17 February 2008

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent: "Faith Enough To Follow"

Preaching Texts

Let’s pray: Lord Jesus Christ, You come to us in our darkness and ask us to trust that you will lead us into Your light. But it’s scary out there. Our weaknesses will be exposed. Our prejudices will be challenged. Our cynical nature rebels because we prefer to stay hidden in the dark with our small hopes and dreams. Turn us inside out. Show us that there’s a better way to live as Your followers, a justified way that is true to the gospel with which You have called us. Lead us down that way through the power of your Holy Spirit. All this we ask, knowing that we cannot understand or control how it will happen, that we must simply have faith in You. Help us, above all, to put our faith in You. Amen.

Four volunteers who will be blindfolded and led around the sanctuary. Each leader has a different path that encompasses the icon, the baptismal font, the door to the sanctuary and ends at the cross.


· How did it feel being led in this way?

· Were you worried about where you were being led? The person who was leading you?

· Were you completely ready to go from the moment I asked for volunteers?

· How about where you ended and the blindfold was removed – did that mean anything to you?

Here’s the question for us today: do we trust enough to follow where we are called? I believe that the biggest obstacle facing the church today isn’t a lack of spirituality. It isn’t Biblical illiteracy or shaky morals. It isn’t homosexuals and it isn’t heterosexuals and it isn’t Republicans or Democrats, either. I think the biggest obstacle facing us today is a lack of faith.. Specifically, I think we lack faith in God to lead us where we need to go, and faith in each other to travel on that way together without trying to control each other. Faith, pure and simple.

Our scripture readings today show us a lot about faith and trust and following where you’re called. Let’s start with Abram, shall we? What can you tell me about Abram? Ancestor in the faith. Name means “Father of many nations.” Married to Sarah. Did you know that Abram was born and raised a pagan, worshipping many idols before he started hearing one voice above all the others? Abram was not a man raised to believe that one day, the God would come calling in a voice he could hear: Abram was a man raised to believe that gods were distant, plentiful and rarely concerned with the actions of the mortals who worshiped them. This pagan sheepherder, several hundred years removed from Noah, the last to hear the voice of God, was called to pick up and leave everything he knew, all that was familiar and controllable, and move to an unknown land several months’ journey to the west, where he would be a sojourner, a resident alien. And the voice of God didn’t stop there: he also promised that Abram and Sarai, well past child-bearing age, would become the parents of a multitude upon the earth.

We would do well to consider the pattern of Abram’s faith and the following he did. According to the book of Genesis, Abram did follow as he was called, but there were problems along the way. Abram didn’t understand exactly what he was being asked to do – all he knew was that God was up to something in his life. Abram didn’t know exactly where he was going – all he knew was that God would show him the way. Abram wasn’t sure he was the right person for the position – after all, how could a couple with no children become the parents of a multitude? Abram didn’t always follow with complete trust and confidence in God – sometimes Abram took things into his own hands, like the two occasions he tried to pass Sarai off as his sister to protect them both. Abram and Sarai went so far as to try to accomplish what God had promised on their own by having a child through a surrogate, Sarai’s servant Hagar, because Sarai was past the age of childbirth. But even with all this, with all the times Abram and Sarai stumbled, lost their way and rejected God’s promises as false, in the end God delivered what God had promised: a multitude of nations now cling to the memory of Abraham and Sarah as our ancestors in the faith. Was their faith perfect? Hardly – Abram and Sarai had only enough faith to begin the journey and see what would happen. But that’s all the faith that was needed: faith enough to follow.

Consider also, then, the story of Nicodemus and Jesus from the gospel of John. Nicodemus was described as a Pharisee of high standing, one who paid attention to the ancient covenant between God and the people of Israel. But Nicodemus came to Jesus because he believed that something was happening through Jesus. He was, if you will, in the dark about Jesus – and Nicodemus’ coming to Jesus at night was no accident. In John’s gospel, light and darkness have deep meaning, far deeper than simply night and day. Darkness stands for evil, ignorance, a desire to keep ourselves hidden from God, while light stands for righteousness, revelation and the presence of God and God’s people. So when the gospel tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dark, it tells us that Nicodemus had only enough faith to come and see what was going on – but again, this is all the faith that is required: faith enough to follow.

Today, we know little more than Nicodemus did that night he came to Jesus. We’re not even sure if John 3.16-21 is actually be the words of Jesus – some manuscripts do not include these verses as a quotation. We’re confused about whether or not the most well-known and over-used verse in all scripture was actually spoken by Jesus. Taking this fact into consideration, then, how exactly can we expect to understand everything the Spirit blows into us, or everything the Spirit blows us into? But we do believe that the Spirit is active, do we not? Jesus tells us: the wind / Spirit / pneuma blows where it chooses, and we hear the sound of it, but we do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with all of us who are born of the wind / Spirit / pneuma.

Being parents, of course, Kris and I know a little something about being born. First, the body is whispering, to mother and child, then it nudges, then it shouts and pushes the infant toward a new world. Is it comfortable? Hardly. But, is it necessary? Absolutely – because there is a limited time the infant can remain in the womb. So it is with us – when we are reborn through the work of the Spirit, first there is a whispering, then a nudge, then finally the strong, clear voice of God bringing us into a new life, a life we don’t always understand but into which we are called as God’s children, washed in the waters of baptism and given faith enough to follow once we have been called.

One of my seminary professors says that “We tend to talk about "our faith" or "having faith," assuming that it is a done deal, that believing is as simple as acquiring faith. But the Gospel of John never refers to faith as a noun. Faith is not a possession, not something that one gets, not something that one has—it is something that one does. Believing for the characters in the Fourth Gospel is a verb. And as a verb, believing is subject to all of the ambiguity, the uncertainty, and the indecisiveness of being human. We need to ask more often than we are willing to admit, "how can these things be?" We need to take seriously what faith looks like when it is active, living, permeable, and dynamic. We need to consider earnestly that having an incarnated God may require an incarnational faith – that believing is just as complicated as it is to be human.”[1]

I wish I could tell you exactly how this works, where the Spirit will call you, into what you’ll be reborn today, but I can’t. I don’t know how this works any better than you – I’m not the one whispering, nudging, pulling you into a new life. What I can tell you is that as your brother in Christ, I will celebrate the journey with you, believe in you and put my faith in you as you seek to discern the Spirit’s voice in your life, help you find the way to follow Jesus as you help me find my own. But most of all, I can promise you this: you have all you need to follow Jesus already, because the Spirit has called you here and reminded you that your sins are forgiven, the life you have lived is behind you, and the future of faith enough to follow is here for you, today, in this place. May God bless the journey into which you are called today, and praise be to God for giving us faith enough to follow in all the days to come. Amen.

[1] Caroline Lewis, Assistant Professor of Homiletics, Luther Seminary. http://workingpreacher.org

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