WHAT FAITH REQUIRES
Habakkuk 1 1-4 72-14 God is raged at and questioned “how long O lord must I call for help.”
Psalm 37 v1-9 “Do not fret because of evil men” “Trust in the Lord and do good.”
2 Timothy ch 1 v1-14 Encouragement to individual Christians to be faithful. Not timidity but power, love and self discipline.
Luke 17 5-10 Faith and duty. Genuine faith can bring about unexpected things.
Had we done this morning what the Lectionary encourages us to do, we would have read from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. We would have found him yelling at God about how things were: “how long, O lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me, there is strife and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralysed and justice never prevails” (chapter 1 v2-4)
That could have been written today couldn’t it, never mind two thousand six hundred years ago!
Do you find yourself raging at the Television News or the newspapers.
* ill tempered parliamentary exchanges/
* disregard for the law/
*violent acts or threats of violent acts/
*individuals in high office around the world using inflammatory and ungracious language/ which then seems to give permission to others to do the same/
* individuals in high office around the world with little or no grasp
of the need to respect individual dignity.
*misuse of authority allied to greed which causes considerable damage.
We might well echo that old testament prophet:
“how long O lord must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you “violence” but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
There is strife and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralysed and justice never prevails.”
The prophet Habakkuk thunders out his frustration, nothing timid about his approach, but at least his reaction is born out of faith that God can and will do something. And the Lord’s answer as recorded in the book of Habakkuk “look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told.” (verse 5)
Political commentator Andrew Rawnsley, writing in a recent national newspaper wrote this:
“At the end of the second world war there was no guarantee that it would not be followed swiftly by a third. Six years of the most intensely murderous and geographically spread conflict in the history of the human species had left unprecedented devastation. Yet from the ashes of this terrible legacy was born a new world which would come to enjoy prosperity and peace of a kind not seen before. There would be many more wars after 1945 and some of them would be nasty, brutish and long. What there has not been again is an all-consuming conflagration between major powers. The world built after 1945 was the result of an exceptionally visionary and creative period of statecraft by a generation of western politicians who had witnessed the catastrophic consequences of the 1930’s. Extreme nationalism, ruinously protectionist economic policies and international anarchy had led to the world’s greatest bloodletting.
The western statesmen responded by striving to create a new world imbued with liberal values and anchored in effective international institutions.”
The founding assembly of the United Nations was convened in San Francisco in 1945.
Postwar European Politicians, among then French, Belgium, Italian and Germans set out to create economic relationships and political structures which would bind together European States in such a way as to make further warfare between them unthinkable. The first Congress of Europe met in May 1948 and Winston Churchill was the keynote speaker: “We shall only save ourselves from the perils which draw near, he said, “by forgetting the hatreds of the past, by letting national rancours and revenges die by progressively effacing frontiers and barriers which aggravate and congeal our divisions.”
What has evolved in my lifetime, and therefore I judge some of yours, has been the European Coal and Steel Community which evolved into the European Economic Community and ultimately into a European Union of 28 member states. “The EU, for all its flaws”, writes Andrew Rawnsley, “is the most successful example of soft power in the history of the world.” (as opposed to military power. my addition)
And the United Kingdom has now decided to disassociate itself from this endeavour which at least grasped that peace, freedom and prosperity can never be taken for granted. These things have to worked at. “Better worlds only happen when the vision to conceive them is combined with the will to create them.”
Faith communities, I suggest, understand that building a better world requires love, and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and humility and gentleness and self control. It involves loving our neighbour not distancing ourselves from our neighbour. It involves being passionate advocates for justice in all its forms and it involves speaking up if we sense that community life be that local, national or international, is going awry.
We may well think that faith communities have not got the strength to do that, but notice what Paul tells Timothy who he knows to be timid and reserved by nature and frequently ill. Paul tells him that God’s gift of ministry is not a spirit of timidity but the Spirit of power and love. So he asks Timothy to bear the hardships that his ministry requires, find boldness rooted in faith in God and to not be silenced by suffering.
The first apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. We read about that in the Gospel reading from Luke. And he tells them that a strong faith is already within their grasp; “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can say to this mulberry tree “be uprooted and planted in the sea and it will obey you.” Well a mulberry tree has long spreading roots and uprooting it is a difficult task. So the illustration is great and the thought of planting a mulberry tree in the sea is so unlikely that it only serves to strengthen further what Jesus is saying, that faith, even as small as a mustard seed is already open to God’s power and faithfulness.
So don’t hold back because you think your faith is inadequate, we might imagine Jesus saying. Don’t wait for thanks and praise to be heaped on you. Be honest to your faith. Be bold in proclaiming it. Genuine faith can bring about unexpected things. Remember those words from the Old Testament prophet that we heard earlier; “look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe.”
So what is this faith, which we speak of and advocate?
Faith is an openness to God’s power, a trust in God’s faithfulness.
“Blessed is God who has not withdrawn from us his love and care”
writes the Psalmist (Psalm 66)
And when like me you’re raging at the Television News like a modern day Habakkuk be comforted/reassured by another Psalmist: (Psalm 37)
“Do not fret because of evil men
Or be envious of those who do wrong:,
For like the grass they will soon wither
Like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord
And he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
Trust in him and he will do this;
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn
The justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
Do not fret when men succeed in their ways
When they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
Do not fret- it leads only to evil.
Those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land
And enjoy great peace.
SERMON: PEACE WITH AND IN GOD
based on Romans 5.1-5 and John 16.12-15
I do not know about you, but I hear those words in Romans 5—‘suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us’—and I am taken back to events in my life and conversations where I was told to ‘just get on with it’, life is like that and what does not kill us only makes us stronger! To me, as I initially read those words on the page, I really felt for the first-century church in Rome. In receiving a letter from the Apostle Paul, they must have been hoping for some words of encouragement, words that would build them up and guide them as they tried to live out this new way of life they had found. Instead, however, they appeared to have been told to grow a thicker skin!
Yet, is this really what these few short verses from the letter to the Romans are really about? Or is this another moment when having a lectionary that gives us only a glimpse of the picture is not very helpful?
And why on Trinity Sunday offer us these five verses along with three verses from one the farewell discourses in the gospel of John when Jesus is recorded as talking about the role the Holy Spirit in God’s master plan?
Well, let me take you a couple chapters back in the gospel of John to another part of the farewell discourses. Jesus was recorded, in John 14, to have said to the disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14.27) And in the part of the letter to the Romans we have heard this morning, the Apostle Paul began by telling the church in Rome to know and have peace in God. This would suggest that the Apostle Paul was not giving the Romans a lesson or lecture in the ‘School of Hard Knocks’, rather he was trying to help them grasp what the Christian faith is all about and what it leads to in life: a knowledge of peace that is not like any definition of peace the world has.
Like all the Abrahamic faiths, at the heart of our faith is the one true God. Yet, how we come to know God and relate with God is three-fold. Jesus’ comments on the role of the Holy Spirit as recorded in John 16 outlines that three-fold nature of God and how they inter-relate. Jesus, however, did not stop at relating Father to Son, Son to Holy Spirit and Holy Spirit to Father; he also drew humanity, us, into the equation. The community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit within God is there to build up and enable our own and personal communion with God the Godself.
As part of worship our today, we gather around the communion table, and it is no coincidence that it is called the communion table. Yes, what we do here is in obedience to Jesus’ words to the disciples on the last night that he could sit with them all around a table. And it is an act of memorial of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross so that we could have that intimate relationship with God that our hearts long for and daily seek out, and God intended from the very beginning. Yet, in what we call it and the words we use in our prayers that surround it, our actions here too are about being with God and in God. Being in communion with the Godself, through acknowledging the selfless acts of the Father and the Son, and allowing the Holy Spirit now to draw us into the presence and dialogue that is around this table with all parts of whom God is, was and is to come.
Therefore, being a part of and knowing the communion with God that through the parts of the Trinity we are drawn into takes us a step closer to understanding and sensing that real peace that the Apostle Paul spoke of to the church in Rome. And this was the peace that Jesus left, which was and is one that comes out of being wholly in relationship with God. And this means that if we are wholly in that relationship then we are the people God intended us to be. Nothing can shack us; nothing can floor us.
In practice, however, our journey through life is not as straightforward as all that. Coming to faith, living in faith, has probably not meant a life of blissful peace. Things will have knocked us; we will have suffered and known pain. Our relationship with God will have at times been on rocky ground and not in a good way. We even might still be working towards who God intended us to be. And in what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans there is an acknowledgement of this and a sense that is ok as long as we hope. By keeping hope then the peace of God, which surpasses all our understanding, will guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4.7) not only in our faith that is in and comes through Jesus Christ, but in our whole relationship with God which we are drawn in to because of the communion between Father, Son and Spirit that God wants us all to be a part of.
Therefore, as we later gather around the communion table, let us be reminded of the relationship it not only symbolises but draws us into and renews us in. Let it be a moment when we have a peace with God and pray that we catch a glimpse of the peace of God that is within each and every one of us.
©2019, Elaine S Colechin