Monday, October 4, 2010

What is Faith?

I actually preached on all four text yesterday, I believe for the first time ever!  The readings were all about faith:  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, Psalm 37:1-9, 2 Timothy 1:1-4 and Luke 17:5-10.  I have to give a lot of credit to Daivd Lose's Dear Working Preacher column this last week as I pretty much just stole his ideas.  

Below is also not the exact sermon that I preached.  Due to props of water in a measuring cup and a board that had the key points about what faith is and is not, I had my podium with the manuscript further to the side than normal and therefore went much more off script.  

It was also World Communion Sunday and to celebrate, Bethlehem had an African themed worship were all the music was African traditional music or written by African composers.  It was a lot of fun as we passed out egg shakers and other instruments at the beginning of worship for people to play along.  

Enjoy the sermon!

How much faith do you have? I’m going to pour water into a measuring cup, tell me when to stop. When you think I have poured enough water to represent how much faith you have.

It is kind of a frivolous idea isn’t. I mean how do we measure faith? Is your faith as large as a mustard seed? It is only this big. Is it the size of your pinky, your arm, your whole body? Is your faith as big as an elephant a whale?

But how do you measure faith? How do we even describe faith?

Well let’s start with what faith is not.

Faith is not measurable. We can’t count faith. When I write in my newsletter articles about GROWing in your faith, I’m not asking you to make it grow like a plant so you can measure its height. Faith doesn’t grow like a child that you can weigh. Faith doesn’t even grow like knowledge that you can measure and test through exams. Faith is not something that you can measure via a survey.

The disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith. We want to Jesus to increase our faith, but often not for very faith-filled reasons. If my faith was strong my illness would go away. If my faith was stronger, then my marriage wouldn’t be crumbling. If my faith was stronger, my bank account would be larger.

But faith doesn’t grow like that, faith is not something that we can pull out of us and pour into a measuring cup. Faith is not a physical object.

Faith is not easy. In the first reading, Habakkuk lamented “How long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?” Haven’t we all been there? Praying to God and yet it seems like our prayers are going unanswered. Praying to God over and over again and yet it seems like nothing is happening. Our loved ones are still dying, life is still difficult, our job still sucks (well not mine), bills are still due.

Even the answer that Habakkuk gets, that the wicked will perish and the righteous live by their faith, is not the answer that Habakkuk sought. Our prayers sometimes take longer to answer than we would like, and when the answers to our prayers do not come it is so easy to give up, to loose faith, to turn our back on God. And when the answers come and they are not the ones that we were looking for, our faith can really hit hardship.

Faith is not easy. Faith doesn’t mean that we will get the answers to our prayers when we want and exactly as we want. Faith is not a quick fix.

Faith is not the opposite of doubt. Nor is faith free of doubt. We so often think that if you have any doubt, any questions, any concern about God then it means that you do not have faith. But yet some of the people with the strongest faith often have gone through the biggest struggles with doubt and are still doubting. Having doubt does not mean that you do not have faith.

The Psalmist reminds us to be still before the Lord and wait patiently, to refrain from anger and leave rage alone. Faith does not free us from trial, sin, and doubt. Faith is not free from struggle.

Faith is not something we can do alone. Yes there are times when silent prayer or a time being alone with God is a wonderful time and can help support our faith, but overall we cannot be alone in our faith. We come together in worship to support one another, to care for one another, to love one another. To pray the names and concerns that others have on their hearts and minds. We come together to sing praises to God. We come together to hear God’s word.

Timothy is reminded in our second reading that his faith has been nurtured by his mother and grandmother. Our parents, grandparents, relatives or friends brought us to worship. Others prayed for us and still pray for us when we struggle in our faith. Others have brought us the scriptures, taught us about God’s grace given to us in the Lord Supper and baptism. Faith is not a solo act.

So what is faith? We are like the disciples who want our faith to be increased but faith is not measurable. We are like Habakkuk longing for answers to our prayers, yet faith is not easy and we don’t always get our answers. We are like the Pslamist, trying to avoid doubt but not realizing that doubt is part of faith. We are like Timothy, needed to be reminded that we cannot have faith alone. So then what is faith?

Faith is relational. When you have a relationship with someone you put your trust in them. Therefore when you have a relationship with God you put your trust in God. When you trust in God, when you live a life where you know and trust in your relationship with God, the impossible can happen, trees can move into the sea. When we live in a relationship with God, we do not do things in order to seek rewards or praise from God or others but because we want to do God’s will.

When I talk about GROWing your faith in newsletters, I’m talking about strengthening your relationship with God. By giving generously, reading scripture, offering up prayer and worshipping regularly you are opening the communication lines to God, you are building a stronger relationship. And through that relationship you faith is nurtured. Faith is trusting God.

Faith is patient. Faith is not something that happens in an instant. Our relationships with others take time to build and so does our relationship with God. God has given us a wonderful promise: eternal life in heaven, but that is not something that we have yet to receive. God’s kingdom is both here and not yet. God’s grace is poured out upon us and yet is still to come. God’s love is freely given and yet there is still more love to come.

Sometimes prayers are not answered on our timeline. Sometimes prayers are not even answered how we want them to be. Faith is not easy because faith takes patience but yet we have patience and faith that God’s promises will be fulfilled. Faith is relying on God’s promises.

Faith is about being caught up in the promises of God. When we are caught up in the promises of God sometimes we start to have doubt, doubt that those promises will be fulfilled, doubt that those promises were ever really made to begin with. But when we are able to put the doubts aside we are also able to be caught up in the delight that can happen in God’s promises, the joy of the Lord. Faith is full of joy!

Faith is communal. We worship together. Our faith has been nurtured by others. But yet faith has been given to us by God. Through scripture, worship, conversation, prayer and giving, others have helped mediate our faith because they have shared their faith. Today is World Communion Sunday, when we celebrate a shared communion and a shared faith with people around the world, faith is so communal that it extends beyond these walls, beyond this city, this state and this country. Our faith is something that we share with people from around the world. Faith is a communal gift and it doesn’t belong to just to us. Part of faith is sharing our faith with others so that their faith may grow as well.

Timothy’s mother and grandmother encouraged him in his faith. My faith was encouraged by my parents, pastors and youth directors, and probably each of you can name multiple people that helped encourage you in your faith. Faith is a gift that we have been given and are encouraged to share with others. Faith is a gift to share.

So what is faith? We are like the disciples who want our faith to be increased but faith is not measurable; instead faith is relational. We are like Habakkuk longing for answers to our prayers, yet faith is not easy and we don’t always get our answers. But faith is patient even when it seems like we have waited too long. We are like the Pslamist, trying to avoid doubt but not realizing that doubt is part of faith. But with the doubt, faith also fills us with joy and doubt helps strengthen our faith. We are like Timothy, needed to be reminded that we cannot have faith alone nor can we keep our faith to ourselves.

Faith is an awesome gift, one that God has given to us through grace. A gift that is constantly changing and reforming so it never gets old. And yet a gift that is constant, something that we can return to in times of comfort. A gift that was given to us in baptism and that we are reminded of each time we return to the Lord’s Table.

Water being poured into a measuring cup is not a representation of our faith. But the water that was pour over us at baptism is. Water that was blessed by the Holy Spirit, prayed over by the community, and drips off of us so that it may be poured onto others. We have been blessed with the gift of faith and that is reason to celebrate.

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