In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the Word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
And all flesh shall see the Salvation of God.
Earlier this Spring I read Sue Haselhurst’s email to Wood Green Mennonite members and participants – a request for volunteers that would be willing to preach, lead worship, or help with other Sunday tasks. And, it was then I sensed it was the time to “take-up” once again – what has been a most meaningful part of my life: assisting in worship.
Since Wood Green offers a very different setting and style of worship (than to which I have been accustomed), I decided it would be less daunting to do one of the personal talks that was needed on June 6 or July 4 Communion Sundays.
And – that is what has brought me here today.
As Jeremy read in Luke’s Gospel: long ago, God’s messenger, the Prophet Isaiah, proclaimed the hope that all flesh shall see the Salvation of God. And, for our time together, I have chosen salvation as my theme.
And in conveying that message, I will share something of my life with you - a little from the beginning: how I came to know the God revealed in Christ, and the difference that makes in my life. And therefore the title: A Salvation Journey.
I first came to know Christ through –
● LOVING PARENTS.
Being born into a Christian home is one of life’s most precious gifts. I first came to know the Lord through my father and mother. As little children do – I learned from and was influenced by what I observed at home. The “faith and practice” of my parents, Willard and Elizabeth Barge, was a most positive experience – and became the foundation – the grounding – for my own life. And, though they are now both deceased – their “living” spirits remain as one of the greatest influences on my ongoing Christian walk.
Through them I came to know and to accept a life of obedience to the gospel. My parents were disciplined in the faith and dedicated to its practice. As many of you, we had our religious rituals. Ours included family devotions. Each morning we began with scripture reading and prayer before breakfast – followed by discussion around the table as we ate. With the focus being “the newspaper in one hand” – “the scriptures in the other” – our parents encouraged us to formulate “gospel application.” As you might imagine – especially if you knew Bill & Liz - those conversations were (at times) quite lively!
As a family we also attended worship every Sunday, as well as participated in special services and mission opportunities.
But more than those rituals – more than any theology my parents verbally shared – more than any “idea or conviction” they spoke aloud – it was watching them “in action” that helped me know God - and seek to follow God’s way. I saw the “good news” come alive as I observed them in their daily lives.
My parents were kind spoken, wrote letters and notes of encouragement, regularly invited persons to dinner, listened to others’ opinions, they championed the downtrodden, spoke out against injustice. They formed friendships with people of varied economic backgrounds, from other races and cultures, even from differing faiths. They were not perfect – sin-free – but they were faithful in spirit, peaceful in action, positive by nature, hospitable, forgiving, merciful, caring, and compassionate. In their lives, the fruit of God’s spirit was evident.
I was introduced to the gospel of Christ through the lives of my parents, and was transformed through its power.
As I reflect on their influence, I am reminded of the little verse by Edgar Guest, entitled:
Sermons We See
“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day,
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the ones who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I first came to know the Lord through my loving parents, and for that gift I will be eternally grateful.
I also came to know the Lord and to accept the way of Christ through –
● THE CHURCH.
My journey began with the Mennonite Church, a church that is very dear to my heart. My Mennonite ancestors – came from Germany to America – fleeing religious persecution and seeking freedom of expression and service in a new country. It is a Mennonite heritage that focuses on –
• OBEDIENCE - through discipleship
• SIMPLICITY - in all of life
• LOVE - manifest through service, missions, and a peace witness in the world –
- It is a heritage that is deeply rooted in my being, and even today remains a constant challenge to my living.
However – it was at a non-denominational church camp in the summer of 1957, that I made my first public commitment of faith. There “I was ‘saved’!” Those are the words I wrote in my little Bible, a gift from my Grandmother Barge. I remember that experience well.
I was ten years old – and away from family for the first time – excited and a little fearful – spending a week with other little kids from varied church backgrounds. And, on the last night of camp, a young evangelist spoke, and asked the questions: “Are you saved?” “Where would you be if you died tonight?”
At my little country church, Mt. Joy Mennonite, near Calico Rock, Arkansas – I had never heard it put quite that way. And, when I saw all the other kids going forward, I joined in. It was a big step for me: for I was “owning” my own faith – making my first “individual, personal” commitment.
Now – looking back – I am very grateful for the wisdom of that young preacher. For when he prayed with us that night – he instructed us to go back home, and visit with our ministers about the decision we made.
I did talk with my parents and my minister, Manasseh Bontrager, and three years later, on June 12, 1960, I was baptized and formally became a member of Mt. Joy Mennonite – even though I already was participating and serving in that tiny community of faith: teaching a Sunday School class for little children and helping my mother give flannel-graph programs on Sunday evenings (that was long before the days of personal computers and power-point).
A few months later, my family moved to Hesston, Kansas. It was there I met Darrell Jantz, a next-door neighbor, and classmate at Hesston College Academy. Darrell’s heritage is also Mennonite. And in 1963, we were married at Hesston Mennonite Church, by Peter Wiebe, pastor and influential mentor on my faith journey. Darrell and I remained members at Hesston Mennonite until we moved to Duncan, Oklahoma in 1969 (a community without a Mennonite congregation). The week we arrived we were invited to the First United Methodist Church, and were warmly welcomed into that family of faith.
Through forty years of membership in that particular body of Christ, my faith deepened, I was nurtured and mentored, and my “call” was crystallized. And, across those many years, I was continually challenged to serve, always coupled with opportunities for training and preparation.
I have found the United Methodist denomination to be inclusive in nature, outreaching in connectional mission, enriched through the vast diversity of its members, yet grounded in its living “core” – of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. The discovery of this quadrilateral – this “four-legged” foundation – has provided a necessary “balance” for my seeking – and has proved most instructive for my growing relationship with God through Christ. I have found it to be a most holistic way to discern God’s will – and to understand God’s claim and call on my life personally, and on our life together as the body of Christ.
I thank God for the Church universal – and for the Mennonite and United Methodist Churches in particular.
Through loving parents and through the church – through Bible study, prayer, worship – through conversations with family and friends; through good music, art and books; through glorious sunsets and mountain grandeur; through the lives and witness of those dedicated disciples who diligently work for justice and peace in this troubled world – and in a myriad of other ways – I have come to know God, and to accept the way of Christ and make it mine.
But a “salvation journey” is always an ongoing journey: mine has now brought Darrell and me to this new juncture – and to our move to London.
The desire to serve together as mission volunteers in a Mennonite Agency has been our long-held dream. Across the years, Darrell and I had visited several family members who were involved in such endeavors: my parents, Bill & Liz Barge here in London at LMC; Darrell’s sister and family, Clydene & Kermit Gingerich, at Woodstock International School in India; my brother and family, Nathan & Elaine Zook-Barge, in their MCC work in Central America. Spending time with them and learning of their ministries validated our own call.
Thus – with full support of our two children, we had started making more definite plans in order to be available upon our retirement. And, it all came to a “head” on August 4, 2009, when my brother Bernell Barge sent us the Mennonite Mission Network link for this immediate opening at the London Mennonite Centre. He added: “Aren’t you two ready? Check this out!” Indeed we were — and later that same night we emailed our application, and began the process of contacting our references. Following numerous phone interviews, with MMN representatives and with LMC Trustees, in late October we were asked to come.
Bringing closure to a 40-year career as an engineer and manager with an oil serving company in Duncan, Darrell retired at the end of that same month. And, at the end of November, I too resigned from my 16 years at a Disciples of Christ congregation, where I served as Director of Adult Ministries. And just before leaving the states, we transferred our membership back to the Hesston Mennonite Church, in Hesston, Kansas, where we will move after this assignment.
In the meantime, for these three years, we look forward to our ongoing “journey” with London Mennonite Centre and with you – the Wood Green Mennonite community of faith – to become immersed once again in an Anabaptist witness – and along with each of you, to continue to grow spiritually and serve faithfully.
As we attempt to follow God’s leading and will on this salvation journey, Darrell and I have found it requires embracing both the intrinsic “mystery” of it all, and the occasional “revelation” glimpses provided. But mostly, we believe it calls us to live and serve in a spirit of gratitude for the opportunities of the day – knowing that the Eternal One promises to be with us every step of the way.
The Gospel of Luke reminds us of our call: the invitation to join with the Prophet Isaiah, with John the Baptizer, with the entire band of travelers from across the ages – in helping prepare the way of Our Lord and proclaiming that God’s Salvation is for one and all.
A Salvation Journey is a life-long Journey!
Our Salvation has everything to do
with God’s amazing grace.
The purpose and joy of life
(Your life – My life)
Is to respond and serve in gratitude
All our days
For that most precious gift.