Monday, October 7, 2013

A Faithful God!

This week while I was on vacation at Disney world with my extended family that included my two sisters and their husbands, and my older sister’s husbands, sister, brother, and parents, we were sitting by the pool one night talking about church.
It is a weird and wonderful thing that all of us attends, and are active in, different Lutheran churches in New England.
I mentioned that we are doing our stewardship campaign this month and this lead to a discussion about the blessings of giving.
During this discussion I took an informal, non scientific poll, about what a pastor could say that would help inspire people to give more.
The outcome of that poll was unanimous.
At first I was a little annoyed that nothing I say in my sermons in these next four weeks will have any impact on what people will pledge this upcoming year.
After all part of my calling is to encourage people to be good stewards of the many gifts God has given, it was a bit defeating to think that none of that will have much impact.
However, after I thought about it some more I began to see the wisdom in that advice.
After all sermons are not meant to be sales jobs and they are not meant to be motivational speeches.
And I am thankful for that because I would make a horrible salesman.
Instead, sermons are supposed to be about how God comes into our lives and changes those lives.
How God moves among us, and through us.
We are not the subject of sermons God is.

This year’s stewardship theme is about being faithful.
And if this were a sales pitch or a motivational speech then I would encourage us all to be more faithful with the gifts God has given.
No doubt some would leave here this morning feelings guilty that they haven’t done more, or were not “better” Christians.
Others might leave here with renewed pride in their ability to be good stewards of God’ gifts.
Some might leave angry that others in our congregation are not pulling their weight.
That is what happens when we give slick sales pitches about being “better” Christians.
Some are shamed, some feel superior, some are angry, and we all lose.
But instead of making this about our faithfulness I want to do what I think all good sermons should do.
I want to talk about God’s faithfulness to us.

For most of this summer, in the Gospel of Luke, we have been hearing Jesus talk about the difficulties of what it means to be a faithful disciple.
We have heard that it is demanding to be a disciple.
That it means leaving behind money, family, our pride, and even ourselves.
It is no wonder that today the disciples after hearing all these demands ask for Jesus to increase their faith.
How can they be faithful to the demands that Jesus places on them?
How can we be faithful?

First thing is that faith is not something that we work up in ourselves.
Faith is simply something that God gives.
It is part of God’s nature to put in us faith.
Multiple studies have shown that Human beings are wired to have faith.
That it was part of our evolution process to believe in God, and to gather together around sacred things in tribes.
In other words, we are created to have faith.
But more than this faith is a gift.
Jesus says as much this morning when asked for more faith his answer is basically.
You already have that faith in you.
The problem is that our faith always seems too small.
It doesn’t seem big enough to deal with all the problems we face in our lives and in the world.
How can my faith be big enough to end poverty, create peace, cure the sick, and overcome sin and death?
How can my faith be big enough to forgive my enemies, pay the bills, clean the house?
Jesus says that it is enough.
That all we need is the faith of a mustard seed.

How many people have seen a mustard seed?
They are really small.
That is all we need.
And I believe that God has given it to us.
And even more.

In fact God has given us so much faith that we some to spare and share with the world.
I can give a portion of my money away because God has given me more than I need to live.
And the key word in that last sentence is that “God has given”.
It is not something I have earned, something I have worked hard for, it something that God has given.
In other words our giving is simply a response to what God has done for us in our lives.
It is simply an acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness in our lives.
It is important to me that all of you hear me on this, being a good steward is an act of God, not of ourselves.
It grows from the idea that we see that God comes to us and we are then compelled/moved to give away some of what we receive from God.

The way that Jesus talks about faith has nothing to do with how we think of our lives.
Most of the time we think like the disciples, “Increase our faith” we cry to God.
We simply don’t have enough.
We think that we are not up to the task.
And the truth is that we are right.
We are not up to it.
But God is faithful.
God does not let us wallow in self doubt and pity.
Instead God comes to us and finds away to use us even without us believing that we have the faith to do it.

Every congregation that I know suffers from the idea that we don’t have enough.
We don’t have enough people to do the work.
We don’t have enough money to live out the mission.
We don’t have enough time to get it all done.
We don’t have enough faith to believe that it can be done
And you know what?
They are right.
We don’t have enough.
We simply can’t get it done.
We can’t prevent homelessness, stop violence, create peace in the Middle East.
We can’t forgive each other enough, or live with all the ways that the church fails to live up to its mission.

But this morning I am not worried.
I am not despondent.
I am not defeated.
Because I know that God is faithful.
God takes what we have and uses it to bring the kingdom.
God uses what little we have and makes mountains fall, and trees move into the ocean.
God the creator of all things, the lover of our world and us, is faithful.
God can do what we simply lack the faith to do.
I always take solace in that, because I have nothing else.
Everything else has always failed me.
My own efforts have never been good enough and never will be.
But God’s grace and mercy are sufficient for this day.

Perhaps that is why most stewardship campaigns fail, because they are not about God but about the church’s need for money, or people, or your time.
And even worse sometimes they are about the pastor’s need to feel successful.
When really what stewardship is about is how faithful God has been to us in all the circumstances of our lives.
When we are low God is there, when we are riding high God is there, when we are rich or poor, sinners or saints, God is always there taking our lives and making them new.
God is there in death turning it into life.
And when we cry out that we simply don’t have enough faith, God is there to say it is enough.
God is faithful and that is enough.

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