August 24, 2014
Welcome to Laity Sunday, a day when members of this church come together to serve the church in a most visible way. The Diaconate under the great leadership of Pam Rinckey, will acolyte, usher, read the scripture, do story hour and as my part will provide the sermon. We do so because of the passion we feel for this church body and because our faith leads us in this direction of service to other’s and we are just really “good deed doing”.
In the book of James it states, “You see a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” That is they are being a good deed doer.
Pastor Phil has been on sabbatical for almost 2 months now and so many gracious wonderful people have stepped up to fill his really big…big shoes. Our church is like that! We fill a need-step up to the plate—like Nike’s slogan, “Just do it”! But why do we do this? After I volunteered to do the sermon I asked myself this very question. Whatever made you once again raise your hand?
In once sense this question is easy to answer, it was do the sermon or vice chair the Board of Deacons. I volunteered to do the Sermon. In the other sense it is a somewhat selfish reason, as I love to talk and this fills my quota of folks spoken to in a rather short 20 minutes.
However the more serious reason is to help me process my need to discus out loud what brought me here, right here today, on my long Faith journey. This journey has always been bogged down with how I define my Faith.
What is Faith?
How do I explain it to others?
What about Abraham, Moses, Noah and Elijah how would they define Faith and they were men of Faith who followed God’s direction.
Well, what was I thinking???
This theological stuff is not easy for the casual Bible student. Trust me… I taught Confirmation and Youth Group for about 15 years and I still continue to explore my Faith and the life long journey that has brought me this far.
As I read and processed, I turned to a favorite book of mine by Phillip Yancy. Yancy served as Editor at large for Christianity Magazine, wrote 9 books on religion and is a wise theologian. He was a deep thinker… a doer of deeds and a writer of books. Well he didn’t make it easier for me to understand the elusive definition of Faith either.
Ok, I went back to the Bible….in our readings in Matthew this morning we heard that Jesus spoke to the people in Parables, or stories that are easy to understand and stories that related to their life. Ok, I like that…easy to understand…relates to my need for plain and simple and relates to my life… however I’m not a Farmer but I have grown a garden, so that put me in the “sower” category. (And I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express a few weeks ago).
This parable in Matthew has always been one of my favorite stories from Jesus. I can see him casually telling the story to those who gathered and afterwards in the discussions with the apostles. Then he explains that the multitudes who gathered had not been blessed by God and as yet do not hear or understand the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Let me go over the meanings again…
“The seed sown along the path…The Birds who came and ate the seed represent evil, and Jesus stated that the message of the kingdom of God then falls to people who do not understand the message about the kingdom and what was in their heart is snatched away.
The seed sown among the rocks…This represents the word that was received with joy immediately, but since it has no roots soon withers and dies. When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, the Word quickly falls away.
The seed sown among the thorns…This is the one who hears the Word, but the worries of this life and deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.
The seed sown among the good soil…The one who received the Word of God and understands it. He is the one who produces a crop, a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
As visual aids have helped me to learn my whole life, I thought I would assist those in the congregation who like me, like props!
Now most of us know the best way to plant a seed…………A Cup; dirt kernel of corn; and some water…
You might be asking yourself , what does this have to do with Faith Judi…ok I’m getting there hang on, you see this little seed, we are told, will grow to about a 7’ plant and have 6-8 ears of corn after about 120 days. Now if you were a child or individual who knew nothing about seeds/plants, would you believe that this little seed would grow to the giant stalk that will produce this marvelous ear of corn? Have Faith we tell that child, believe me when I tell you that this will happen AND you must have patience. Watch and wait, it will come, it will grow.
As Cathleen read this morning, and I stated earlier, Jesus spoke to us in the familiar that is, how we understand the Word, making it easier to grasp.
Need a sermon pause right here….Rev Dick Bayless explained some time ago that in Seminary they were told to break up the sermon in three distinct sections if you want the folks to take home the essence of the message.
- First tell them what you’re going to tell them
- Tell them the message you explained in step one and
- Summarize what you told them you were going to tell them.
Is that close Dick? Now that I told you what I am going to tell you we will move on…
Well Faith is an elusive term. We can get Webster’s definition or scores of noted and wise theologians to help, but how do we as individuals define Faith? Last week Pastor Tom showed the children a clear pitcher filled with water. He explained that the water was a symbol of God’s love. The children dropped marbles into the water and Tom explained that the water was God’s love, invisible but surrounding us, like the marbles with God’s love. Now from where I sat I could not see the water line, to me God was invisible, it did not have a smell, you could not hear it, but the water was there, all I had to do was believe. To me again, God was invisible, right there in plain sight.
God has not yet come to me as He did to Abraham, Moses, Noah, Elijah and the other Prophets. I have not had visions, I have not yet seen the burning bush, but I believe that he speaks to me in so many ways that are not in a vision, but right here in today’s world, in plain sight. God speaks to us through many ways in assisting at homeless shelters, ministry in jails, community dinners, helping hands, women’s shelters and so on and so on. With joy and faithfulness, we reach out to our community as representatives of this church and lend a hand. We see God in the faces and places where we serve.
Our reading in Hebrews states; “Now Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients (Noah and the others) were commended for.” God did not give to these men of faith what was promised to them on earth, but we are told in Hebrews that “God waited till they were together, that is with God, and then were they made perfect”
To paraphrase Phillip Yancy, I am reaching for an invisible God. We all live in a world of technology and it keeps moving at break neck speed into an unknown future. We have facts and figures on everything at our fingertips with Google or Bing. Protons/Neutrons are now visible with special microscopes. We have some super fascinating machines/tools, yet God remains invisible to most of us. But yet we believe, we understand as a faithful people that FAITH is a substance of things we hope for, a belief not based on hard data, microscopes, pie charts or Wikipedia
To have Faith in God we must look at our journey with religion, with our community and the wider world. The seed or the Word came from somewhere. Long before sowing the seed, as with the example of the corn kernel in the paper cup and the parable of the sower, we were given information on God. We have been given information on Jesus, the Apostles, the birth of Christ, the stories in the Bible and hopefully we have gained more than a casual relationship with a church. However, for many folks, the preparation they received didn’t meet the definition of “good soil”.
Our church offer’s a “soil enrichment program” through our Sunday School Program. Our Faith builder’s such as Jamie Curtis, Amy Krizick, Dale Dodds Kurt Scott and so many more lead us in this Faith journey, showing us how to identify this invisible God. I read somewhere along the way that “It is no sin to doubt some things, but it may be fatal to believe everything”. There are so many who speak of God in a manner that is distinctly different than what our teachings present and many who discount God altogether.
Does anyone watch H-2’s program on Ancient Aliens? In this continuing program we are told that not only our Christian Faith, but all major religions came about after Ancient Aliens arrived from another world. These Ancient Aliens arriving from another world handed to the people of Earth not only the seeds to begin life, but the tenants of our religious belief system that is (pause) according to Ancient Alien theorists. Once again I must say, “It is no sin to doubt some things, but it may be fatal to believe everything”.
That brings me to state that it is no sin to doubt your belief system, remember Thomas, Peter and yes, even Judas? Many challenge religion, many blindly believe, some drift away and their faith withers and dies along the path, but some seeds are planted in the good soil, that is the family, the Church and the Word is nurtured by family, friends, Sunday school teachers, the community of Faith . The seeds grow and yield a hundred, sixty, thirty times more than was sown.
Yancy states in another example of Faith, that our relationship with God is like a marriage and in many cases doesn’t work out or “takes a lifetime to work out”.
It is as if we were “Joining a human being with God, like a marriage, it involves a whole new category of “incompatibilities.” One partner is invisible, overwhelming and perfect; the other is visible, weak and flawed. How can the two possible get along?” Love works that way, with partners visible or invisible.
The great Spanish Philosopher, Miguel De Una muno was quoted in James Houston’s book, The Pursuit of Happiness,
“Those who say that they believe in God and yet neither love nor fear him do not in fact believe in him but in those who have taught them that God exists. Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, any anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe on the God-idea, not in God.”
What constitutes your Faith? Only the God-idea or God, visible or invisible?
My journey reminds me of a corn maze, ever twisting, dead ends and new beginnings. At times I doubt I’ll never get out of this maze, never find my way. Even though I might not always go in the right direction in the end, I do finally move in the right direction. I find that my strong Faith in God bolsters my belief that I’ll find my way, I believe in God, I have moved away from the God-idea. God is still there, no longer invisible, but visible in plain sight, I only need to look in the right direction.
Natalie Sleeth wrote these wonderful words:
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
That invisible God, well He’s right here, no longer hiding, visible for you and I to see we only need to seek Him out, we need to look in the right direction.
Amen and Amen.