On September 4, 1771, Francis Asbury left Europe on a ship headed to America to join the new Methodist mission field of lay and local preachers. The trip took seven weeks at sea, lots of time to think and wonder about where he was headed. When asked, “Why are you going to America?” Francis answered, “I am going to live for God and bringing others to do so.” It’s hard to imagine what the 20- something-year-old Francis thought about making such a risky change in his life. He would never see his parents again, and he would spend the rest of his life crisscrossing the country and moving the Methodist mission forward.
Francis had no idea how it would turn out as he and one hundred other early preachers and local pastors changed the course of not only the Methodist movement but of the newly forming American country. But, because of their willingness to risk and even embrace a crossing into something new and unknown, they changed the lives of millions of people.
Crossings are important times even in our own lives. I believe we are presently in a crossing. Francis Asbury volunteered to board the ship to a new world. For us, it seems we are being pushed onto the boat of our new world. Leaving what was and going into the not yet is scary. Yet, we can choose how to react and how we move forward. Transitions are like that, and we are definitely in a transition.
In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples were walking away from the events of Jerusalem, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus. Confused and lost about what the future held, they were simply walking away, going home. Jesus found the disciples while they were walking alone. But the disciples recognized Jesus only after they were together in community with one another.
Even though we, too, may feel a bit lost and confused about our future direction, Jesus is walking along with us whether we recognize him or not. Jesus reveals the future when the time is right. Then, we will realize God’s presence and direction like the disciples did, and our hearts will be on fire as the disciples’ hearts were on fire.
Crossings are important! Whether you are crossing the street or crossing turbulent waters, whether you’re moving to a new place, changing jobs, or going through bad times, crossings matter. The scripture reassures us that God walks with us even in the crossings of our lives. This pandemic is a crossing of sorts, and life as we have known it has changed. However, a new life lies ahead for those who can see it.
It’s hard to imagine what Francis Asbury had on his mind and heart during his trip to America two hundred and fifty years ago. But, he did have personal piety and perseverance rooted in devotion to God and serving others.
This helped him become the extraordinary witness and force for God’s Kingdom in a time of change. One of his favorite verses was “Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Asbury’s whole life was a transition. A traveling preacher and bishop to the bone, crisscrossing America as it developed and changed.
In my office is a statue of Francis on his horse standing at the edge of a ravine, pointing and saying, “Onward in God’s name.” May it be so with us; onward in God’s name no matter what crossing we stand in!
Bishop Farr, Missouri Conference
of The United Methodist Church