|Advent 1, Year B||November 30, 2014||First Sunday in Advent, Year B||Mark 13:24-37|
|Christ the King, Year A||November 23, 2014||Christ the King, Year A||Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 95:1-7a, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25: 31-46|
|Pentecost 23, year A||November 16, 2014||Proper 28, Year A||Matthew 25:14-20|
|Pentecost 22, year A||November 9, 2014||Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
|All Saints, 2014||November 2, 2014||All Saints’ Day, Year A||Psalm 34: 1-10,22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12|
|Pentecost 20, year A||October 26, 2014||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, Matthew 22:34-36|
|Pentecost 19, year A||October 19, 2014||Proper 24, Year A||Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22|
|Pentecost 17, year A||October 5, 2014||Proper 22, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46|
|Pentecost 16, year A||September 28, 2014||Proper 21, Year A||Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32|
|Pentecost 14, year A||September 14, 2014||Proper 19, Year A||Matthew 18:21-35|
|Pentecost 13, year A||September 7, 2014||Proper 18, Year A||Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20|
|Pentecost 11, year A||August 24, 2014||Proper 16, Year A||Matthew 16:13-20|
|Pentecost 10, year A||August 17, 2014||Proper 15, Year A||Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28|
|Pentecost 9, year A||August 10, 2014||Proper 14, Year A||Matthew 14:22-33|
|Pentecost 8, year A||August 3, 2014||Pentecost 8, year A||Matthew 14:13-21|
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C
Sermon Date:October 6, 2013
Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, Psalm 37:1-10, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 22, Year C
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it up to beyond here with the current state of politics in our nation.
Newspapers are filled not only with articles, some vitriolic, blaming one side or the other, but they also contain the stories of people whose lives are being adversely affected by the latest shenanigans in Washington.
Anxieties are rising.
Meanwhile, in the past few weeks we’ve had the Navy Yard shooting, a mentally disturbed woman killed after a car chase through DC, and a man who set himself on fire in the center of the National Mall.
These are the times that find us asking this question.
“God, where are you in all this mess?” —
The same question that Habakkuk asked almost three thousand years ago in a time of violence and destruction—“God, where are you in all this mess?”
The answer Habakkuk receives is similar to the answer that God gives to Job and to Jeremiah when they demand an answer.
And that answer has to do with God’s appointed time—all will come round right in the end, and we don’t get to know when that end will be.
As you’ve heard me say before, we live in the time of now and not yet. Jesus, who lived and died as one of us, spent the three years of his ministry telling people that the kingdom of God is among you.
This radical understanding of the world, God’s kingdom come to earth, contributed to the anxiety of the authorities, who eventually put Jesus to death.
God resurrected Jesus, and yes, the kingdom is now. But still, it is not yet. God’s kingdom on earth is far from reality.
God’s final appointed time has not yet come.
So in the meantime, as today’s scriptures make clear, we are to live by our faith.
God says this to Habakkuk—“The righteous live by their faith”—the faith that God truly is in the mess that Habakkuk finds so upsetting.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy that, yes, he does have the gift of faith, a faith that lived first in his grandmother Lois and then his mother Eunice, and it’s time for Timothy to rekindle that gift of faith so that he can go out and be the missionary that God has called him to be.
And at the beginning of Luke’s chapter 15, in the verses directly preceding today’s gospel reading, Jesus lays out for the disciples the way they are to live in community, holding each other accountable to the common good of the community, being willing to repent rather than to be stiff-necked and self-centered, and to be willing to forgive one another, over and over and over.
And the disciples feel anxious because they know that what Jesus has asked is hard to do. And so they say to Jesus,
“Lord, increase our faith.” Give us the hope that you really are in this mess that we can make of community.
So what exactly do the disciples want? What is faith?
The preacher in Hebrews, whose audience was tired, discouraged, and ready to quit, told them that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) And then he gave to his listeners example after example of people in scripture who lived by faith—people who were sure of God’s presence in their lives, and then lived in hope, in spite of all of the adversities and messes they faced.
Now every one of us in this room is an American citizen, and we are all affected by the decisions of those who govern us. But only we can determine how we will respond to the adverse situations—the messes– in which we find ourselves as American citizens.
The temptation right now is for all of us to choose sides, cast blame, pick a bad guy or bad party, point fingers, and then spend time in fruitless conversations and /or arguments that increase our worries, leave us feeling angry, perplexed, helpless, and full of anxiety about where we’re going as a country.
And not only do we worry about our own government, but here’s another one that I hear over and over. “The Muslims are going to take over. What can we do about it?” More conversations, worries, perplexity, hand wringing, and anxiety. I’ve heard these same comments about immigrants.
Now as your priest, I’m compelled to say to you that as Christians we need to readjust our focus when it comes to puzzling over these intractable issues that arise around a government whose elected members no longer know how to work together, issues that arise around the challenges of colliding cultures, and any other of the thousands of issues that bring us anxiety and worry in our personal lives—when we forget that God really IS in this mess.
We need to readjust our focus and know what it is that we really need to seek. The disciples had it right.
“Lord, increase our faith.”
And scripture provides lesson after lesson for us about how we really can increase our faith and live by our faith– IF we are serious about changing our focus and leaving behind the ill-will, anxiety and frustrations that can so easily hold us captive in our current culture.
At the very least, if we can’t give them up, we can at least give these anxiety producing focuses second place rather than first place in our lives.
The psalmist provides some practical advice in today’s Psalm, Psalm 37.
Put your trust in the Lord.
Take delight in the Lord.
Commit your way to the Lord.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.
Don’t fret yourself, refrain from anger and rage.
The psalmist is outlining the course of action for those who take the first of the Ten Commandments to heart. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
So if we’re serious about increasing our faith, our utmost focus throughout our days is on God, first—before anything else—trusting God, delighting in God, committing each thing we do to God, longing for God and waiting patiently for God.
These are the active things we do to cultivate our relationship with God. And there’s more.
The Psalmist says, “Put your trust in the Lord, and do good.”
And the message Jesus has for the disciples in the second part of scripture that we heard today is that God expects us to do what we are commanded to do—to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Martin Luther said that “the whole being of any Christian is faith and love. Faith brings the person to God, love brings the person to people.”
In closing, I’d like to share with you the story of George Mueller, a Christian whose life exemplifies this faith and love. Mueller was a German immigrant who spent almost his entire life in England. He lived through the 1800’s, another century of upheaval and change around the world. This story was told by John Piper at a conference for pastors in 2004. You can read the whole story on the web at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/biographies/george-muellers-strategy-for-showing-god which is listed in today’s bulletin.
George got off to an unpromising start as a young man. He was fourteen when his mother died, and as she lay dying, he was out drinking and carousing. By sixteen he had been thrown into jail for stealing.
By the grace of God, George later became a minister and spent sixty-six years of his life in Bristol, England, where he was the pastor of one church all of those years. He read the Bible from cover to cover over two hundred times in his life. He preached over 10,000 sermons. At seventy years old, he became a missionary and traveled to 42 countries, preached at least once a day, and over three million people heard him.
At age ninety-two, he said this of himself, “I have been able, every day and all day to work with ease for the past seventy years.”
Mueller trusted in the Lord. And he did good. The work for which he is remembered today is the incredible outreach to orphans that he put together—the good he did for this neglected population in England during the 1800’s.
When he felt called to care for orphans in 1835, in the whole country of England there were only places for 3600 orphans. Almost 8,000 children under the age of eight were in prison. Mueller managed to build five large homes for orphans and he took care of 10,024 orphans in these homes during his lifetime. His work was so inspirational that in the fifty years after he began this work, at least one hundred thousand orphans received care in England.
Mueller accomplished all of these things in his lifetime. And he had this to say about faith. This statement is invaluable for us in our own anxious times.
“The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”
So let us pray, as those who will make a commitment to increase our faith, and end our anxieties, starting now, A Prayer of Self-Dedication, and you’ll find that in the bulletin at the bottom of today’s psalm reading.
“Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you. And then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
The Book of Common Prayer, “A Prayer of Self Dedication” page 832.