August 12, 2012
John 6:35, 41-51
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In this morning’s reading from John, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” I am reminded of Paul’s description of the church in Corinth, when it was trying to take sides in who they would follow, Apollos or Paul. Paul tells them, “I planted the seed, Appolos watered it, but God gave the growth.”
We can plant the seeds of faith, offer encouragement, lead by example, and do all that we are called to do, but it is God who grows our faith within us. The implications of these ideas are profound:
- Faith is a gift.
- Faith cannot be cloned from one generation to the next, but must be accepted by and nurtured in each generation.
- We cannot force ourselves to have more faith. Perhaps it is like hunger or sleep. We can force ourselves to the table, but we cannot force ourselves to be hungry. We can will ourselves to go to bed, but we cannot will ourselves to sleep. We can face terrible or beautiful situations, but we cannot force ourselves to have more trust in God or to have a more grateful heart.
- If we cannot force it upon ourselves, then we certainly should not be trying to force it upon others. Coercive means to try and convert people are not simply counterproductive, but have no place in the kingdom Jesus preached or the faith that God gives.
- Faith is an act of trust, trust in the one who gives us faith, trust in the one who grows our faith, and trust in the one who completes our faith in Jesus.
God’s part is to grow faith within us. Whatever planted the seed, perhaps a sermon, or a song, or a sunset, or an act of kindness, or revulsion at injustice, or a moment of trust in which our burdens are lifted, the faith that is growing is a gift. Like Apollos, we can water the faith, nurture it, encourage it, teach it, live it both as an example and as our life’s practice. And we should be doing these things. Christian education is not simply about Sunday School for our children. It is about learning and growing in our faith throughout our lives and at every stage. We work on the learning, and trust God to work on the growing.
Trusting in God is not the same as washing our hands of responsibility. We do have a part to play. Paul describes this in part in his letter to the new church start in Ephesus.
Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and give no opportunity to the devil.
For much of my life, I got this wrong. I thought anger was sinful. Oh, I still got angry. I just added guilt to the anger. If I worked it just right, I got angry that I felt guilty over being angry.
Be angry, but do not sin.
How easy it is in our anger to forget things: how to treat our neighbor? Or how the guy who cut me off in traffic is still created in the image of God? Or how I can be angry at something that happened a while ago and take it out on a completely uninvolved person that I am talking with now?
There are things worth getting angry over. Injustice. Poverty. The exploitation of people. Illness and injury. The loss of a loved one. Anger is a good and appropriate response.
But even as anger can be helpful, Paul cautions us about how easily we let it derail us, unbalance us, or make us forget who we are and to whom we belong. If the growth of faith is in God’s hands, how we respond to life is in ours.
There was a gentleman whose car had a flat tire out on a deserted country road. As he got out of the car, he remembered loaning his jack to his neighbor. How could his friend be so mean as to not give it back? How could he be so stupid as to not remember to ask for it back? He got out his cell phone, and the battery was dead. He meant to charge it during the trip, but his son had borrowed his car charger.
As he is murmuring under his breath, he sees a farm house down the road and heads off. Why couldn’t I have gotten the jack back? Why didn’t I charge my cell phone before I left? Tromping through the field, he almost lost a shoe in the soft ground. That set him off on a whole new set of, shall we say, murmurings.
Finally he gets to the door of the house. He jams his thumb on the bell, and when the man comes to the door, he yells at him, “I don’t want your stupid jack anyway!” And he walks away.
So what should we do with our anger? Holding it in eats away at us. Venting it all over other people tends to wreck relationships. If we follow the psalms, we should give it to God. God can do far better things with it than I can. And when we give our anger to God, we have the possibility to live another of Paul’s suggestions:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The growth of faith is God’s responsibility. How we respond to life is our responsibility. So let us pray to have the faith to respond well to life, that others might see our lives and give thanks to God. Let us learn to respond with love.
Thanks be to God.