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Remembering the Future

(a sermon for November 4, 2018, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4)

You might call him… “The Unknown Prophet.”

Because in truth of fact, we really don’t know all that much about the prophet who is named “Habakkuk.”  His words occupy a scant three chapters near the end of the Old Testament, and he’s almost overlooked amid a sea of so-called “minor prophets,” sandwiched between Nahum and Zephaniah. Even the meaning of his name is shrouded in mystery:  some biblical scholars have suggested that Habakkuk means “to embrace” or “to clasp,” as in hands clasped in prayer, while others say that it’s simply a boy’s name derived from an ancient Hebrew word for a certain plant or vegetable!  We’re not even totally sure when Habakkuk lived and prophesied; he might have been a contemporary of Jeremiah, and could have lived around about the 5th Century B.C.; again, we just don’t know for sure.

We do have a sense, however, that this particular prophetic word – it’s referred to here as an “oracle” – was given, as one commentator has put it, “in a time of dread,” in anticipation of an impending invasion by a foreign enemy, more than likely the Babylonians who had already invaded Judah, taken over Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, and now threatened total control over Palestine as a whole; a situation that did not sit at all well with Habakkuk.

In fact, if it sounded as though the words in those first few verses we read this morning were rife with anger, you heard correctly; indeed, though it is one of the shortest books of the Bible, the Book of Habakkuk remains one of the most poignant and painful passages found in all of Holy Scripture!  Biblically and literarily speaking, this particular passage is considered to be a “lament,” (that is, a profound expression of loss) but that’s putting it mildly; what we actually have here is quite literally a complaint unto God!  It’s all right there in the very first verse: “O LORD, how long shall I call for help, and you will not listen?  Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?”   How long, O Lord?  After all, the “wicked surround the righteous,” and we are most definitely outnumbered!  I ask for justice, he says, yet all I see is destruction, strife, and contention.  I ask for peace, yet all there is before me is hopelessness and fear.  Judgment, he says “comes forth perverted.”

To say the least, this is heavy stuff.

One of my seminary professors back in the day used to tell us again and again that the point of all preaching is ultimately to bring the “there and then” of God’s word to the “here and now” of our lives today; that our task was ever and always to interpret these ancient texts of the Bible in such a way that it will proclaim timeless and divine truth that will sustain us along our own pilgrimages of faith.  And needless to say, that can often be difficult; after all, we didn’t live 2,500 years ago during the Babylonian exile; very few, if any of us can speak to what it must have felt like to have been torn from our faith and ancestral homes for a length of time that by now had spanned many generations.  Quite honestly, the kind of things that Habakkuk is lamenting here seem “long ago and far away” to our 21st century ears!

Or does it?

Actually, it seems to me that right about now we know a great deal about what it is to live in “a time of dread.”  I mean, in the past couple of weeks alone our eyes and ears have beheld the worst of what the world and its woefully misguided people can dish out; from the Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh to the bombing threats throughout the country, all of it underscored by the ongoing and increasingly divisive and hateful rhetoric that has permeated both the airwaves and our political discourse as the mid-term elections are approaching.  And the saddest part of all is that this kind of violence and hatred is swiftly becoming “the new norm” in our culture!   It’s no wonder that so many these days are looking at this situation we’re in as a nation and a people, and desperately asking the question, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

Perhaps Habakkuk’s lament isn’t all that removed from our own after all!

For that matter, anyone of us who has ever hoped and prayed to the Lord with their whole hearts for some semblance of relief in their lives – the healing of a sickness, the solution to a problem, the resolution of a conflict, the lessening of deep and profound grief – only to continue feeling the pain of those experiences all the more deeply also knows what it is to cry out in the midst of our tears, “how long, O Lord, how long?”   When we’ve “been through the ringer,” so to speak, we know what it is to wonder where God has been and why nothing has seemed to have changed.  In the words of H. Beecher Hicks, Jr., writing about his own “dark night of the soul” in his book Preaching Through a Storm, “[The Psalm does say,] ‘weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’  But what I want to know is, ‘how long is the night?’”

That’s what Habakkuk’s lament is all about; and sadly it’s just as relevant “here and now” as it was “there and then.”  But the good news is God’s Word does indeed have something to say to us amidst our own “times of dread.”  You see, the thing about laments – most especially those of the biblical variety – is that they always begin in utter despair but they end in the sure and certain hope of God.  And our text for this morning shows us just that: the movement of Habakkuk’s own dialogue with God, going from confusion and uncertainty to faith and purpose; from challenging God to heeding God’s Word!  Turns out, you see, that the Lord has very specific advice in how we are to deal with these “times of dread,” and it starts with remembering the future: but not the dreaded future of our fear and despair, but rather the envisioned future; the promised future that God had already set before us, but which may have gotten lost in our hearts somewhere along the way

Actually, in those couple of verses in the second chapter of Habakkuk are three steps for remembering God’s promised future; and the first is to write it down.  “Write the vision,” the Lord says.  “Make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.”  In other words, be clear about what it is that God has set before you and let it loom large in your lives for you and everybody else to see.  If you truly believe in the providence and guidance of the Lord our God, then proclaim it; proclaim it again and again, and not in a small way but in a fashion that can be clearly understood.  Then the vision becomes palpable and real even if everything else around you seems to discount it.

I’m reminded here of those billboards that you still see along some highways across the country; you know the ones, the ones that say things like, “You know that love your neighbor thing?  I meant it. God;” or “Will the road you’re on get you to my house? God;” or my personal favorite, “Don’t make me come down there! God.”  This was one way, albeit one a bit unconventional, of writing the vision; of expressing the truth of a spiritual, Godly life in letters quite literally large enough for everyone to see.  The point is that those of us who are people of faith need to know and express what we believe, and to do so boldly.  That does not mean “forcing” our faith on people, but it does mean staying focused on our faith even when “the vision” seems blurred in the face of circumstances that at the moment seem bleak and barren.

So write the vision; and secondly, be patient.  Because the vision, however it is expressed – in health, through wholeness, in freedom or in peace – awaits an appointed time:  “It speaks of the end,” says the Lord, “and does not lie.  If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”  Many times over the years as a pastor I have spoken with people whose primary spiritual struggle has been with the belief that their prayers are not being answered quickly enough.  Don’t misunderstand, I don’t mean that quite as harsh as it sounds (!); it’s simply speaks to a very human truth that for most of us it is difficult to prayerfully wait out the struggle; that is, to let the Lord work out the good in his time and fashion, and not ours.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that in this high-tech era we’re too used to quick gratification and resolution:  I mean, we like our TV shows ”on demand,” our computers to be speedy and glitch free, and our conflicts to be swiftly resolved; it’s not in our post-modern sensibilities tohave to wait weeks, months or years for things to “work out.”  Or maybe the truth is that we’re losing the capacity to completely trust God, letting go of our own control of whatever situation is ours and trusting that God’s Spirit will lead us in directions, however measured that lead will be.

One of the other great lessons I learned back in seminary as I did clinical pastoral education at Eastern Maine Medical Center is that as a pastor I couldn’t always instantly “make it all better.”  As a young buck of a pastor, that was hard for me!   I wanted to bound into the rooms of these sick people and “fix ‘em right up,” spiritually speaking at least.  But, as one of my advisors reminded me, most of these folks had been sick for a long time.  They didn’t need quick fixes; they needed to know that God was with them slowly and steadily, bringing them strength and healing with every long, passing moment.  Be patient; for with every passing moment God is working his vision out; slowly, steadily and even in the face of all opposition.

So be patient… and finally, says the Lord, live in faithfulness.  “Look at the proud!  Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live in faith.”  It’s important for those of us who seek to keep the faith to live faithfully; and that means being faithful to the law, just in our own relationships, and pious (in a good way!) about our own religious observances.  Throughout scripture, we are called to choose life over death.  When we choose life, we are making the choice to live in fidelity to God; and the fullness and abundance of life is our reward.

In other words, beloved, at some point in our struggle, it ceases to be about what’s wrong with things.  It stops being about our fear over the elections or how the people who don’t agree with us are going to ruin the world; it’s not even about whether or not everything is working out for us as it should.  It stops being about whose fault it is, or how bad we’ve been hurt by what they’ve done to us.  At some point, it starts being about how we are, how we live, how we choose to respond to these times of dread, and whether or not we truly know God’s vision and remember his future as we live this life.

For us as God’s people, a full life is always defined by faithfulness; and in faithfulness, we can live joyfully, no matter what.  That’s how some people can move on from the tragedies of their lives somehow stronger than before; that’s how someone in the worst of circumstances can talk of how God has given them a sense of peace and the ability to celebrate life.  It’s a willingness to trust God in the longer range and wider scope of things, to face all the questions of justice and mercy and fairness head on and choose to live life faithfully as God’s people no matter how unjust or unfair life or the world might be.

The truth is, as the Psalmist has said, “weeping may endure for a night,” and the night may well be a long one; but joy will come with the morning!   So the question is, how we will live as the long night progresses?  How will we keep the faith? How do we keep on keeping on in this time between the now and not yet, between the promise and the prize, between the vision and its reality?  How will we live, beloved?  Will we remember God’s promised future, or will we let fear and dread cloud our memory?

The choice is ours to make, beloved; but remember that is the righteous who live by their faith, and it’s righteousness that helps us to know, even in the most uncertain of times, the presence of a power for joy and purpose and love… and that surely will change everything for the good.

For the future our Lord intends and even now is fashioning for you and for me…

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN.

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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The Whole Armor of God

(a sermon for August 26, 2018, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Ephesians 6:10-20)

Let me begin this morning by making something of a confession: that for a long time, the warrior-slash-gladiator imagery that’s put forth in the passage of scripture we just read (armor and breastplates, shields, helmets, arrows and such) used to make me a bit… uncomfortable.  Partly that’s because I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s where the ideals of peace and non-violence were not were not only espoused by a changing culture, but also an essential part of my own Christian nurture; moreover, as I came to learn about the growth of Christianity in seminary, I discovered that some of the darkest days of church history occurred when Christians marched out with banners unfurled to crusade and make “holy” war.  And let’s be brutally honest about it: even in these times – even right now (!) – there are those who will use Paul’s imagery to somehow justify an act or attitude of prejudice, aggression or even downright hatred; and that, to say the very least, is concerning.

So it’s been hard for me as a pastor and preacher to speak of our being “soldiers of the cross” on the one hand, and worship the “Prince of Peace” on the other; and that’s why for a whole lot of years I wouldn’t even consider singing “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,” as a part of worship.  It just seemed so contradictory to what we are taught in faith.

That having been said, though, I also have to say that over the years my understanding of this passage, and several others like it, has broadened.  For instance, a few years back, the United Methodists were having a somewhat protracted struggle over whether or not to include “Onward, Christian Soldiers” in their new hymnal.  There was actually quite a division over the issue, so they did what all good church folk do: they took a survey (!) asking how people responded when they heard this particular hymn.  And what they found is that rather than soldiers marching to war in God’s mighty army, the majority of those responding talked about the need for today’s church to be in mission throughout a harsh and violent world!  Likewise, the number one response for the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (a hymn that has also long sparked debate over its rather harsh imagery and somewhat sketchy theology) was that it reminded people of the Civil Rights movement and in fact continues to serve as an anthem for racial and social justice!

In the end, things like this have led me to at least reconsider my own ideas, and I guess the moral here is that sometimes we have to be open enough look at these things in the proper context and not just from our own narrow point of view; but even more than that, we need to remember in this age of increasingly watered-down, politically-correct and often marginalized Christianity that there indeed have been times when the church believed that there was something worth fighting for; or at least, a worthy conviction upon which to stand firm.

If we’re to truly understand what Paul says to the Ephesians and to us, the message is clear:  in the midst of “this present darkness” in which we live, a world with all its powers and principalities working evil against us, there always has been something worth fighting for, and what’s more there still is: and it’s our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and “the mystery of the gospel.”  So be strong, Paul says. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power,” and “take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

What we need to understand, you see, is that what this passage is all about is less about humanity’s “warring madness” (to quote the hymn) than it is about God’s power, about the larger, spiritual struggles of life, and about how as people of faith those struggles cannot help but touch each one of our lives sooner or later.  In that context, this imagery of the “whole armor of God” is not only very rich, vivid and bold, but also quite appropriate for you and me even today.

I can say this because nature is the same now as it always has been, as is our human tendency to conform.  Paul was aware, as are we, that all too often our first response to any given situation is just to… go along to get along; to stick with the status-quo, to go with the flow, and of course, the old standby that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do!”  Whatever our go-to response, however, our faith in Jesus Christ and our allegiance to the mysteries of the gospel demands more of us than quiet, acquiescent conformity with the world; it requires a boldness that is fueled by the strength and power of God!

In other words, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are not called to merely “blend in” to the scenery of daily life as to be inconspicuous; and most certainly we are not meant to simply follow along with the conventional morality and wisdom of an ever shifting culture!   You and I have not be sent out into the world in order to be given over to whatever whim hits us at any moment, or to flit from fad to fashion in the fleeting hope of hitting something good along the way.  Rather, we are meant to stand firm on our moral and ethical and social and spiritual convictions in Christ, even when that stance is unpopular and it makes us unpopular; because trust me on this, folks: there are times when that’s exactly what’s going to happen!

And lest you ever think otherwise, dear friends, pastors are not exempt from that kind of persecution!  Not to complain or to sounding morose about it, but let me just share with you that at various times over the years as a minister I have been told that as regards faith I am unreasonable, unrealistic, illogical, judgmental, exclusive, out of touch and out of step; that I don’t live in the real world; that I’m a “purveyor of drivel” (my personal favorite!); and that I’m downright mistaken in just about every way… and this is from people from within the church!  And, yes, there have been those I’ve known outside the body of Christ who have dismissed me out of hand as some kind of overly zealous religious do-gooder!  But understand that any one of us who has chosen to remain faithful come what may could tell much the same story.

I recognize that what I’m saying here does not exactly serve as a great endorsement for church membership, never mind going into the ministry!  Nonetheless, there’s no denying, as it says in our own UCC Statement of Faith, that there is a cost as well as a joy in discipleship; and often that cost is manifest in the moments when in our Christian walk it feels like it’s “us alone against the world,” with the odds being very much stacked in favor of the world!  Make no mistake, no matter who we are, no matter how strong or faithful or optimistic we happen to be, for any of us that kind of rejection, that kind of warfare can take its toll.

That’s why Paul speaks of our need be strong in our Christian identity, to set our feet so that they are firmly rooted in our faith in God; nurtured in tradition and enveloped in faithful community so that we can grow deep in the rich soil of love and hope and joy.  Remember, friends, our coming to church every Sunday is not merely for the sake of gaining some kind of inspiration for the week ahead, and it’s not even entirely about community; ultimately, it’s about being a part of something larger than ourselves; to be not transient but transcendent; to be renewed for the journey ahead and strengthened for the struggles that will ensue; and to go forth in a way that maintains our dignity and our integrity as men and women of God.

Because as Paul notes, and we already know, the way won’t be easy, nor will be withstanding what’s going to come… we need to ready ourselves for the struggles we’ll face “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  We need protection akin to the armor… we need the whole armor of God.

Now to put this all in context, it should be noted that in a time and place when the early church was feeling the persecution and oppression of the Roman authorities, Paul chose this very militaristic imagery of the Roman soldiers to make his point; so truth be told, as much as it might disturb our modern sensibilities it probably raised far more eyebrows amongst those new Christians even than it does with us now.  But then as now, message is clear:  that if the battle garb of the Roman guard is impossible to penetrate, than just consider how much stronger God’s armor will be.  So if you and I go through the struggles of this life feeling as though the powers and principalities of the world will inevitably beat us down, then we truly need to rise up and walk in true faith in Jesus Christ; and for that, we need God’s armor.

For just as the warrior protects himself with accoutrements of steel, as followers of Jesus Christ, we will discover our strength:

We will find that when we gird ourselves with truth, like a belt around our waist;

when we put righteousness before our heart, like a breastplate over the chest;

when we walk with the gospel of peace, like shoes with strong and rugged soles;

when we put faith between us and any problem coming at us, like a shield deflects arrows flying toward us;

when we embrace our salvation, like a helmet to protect our head;

when we allow God’s Word to clear our minds and our hearts, like a sword to vanquish the enemies from within and without;

this is how we shall persevere.

That’s what it takes to get us through.  That’s the armor that we need, as Paul exhorts us, to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.”

You know, one of the things I continue to learn as I move forward on this journey of life is that most of the time my faith in God is as warm and welcoming to me as a warm quilt on a cold winter’s day (or to use an analogy more apropos to this particular summer, as refreshing as a dip in the cool water on a hot humid afternoon!).  I am forever thankful for the miracle of grace and joy that is mine in Christ! But I also know that in following Jesus, there are bound to be struggles, and there have been; times in which it seems like an utter fight simply to live out of Christ’s call to compassion and inclusiveness; times in which it becomes difficult to hold on to my identity and integrity as a child of God.  I’m guessing that you all could say the same; for we know that question that looms in such times as these:  when the fight comes, and it will, will we have the strength and the power to persevere?

Well, beloved, to this I can only say that we are made strong in the midst of struggle in this life when our strategies, our practice, the moves we make and the truth we espouse represent the spiritual presence in our life; when it declares our faith boldly in word and in deed.  In the times and places we feel weak an beaten down, we are in fact strong; and what makes us strong is the armor that God provides us: from breastplate to helmet to shoes, the gear of a spiritual warrior that not only helps us to survive in the face of all manner of attack, but then leads us in the triumph song of life, so that in all times and places we may walk boldly, declaring a gospel of peace with every step!

May we be strong and courageous on the journey, and as we go, may our…

…thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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FAQ’s of Faith: What About Faith?

(a sermon for February 25, 2018, the 2nd Sunday in Lent; second in a series, based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 17:5-10)

And the disciples said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”  That’s all we need, Lord… just give us a little more faith, won’t you please?

As we heard our text for this morning being read, maybe your reaction was the same as mine:  here we go again!  Those shallow, self-serving, never ever satisfied disciples of Jesus, always seeking out more than what they’ve been given; always managing to respond to something as wonderful as faith by making an improbable and downright inappropriate request!  I mean, as though you could even quantify faith in such a way; building it up like you were storing up food in a pantry or hiding riches in a locked safe.  Never mind what Jesus said about having faith the size of a mustard seed being more than enough to hurl a mulberry tree into the ocean (!); once again, those disciples just don’t seem to get it!  Faith is either something you’ve got, or you don’t… right?

Of course… read around this particular portion of Luke’s gospel and you discover there may have been a little bit more to that request than what it seems.  After all, Jesus had just warned them against ever causing another person to “stumble;” that is, to create hardship or temptation in their lives.  He’d also given them the unenviable task of calling out the sins of another disciple, while at the same time making sure they always forgive when there’s repentance; even and especially if that sin happens to have been against them!  Oh, and here’s the kicker: “if that same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Good grief!  And understand, this was just the latest of a long series of difficult and pretty overwhelming teachings coming from Jesus!  It’s no wonder that they were asking for more faith; I have to imagine that every one of those disciples were not quietly wondering what it was they’d signed up for when they’d decided to follow Jesus!  How could anybody possibly live up to Jesus’ expectations, much less make a faithful difference in the world as his disciples without… more faith; or at least more faith than what they ever felt like they possessed!  And so, please… please Lord, “Increase our faith!”

And that we can understand, can’t we?

After all, it’s a hard world out there; most especially for any of us who would carry the banner of faith.  There are so many crucial needs in the world that are as yet unmet; so many challenges before us to do what’s right and so much conflict that gets in the way of what needs to be done.  I don’t think that any of us here would argue against the assertion that this is a world in crisis, and yet it’s also seemingly a world of decreased faith; where voices of the Spirit are being constantly drowned out by the din of hateful and divisive rhetoric coming from just about every corner of the public square.  Not to be overstate this or to sound wholly grim, friends; but these are days of confused and conflicted situations where people are both scared and scarred!  I ask you: how can there ever be enough faith to weather the storms of violence that have become all too commonplace in this society; how can we have the faith that’s necessary to truly live out Jesus’ rule of forgiveness, to say nothing of the commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves? What are we supposed to do in a world like this… what about faith in times like these?

As the disciples said to Jesus, so say we: “Increase our faith!”  That’s all we need, Lord… just give us a little more faith, won’t you please?

Actually, maybe the truth is that we’re approaching this request, and indeed this “frequently asked question” in the wrong way.

I’ve always been very fond of our reading for this morning from the Epistle to the Hebrews, a small portion of a much longer exhortation – a sermon in the best sense – on the example of “real, intense, life-changing faith” shown forth by God’s people throughout history.  From Abel to Enoch to Noah to Abraham and every successive generation – men and women, shepherds and warriors, people of power and others who were utter outcasts – here were the people who had more than enough faith to face the challenges before them.  This 11th chapter of Hebrews is quite literally an eloquent and celebrative evocation of “so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1) that surround us; and it all begins with the author (presumably Paul, though some scholars debate that) declaring that “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

It’s a very familiar verse, to be sure; in fact, I would dare say that these are the words that a lot of us refer to when thinking about faith, or perhaps more accurately what we think about what happens in faith: that all our hopes will be fulfilled, that our prayers will be answered, and that even though things aren’t turning out the way we would wish for them to be right now, that by grace and somewhere just beyond our sight it’s all happening just the way it should.  What we’re talking about here is not simply what it is we believe about God or about life; it’s also about having “the eyes of faith” even if it doesn’t always jibe with outward appearances, or being willing to take that “leap of faith” even unto the abyss in the knowledge, however uncertain, that we’ll land safely on the other side!

And friends, I would not presume to tell you that this is a wrong assumption; truly, there have been too many times in my own life – and I’m betting in yours as well – where acting that boldly in faith has been the best (and maybe even the only!) response to whatever task or choice or challenge I’ve had to face!  So I’m not here to deny the value and importance of this aspect of our faith; but I also want to say that there’s more to faith than just that.

In that first verse we shared today, faith is referred to in two different ways and with two different words in the Greek language.  The first is upostasis, which we read as “assurance,” but is most accurately translated as “standing under.”  In other words, faith represents a “standing under,” or upon a foundation of belief; a sure and certain belief in God.  Or to put it still another way, it’s our confidence in God that leads us to stand firm in our faith.  To wit, this is how The Message translates this verse:  “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that make life worth living.”  Faith, you see, has to do with trust that God is at the foundation of everything in our lives, the knowledge that God is at work in and through all the joys, the sorrows, the challenges and yes, even the times of crisis in our lives and in our world.

The second word that’s used here in regard to faith is elegchos, which we read as “the conviction of things unseen,” but actually is better translated as “reproof,” “rebuke,” or “evidence.”  In other words, don’t doubt or reject the foundation on which you stand because the evidence of what God is doing and has always done is both powerful and irrefutable!  And that’s where Paul starts his exhortation of the faithful throughout history.  These are the stories of people for whom faith was not merely an intellectual exercise but the direct result of a trusting relationship with the almighty in any and all circumstances, even in those moments when it might seem as though God is silent or invisible.  This is about what happens when everything in life and living becomes girded on God’s movement rather than our own… so don’t dismiss those “things unseen,” for this is where God may yet be at work!

That’s where the disciples made their mistake, you see; they asked Jesus to increase their faith, but what they really needed was a means to more faithfulness.  That’s why Jesus, using that image of the tiny mustard seed, could tell them even in their overwhelmed state that they already had enough faith; and that’s why Jesus goes on to tell them a story about slaves “doing what was commanded” for the sake of the master.  Because ultimately, what makes you a disciple, what makes you strong, what makes you loving, what makes you “faith-full” is to trust in that foundation of God’s presence, power and love, and to let everything else in your life flow from that!

Or, if might borrow a verse from another verse from the gospels, one that we repeat every week here in prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)

Not that that’s wholly, if at all, understood!   I’ve known so many people over the years – and this includes a whole lot of church people – who were convinced that the only way they could ever earn God’s love and acceptance and salvation was to aspire to perfection; that living perfect and thinking perfect and being perfect was in fact the meaning of faith, that if you fall short of this goal of perfection, the only solution to this is more faith; and that if you can only garner enough faith then you’ll be a good Christian now and eternally.

But let me just say this, quoting here the words of Charles Reeb:  “Christians are not perfect,” he writes.  “Christians are not in control.  Christians don’t have all the answers.  Christians are not better than other people.  Christians are not folks that can give the perfect theological answer to every question.

“Christians,” Reeb goes on to say, are those who have learned, like Abraham, that God can be trusted… [that] God can be trusted to give peace in the midst of the storm.  God can be trusted to take what is eveil and transform it into something good.  God can be trusted to empower you in the midst of trouble.  God can be trusted to receive you when you die.  God can be trusted!”

Faith, more than simply believing a set of ideas and much more than following a series of rituals, practices, habits and even sacraments, is ultimately trusting in God; and beloved, as Christians you and I know we can trust in God not only, as the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims, because God has been shown throughout history to be trust-worthy, but most especially because God has sent his Son Jesus to us as the ultimate assurance of everything we hope for in our lives, as well as the sure and certain evidence of that which is yet to come.  And sometimes – most times, in fact – having more faith simply comes down to it is taking up a life that is steeped in faithful living; it is to let God’s presence and power move us through challenge, doubt and all those times of feeling overwhelmed, rather than trying to make it happen through our own efforts.

It is a hard world in which we live; and sadly, there’s hardly a day in which somewhere that sad truth isn’t reinforced for us.  But we have hope for a better world; because in faith, dear friends, we trust in God.  And it’s in that faith that you and I can continue, even now in the midst of it all, to be faithful and seek to live unto that hope that is assured to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and by the on-going movement of God’s Spirit.

Let us not be overwhelmed, beloved; but let us be moved by God to do what need to be done for the sake of the kingdom: to care for those in need; to protect the vulnerable; to reach out to the lost and the lonely; to offer up friendship to those who dwell on the fringes of life and living; and to contribute, each in our own way, to what’s good and right and loving; so that we might grow as disciples and let our very lives serve as a witness to God’s presence and power all around us.

That’s what faith is about.  And for this, and so much more, may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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