Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sermon: September 28 (Faithfulness)

Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?

The Israelites had lost their faith. They are thirsty and feel that God has abandoned them in the wilderness. Moses is frustrated by their testing of God’s faithfulness. And what does God do? Moses strikes the rock, and water flows, and the people’s thirst is quenched by God.

Be it a rainbow, or water from a rock, a birth of a child or health after illness, there are lots of things that we give thanks to God for and we remember God’s goodness in our lives. That is faithfulness. But we also have a little voice inside each of us, which is like those Israelites, the voice that has forgotten what God has done for us, but only sees the pain of our current circumstances and sees them devoid of God. We are constantly challenged to live by faith.

St. Paul said: It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul reminds us that God is working through us in our lives not only for us but for the whole world. Faithfulness is the old fashioned word for it. It is faith that is en-fleshed through what we do. This is not couch potato faith but one that rolls up the sleeves and gets to work, always looking to go beyond just sitting with the Bible, hearing it on Sunday morning but putting the words into action.

I think of 3 vestry members who joined me for a Habitat for Humanity project a few years ago, in faith hammering and working on a home for another, or the youth who will be going to a soup kitchen this fall to serve a meal, or the prayer shawls knit each week and given away to those in need. Each of these are faith filled acts, because we believe in them, we want to do them because it is God who is at work in us. It is not that these works of faith make us more worthy for salvation. Jesus already accomplished that on the Cross.

Jesus not only wants us to believe in him and follow him, but to have faith in him and live it out by our actions. And Jesus challenges us with his parables to make us consider more deeply where we place our faith and how we live that faith. Consider the parable of the two sons we heard in the Gospel account this morning.

Two sons are asked to go work in the vineyard. The first says “No” but later changes his mind and goes. The second, “says Yes, sir” but does not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? Jesus asks. The first. Of course, the one who actually did what the father wanted, he changed his mind, the other never followed through…

But Jesus does not let the parable remain abstract, he ties it to the chief priests and elders who stand before him and question him. The first son is like the tax collectors and the prostitutes, those who do not seem to be doing the will of the father and yet they believed John the Baptist. The second son is like the chief priests and elders who said yes to God but have refused to believe in John the Baptist, and refused to follow through.

Faithfulness and belief go hand in hand. As one professor put it, “for Jesus, the faith that doesn't result in faithful action is mere talk. The truth of your commitment lives in your heart. And what you do is the best measure of what's in your heart.” (Gracia Grindal)

I think our difficulty as Christians, living our life of faith is that we know what it is to be the second son in Jesus parable. The one who says yes but does not do it. We always have the best intentions to be more faithful in prayer, in giving, to be more loving and welcoming to others…but those intentions often get away from us in the busyness of our lives. With 4 kids, I know!

But we must realize from the parable that when Jesus said the last shall be first and the first last, the last shall be first because they believe, not because they had turned their lives around & had become the perfect Christians. “Believe in God, believe also in me,” Jesus said to his disciples in the Gospel of John.

As a parent, I want my sons and my daughter growing up in the faith & to live lives that proclaim their belief. Maybe they will be the next Martin Luther King, Jr. or Dorothy Day, or maybe just another Christian who lives a quiet, faithful life that makes this world a better place. But I also know that at some point, I have to trust their faith to God. I can help plant those seeds of faith, can help nurture and tend to them while they are young, but it is God who gives the growth. If they do fall away from the faith, there is always the hope that they will return to the faith, when the no of earlier becomes belief and renewed faith. I think of a story I read about…

“One Sunday morning, a pastor interrupted his sermon on hope. 'Those of you who have adult children that you're praying for, children who have left the faith or never embraced the faith and are now living apart from God, I want you to stand,' he said. The rest of us sat and watched as these grieving parents stood. 'Now, those of you who were once wayward children, who in your adult years had strayed far from God and have since returned, I want you to stand.' As dozens of us rose to our feet - he said, 'Moms, dads, there's your hope.'” (Meditations for Misfits, Marcia Ford)

That’s the meaning behind the parable, even if we say no, walk away, and live lives that saddens God, there is always the opportunity to remember the faith that is in us, to change one’s mind and to believe again. It is to walk as Jesus would have us do, in faith and hope, believing that our God loves us and wants to be a part of our lives. To change our no, to yes and go and do… And we also place our trust in God, that those in our lives who seemed to have lost their way with God, who may have said No that God is still at work in them too.

It is God who is at work in you, says St. Paul.

God is working in us to move beyond the words, beyond just understanding the faith, but to live it. To give our time to what we believe in, to use our God given talents for the betterment of our families and society: That is faithfulness.

To give away our treasurer so that all can feel the love of God in their lives. To turn in an offering card and give our hard earned money away so that our mission and ministry here at St. Peter’s can do the work God has called us to do. That is faithfulness.

Today, may our lives profess what we believe by the way we live them out in today’s world. Amen.

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