Archive for October, 2013

What is Faith

Today’s sermon came from Luke 17:5-10, though I cut the lesson short, focusing on the first couple of verses. Honestly, I think it took longer for the congregation to stand for the reading of the gospel than it did to actually read it. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith and I take a long look at what faith is and where it comes from.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can follow along with the sermon text here, but note, I went off script several times…adding stuff here and there, occasionally switching stuff around. So the text may be difficult to follow at times.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The apostles said the Lord “Increase our faith.” (pause). Sometimes I wonder about the disciples. This batch of ragtag backwater ragamuffins that Jesus picked, seemingly at random…to be his closest followers.  Uncouth, uneducated fishermen…a tax collector…a political extremist…a bunch of guys that we really don’t know a whole lot about.
Why did Jesus pick these guys? Did they show him some sort of great devotion from the get-go? Were they just all really good looking and he thought it might increase his status with the cool kids to hang out with them?  Who knows?
All we know is that Jesus chose these guys, and for three years they followed him around. They watched him do amazing things…unbelievable things. They heard him teach about the kingdom of God in new ways…sometimes in understandable ways…and sometimes in confusing ways.  They saw him heal people, raise the dead…they heard him talk about his own death and resurrection…and to top it all off…Jesus planned on building his church on the shoulders of this random crew…Do you suppose they felt up to the task? Or did they maybe…just maybe…feel a little lacking? (pause)
Lord…increase our faith…They might as well be saying “You need to lay some magical Jesus powers on us Lord…then we can do all this stuff that you’re asking us to do.” Or perhaps they’d just heard the old George Michael song “Cuz I gotta have faith” and they thought it was catchy…hard to say.
Either way…they are looking for a boost on the faith scoreboard. Maybe they don’t feel as if they have any and they’re saying “Hey Jesus, we need some faith.” We see that you have faith in God and we’ve all seen what you can do…throw some our way and we’ll be good to go…we’ll head out and do miracles and then everyone will believe us.”
Or maybe they think they’ve got some, but not enough…Maybe they’re saying “Hey Jesus, we’re ranked in at level 5…but we need to be level 10…then we’re golden.”
We don’t really know the motivation of the disciples here…but we do know this…they go to Jesus and ask for faith…and faith…that’s a word that we throw around a lot in church don’t we…especially here in the Lutheran church. We heard it in all three scripture lessons today…we’ve heard it in our prayers…we discussed it downstairs in confirmation class a little while ago…it’s a tenant in the Lutheran tradition. We are saved by faith in Christ…AWESOME!!!! But what the heck does it really mean?
I think this is a serious question, and one worth really thinking about. Faith runs the risk of becoming one of those Christian buzzwords. Something that gets thrown around a lot without ever being defined. So what is faith?  Think about it for a moment…if you were in a conversation with someone…someone that isn’t a church goer…and they asked you “What’s faith?”  What would you say? How would you respond?
Is faith simply following the rules?  Is it just going to church once every week or two?  Is it expressed by trying to do the right thing?  Is that faith?  (pause)  Well, no…I don’t think so.
I think faith…is actually a very simple thing…Faith…is believing in something.  It can be as simple as believing that if I put some money in a pop machine…I’m gonna get a pop out of it…or believing that if I set my alarm before I go to bed, it’s going to go off at the right time so I can get up in time to get everybody ready for the day…or believing that if I climb in my truck and turn the key, the engine is going to start.
It’s a question of believing in something…that’s faith…now granted, those examples that I listed off aren’t anything worth staking my life on…but I have faith that if I do any of those things, then its going to turn out like it is supposed to. (pause)
But if faith is as simple as believing in something…then what does that mean here in the Biblical sense?  What are the disciples really asking for here? Do they even know? (pause)  Often times in the Gospels, we see Jesus correct them…and today’s story seems to be one of those times.
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to plant itself in the ocean and it will happen.  My guess is that Jesus is getting a little snarky with the boys once again.  Of course you aren’t going to actually attempt to plant a tree in the ocean…that’s just silly…we all know it won’t grow there…so why would Jesus even say that?
Well maybe, just maybe…the example that he’s giving is irrelevant…and maybe the size of the mustard seed…or in this case the amount of faith that he’s talking about doesn’t really matter either….Maybe what Jesus is saying here is that if you have any faith at all…if you actually believe in the promise…then its done.
Maybe that’s all faith really is…Actually believing it…actually trusting in the promise made by God…the promise that if you believe in Christ as your savior…then its done.
Funny…as I sit and think about that, it almost seems like it’s way to easy. All we have to do is believe? Really? (pause) I mean…come on…REALLY? That’s it?  It can’t be it. (pause) Can it?
Well, what if that is it?  What if that’s really all there is too it? To this…faith…thing. (pause)  Well that doesn’t seem so hard now does it?  Kind of makes you wonder just why the disciples are having so much trouble with it…but you know…it seems like the disciples are always having issues with it…in really believing the promise of God. You’d think they’d be the ones to have it down, but it seems like in the Gospel stories its always the unexpected person that Jesus praises for their faith…the woman that washes Jesus’ feet. The woman who touches his cloak in the crowd and is healed…the centurian seeking healing for his servant…these are the people that Jesus praises for their faith…and its because they express belief. They each believe that what they are seeking, will be granted…they simply believe it and it happens.
Kind of reminds me of Yoda in Empire Strikes Back when he tells Luke Skywalker “Do…or do not…there is no try.”  When it comes to the promises of God, you either believe them, or you don’t…It seems that you either have faith, or you don’t. (pause)
But if that’s the case…if that’s really the case…then just where does faith come from?  (pause) I think that this is one point where we can look to the disciples and see that they were doing something correctly…they were looking for faith outside themselves…because faith…is not self generated. (pause)
You can’t make yourself have faith…I wish you could…I really do…but you can’t.  Faith takes two things…first you have to hear the promise…if you haven’t heard anything to believe in then there’s nothing to believe right?   (pause)  Secondly…you need God to act…and that’s where the disciples are getting it right. They are going right to the source…Jesus Christ…God the Son…God right here on earth…They had heard the promise straight from the source and now God needs to act…and we find ourselves in the same boat.  We hear the promise…that we are saved from our sin by Jesus Christ…and it is up to the Holy Spirit to act in our lives to create faith…to create belief in the promise. (pause)
And now here’s the kicker…all of this begs the question…how do we hear the promise in the first place? We have to hear it first right?  Without a promise there’s nothing to believe in…and we don’t have Jesus here to tell us about it do we? (pause) But we’re here aren’t we?
Think about it for a moment…each and every one of you are here because at some point in your life…someone saw fit to tell you the promise of God…at some point in your life someone saw fit to invite you to come…and if you’re still here…then it seems that you believed the promise…it seems that you caught the faith.
And that’s an important point right there…catching faith.  I firmly believe that faith is not taught…(pause) its caught…and if you don’t believe me, take another look at the reading from 2 Timothy for today. Paul tells Timothy “I am reminded of your sincere faith…a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now…I am sure…lives in you.”
Timothy’s faith is a generational faith…and I believe very strongly in the importance of that fact.  In a recent survey of faithful youth within the Lutheran church…the vast majority stated that their faith formed because of the work of caring adults…adults that were willing to invest in the faith of those young people…but the identity of those caring adults might just surprise you.  For the vast majority of those faithful youth…it wasn’t the youth director…it wasn’t the pastor…it wasn’t the Sunday School teacher…it was their Mom and Dad…and it was their Grandparents.
I’ll go on record…here and now…I’ll go on record saying that I believe that parents, you are the MOST important person in modeling a life of faith for your children…but while you might be the most important…you are not the only ones. Extended family…you’re responsible too…but you aren’t the only ones either…everyone…top to bottom…everyone is responsible for creating an environment where the promise of God….the promise that we are saved from our sin through Jesus Christ…is proclaimed…where the promise is lived out…
And when that sincere faith is present…when it is talked about openly…and honestly…that’s when the Holy Spirit gets busy to bring the new individual into a saving faith in Jesus Christ…because the faith that we have…the belief that God will do what God says he will do…its contagious…and that’s a fever worth catching. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 9-29-13

Once again, some great questions came up from the confirmation students. The sermon, which you can read/listen to here offers a baptismal perspective on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31.

-Why did the rich man in the parable ask for Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers?
We see in verse 28 of the scripture reading that the rich man wants his brothers to repent of the same sin that he was guilty of, in order that they could avoid his fate in the afterlife. We don’t know what the afterlife is like. There just isn’t any record of people coming back and telling us (though admittedly there are accounts such as the book 5 Minutes in Heaven). But it is my belief that anyone who is in either heaven or hell would want those still living to heed the warning. If they are in heaven, so that the living would be able to experience it, and if they are in hell, so that the living could avoid it.

-Why does God create people that have everything, but doesn’t give those in need the simplest things?
Great question. First off, I have to offer a warning against the notion that God creates some people to be rich and others to be poor. I think that God creates us, but that the circumstances of life are more up in the air. Yes, some individuals are more privileged in life than others, but we really don’t know why that is. Jesus teaches us that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and that we are to share our resources. We see evidence of this same notion in the early community of believers in the book of Acts. They shared everything in common with each other. Coming back around to the question of why some people don’t have the necessities, all I can say is because the presence of sin in our reality has warped that reality. Some people unfortunately don’t have the resources they need, but if we would all share our resources, I wonder if that would continue to be a problem.  In the commandment to love our neighbors, I think that’s how God wants to provide for those in need, but unfortunately it doesn’t always happen that way.