Faith, the Hope of the World (10/06/13)

Faith, the Hope of the World
A pastor was preaching one of his first sermons in the new church to which he had been called. He did not know too many people yet. He was still in the process of learning names and who was related to whom like in Chilmark. He was in the early stages of accessing the congregation and its needs.
As he was preaching he announced both a biblical truth and a certainty of reality. The pastor said, “Everyone in this congregation is going to die.” After he said this, he noticed that a man in the front row was laughing very robustly. The pastor couldn’t believe his eyes. He stopped the sermon at this point and said to the man, “Sir, I just told the people in this congregation that they are going to die, and you are laughing. Why are you laughing?” The man in the front row composed himself a little and responded by saying, “I am not a member of this congregation.”

Let us be honest about our faith. We are not sure if we have faith enough to believe in Jesus’ teachings in the Bible. So, very often, we, like the disciples before us, cry out, “Lord, increase our faith!”

We believe, as did the disciples, that Jesus is the one to ask for increasing our faith. They came to Jesus with the request. Jesus replied to them, as he probably would have replied to us. “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could tell that sycamore tree to move over, and it would do so. If you had even a little faith you could move mountains.” In Jesus’ eyes, the disciples apparently had no faith at all. Jesus said that they had not as much as a grain of mustard seed.

Can anyone take this teaching seriously? Does any believer truly think that if he or she had faith as a grain of mustard seed, mountains could be persuaded into leaping around like lambs or trees taken for a stroll? I put it to you that even the most spiritual, deeply committed Christian is doomed to despair if we take the words of Jesus literally.

Faith in God is what we long for in our spiritual journey. Faith sees a reality that others do not see, which means that faith sees a new reality. It is seeing the reality of God’s kingdom and working with the Holy One to create a new life.

Let us think about the life of Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector, who made his living by cheating everyone. When Jesus came to town, Zacchaeus, being very short of stature, decided to climb a tree for a better look. Jesus noticed him and then what happened? There are a few options for Jesus to take according to worldly wisdom in that society. First of all, Jesus could scold Zacchaeus for being a sinner. Secondly, Jesus could ignore Zacchaeus because to recognize him in any way gives tacit support to his dishonest dealings. Thirdly, Jesus could laugh at Zacchaeus. He is, after all, a ridiculous spectacle up a tree.
But Jesus selected a forgotten option. He asked Zacchaeus to come down from the tree and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner and fellowship. The next day this story was spread around town. “Zacchaeus was changed. Now he is a totally different person.  He is not only giving back what he’s stolen, but he is giving it back four times over!” No one could foresee this result. This is exactly the new reality the people observed in that town.

One more example. When Jesus faced the dilemma of 5,000 hungry people, his disciples came to him and asked, “What shall we do?” Their worldly wisdom would suggest the following three options. First, “tell them to go home.” Second, “Tell them to go hungry.” Thirdly, “Tell them to get a bite at Linda Jeans, Sharky, the Galley or something like that and reconvene at eight o’clock.”
However, Jesus said, “There’s another option. We will bless what we have and feed them now.” We will work with what we have and multiply it.” Again, no one could foresee this new reality.

Jesus teaches us to look at problems differently and, thereby, frees us from the claims and definitions of the worldly wisdom. He invites us to have faith and to live with a God who consistently offers other options generated by faith. I must say that to those who think that our life is fixed, the world is a closed system and there is no surprise, the gospel would not come as good news. Faith in Christ brings unexpected alternatives into our lives.

Here is a story to illustrate our sermon. Once a farmer sought to raise a single baby eagle which he had found in the wilderness. He raised it with his chickens and it grew strong. But alas! this king of birds came to think of itself as a chicken rather than an eagle. Each day the farmer would throw it into the air hoping to see it fly, and each time it would return to the earth to eat the chicken feed thrown on the ground. The eagle didn’t have faith that he could fly.

One day, however, something began to stir in the bird’s memory when it was launched aloft; a strange and fearful excitement surged through its breast. As time went by, the eagle came to have faith that she could fly and once the eagle was sure about that, it stretched its wings and soared, lifted by the rising currents of air.

Many Christians think faith is something otherworldly. However, faith has to do with our world and seeing it in a different way. There is mounting evidence in the field of cancer research, for example. The research data suggest that patients who are terminally ill have a statistically significant chance of getting well if they can imagine the white blood cells as a victorious army putting to rout the invading army of cancer cells. Faith in this sense is an imaginative vision that sees what medical science and others are not yet able to see. Faith is so related to our lives that it influences our thinking, our spirituality, and our health. Faith gives us a new hope, a new vision and a new life. I can tell that faith is the hope we have.

Thankfully, Jesus said that it does not take much faith to shape a new world. We can see wonders of the new reality with as much faith as a grain of mustard seed. It can uproot trees and transplant mountains.
Again the faith of a mustard seed can give us a new vision and a new reality. If mainline churches are languishing today perhaps it is because they have no vision that grips the imagination and because they are not able to see the new reality.

Let us be Christians who have faith. That means we are having a new vision and expecting to see a new reality, in which God reigns over our lives and the world. 
Faith, in any amount – even as small as a mustard seed – is the hope of the world. Let us have faith in God to have a new vision and to see the new reality in our lives. Then, we will begin to think in alternative terms and dare to live in the new reality and the new life.

Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we ask you for faith as a grain of mustard seed. Give us the eyes to see your love and grace in our lives. Grant us faith that the future will be full of your love and grace. We believe this faith is our hope. In your name, we pray. Amen.

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