melt for drinking water and even saved his urine, jokingly writing in his journal that He wondered how it would taste when mixed with crystal lite. He kept warm by wearing his jacket and stuffing his sleeping bag around the part of his legs he could reach. Turner wrote in his journal, “I dreamed of a special time with God, facing the elements, the passes, thinking about life, the direction of the church, about my family. Indeed this has been all of those things only magnified 100 times. I believe I will survive, smarter or wiser, more thoughtful, more aware of limits . . . I do feel confident in my Christian hope. God will make a way either earthly or heavenly. My only dread is not seeing my family and being present with them in body. That’s what I think about.”

The Pharisees overheard Jesus speaking to the crowd. Who does he think he is? Isn’t that Joseph and Mary’s son, didn’t he grow up right here among us? “I am the Bread of life, he says. We have known him since he was a child, how could he have come down from heaven? Jesus was a common site to the Pharisees. He had probably been in some of their homes helping Joseph with cabinet making. Who does this home town boy think he is calling himself equal to God. Perhaps we in the church have this syndrome as well. Our worship, hymns, prayers, rituals, sacraments, sermons, creeds, benedictions, and even scripture are so common to us that what was once exciting to us is now so common that we cannot see beyond the words to see the Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us.

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Elizabeth Stutler

commented on Sep 17, 2006

How touching. With permission I am going to touch on the story of Mike and the difference in faith and religion at my discussion service tonight. Thank you. Keep Giving God the glory!

Leslie Kerr

commented on Sep 17, 2015

I attended Mike's Funeral. It was a real celebration of his life and his faith. His witness still lives on. Thank you for reminding me of this.

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