Filed under: Sermons
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Throughout Lent, we’ve been exploring faith. Faith is the gift of trust we receive from God. It’s the relationship God establishes with us, the pull that draws us to God. Today, we consider the impact faith has on our life’s course.
Relationships change us. Relationships form us, making us the people we are- directing our path in life.
There comes a time in a young woman’s life when you realize you’ve become just like your mother. That’s the effect our closest relationships have on us. We pick up everything from mannerisms to values from those with whom we spend our times. Even our bodies become in sync with those around us. Our breathing patterns match those of the person with whom we’re speaking. We mimic and catch things like yawns or the giggles. We become closer through our mirroring of those with whom we have the closest relationships.
It’s no different when we consider our relationship with God. The more time we spend in consciously engaging our relationship with God, the more we know God, the more we become like God. Jesus teaches us to pray for everything – from the things we need to our enemies themselves—- prayer is meant to change us, as we listen for God’s response to our daily life. Church is our practice ground, where we hear the great stories of God’s work in the world, we physically enact God’s welcome, we let go of control over our finances, and we engage all our senses in receiving the free gifts of welcome and forgiveness, sharing them with each other. It’s a supportive practice ground for us to go out into the rest of our week, living a life shaped by God’s intentions.
Just as any social group creates its own norms, the Church attempts to live by God’s norms. We call God’s norms the kingdom of God. We’re invited to live into the kingdom of God today- which means living according to God’s values, even as they are different and sometimes conflict with the values of the culture around us. Our relationship of faith can sometimes lead us to choices and lifestyles that don’t look like good choices, like rational, winning lifestyles, but they are life-giving because they are a reflection of God’s intentions for us.
Throughout scripture, we see people’s lives drastically changed by their relationship with God. We explore their stories and our own lives to declare- “faith made me do it.”
In the Gospel of John, we encounter a strange scene. Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet, pouring a pound of expensive perfume over his feet and wiping them with her unbound hair. She’s taken a year’s worth of wages and rubbed it into Jesus’ feet. If anyone was having conversation, they would have stopped and looked around when the strong smell reached them.
You can imagine the whispers, “What is she doing?!” Then some righteous indignation- “What a waste of money! How scandalous to be touching Jesus that way!”
Judas masks his priorities in the voice of reason. “Why wasn’t this money used for the poor?”
Judas’ question makes it sound like he’s speaking the wisdom of God. Doesn’t God care first for the poor? But with the details the narrator supplies, we are told that Judas speaks the voice of greed, even more than that of fear and penny pinching.
Mary was moved to an act of extravagant worship. Her relationship with Jesus included an experience of extravagant life- Jesus raised her brother from the dead. After that, I can imagine all her scales of propriety and possibility were rearranged. Her faith life- her whole life- has been recentered on Jesus as the one who has given her back her life by giving her back her brother.
Paul reflects on his own “faith made me do it” lifestyle in his letter to the Philippians. He was winning in life, successful in every way. But then he has an encounter in Jesus that changes everything. He announces, “now I’m counting all the gains earned throughout my life as loss; all that matters is knowing Christ.”
His life shifted. He became a wandering preacher, never staying long enough in any community for it to become a comfortable home. He ends up in jail, his teachings are rejected, he loses respect and is met by hostile skepticism. He is killed for his faith. But he was willing to accept all that hardship- because there was only one goal- and he was living that. Faith made him do it.
Jesus often talks about the kingdom of God. That’s code for living according to a radically different standard than that of our culture. In the kingdom of God, what’s important is flipped upside down and turned out rightside.
Faithful choices don’t always lead down a sensible path.
Now is the time for the Church to be led not by fear and caution, making sensible choices, but by faith that leads us to risks for the sake of the gospel. In faith, we live not for ourselves, but for Christ, who calls us to live for our neighbor. We are in the midst of a reformation. The Church is changing. Perhaps much of the institution will be shifted or fall away.
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.” Isaiah’s words apply also to the age in which we live. The Church is changing, but that doesn’t mean it is at a loss.
The goal of our faith is to know Christ more fully, love him more deeply, and serve him more completely. The way of the Church of the 20th century – even that of the Church of the last 1500 years- may not be the most faithful way for us to be today. We cannot judge the success of our work by the world’s standards of numbers and finances. We’re looking for changed lives, reoriented to be in line with God’s goals.
Sensible plans look for growth in quantifiable measures, they advise penny pinching and shrinking when offering plates are low, focusing inward to make sure those at the center are happy and well cared for. But what if the faithful thing is to live into the reckless extravagance of Mary, who wasn’t wondering if her splurge would leave enough for the next day, but gave everything of herself to worship the One who would be crucified to give her life? What if the faithful thing is to leave the comfort of the way things have always been done so that we can reach out to those who have never known the grace of God’s love, as Paul left everything behind to embed himself in new communities? Could we be a part of a new thing, traveling on a path that hasn’t been open before, into places where life wasn’t possible, but through God, all is transformed? Five years from now, what failures and joys might we look back on and say with confidence, “faith made us do it.”
Are you living a faith directed life?
Paul’s words speak to the freedom of living for Christ. Caring only for judgment according to the relationship of faith frees you from living up to everyone else’s expectations for your life- from their opinions on what you should do to their valuing of what you have or are doing. Paul says he’s judging the goodness of his life not on “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (3:11)
Paul’s worth comes through his relationship with God- and it’s not that his worth is great because he has given up much or because he’s chosen a radical response to faith. Rather it goes the other way. He has been given a relationship with God as a gift through Christ. He has done nothing to earn his faith or Jesus’ welcome. All the work he did to create faith wasn’t worth anything. But because of the radical nature of the gift of love that he is experiencing in Jesus, Paul is responding with a crazy lifestyle that can only be explained by “faith made me do it.”
What might it look like for you to live a radically inspired life? Are there choices, actions and priorities that can only be explained by your faith? Lent is a time of taking stock of our lives. Are you in a place of being inspired to radical action? Or is your faith leading you to coast through life?
People of Cross, you are already living in response to faith. Whenever I hear of you from others outside this community or your neighbors within, I am inspired by you. I go often to the Y and hear about Ruth Behling welcoming all the children of the neighborhood into her home to bake and decorate cookies at Christmas. I see the hours you work at the food pantries and the piles of goods you have bought for others, perhaps giving up your own delicacies so there is room in your budget for a stranger in need. I know the strength of your prayers for each other- and for me- and the comfort you give in a phone call or a card. You set aside your own fears of being up front in order to praise God through song and word. You make time for others and you show love. 13 of you will forgo a paycheck, time at home, or your regular summer schedule in order to go serve among strangers through the Servant Journey this summer. You all choose actions in the name of faith, choices that might seem strange to others, but make sense to you, because you do them in response to the great love God has shown you through Jesus.
Jesus’ faith, his relationships with the Father, his mirroring of God’s love for all people, especially the lost, will lead him to the cross. There all the world will judge him a rejected prophet, a failed king, an abandoned friend, a disciple-less teacher. His relationship with the Father will have cost him everything. But Sunday morning will come, and then we will glimpse the full entry of the kingdom. Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of things to come. When God restores creation, all that seemed crazily done in the name of faith will be revealed as the most sensible. All other standards by which to judge will fall away. All that will matter is our relationship with the One who gives life. Then we will rejoice at the giftedness of faith, that will include not only us who lived according to its crazy standards, but will also draw in those who didn’t. What is most radical is not our response to God’s gift of faith, but the God who creates it. Nothing makes God do anything, but God has chosen to act in love for all, even those who have rejected God. That’s crazy enough to shake your head at and rejoice over.
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