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FAQ’s of Faith: What Is Grace?

(a sermon for March 18, 2018, the Fifth Sunday in Lent; fifth in a series, based on Luke 15:11-32 and Ephesians 2:1-10)

So… GRACE.  What is it, and what does it really have to do with faith?

Not only a “frequently asked question” as regards faith, it’s a pretty good one as well; after all, so often when we use that word “grace,” we’re speaking apart from any kind of biblical or religious context. Outside of these church doors, for instance, grace becomes a way of describing the dancer’s leap or the poet’s word; it’s the manner by which we communicate our awe and admiration for those with the strength and ability to do something amazing or wonderful.  To be “grace-full” suggests someone with the skill to do what they do beautifully, smoothly and without wasted motion; it’s that intangible something that just seems to fill a particular moment, whatever it is, with perfection.

We also tend, do we not, to equate “grace” with something really good that happens to us; or perhaps more to the point, with something really bad not happening to us!  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  Now there’s a quote that dates back as far as the 16th century (attributed to the English Protestant Reformer and Martyr John Bradford), but how often have we uttered pretty much the same sentiment; usually referring to one specific situation or moment in time when we chose to take one road in life rather than the other, a choice which made all the difference between our success or failure, wealth or poverty, righteousness or sin, and yes, even life or death!

Now admittedly, this does bring us a little bit closer to our biblical understanding of grace; by speaking of what happens to us as being “by the grace of God,” we’re talking about a God who shows forth favor – often unmerited favor – toward those whom he loves.  In fact, two words in ancient Hebrew that can be roughly translated as “grace” are, first, hen, which describes the compassionate response of a superior to an inferior, especially when that kindness is undeserved; and second, hesed, which is the word in scripture used to describe God’s loving-kindness and loyalty toward Israel, even when Israel turned away from God!  So then, “by the grace of God” ends up meaning that you may well not deserve it and probably don’t, but nonetheless the divine and almighty God – the very Creator of heaven and earth – this God loves you, and so here it is.  It’s yours, by GRACE.

I say all this as a way of preparing us for the hard truth of our Epistle reading this morning, in which Paul gets to the nitty-gritty of the matter of grace by letting the Ephesians and us know in no uncertain terms, “You were dead.”

That’s right… dead.  Dead and gone: as in the words of Dickens, “dead as a doornail.”  Dead “through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived;” dead in “following the course of this world;” dead from “following the desires of flesh and senses;” dead “by our nature [as] children of wrath, like everyone else.”  Friends, I would submit to you that this is not the kind of obituary any one of us would want for ourselves!  I’m reminded here of an obituary that ran in a Los Angeles newspaper a few years ago: it actually said that the deceased “had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. Her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.”

Can you imagine (!); now there’s an argument for writing your own obituary ahead of time!  Here was a final testament of life that included no highlights of this person’s existence, just the low lights; it was the record of a life with no redeeming qualities whatsoever!  And that seems to be exactly where Paul is headed as he writes to these early Christians in the city of Ephesus (as The Message translates this, “You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience!”) and such judgment would seem to preclude any hope of their redemption or salvation at all!  All you were, and all you could ever hope to be was… dead!

But… you’ll notice that Paul is very clear about using the past tense in that judgment; as in, “you were dead.”  Because in fact there’s very good news to share here:  “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”  “He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ…” (The Message again) and here’s the thing that is so amazing about it: “He did all this on his own, with no help from us!”  It is “by grace [that] you have been saved through faith, and this is not your doing; it is the gift of God.”  If I might borrow a great line from the Rev. Donovan Drake, a Presbyterian pastor out of Tennessee, just when we figure that all is lost for us, here Paul “pulls away from the grave news and towards the great news:” that we are made alive in Jesus Christ so that we might join him in the work that he is doing and dwell with him in the highest heaven… even when we don’t deserve it!

I love what Drake goes on to say about this: “God has set forth a bail-out package of enormous proportions! The amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is gathering up our sins, our failures, our pains, our brokenness, our pasts, our presents, and our great illusions of foresight into the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection,” and we are saved.  “This is huge,” concludes Drake, “so huge that many cannot seem to fathom its size and scope.”  You and I, are all-too-human tendency is to decide that we somehow have to earn our way into the good “graces” of God (there’s another way we use that word!); that is, if we only act better, do better, be better than maybe – just maybe – we might squeak by with just a modicum of divine approval now and eternally.  But that’s not grace: grace is the assertion that “while we still were sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8) and rather than being dead, we are indeed made alive together through Jesus Christ.  And ultimately, that this happens has nothing to do with us at all, but everything to do with the infinitely graceful gift of God unto those whom he loves; all we need do is accept the gift.

Like most of you, I suppose, I’ve always been very fond of our gospel reading for this morning, Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son; although I must confess to you that every time I return to this parable of Jesus, the more convinced I am that history and tradition has misnamed it.  Now granted, Jesus intended the story to illustrate the “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents,” (Luke 15:7) so the story of the sinful younger son who “comes to himself” and decides to return home to his father and face the music does ring true.  But more and more it seems to me the real truth of this parable is in what happens next; and what happens next is… God!   In the story, of course, it’s the father who saw his son “while he was still far off” in the field and goes running after him, but in truth, it’s God!

Did you notice in this story that the father never actually says anything to his son?  That there’s no effort to extract a confession from him, no “what have you got to say for yourself, young man?”  And that there’s just this loving embrace and the kiss, this incredibly emotional welcome home; and that it’s only after all this that the son can manage to get his confession out of his mouth; and that even while that’s happening the father’s busy calling the household staff to get the party started!

And that’s why I really do believe this ought to be called the “Parable of the Forgiving Father!” Because such forgiveness is utterly amazing, isn’t it?  The scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time would have insisted (and quite honestly, so many of us even today would have to agree) that for such forgiveness to have taken place all laws and statutes would have to be followed to the letter, with everything from that moment on done properly and in good order; in other words, repentance followed by good (no, make that perfect) works being the only justification for any kind of forgiveness.  But now here’s Jesus, saying with all boldness that ours is the God who just up and forgives the transgressions of this so-called “prodigal,” not because all the dots have been connected, but just out of love (!); all because of that relentless desire of God has that every one of his children should be welcomed home, and that there should be this unending joy “in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

That’s what grace is, you see… because ultimately, in the same way the younger son couldn’t change the hopelessness of his own sinful situation, there’s nothing you or I can do about ours: you can’t change what’s been done in your life; you can’t fix what is broken between yourself and God; and you can’t raise the dead… only God can do that.  But the good news, now and always, is that by grace, God does do that, and he does it for you and me by the redeeming power at work in Jesus Christ.

The story goes that during a British conference on comparative religion some years ago, the renowned theologian and author C.S. Lewis was asked in the middle of a very intense discussion what he considered to be Christianity’s unique contribution among the world’s religions.  Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy… it’s grace.”  And despite the brevity and simplicity of his answer, not to mention all the other sharp divisions that people of different faiths will sometimes espouse, on that one point, at least, everyone had to agree.  I love what Philip Yancey says about this; he writes, “The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity.  The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law – each offers a way to earn approval.  Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

Turns out that our the glory of our Christian faith is ultimately is found not in our doing, but in our receiving; and so in that regard, I suppose that it’s not wholly unconditional, for it does require each of us to take hold of what we’ve been given.  But when we do, we become the recipients of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  We are made part of God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (1:9) And we are given life heretofore unimagined; full and abundant and eternal; all because of this incredible, unmerited amazing grace that’s borne of divine love.

In the end, you see, grace is all about love.  As Frederick Buechner says so very well, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”

Dear friends, the good news of this and every day is that we are loved beyond measure and by grace we are saved; and in a sacrificial act that will change the world forever, God’s own son is about to show us just how true of a thing that is.  So let us watch and wait, even unto the cross, for this gift of grace to unfold very soon now; so that we might embrace it as our very own.  So that there, for the grace of God, will go you and I.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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FAQ’s of Faith: What’s Most Important?

(a sermon for March 11, 2018, the Fourth Sunday in Lent; fourth in a series, based on Mark 12:28-34)

I have to say that for me one of the great parts of the study of scripture is that no matter how many times and how many ways I return to a particular passage, there’s always something there that manages to surprise me!

Well, such is the case with our text for this morning; for in coming back this week to Mark’s account of how “one of the scribes” came to Jesus asking about which of the commandments is first and greatest of all, I was very surprised to discover that this actually is one of the rare instances in the gospels where Jesus and one of the religious leaders of his time actually… agree on something!

I mean, think about this with me for a moment:  here is Jesus, who long before this had established his overall opposition and basic animus for the practices of the religious establishment of his day; and then there’s this scribe, who’s not only a learned member of that religious establishment, but also part of the group who were intimately involved in the conspiracy to kill Jesus!  Add that to the fact that as we pick up the reading this morning, there had already been some rather intense words exchanged between Jesus and a series of representatives from the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees having to do with things like religious authority, the belief in resurrection and the legality of paying taxes unto Caesar; understanding, of course, that these “questions” had very little to do with theological discussion or debate and everything to do with at the very least undermining Jesus’ popularity amongst the people, or perhaps even trapping Jesus into saying something that could be branded as heresy, which would be most certainly be a punishable offense!  So it’s incredibly surprising that when this one, individual scribe – already, it should be pointed out here, impressed at how Jesus had answered those who had come before – asks this particular “frequently asked question” about the greatest commandment Jesus gives an answer on which they can both agree: simply put, it’s first to love God with your whole heart; and secondly, but just about as importantly, it’s to love your neighbor as yourself.

And that’s it; two simple commandments, dating back to the days of Moses, that would seem to encapsulate all the teachings of faith itself!  One could argue that there was a whole lot more that perhaps could have been said here; or that maybe Jesus should have seized the moment for a teaching about love leading to acts of righteousness or justice, or better yet, about the reality of hypocrisy regarding such matters!  But no, this time it’s just a simple response on Jesus’ part; and moreover, there’s nothing all that radical about what Jesus says here, nothing that any serious student of the Torah wouldn’t have already understood on some level!  But yet, it’s this very basic response that immediately leads to the scribe gushing about the correctness of Jesus’ answer, and it’s why Jesus could look to this scribe – the scribe, of all people (!) – and not only see that “he answered wisely,” but also be able say to this man who represented everything that was wrong with the practice of religion, “’You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”  For you see, whatever else divided them at that moment, where true faith was concerned they could agree on that which was the most important: to love God and to love others.

I must confess that even in my particular line of work, I don’t often get asked pointed questions about which of the commandments I feel to be the greatest.  I do, however, quite “frequently” get asked questions regarding what I think to be most important about faith, particularly among those who have been away from the church for a while, or who maybe are making their very steps toward faith.  Some want to know, for instance, how literally I take the Bible; or how, considering the world as it really is, how “optional” I would consider a few of the ten commandments to be (my answer to that has sometimes been to half-jokingly suggest that there’s a reason they’re not called “the ten suggestions,” but I’m not always sure that message is wholly understood!).

Some people will ask if I believe there’s a heaven and a hell; and more to the point, they want to know if everything they’ve done in the past could ever possibly qualify them for going to heaven when they die. They’re curious about this man Jesus, and they want to find out if he really is everything we Christians always say that he is; and though it’s not usually said in so many words, they truly want to know about salvation and redemption, and about things like confession and repentance; about love and grace (that’s next Sunday, by the way!); and what it means to be forgiven as well as to forgive.  Mostly, though, I have to say that in one way or the other the common thread running through all those questions is of what ends up being the most important facet of living a faithful life: of what it is we can and should do to best honor God; to obey Christ’s teaching in a way that pleases God and serves God by creating an atmosphere of justice, freedom and peace for all; and, ultimately, for each of us to be in this life the persons and the kind of people who we have been created to be from the beginning of our creation!

And I have to tell you – as a pastor, yes, but most especially as a person of faith – isn’t it interesting that the answer to this question of what’s most important turns out to be as simple – and as complicated (!) – as Jesus’ answer to that inquisitive scribe: first, to love God with our whole hearts, and second, to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is, as the scribe noted, “much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices,” to say nothing of all the countless little rules and regulations, precepts and traditions, limits and boundaries we create for ourselves all for the sake of at least trying to get everything right where faith is concerned!  And I say “trying,” because inevitably such attempts, however well-intentioned, end up falling short of the mark.  To love God, and to love others… that’s what Jesus says, and that’s the most important thing.

Don’t, however, get the idea that this altogether simplifies things where faith is concerned! I love what the Rev. David F. Sellery, pastor and writer from Connecticut, says about this:  “Sure we’ve heard the words over and over,” he writes. “But do we live them over and over?  Is the message fresh and alive in us… shaping our thoughts and actions today… or has familiarity bred neglect… leaving love of God and neighbor as sweet sentiments reserved for Sunday mornings.”

“Love is the total reason for our being,” Sellery goes on to say, “the sole purpose for our Creation and our unique place in it.  Love defines us.  It must be who we are and what we do. If not, we’re just taking up space and wasting time.”

Love God… with heart and soul and mind and strength… and love others… with the same intensity and depth by which God loves us, and after the same manner that we are meant to love ourselves.  As people of faith, it is both our mission in this generation and, might I add, the legacy that we leave for the next.  I’m actually reminded here of something that John Westerhoff wrote about our shared task of Bringing Up Children in the Christian Faith (his book of the same title).  He correctly asserts that we cannot rely on the culture in which we live to impart faith to our children; this, in fact, is a task that belongs to each of us as Christians, and all of us as the church.  Not that we can “give” them faith, per se; faith, writes Westerhoff, “is a gift from God given to both us and our children.  [But,] we are called to live faithfully in childlike ways with our children so that we both might know the gift of faith and live in its grace.”

So it is with the all-important commandments to love God and to love others.  Granted, our love, whatever its shape or form, can only be but a pale reflection of God’s love that, in Christ, “surpasses all knowledge” and understanding (Ephesians 3:19); nonetheless the kind of divine love that’s reflected in us serves as a palpable and lasting way that we give form, substance and meaning to every one of the joys and challenges, the laughter and sorrow, the excitement, the boredom and the utter routine of our daily lives.  Moreover, and I can’t stress this strongly enough, love isn’t always about our being nice!  Quite frankly, some of the worst affronts to love and justice and true “Christian” morality has come about because of a refusal to be anything less than “nice” about the evils around us that we ought to deplore.  Love, as God gives it, intends it and yes, commands it means that we are both accountable for our own behavior and responsible for nurturing one another and our world in ways that are moral, ethical and in keeping with the all-inclusive love of Jesus Christ.

At the end of the day, and at the beginning of each new day, it’s important… most important (!) in everything we do that we love God and love our neighbor. If I might throw in just one more quote, this time from Mother Teresa, “It is not how much we do that is pleasing to God, but how much love we put into the doing.”

That is what’s most important.

Did you hear the story about the wife who wrote a letter to her husband who was in prison for armed robbery?  It was coming on to this time of year, close to springtime, and so in the letter she asked her husband, “I’ve been wondering; what’s the best time to plant potatoes in our garden?”  And the husband immediately wrote back, “Whatever you do, don’t dig in the garden, because that’s where I’ve hidden all of my guns!”  Well, as you might imagine, the mail going in and out of prison was intercepted, and soon as the guards read that particular sentence several men were dispatched to go to the woman’s home and dig up every square foot of her garden plot from one end to the other; but even after all that, they didn’t find a single gun!  When the wife reported this in a letter back to her husband, the husband again quickly wrote back to say, “Alright, then; the garden is now ready for you to go ahead and plant the potatoes!”

Well, it strikes me that just as you can’t throw seeds on hardened ground but rather have to plant them in soil that’s been first tilled and nurtured, it’s also true that for God’s purposes to be fulfilled, our hearts and lives need to be opened up and carefully tended so that real love, divine love transformed into human love can take root there.

The thing is that most of us, I believe, have come here today wanting to be, trying to be and are committed to being faithful by way of loving God and loving others in and through our very lives.  And yes, I’ll admit that these are times when given the world around us and the forces that tempt us to other sorts of responses that commitment to love often becomes difficult and confusing.  But we know what’s important where faith is concerned; we want to do what’s right, we want to live as we ought, and at heart, I believe that each and all of us wants to be the best we can be before God; and what the Gospel tells us this morning is that, as the song goes, “all you need is love.”

But remember, friends,  what makes the difference is love that has source in the one who first loved us, who lived and died for us in the person of Jesus Christ, and who continues even now to bring us closer to him by his Holy Spirit.  This is love made real in his presence and his power; and it’s love that can and will transform us into something brand new; that we might truly love as we have been loved… today, tomorrow and in every day that comes.

Thanks be to God for that love we are given, and that we are challenged to share.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2018 in Faith, Jesus, Lent, Love, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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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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